Golf Australia - - GOLF IS GOOD -

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.


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