WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - The PGA and the USGA were able to meet in the middle of the belly putter debate ... sort of.
In May, the United States Golf Association outlawed anchored putters beginning in 2016. On Monday at a meeting of its Policy Board at the Greenbrier, the PGA followed suit - mostly to avoid confusion.
One area they might never find common ground is when to allow players to use a preferred lie - i.e. lift, clean and place.
For the seventh time on the PGA Tour this year, players were permitted to pick up their ball, clean it off, and place it within a club length of their previous location during Thursday's first round of the Greenbrier Classic. The administrative powers at the USGA typically don't allow it under any circumstances, and even Jack Nicklaus once called it "lift, clean and cheat."
Morning rain at Thursday's first round led to mud being caked on the ball, sometimes getting plugged, making for challenging second and third shots. Afternoon sun didn't make preferred lies as necessary, but it paid dividends for many who don't mind taking advantage of the rule.
World Golf Hall of Fame member and Greenbrier Pro Emeritus Tom Watson has won eight major championships in his career among his 39 career PGA Tour victories.
"That's what we call playing winter rules," Watson said. "We used to play winter rules when the conditions were really bad. The game is supposed to be fun.
"That's how my dad taught me how to play and now we play summer rules most of the time. Sometimes you just have to do it. If you get a lot of mud on the ball you can't control it. If a clump of mud gets on the ball, it could go 30, 40 yards off line, and that's why they do it."
Bill Lunde said it's a nice benefit that helps more than just cleaning off the ball.
"You can hit it in the fairway and have a weird lie where it's sitting down," said Lunde, who shot a 4-under 66 in Thursday's first round. "When you get lift, clean and place, it's teed up basically. You can't get a better lie. Within a club length of the ball, you're going to be able to find a perfect lie. You usually don't have to go that far."
The USGA went so far as to not allow lift, clean and place during the rain-drenched U.S. Open last month. More than six inches of rain fell on Marion Golf Club by Friday the week before the Open, but it didn't change the USGA's stance.
The wet conditions in Greenbrier County didn't reach that level, but the afternoon sun on Thursday didn't dry out the fairways that quickly either, said Bubba Watson, who finished his first round at the Classic with a 2-under 68.
Woody Austin, who also finished the first day at 2 under, concurred.
"I still had mud on my ball on every hole," said the 49-year-old Austin, a three-time PGA Tour champion. "Could you say it was playable toward the end of the day? Probably, but I still had mud on my ball. Does that mean you should play in those conditions every single time? That's a tough one.
"I know the USGA likes to play things as close to the vest as far as the game was intended. If that's the case, then there should never be lift, clean and place."
Ironically, players who hit the ball in the rough have an advantage in USGA events with no opportunity to use a preferred lie, since the ball is less likely to pick up mud in the higher grass.
Canadian Jason Kokrak, whose 4-under 44 has him in a tie for ninth with 11 others, doesn't like putting the ball up, but acknowledges the advantage.
"I really didn't have a problem with too many mud balls," he said. "I think it does help you. You set it up on a tee pretty much. You have a perfect lie every time."
Today's forecast in White Sulphur Springs calls for a 50-percent chance of rain, with thunderstorms likely in the evening. Although allowing a preferred lie in today's second round isn't likely, the PGA Tour won't decide until early this morning.
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