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March 15, 2023
USGA exploring rolling back golf ball distance for major tournaments
This is only a proposal at the moment, but the USGA and the Royal and Ancient have been exploring this option for years. Is this a good idea? This controversy is nothing new to golf. Bobby Jones stated in 1965 that Jack Nicklaus "plays a game I am not familiar with", after Jack drove to places at Augusta National that Jones never expected anyone would be able to reach. The Masters moved tees back and added rough to compensate for the new driving length. Then along came Tiger Woods, who hit it even further and made Augusta National a short golf course. Again the Masters added more length to compensate. Today's super long hitters like Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, and others are reaching 350 yard drives with some consistency. A par five used to be holes over 450 yards. Rory would play that length hole with a drive and sand wedge!
Jack Nicklaus has stated as long back as thirty years ago that the golf ball is going too far. He feared at the time that old historic golf courses would become outdated and obsolete. Manufacturers have used space aged technology to produce golf balls that reduce wind resistance and drag to maximize distance and straightness. Drivers have gotten lighter, more aerodynamic, and can transfer greater ball speeds to optimize their potential. Today's professional golfers are much better athletes and train better than in the past. Given these advantages, they should hit it further. If so, should they be penalized for their dedication? The year that I played on Tour, I considered myself to be longer than average. I played often with Fuzzy Zoeller and my best was usually 10 yards behind his. Tom Weiskoff, John Jacobs, Jim Dent were in a league of their own. They had an advantage as long as they could hit it straight. Jerry Kelly at age 56, just last week competed and made the cut in The Players Championship. He played the last two rounds with Alex Smalley, who outhit Jerry by an average of 60 yards and occasionally 100 yards! Terry beat Alex those two rounds, so there is more to playing golf than distance. However, over a long period of time, a player that is sixty yards closer and hitting short irons will have significantly lower scores.
The USGA and the R&A have stated that they want to protect the game and ensure the game remains strong for the next twenty years and beyond. I agree with Nicklaus that the golf ball is going too far. Something should've been done thirty years ago. Now this is the standard and, I believe, it is too late to roll it back. The governing bodies have opened up a six month period for comments and suggestions. The PGA Tour has taken a position of cooperation with the USGA and R&A, but didn't endorse their distance reduction proposal. They stated they would continue their own extensive testing and do what is best for their membership and fans. Titleist has come out with a strong statement against any change stating, "Playing by a unified set of rules is an essential part of the game's allure, contributes to its global understanding and appeal, and eliminates the inconsistency and instability that would come from multiple sets of equipment standards," I agree with that statement.
So far Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Brandel Chamblee have come out and have opposed the USGA and R&A suggestion. I think most modern playing professionals will have similar views. I will occasionally watch Shell's Wonderful World of Golf on the Golf Channel. Tee shots were going 250 yards in the early 60's. Pitching wedges irons were going 100 yards. The USGA has stated that over the past 40 years the average distance has increase one yard per year; with the exceptionally longer hitters even further. They state that this trend is not sustainable for the health of the game going forward. I think there is a general consensus that there should be a limit. I hope smart ideas will now develop and we can have an answer so all of us can play the same game with the same ball.
For what it's worth, this is what I would like to happen with the golf ball. Golf ball technology improved distance and accuracy. One major change from the ball the pros were using 25 years ago is the current ball does not curve as much as before. Sure the good players can hook and fade the ball at will, but the old ball was much harder to hit straight and hooked and faded much more. Shotmaking with the old ball was much more of an art form. I would go back to a ball that has increased spin and will be affected more from open or closed clubheads. The top players will still hit it far, but by adding the old spin it won't go quite as far and we will see more shotmakers and less "Hit it and Rip it" players. The average player will get about the same distance and probably won't notice the extra spin. The expert will notice the change, but they should be skilled enough to make the adjustment. I think the USGA and R&A should be looking for a solution that all players can be happy with, not one with two different standards.