• Alistair Tait

Paving the way for bifurcation

After years procrastination over the B word – no, not Bryson DeChambeau – golf’s governing bodies seem set to introduce bifurcation to this stick and ball game.

Many wondered if this day would ever come. They're probably wondering why it took so long. But hey, better late than never.

Beefed up Bryson won’t be too happy about the R&A and USGA’s proposal to allow committees to institute a local rule to limit clubs other than putters from a maxim length of 48 inches to 46. The reigning US Open champion has been practising with 48 inch drivers to try to get his average ball speed above 200mph. He currently leads the PGA Tour with a once unthinkable 192.81 average.

Bet the green jackets who run the Masters are pretty happy. They can perhaps cancel the order for those giant fir trees they’d intended to plant at Augusta National so Bryson couldn’t cut too many corners in future with his 48-inch wand.

Proposals on new rules on equipment have been put out to equipment manufacturers. The governing bodies are focussing on two specific areas:

  • The potential use of a Local Rule that would specify the use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances. This would enable committees conducting competitions to stipulate whether such equipment should be used. It could be available at all levels of play and would also allow golfers playing outside of competition to choose for themselves.

  • A review of the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. This review would consider whether any existing specifications should be adjusted or any new specifications created to help mitigate continuing distance increases. It would not consider revising the overall specifications to produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the sport

USGA executive director Mike Davis said:

“The research conducted through Distance Insights clearly shows that hitting distances have consistently increased through time and, if left unchecked, could threaten the long-term future of our game at every level and every golf course on which it is played. This is the first forward step in a journey and a responsibility the USGA and the R&A share with the worldwide golf community, to ensure that golf continues to thrive for the next hundred years and beyond.”

The governing bodies obviously want to try and pull up the draw bridge on the professional game, to peg the limit bombers like DeChambeau are achieving to the current eye-watering distances. The inference is: this is as far as you boys are going to hit it. You go no further if we can help it.

The move announced yesterday paves the path to bifurcation. It means ordinary amateurs will probably still be able to hit whatever we want at our local clubs. So if you want to try and whale away with a 48-inch shaft, then have at it. Bryson won’t be able to do the same.

Fine by me. As I said earlier this year, by all means take action at the professional level, but don’t do anything to reign in club golfers. I certainly don’t want to hit my driver shorter distances. I’m sure you don’t either.

If the proposals pave the way for committees like those green jackets to dictate what equipment players can use, does that mean players turning up at Augusta will be told they must play reduced compression balls that don’t go as far as ordinary balls? That would seem to be the inference from the statement the governing bodies put out yesterday.

Nothing has been set in stone, but it’s going to be interesting to see where this goes. Who knows, maybe the par-5, 13th hole at Augusta could actually be played as a par-5 in future Masters, instead of the drive and short iron par-4 it currently is. Maybe the Road Hole on the Old Course at St Andrews will regain its teeth. What novel ideas.

#JustSaying: “The ball is undoubtedly the controlling factor in the game. … it dominates golf too much and threatens to destroy the character of the game as a sport. The power of the ball unbalances the traditional method of play and makes the game a labour of long-distance walking.” Robert Harris, Sixty Years of Golf


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