Bifurcation… What the Heck Does That Mean?

Should there be a separate set of rules for the pros and the rest of us?

Thrash TalkRecently there has been a ton of discussion on the USGA decision to prohibit golfers from making a putting stroke by anchoring the club or their forearm to their body. For the first time in my life I was introduced to the term bifurcation. I know that my vocabulary should be better, but I needed to look up the word in the dictionary. For those like me, it means to divide into two branches, in the case of golf, one set of rules for professionals and one set for amateurs.

In the last few years the USGA has made two major changes to the game, one changing the rules on the grooves in an attempt to force players to curb the distance gains that have been made, and the recent putting stroke change. Many believe the groove change was a colossal failure, and I agree. It has done very little to affect how players score on the PGA Tour and just forced them to get new wedges. I have used wedges with the newer grooves and for a slower swing speed players such as myself and I do get less spin. I play with many plus handicap players and I see the new rule hardly affecting them.

The putting stroke change, I see having very little affect on scoring as a whole, but possibly affecting a few different players. Golfers like Carl Petterson and Tim Clark who have mastered the use of the long putter may struggle with consistency from week to week. Likely Petterson will be able to keep his card and still be a top 50 golfer, but he may not make as many cuts, or a few less top tens. A few amateurs who struggle with the yips will be affected but on the whole the game of golf will go on and change like this will not really matter.

The argument for bifurcation is an interesting one. I am not for it. I like that the rules for the professionals are the same for the rest of us. A good example, is a friend of mine wants to play in the US Mid-Amateur and to do this he needs to get some new wedges, but it would be much more difficult if he was forced to play with a new ball. He would need to practice with it, and if he played with it regularly how would that affect his handicap which is a requirement for even qualifying for the event. There are too many variables for golfers who are in principle average golfers, but want to make the jump to playing in high level amateur events.

I often hear in the argument for different rules, people saying that most sports have different rules for different levels of the game. When I analyze that statement I find it hard to find sports which actual do that for adults playing the game. I played both football and soccer growing up and yes we used a different size ball than the pros, but we were also much smaller and our hands could not grip a NFL football. After college I played on a semi-pro soccer team and they used the same ball that was used in the World Cup games. My point is that once you reach a certain level of proficiency you want to compare yourself to the best that sport has to offer.

2012 Open Championship Winner Ernie Els with his belly putter

Many critics say that bifurcation would allow amateurs to get more pleasure from the game. I don’t buy that argument at all, for two reasons, one if I watch a beginner or you average duffer play golf, they are not playing anywhere near the same game as the professionals on multiple levels. I would wager that we could find at least 5-10 rules infractions by guys just out enjoying the game, which is totally fine. I would call this natural bifurcation. The second reason is one of the truly redeeming factors of golf is how naturally challenging a game it is. I hear professional athletes all the time say that for them picking up most sports is natural for them. Jerry Rice told me he was a very good basketball player, he picked it up naturally, but he told me golf could not be mastered easily. He told me he wasn’t sure it could ever be mastered.

There is no doubt that there is a gap between my regular foresome and even the guys who toil away on the bottom of the tour is massive. Changing our grooves, allowing us to anchor our putter is not going to move us any closer. Heck even rolling back the ball on average will have little affect, so then why not allow us weekend warriors enjoy the game in the same way that the pros do. One of the great joys of golf is that for one moment, be it a putt, or a shot close on the par 3, we can be as good and possibly even better than a pro. I would not last one play in the NFL, but I can hit a shot even if 1 in 100000 better than professional. I would rather the USGA not take that away from me.

Photo credits: © Telegraph.

7 thoughts on “Bifurcation… What the Heck Does That Mean?”

  1. Once I read an article promoting shorter holes so everybody can hit a 8iron to the green. They say, make it easier make it more fun. These guys were crazy.
    Play golf I the most difficult thing I ever do. And I’m playing it for twenty years. And one of the things I love I to fight the game, the wind and my hooks. Why make it easier? I want to play in the same fairways they play and the same green that make that ball go away. That’s fun, because I play for the pleasure of the quest.

  2. There already are different Rules on the Tours. The ‘one ball’ rule, embedded ball thru the green, stones in bunkers, and no practice putts, to name some of the few differences. And the clubs the Tour Pros use are quite different from what is normally available. All they need different on the equipment side is a ball that goes 20-30 yards shorter, maybe reduced COR for drivers, slightly different grooves, and no anchoring.

    Main problem is the USGA and the R&A are making decisions for the 99.99% based on the actions of 0.01%. That doesn’t make sense.

  3. I agree with you, I do not want rules to make it easy on me. I am not much of a golfer but the fact that the game is extremly hard is what has drawn me to it.

  4. The thing about curving distances being achieved can actually be changed NOT through forcing people to use different clubs BUT by using or making more challenging golf courses (something I think Jack Nicholas is keen on)!

    Also, I kind of like that I can compete on an even footing with the pros 🙂 I think if there was a different set of rules for us mere mortals that this would only encourage an us vs them attitude even more in our sport!

    Good article, thanks for the read.



  5. @kappy…i have never played an official tournament where the one ball rule was not in effect, amateur or pro. maybe you’re thinking of local rules and scrammbles, but one ball is one ball at any level of compeitition. in fact, i’m pretty sure all your examples are false. you can’t move stones out of bunker unless you are stewart cink. and you can take practice putts after everyone has holed out…

  6. The PGA sent me an email today. Apparently, they are “taking the temperature of the room” on this bifurcation thing. Basically, the survey was one question: Do you you support bifurcation?
    With two possible responses:
    A. Yes, I support different rules for pros and ams
    B. No, everyone should play under the same rules

    Then they asked you to explain your position. Below is my exact response. Would love to hear others opinions.

    “While I understand the argument for bifurcation (i.e. let’s make the game easier and more enjoyable for the average golfer), I do not agree that different rules is the answer. Athletes in all sports can not excel the way the professionals do, but they do not play by a different set of rules. For example, Lebron James is a much better basketball player than I am, but when I play, I play with with a basket that is 10 feet off the ground. Can I dunk? Not even close. Would it be fun to be able to dunk? Sure. Would it cheapen my experience by changing the rules to accommodate my specific skill set? Absolutely.”

  7. Not sure apples to apples comparisons here. Golf is a hard game. It takes a long time to play a round. Most people are not very good and do not improve very much playing 6 times a year and not practicing. It is expensive. Fewer people are playing it, and fewer young people are picking it up. And older folks who can’t putt want to use long putters to enjoy the game Those are facts. There is no reason that the rules should not be bifurcated. The rules of college football and the NFL are very much different. They change them every year in the NFL for 1 reason – to make it enjoyable. Olympic basketball and the NBA have different rules. When I grew up there was no 3 point shot and only the NBA had a shot clock. College baseball players use aluminum bats that pros do not. I could on and on, but the point is that even at a very high level the rules are different in the same sport. Having Phil Mickelson appear in an ad for crooked bank and tell me to hit a ball from under a rock and break my wrist or break my club (unlike Phil I don’t them for free) is comical. If people want to play ball the pros rules, they should feel free to do so. But for the 95% of people who play golf and couldn’t break 100 on their best day, what are you proving by not trying to make it fun? I’m a lawyer, my work is filled with nastiness and ugliness and that’s before you go to court. Not looking to prove myself on a golf course, just relax with friends and have an enjoyable time.
    As someone posted, the clubs that I play and the clubs the pros play bear little resemblance to one another, so who am I kidding thinking that I need to play by their rules?

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