BRING IN BIFURCATION
The potential benefits of bifurcation – one set of rules for the professionals, a di erent set for us amateurs – are fairly obvious, given what we learned previously about maintaining the status quo. If amateurs are allowed to keep their large-headed titanium drivers and juiced-up balls they will continue to profit from modern technology. The typical amateur’s average drive (214 yards according to research carried out by Trackman) hasn’t changed much in recent years and is often a lot shorter than the typical amateur believes (240-250 yards). But it is 15-20 yards longer than the average drive 25 years ago with a persimmon driver and soft, wound ball.
Back then, the driver was considered the most di cult club to hit. A tiny sweetspot, comparatively high Centre of Gravity, and low Moment of Inertia, made driving high-spinning balata balls extremely di cult.
“Although o-centre hits were usually playable, they looked way worse than they do now,” says Mike Clayton. “What was much harder was repeating good drives with the same flight. It’s so much easier now to hit 14 drives that all look pretty much the same because heel and toe hits still fly decently. To hit a persimmon driver well with consistency, and separate yourself from other players, you needed special talent – like a Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman or Ian Woosnam.”
With bifurcation, a rolled-back, higherspinning ball would help identify genuinely great drivers, and see that those players who rely on technology to straighten or lengthen imperfect strikes, find fewer fairways, aren’t always able to go for par-5s in two, and have more mid or even long-iron approaches.
Instead of the driver being perhaps the easiest club in the bag to hit, the challenge would return to that part of the game, and players would be reluctant to whale away o the tee knowing that any imprecision would likely result in a troublesome second shot. That, in turn, would significantly reduce the need to lengthen courses and bringing angles, width, and strategy back into play.
But there is a problem. The R&A and USGA can stipulate competitors in The Open and US Open must hit a limited-distance ball, but they don’t legislate for the professional tours. The PGA and European Tour choose to adhere to the o cial Rules of Golf, of course, but might they be tempted to split from the governing bodies if the ball is shackled? Such a scenario could prove catastrophic.
“The last thing the Tours want is to be in control of the rules of the game,” says Rod Morri, host of the popular Australian podcast iseekgolf. “But the stakes are high with equipment since every single one of their players has a vested interest. And that may be motivation enough for them to split and simply say they won’t abide by a set of USGA and R&A rules which includes a limited flight ball and/or a rolled back driver head. That would be a disaster that would take the game
a long time to heal from.” Adam Schupak, author of Dean e Be man; Golf’ s
Driving Force, which tells the story of how Beman, the PGA Tour’s second commissioner, made the tour what it is, doesn’t think it will come to that. “I don’t sense that the PGA Tour is looking to get into the rules business,” he says. “A split would likely sever all ties between the Tour and USGA which I think the Tour realises would be very bad for golf.”
Something else that would be very bad for golf is the legal action Titleist would almost certainly take if the governing bodies did restrict the distance of the ball. It’s not so much the amounts of money that would be involved – both parties have plenty – but rather the potentially damaging coverage such a story would create. Golf gets plenty of bad Press from writers who think it stu y,n on inclusive, and environmentally-unfriendly. So, it doesn’t need two of its biggest entities clashing over an issue the nongolfing world would regard as childish.
Titleist, Young suspects, is very concerned a rollback would open the door to rival companies to make a shorter ball as good as theirs. “They could potentially lose significant market share,” he says, “and in an industry where one percentage point is the equivalent of millions of dollars, Titleist would obviously do all they could to prevent that.”
Young also stresses the importance of golf as entertainment, something bifurcation could negatively impact. “Looking at it purely from a business perspective,” he says, “if the long hitters are no longer able to hit it as far as they do now, the TV audience and tournament attendances would probably drop. Accuracy, strategy, and course management aren’t quite as compelling as distance to the more casual observer.”
There’s also the complex question of where, when, and how to bifurcate – above/below certain handicaps, above/below certain swingspeeds? In specific events? You see how that ends up, right? The R&A/USGA lose one section of the golfing community after deciding to bifurcate, then lose more when they decide where to draw the line.
In their 2002 Joint Statement of Principles, the two governing bodies stated that a single set of rules was one of ‘the game’s greatest strengths’. “The R&A and the USGA regard the prospect of having permanent separate rules for elite competition as undesirable and have no current plans to create separate equipment rules for highlyskilled players,” they stated. Though that was 16 years ago, it’s hard to imagine a change of tune.
'BIFURCATION WOULD HELP IDENTIFY THE TRULY GREAT PLAYERS'