There’s this great scene in The Godfather in which Don Vito Corleone convenes the heads of the Five Families in one room and makes the case for peace among the warring factions. “How did things ever get so far?” Corleone opens sadly. “I don’t know. It was so unfortunate, so unnecessary.” “We’re all grateful to Don Corleone for calling this meeting,” Barzini says. “We all know him as a man of his word. A modest man who will always listen to reason.” “Yes, Barzini, he is too modest,” snipes Tattaglia. “He had all the judges and politicians in his pocket and refused to share them.” To be sure, there is tension in the room. But the bosses eventually reach an unsigned but clearly understood agreement. “We are all reasonable men here,” concludes Barzini. “We don’t have to give assurances as if we were lawyers.” The dialogue is almost Shakespearean. The tempest is tamped. Golf needs to take a cue. The escalation of the debate over the USGA’s proposed ban against anchored putting has increasingly brought out the worst from the game’s power brokers and the resultant noisy discord is visiting a stain upon an honorable game. It reached a crescendo two Sundays ago when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem hijacked the final round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play, seizing an ill-timed opportunity to make the Tour’s case against the proposed Rule 14-1b and sounding more like a lawyer than a leader. In the process, Finchem triggered a feeding frenzy among fact checkers when he wildly tossed out an estimate that 20 percent of amateurs anchored their putters. (Golf Datatech’s research shows the numbers are closer to five percent.) The commish was wrong and scores of media – social and otherwise – properly hammered him. Lost in that din was the legitimate argument that certain players – Tim Clark foremost among them – have against the ban. But Finchem’s method wasn’t the only maddening one. Behind the scenes, the proponents of a golf ball rollback quietly marshalled their forces in anticipation of a bifurcation freefor- all that they believe will allow them to mount yet another attack on the ball manufacturers. Bifurcation isn’t necessarily bad, in and of itself, unless it’s misappropriated as a vehicle for disguised agendae. Unfortunately that’s the case here. Shame on the restricted-light plotters. This latest behind-the-scenes rally for a rollback was both misguided and cowardly. Cowardly because it hid behind the crusading coattails of USGA boss Mike Davis who spearheaded rule 14-1b. Davis wasn’t gunning for bifurcation and mayhem. He was doing what he thought was best for the game. The forces of unification retained their dignity. The golf ball rollback crowd, on the other hand, wrongheadedly figured the law of unintended consequences here would work in its favor. (For their part, the ball manufacturers can rightly point to 1976 when the USGA established the Overall Distance Standard. And they refuse to be made the villains. So many other factors contribute to Dustin Johnson, for example, hitting 3-wood and 9-iron into 495-yard par 4s. Can you say wind, strength, size, flexibility, shaft, head, composite and any other number of advantages available to sluggers like Johnson or Garrigus or Colsaerts or Woodland – just to name a few – that weren’t available to Trevino, Nicklaus, Miller, Irwin, Hogan and others in the 20th century?) Meanwhile the PGA of America has lined up next to the PGA Tour on 14-1b while the European Tour leans the other way. All this gives rise to the ghastly prospect of Ryder Cups in Europe that don’t allow anchored putting and Ryder Cups in the U.S. that do. Extrapolated, that means Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson might anchor-putt their way onto future U.S. squads only to be stripped of their wands on foreign soil. That’s just plain smelly. The USGA came in for its share of blame by creating a 90-day “comment period,” but making it appear to many that it had already had made up its mind. Tour players have correctly cited a lack of confirming statistical data on the USGA’s part that would have shown an advantage is gained by anchored putting. Almost nobody, it seems, is simon pure in all of this as the public scratches its collective head in bewilderment. “It’s all very subjective,” Finchem said. At least he got that part right. More than ever, golf needs a singularly strong international chief executive, a capo di tutti capi, with the broad power and sweeping authority to bring the USGA, the R&A, the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the LPGA, Augusta National et al., and representatives from the equipment industry to the table. Our game is desperate for a Godfather who can look across the room and ask, “How did things ever get so far?” Clearly, this isn’t going to happen any time soon. Which means, unless golf’s bosses stun everybody by reaching an unlikely accord, rudderless chaos will ensue.
What comes after bifurcation?
Punch line: Trifurcation.
Anyway, now that the official comment period is over, here’s mine: Golf, at its highest ruling level is right now, factionalized, increasingly polarized and, as a result, in danger of being marginalized. And here’s my question: Where is Marlon Brando when you really need him?