Distance issue under fire


  • Golf
  • Sunday, 09 Feb 2020

The game of golf could be altered rather dramatically if and when the changes come into effect.

THE days of the long-hitters bombing the ball 300-400-odd yards down the fairway appear to be numbered.

This comes in the wake of the R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) issuing a joint statement this week, raising their concerns over what they deemed was “undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future”.

This new development comes with the release of the findings of their Distance Insight Project Report, released by the R&A, the world governing body responsible for the global game outside the United States and Mexico, which falls under auspices of the USGA.

They said the Distance Insights project would “examine distance through a multi-pronged approach that includes global stakeholder engagement, third-party data review and research” and added that “focus groups and discussion forums will (also) play an important role in the project, to secure a broad range of perspectives throughout golf”.

“We believe that this continuing cycle of increases is undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future, ” the report said, with a particular reference to the US PGA tour and the European Tour.

It was also interesting to note that report said the average driving distance from the two Tours had increased at a rate of “one yard per year since 2013, with the 20 longest hitters in 2019 averaging 310yds with a driver”.

It is understood that as a consequence, the R&A and the USGA’s Equipment Standards teams and committees will conduct a “broad review” of golf club and ball specifications. This in itself would be a massive exercise that will surely impact the golf equipment manufacturers.

The report added: “Research shows that hitting distances and the lengths of golf courses have been increasing for more than 100 years. We believe that this continuing cycle of increases is undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future.”

The increased hitting distance could lead to a “reduction in the variety, length and creativity of shot types”, which in turn could “begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about using a broad range of skills and making risk/reward judgments during a round”, the report added.

For some time now there have been suggestions for the authorities to review the distance issue and notably so from the great Jack Nicklaus. The 18-time Major championship winner said before the 2016 US Masters that “the length the guys hit it today, the simplest solution is change the golf ball.

He added: “The golf ball goes so far, and Augusta National is about the only golf course in the world that, financially, can afford to make the changes that they have to make to keep up with the golf ball.”

The R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers of the matter: “We will assess the potential use of a Local Rule option that would specify use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances.

“The concept is that equipment meeting a particular set of reduced-distance specifications – for example, a ball that does not travel as far or a club that will not hit a ball as far.

“Such a Local Rule option could be available for use at all levels of play, and golfers playing outside of a competition could also have the option to make this choice for themselves.

Meanwhile, skysports.com reported that PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson said proposals from the R&A and the USGA to curb “increases in hitting distances would result in punishing athletes for getting better.

That report said Mickelson was “adamant that top professionals hitting the ball further than ever are a result of increased strength and fitness rather than innovations in equipment.

“I don’t feel that you should punish the athletes for getting better, ” it quoted him as saying. “I don’t think we have had massive equipment changes, we’ve just had athletes that have been able to take advantage of the equipment more so now than in the past.

“I hate to see that discouraged. You look at what Bryson DeChambeau has done by getting in the gym, getting after it, lifting weights and hitting bombs, and now you’re talking about trying to roll it back because he’s made himself a better athlete?”

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what the R&A and USGA come up with in regards to dealing with issues that are “undesirable and detrimental” to golf.

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