It's Time to Bifurcate

You may have seen the latest PGATOUR kerfuffle involving Justin Thomas and the USGA regarding the new USGA rules. Here’s how it started.

Then the USGA backed off, JT said he was hurt by the exchange, and the PGATOUR commissioner issued 1,000 words saying the TOUR and the USGA were in mutual support of each other and the new rules. Which has the golf world discussing and curious about Bifurcation- the separation of rules and/or equipment between the TOUR and the rest of golf. It’s time to officially bifurcate.

There are a lot of perspectives to take into account in this decision: the TOUR and what it wants to accomplish; the USGA and their aims; the average amateur and golf fan. Lastly, the nature of golf governing bodies and governing bodies in general.

“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.”

Let’s start with the last one and work our way back. Worldwide golf has no central governing body, like say FIFA or FIBA. In the States it is the USGA and PGA of America. In Britain it’s the R&A. Each country holds their own tournament and has a national governing body that runs those national championships and sets the rules for amateur play.

The PGATOUR was created in the 1969 as Touring players wanted larger dividends on the money they brought into the PGA of America. By the mid 70’s the TOUR was its own entity with a professional relationship with both the USGA and PGA of America where members sat on each others Board of Directors.

Since then, and especially with the Tiger Woods boom and advent of mass communication, the PGATOUR has grown in more influence across the globe than any other governing body. It owns Tours in Latin America, Canada, China, the Web Tour and the Champions Tour.

However, the PGATOUR only governs itself as an entertainment business. it is owned and operated by the Players- which is a phenomenal feat of labor organization. It has no real interest in the governance of amateur golf. But because of the long standing relationship with the USGA, the TOUR agrees to its rules because they see the relationship as mutually beneficial. Except when players like Justin Thomas (or Rickie Fowler) point out the absurdity of the rule changes- mostly designed for amateur players- and their effects on the TOUR game.

It’s probably time of the PGATOUR to establish it’s own rules for Touring professionals. It already runs the schedule and course set up. The TOUR is an entertainment product much like the other professional sports leagues.

Having a decentralized association of governing bodies holds the others in tension and account. It’s kind of how the US Government has three branches. It leads to a lot of arguing, and occasionally led to slow action over a very important issue, but as a whole, it prevents the worst thing from happening- an unchecked power that is self-serving at the expense of the country.

Plus, it’s more efficient. Here me out. It is a more efficient process to have differing bodies govern their own, vast and deep constituents than one central body trying govern all of it.

So I’m not calling for the PGATOUR take on the roles of the USGA, R&A, and PGA of America. I’m suggesting it does what is best for itself the way the NBA does in regards to FIBA (who by the way have different rules than a vast majority of professional basketball leagues around the world).

But… But what about the Amateur?

Great question, glad you asked. Because the TOUR has the biggest influence on the game (see: celeb players and access to TOUR coverage globally), the TOUR also influences the way amateurs play the game. Except, it’s not the same game. So there is a rub- there always will be a rub, there always has been a rub.

That is the joy of watching professional athletes. The fan knows they cannot accomplish what the professional does, but it is fun to try. Therein lies the distinction- an innate distinction the fan understands. They are not the pros. Therefore, their games will be different from the courses they play, the technology they use, and the rules they play by.

Every sport has graduated rules based on size, skill, and talent of the athlete. Youth sport have smaller competition fields and time limits. High School sports differ similarly to college sports, including rules technology and rules. For example there is an immense difference between HS Track and Field and Football with their collegiate counterparts, let alone the professional ranks. Just because it is not 1:1 in every sport doesn’t negate the point that it already exists for the betterment of athlete development or entertainment of the game, and it probably should in (capital letter G) Golf.

USGA Wanes

In the modern professional game, the USGA is less relevant than it ever has been. That is the issue and the conflict here. The TOUR players have no skin in the USGA, and the USGA has no tangible skin in the PGATOUR. It is a bad look for a Touring pro to talk poorly of the USGA, but in practicality, the USGA is being offered a seat with the TOUR out of historical precedent.

It sets a dangerous precedent for the USGA because the PGA of America is in every clubhouse in the Country. The only real roles the USGA provides is holding tournaments and crafting rules. If at any point the PGA wants to enact their own rules, they can. It’s highly unlikely, but they can.

This isn’t to diminish the USGA or more specifically, the host of Championships they organize and award annually. But it is harsh look at the daily role the organization has with the average amateur golfer. If they wan to prevent loss of marketshare or importance, then maybe they should engage deeper in that sphere and less in the TOUR.

You Bifurcate! You Bifurcate! Everybody Bifurcates!

The TOUR is not regular golf, nor is it the vast gradations of amateur and professional golf that exists below it. It is best they receive their own rules and technology (which they already do. By the way, don’t you think the ball manufacturers are licking their chops at the possibility of opening a brand new market- the professional use only ball? Amateurs will love it). This is accepted in every other major professional league and their minor league and amateur offshoots with very little conflict or none at all.

I do find it interesting the discussion around this topic. In a post modern tribalistic world where institutions are criticized and torn down- especially those who take advantage of employees or subordinates- many are falling in line with the USGA over the Player run organization.

But then again, Golf and its core fans are not the quickest to embrace change.