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  • Alistair Tait

Bring on Bifurcation

When Peter Dawson was chief executive of the R&A, he asked for a show of hands from the assembled press on whether we thought the time was right for bifurcation, for golf to introduce a reduced compression ball for major championships. The response was unanimous.

Most in the room stuck their hands up.

That was in 2004!

Amazing to think the B word is still lingering after all these years. Are we about to see it come into force?

To be fair, the governing bodies are still to make key decisions going forward on the distance insights project. Covid-19 has pushed those decisions down the path. Yet we got a wee taste of what might be in store even before the distance insight project when R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said:

“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end.”
“Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction.”

Hear, hear, many said in the game.

Those who cheered those words will have done the same to utterings from incoming USGA boss Mike Whan following Alan Shipnuck’s interview with him in Golf Digest. Whan takes over from Mike Davis on 1 July.

Here's the soon to be former LPGA boss's response to Shipnuck’s question about the idea of limiting the distance the top professionals hit the ball:

“If we’re talking about the men’s professional game, I’d be surprised if people don’t believe that some degree of reining in wouldn’t be good for the game long-term. I haven’t had those conversations with everybody yet, but I will. I’ve read the Distance Insights study, but I don’t know if the need for change really trickles down to other levels of the game. I question if we need change for the average player. I’m still trying to understand why bifurcation scares everybody as much as it does. I’m not really sure why.”

It's a question many of us have been asking for a long time. Many of our game’s top players – the late Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and others – have been calling for the governing bodies to act on distance for years, even if that meant bifurcation.

Baseball has had bifurcation for a long time. Professionals use wooden bats while recreational players use metal. The game seems to have done okay with that dynamic.

In fact, I’m surprised Augusta National didn’t introduce a reduced compression, tournament ball years ago. It would have been far cheaper than buying up more land, building new tees and going to extraordinary lengths to trick the golf course up so the Dustin Johnsons of this world don’t shoot 20 under par, as DJ did last November. That score must have frightened the life out of the green jackets, so much so it’s probably a safe bet to say we’ll never see another November Masters.

Players aren’t going to turn down an invitation to the Masters if Augusta introduced a tournament ball. They’d still show up every year to try to win golf’s gaudiest green jacket. Pretty sure they’d still turn up even if the Augusta members decreed club heads couldn’t be bigger than, say, 230cc, rather than the current 460cc frying pan heads. Golf fans wouldn’t switch off their televisions either.

As I’ve written previously, I’m all for reigning back the elite players as long as average players aren’t affected. I don’t want to hit the ball less than I do, nor does anyone else I play with. As for elite professionals, I’m all for bifurcation if it brings more skill back into the game. Watching players hit driver/wedge to holes that once called for 3 or 4 iron approach shots is getting a bit boring.

I say bring on bifurcation.

#JustSaying: “Put your fanny into the ball, Mr President.” Sam Snead’s advice to President Eisenhower


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