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Bifurcation: Yes, No, and Maybe

When it comes to this hot-button issue, the game’s leading figures don’t just disagree, they trifurcate

This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of LINKS.

by David Dusek

Sparked by the heated debate over the banning of anchored putting strokes, bifurcation—the establishment of different rules for championship play and amateur play—has been a hot topic this season. With different interests to protect, and different motivations at heart, it’s not surprising that many of golf’s biggest names and most influential personalities don’t see eye to eye.

To help clarify who thinks what, we’ve polled the BPGs (Big People in Golf). The opinions that follow—some for bifurcation, some against, and a few in the middle— were gathered by direct interview as well as from other sources.

Joe Beditz PRESIDENT & CEO, National Golf Foundation
“We have bifurcation in practice already.  The vast majority of golfers are not competitive golfers, and we know that what grows commitment to the game is people having more fun. That’s for sure.  And if they have more fun, they prioritize golf in their life, all of a sudden they find the time, they find the money, they play more, they spend more. I don’t think, personally, it would hurt or hinder growth but we do need to make golf more fun...If that’s part of the equation, then I’m all for it.”

Ted Bishop PRESIDENT, PGA OF AMERICA
“Maybe we are at a point where we need to consider what impact bifurcation would have and if that’s an answer or a potential answer to this situation, so that we can avoid some sticky issues like we are currently involved in with banning a long putter and anchoring or even some of the issues that possibly come up in the future.”

Brandel Chamblee GOLF CHANNEL COMMENTATOR
“People say the best thing about golf is it’s governed by one set of rules. That’s an opinion, that’s not a fact. I promise you, nobody quits golf because two different sets of rules govern it. But lots of people will come to the game because they are allowed to play with equipment that makes it more fun.”

Mike Davis EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, USGA
“For those who think we should bifurcate, I’m telling you, you haven’t thought through the ramifications. Once you open Pandora’s box, it will forever change the game. We are steadfast on this one. People who want to bifurcate don’t understand what they’re asking.”

Peter Dawson CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ROYAL & ANCIENT
“We think it’s a central strength of the game of golf that we all play the same game by the same rules and we can compare our abilities with the top players in the same playing arenas.”

Tom Doak GOLF COURSE ARCHITECT
“I’m in favor of bifurcation on equipment issues—certainly the golf ball, but perhaps other equipment, in time, too. It’s crazy that instead of tightening the rules to protect golf courses, it is considered routine to change all the golf courses to protect equipment innovation instead. They don’t build new racetracks for auto racing so that the car companies can build even faster cars.”

Pete Dye GOLF COURSE ARCHITECT
“They’ve got a club and a ball now so that when a guy cracks it, a little bit downwind or when the sun shines a little bit or something, they can carry it 310 or 315 yards and that changes every golf course that’s ever been built.”

Sir Nick Faldo HALL OF FAME GOLFER, CBS GOLF ANALYST
“It’s called a golf swing, not a golf anchor. The amateurs, for the enjoyment of the game, let them do whatever they like. But for professionals, I think we should start looking at all our rules, or quite a few on the equipment, like the size of the driver face.”

Brad Faxon CHAMPIONS TOUR PLAYER
“I think we need to leave governing away from us—the players. I’m against bifurcation of the rules, it does no good for anybody.”

Tim Finchem COMMISSIONER, PGA TOUR
“Most other sports have some differences in their rules at the amateur level than the professional level. Personally, I think in some situations bifurcation is OK.”

Rees Jones GOLF COURSE ARCHITECT
“I approve of the USGA and the R&A’s actions because I think nerves are a part of the game, especially in championship play. I’m also against bifurcation because we’ve always lived under one set of rules.”

Mark King PRESIDENT AND CEO, TAYLORMADE-ADDIAS GOLF
“We already live in bifurcation. We already do. Nobody plays by the exact Rules of Golf on Friday afternoon with their buddies. So I think it’s about time that we realize what we have, we have elite players who need a set of rules and we need to create an environment where people want to come in and enjoy this great game, whether it’s one foot in the end zone or two feet, we need to create that environment for people.”

Davis Love PGA TOUR PLAYER
“I think this proposal [to ban anchored putting methods] will create more division and controversy than impact on scoring, and be a distraction to the pro game, which is in a great place, and take some fun away from the amateurs. So it’s not a positive to grow the game, and in a bad economy for any business, why now?”

Graeme McDowell PGA TOUR PLAYER
“I think the handicapped golfer wants to use the equipment that the pros are using, and that’s why Srixon pays me to use their equipment, because hopefully if I win some more tournaments and majors, people will want to use the Srixon golf ball. People want to use what the top players are using.”
 
Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR PLAYER
“It’s up to the governing bodies at the end of the day. I think [the anchored putting ban] was a knee-jerk reaction to how much success people were having with it. I’m all for people enjoying the game and trying to make the game as easy as possible and bringing more people to the game, and if that means they should allow belly putters or anchor putters to make it easier for the general public, then that’s a good thing. But then they talk about bifurcation and whether you should have one set of rules for us and one set of rules for the amateurs, it’s just a bit of a mess. They’re just opening a can of worms.”

Phil Mickelson PGA TOUR PLAYER
“The PGA Tour should not be making the rules. We need an independent entity. I remember a conversation I had years ago with the Commissioner about this, and it made perfect sense to me that we have such varying views on things that to try to make rules internally that would favor some and not others was the wrong way to go about it, and we need to have an independent organization, in this case, the USGA and/or R&A as our governing bodies making the rules.”

Johnny Miller HALL OF FAME GOLFER, NBC GOLF ANALYST
“[Bifurcation] is sort of like changing the Constitution in one state, like Texas or something.”

Glen Nager PRESIDENT, USGA
“The argument that multiple sets of rules are needed to accommodate players of differing skill levels is refuted by golf’s long history and traditions. The history of golf is actually a history of movement toward unification of playing and equipment rules—as golfers of different abilities from myriad geographies and cultures seek to play the same sport on a national and international basis, and soon in the Olympics.”

Jack Nicklaus HALL OF FAME GOLFER
“That the amateurs play with one set of clubs, and the pros play with the others permanently, I don’t think is the right way to do it. As much as I would like to see the golf ball adjusted, I would hate to see them have two golf balls. I think it’s right to play with one.”

Greg Norman HALL OF FAME GOLFER
“I just don’t believe in anchoring. It’s not a stroke. But that said, I will also say this: I think our rules should be bifurcated.”

Gary Player HALL OF FAME GOLFER
“Amateurs must come first. They come out to have fun. We are already destroying their fun by making courses longer and more difficult.”

John Solheim CHAIRMAN & CEO, PING GOLF
“I’m for one set of rules, if they can write the rules to give players more options through the handicap system.”

Wally Uihlein CEO, ACUSHNET CO.
“If golfers don’t play by the one set of rules that exist today, why are two sets of rules required? If the argument is that golfers don’t play by the rules and bifurcation will help grow the game, then how will two sets of rules contribute to additional participation? The logic is flawed.”

Tom Watson HALL OF FAME GOLFER
“My son Michael, with a conventional putting stroke he couldn’t make it from two feet half the time, but he went to a belly putter and he makes everything. The game is fun for him now, so there lies the danger. Do we take away the ability for people to have fun?”

Mike Whan COMMISSIONER, LPGA TOUR
“I’m not a fan. I hope we don’t have to go there. I can tell you in our pro-ams there’s an exciting situation when an amateur plays next to a pro and walks down the same fairway and in our case hits from the same tee, and I would hate to think that they are playing a slightly different game because right now they are playing the same game. I also see them looking in the bags of the pro and wanting to understand the same equipment. I think it’s a nice thing from the amateur/pro experience that we see every day on our tour.”

Tiger Woods PGA TOUR GOLFER
“I just think that it’s nice if we play on a global basis, and I mean global being that everyone plays under the same rules, where the two governing bodies, the USGA and the R&A, they police our sport, and we play under the same rules. And it’s nice for amateurs to understand that they’re playing by the same guidelines we are.”        

David Dusek is a Senior Writer for Golfweek.

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