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Sunday, December 9, 2012
Updated: December 10, 2:21 PM ET
Bifurcation not the way to go

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

Early in my career covering the golf industry, I wrote stories mostly about trends and new equipment. I interviewed club and ball scientists, marketing executives and brand managers. From these relations, I learned about the pyramid of influence model.

That's where companies pay the top players in the world to endorse their equipment in the hopes that consumers will buy, for example, a Nike ball and driver, because Tiger Woods uses that brand's equipment.

The average Joe wants the same gear as the 14-time major champion because he believes it might improve his scores.

At the news conference in late November to announce the banning of the anchored stroke, USGA executive director Mike Davis alluded to the pyramid of influence model as a way of explaining the timing of the ruling.

"[Anchored strokes], like so many things with the elite game, has transferred to the elite amateur game, the elite junior game," Davis said. "So we are seeing increases at elite amateur events, elite junior events, and that, too, has translated to the recreational game.

"So in the last couple years, we have seen a definite increase in the sales of long putters, belly putters, and while there's no way for the R&A and USGA to know worldwide of the 60 million players that play, how many players use anchored strokes, we can certainly deduct from that, that trends do follow the professional tours and we do think and we see it ourselves anecdotally, with recreational golf."

So goes professional golf, so goes the game and the millions of people who play it worldwide. It's one game with one set of rules with the elite of the sport leading us all to aspire to greatness.

If Tiger can't stick the butt of end of his putter into his gut, then I don't want to do it, either.

That's the conventional wisdom.

But is what's good for the pros also good for everybody in the game? Should the governing bodies have two sets of rules: one for the pros and one for the recreational golfer? Won't it grow the game if more players can enjoy it by utilizing methods that make it easier for them to shoot lower scores?

This issue of anchoring has reignited our stances on these questions.

I'm conflicted. I want to see the game grow by any means necessary. And I don't think it's being cynical or defeatist to believe that a ruling like the anchoring ban might drive people away from the game. Putting is one of the most emotional, gut-wrenching, morale-bending tasks that one faces on a golf course.

But as a traditionalist and a member of a vast golf industry that includes the media, I also want to see the game unified around one set of rules, with tour players acting as the leading arbiters of the rules of golf.

The pyramid of influence model should count for everything in the game from the rules we abide by to the clubs we buy to our pace of play to how we handle adversity on the golf course. Tour pros aren't simply professional athletes. They are the most prominent faces of a multibillion-dollar industry that depends on them to lead people to golf courses armed with new clubs, balls and clothing apparel.

"It's nice for amateurs to understand that they're playing by the same guidelines we are," Woods said recently during his World Challenge tournament in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "I think to me that's important, and I think that's important for the traditions and enjoyment of the game that everyone is under the same auspices."

Bifurcation would engender a divided agenda in the sport that would make it a cumbersome task for golf equipment makers to create buzz and demand around much-needed innovations in equipment technology.

Few people at the top of the game want to see the pyramid of influence model die. That's why many of the pros, who are paid millions to endorse equipment, don't believe in two sets of rules.

"I think the handicapped golfer wants to use the equipment that the pros are using, and that's why Srixon pays me to use their equipment, because hopefully if I win some more tournaments and majors, people will want to use the Srixon golf ball," Graeme McDowell said. "People want to use what the top players are using.

"There's no point in me going out there in a pro-am today and ... the amateur is using long putters and anchored putters and me not being able to use that. It just doesn't feel right."

In the coming years, perhaps in the coming days, there are likely more public conversations by the ruling bodies on the ball and the driver technology which have revolutionized the way the game is played at the elite and recreational levels. Yet regardless of the outcome of those deliberations, the amateurs and the pros should face the same consequences and challenges when they play, because it's one game with one bible of rules for everybody.