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A Case For Bifurcation

The argument is way too old, lost for too long in the memories of those who still cling to the bygone belief that persimmon and balata are the only way to play our game. What’s good for the pros is good for the amateurs, by God, and nothing will shake us off this crumbling foundation. Bifurcation is the dirtiest word in the USGA vocabulary. Instead, the USGA has done a head fake around bifurcation and announced that it will launch a full-out attack on slow play, here in the midst of the ruckus caused by the final group at the Farmers Insurance Open taking three hours, 51 minutes to play the final 11 holes. But it’s hard to see just how the USGA, no matter how much money it spent on an exhaustive study on slow play, will affect how the game is played at our level. And this, by the way, is the first place to bifurcate. The PGA Tour doesn’t have a slow-play problem, no matter how much a handful of players gripe. Just ask the commissioner. Face it, once and for all: The PGA Tour will never – never – do anything significant about slow play. And maybe it shouldn’t. These guys are playing for a $1 million first-place check every week. Maybe they should be allowed to take as long as they want. It really doesn’t affect the viewing public because television shows a bunch of groups and no one really standing around. And the notion that the playing public takes its cues on pace of play from the touring pros is probably dead wrong. The USGA can’t affect pace of play because it doesn’t own and operate the nation’s courses. In fact, the person at each course who can affect the pace of play is also the person who has the most to lose – the PGA professional. It all comes down to money because it always does. One of the scourges of slow play is the seven-minute interval between starting times. It is an effort to squeeze in as many starting times as possible during the course of the day and it has the consequence of putting too many people on the course at the same time. Remember the “Starter’s Time?” It was an empty starting time put on the tee sheet twice or more a day in order to help spread out the players on the course. But that practice is long gone because, let’s see, that’s eight players at $150 each – well, you do the math. One other culprit is a sense of entitlement, which also concerns money. There are those people who pay $150 – or more – for a round of golf who are going to take as much time on the course as they damn well please and there’s nothing you can do about that except refund his money and invite him not to come back and no self respecting owner-operator would be caught doing that. But where the USGA could really affect the temperature of the golf public is by making a different set of equipment rules for the professionals. Virtually every other sport does. We don’t mind adhering to the same playing rules as the professionals, but equipment is another issue entirely. We haven’t been able to play the same equipment PGA Tour players use for more than 30 years. Before the advent of adjustable drivers, Tour players had drivers with exotic lofts made just for them with weight hot-melted inside the club-head to create the ideal spin. Their shafts are custom made and custom it, mostly X-flex and could never be used by even the best low handicappers (unless they are reinstated amateurs and that’s a discussion for another day). Go on eBay and you will find any number of Tour issue iron heads for sale, with less offset and smaller cavity backs than you can buy at your local golf shop. Their wedges are weighted and the soles and bounces are custom ground to each player’s particular swing characteristics. Does Golf Galaxy sell those? Tiger Woods’ irons have Nike stamped on the back but they are likely custom made forgings crafted in one of Japan’s best shops. Miura Golf, the most highly respected Japanese iron-maker, has in the past made custom irons for Tour players with a half dozen or more different manufacturers’ logos stamped on them. And then there’s the ball. A number of balls are on the USGA conforming list that will never be sold at retail but are still used on the major tours. Players hoard versions of a particular ball that suits them perfectly, in fear that the manufacturer will eventually stop making them. You’ll never be able to play the same ball as Tiger unless you steal one from his bag. So the idea that we can realistically play the same equipment the pros play is not only antiquated, it is entirely naïve. Not only are we physically unable and don’t have the talent to play their clubs, we wouldn’t even want to try. Trust me, they are way too difficult to hit. Rules like banning square grooves and anchored putting that make the game more difficult for the best players in the world make it 10 times harder for the rest of us. At least. Hope is the great elixir we peddle in our confounded game and if every time an equipment rule is made, it beats us down just a little more and we start to lose hope of ever getting better, then after a time, golf just ain’t worth it. Bifurcate that.


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