Proposed Solheim patent matches equipment to handicap

John Solheim, the CEO of Ping, looks on during the singles matches on Day 3 of the 2011 Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle Golf Club on September 25, 2011.

John Solheim, the CEO of Ping, looks on during the singles matches on Day 3 of the 2011 Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle Golf Club on September 25, 2011.

PHOENIX – John Solheim doesn’t like the word bifurcation, but here’s how serious he is about increasing the enjoyment of golf for all players: The Ping chairman has applied for a United States patent outlining the use of an equipment rating formula to determine a golfer’s handicap.

In other words, different golfers would use different equipment. Their handicaps would then reflect the equipment they used, such as a longer ball or a hotter driver.

Although rulesmakers would label this as bifurcation – the existence of more than one set of rules – Solheim sees it as an effective way to attract more people to the sport and keep them active in the game.

“I think it’s something that could help the game and be within the rules,” said Solheim, who introduced an identical equipment proposal earlier in 2012 but did not reveal that he intended to seek a patent.

“I know the R&A had a problem with it,” Solheim said of his original proposal, “but I think it’s got some possibilities that the USGA and R&A may want to use some day. It’s their responsibility to look after the game, and I believe this would help the game.

“My goal was never to get something to happen overnight – maybe over time, to help more people enjoy the game. We need to look after everybody who plays the game. The rules have pretty much been written for the top golfers in the world and not for the average golfer.”

When he is serious about any subject, Solheim talks very slowly, with deliberate conviction. In this case, he is utterly serious.

In addressing bifurcation, he added, “Some people say it is bifurcation, but my goal is to do it within the rules. The handicap itself is a form of bifurcation, because touring pros don’t have handicaps.

“I’m all for one set of rules, with the ability to give more enjoyment to a lot of people. We have to consider everybody. Take somebody who doesn’t hit it very far any more; you want to give them a longer ball or driver that hits it farther. They would enjoy the game more. This is for all the golfers around the world who play the game.”

A patent carries a 20-year life span from date of application, and Solheim said he has formalized his equipment rating formula so golfers in all countries potentially could have the same options in choosing their equipment.

“There are options that are available,” Solheim said. “I think it makes sense for everybody to know what they are. This is for the future of golf.”

The USGA and R&A have not responded to Solheim’s patent application. When Solheim announced his original proposal, USGA executive director Mike Davis said it would be carefully considered, although he expressed skepticism over the existence of more than one set of equipment standards.

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