Recently 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.
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 web.com 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.