In 1998, Nike made an amazing commercial titled “Chicks Dig the Long Ball.”  This was the summer that the world was watching every at bat by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  It wasn’t because they were going to hit a single.  It was because there was a chance we were going to see history with a home run.  Yesterday, the governing bodies of golf, the USGA and the R & A released their distance report concerning the game of golf.  Their findings were very disturbing about “growing the game.”  They don’t like the idea of the long ball or “hitting bombs.”  Click here for the summary of their conclusions.  

The Distance Report

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised with their findings.  This is the same organization who got rid of square grooves, after they approved them.  Banned putter anchoring after it had been used for 30 years all because 2 players won majors with them.  These actions made things harder for the average person to enjoy the game of golf and some players even had to give up the game due to health reasons with the anchoring ban.  

The first thing that stood out to me in this report was that they took the data from the top 20 driving distance leaders from the PGA and European Tours.  They also looked at the same segment from the LPGA Tour. They looked at 60 golfers!  There are 23.8 million golfers in the US alone.  So looking at .000252% of all golfers creates the sampling you need in order to make the decision that is best for the overall game?  

In this study, they determined that the top 20 players on the respective tours were hitting the ball 7 yards further on average while the entire tours gained a total of 8 yards from 2003 to 2019.  At the end of the day were talking about a yard of distance every 2 years overall.  I’m confused?  I thought they said that this was detrimental to the game.  I guess half a yard a year is bad?

Why didn’t they just study Maurice Allen and the rest of the World Long Drive competitors.  It would give you the same results and the answers you are looking for!  

They didn’t take the time to look at the recreational golfer to get the data?  Who is your bread and butter?  They are the ones who pay greens fees, buy equipment, take golf vacations, buy tickets, pay for memberships to the USGA along with don’t hit it nearly as far and are looking for anything to make the game more enjoyable.   

Instead they wrote, “We believe that many recreational golfers are playing from longer tees than is necessary, which in turn increases the time it takes to play.”  The first problem I have with this statement is the words “We believe.”  The reason I have an issue with this is it isn’t fact based.  Where are the facts to support this? 

Just this weekend I went and played a municipal course locally.  We had a gentlemen join us on the front 9 so there were 4 of us.  We were pushing the 3 some in front of us and they had no one in front of them.  At one point they putted out and went to the next tee, a 125 yard par 3.  We played our approach shots, all of us hit chip shots, and putted out.  The group had yet to tee off and there was no one on the green when they got to the tee.  They were all there having a conversation on the tee box with no care for anyone around.

Now, everyone in my group doesn’t have a problem if you are playing poorly.  As long as you keep moving.  If you just play slow, that is a different story.  

The USGA doesn’t have any issues with slow play.  I’ve played in the US Open qualifier.  On the first tee the starter was handing out the score cards to us.  She goes over the order for teeing off and tells us that the pace of play for the day was five and a half hours.  I almost withdrew on the spot.  Five and a half hours for 18 holes?  And distance is the problem, yeah right.

Golf Course Set Up

While they did acknowledge the technological advancements in golf balls and clubs, players fitness regiment, launch monitor technology to maximize distances and golf course conditions they really fall short on assessing them.  Just this past weekend, Webb Simpson hit a drive that rolled 54 yards after it landed!  54 YARDS of roll!

There is a theory on the PGA Tour that they “follow the sun” for tournaments.  They look for optimal conditions and they get the golf courses hard and fast.  They hate rain.  Soft conditions on the PGA Tour means birdie fests because players can attack flags and not worry.  The Tour wants to see the players hit it 300 yards because that sells tickets. 

The USGA and their US Open set up has been suspect at best.  Recently they let a golf course get away from them (again) and they set it up so on edge that the recreational player would not be able to break 120 from the middle tees.  Sure it is fun to watch the best players in the world struggle from time to time.  Watching it every week would be a different story.  

While they both hate soft setups for events there are other ways to combat the distance “problem.”  Narrowing fairways and growing out the rough.  Courses could add penalty areas on holes for players to have to play position golf.  Adding more bunkering to courses in strategic spots, not at a 260 carry but at a 315 carry.  Even trees and native wild grass positioned correctly make players think about what they want to do off the tee.  There are many other ways to combat this dilemma!  

For the USGA to say the only way to look is cutting back the distance, there are other ways that you can do it.  The problem is there are too many people sitting in an office debating this that feel they made a mistake letting metal drivers and solid core golf balls into the game.  

Bigger Issues

The problem with golf isn’t the 300 yard drives.  That’s what all of us play the game to do.  For the recreational player they will tell you about all of theirs.  There are really 2 major problems with growing the game.  The first is there are too many people set in their ways making rules that make the game more difficult for the recreational player to enjoy, thus driving people away from it.  

Why are golf courses still set in their ways over people not being able to play in Jeans and tee shirts?  Who is that hurting to let them on the course to enjoy themselves.  Maybe allowing a relaxed dress code would get more people on the course.  It would draw more interest in the game.  

The second issue is cost/affordability.  Lets face it, golf isn’t cheap.  When you have drivers costing $600.  The average price of a putter over $200 and closer to $300.  You then need to fill the bag with 12 other clubs.  Not to mention buy the bag, golf balls, tees, gloves, polo shirt, shoes, hat, sunglasses, range finder, headcovers, and then pay your greens fees on top of that, you are well in excess of $1500 before you step on the first tee.  

While I understand that there are people that need to be paid along the way.  Courses need to have income to operate and everyone is trying to make a profit.  At some point you need to really consider is it worth charging $50 a round with no one playing?  Or should they charge $35 a round and have the course turning people away. 

Playing the same Equipment?

If you think that what you are buying is the same stuff you see your favorite player use on TV you are mistaken.  The PGA Tour players are getting equipment that is geared for them only.  Many of the players use clubs that none of us can get our hands on.  They are designed to their exact specifications and have club heads that are tour specific.  The players have tour issue shafts that are made to their exact specifications.  They use prototype golf balls that are about a year a head of what we are purchasing on the shelves at the local golf shop.  

Yes they have all been approved as legal by the USGA and R&A but they are all light years a head of what we are using.  Even the body of the clubs are different.  They use a different metal on the faces of the drivers for one.  Most of the clubs have hot metal in them for added weight and increased pop off the face.  There is no way for us to consistently hit it as far consistently as they do on tour.  

They spend time at testing facilities on devices like TrackMan and FlightScope finding out the best shaft, club head, loft and ball combinations so that they can optimize their distance and accuracy on every shot.  This gives them a competitive edge when it comes to trusting their equipment and knowing what it is going to do on each and every shot.  

Fitness and Distance

The biggest difference in the PGA Tour player and the recreational golfer is the men and women who play professionally do this as their job.  They don’t go to work and then try to practice, work out, eat correctly, work out some more and then play nine holes daily.  They are up early working out, going to practice, have nutritionist who give them a diet and schedule, work out some more and then will play.   It’s their livelihood and their priority.  

Look at what Bryson DeChambeau has done over the off season.  He knew he needed to compete in the distance department and needed to bulk up.  So adding 20 pounds of muscle was his solution.  Last weekend he hit the longest drive on 18 at TPC Scottsdale.  He gets it.  Long gone are the days of Craig Stadler on the PGA Tour.  To compete you need to be as dedicated to your fitness regiment as your are your practice regiment.  

The other thing that needs to be considered is the equipment manufacturers and their lack of speaking up.  The “governing bodies” have approved all of the balls that each of us are playing.  They are at their mercy when it comes to getting equipment approved.  When the groove rule changed they didn’t speak up.  When the anchoring ban was implemented they didn’t speak up either.

So the question is why not speak up?  Well, they have a profitable interest in the change.  If they change the ball or the driver we all have to go out and buy the new version.  When the groove rule went into effect the manufactures saw all of us buy new irons.  When the anchoring ban went into effect they made new counterbalanced putters.  Everyone went out and added them to the bag.  So with the idea of dialing back the ball or the equipment  why would they speak up?  Their pockets are going to get lined with our money.  

Dads Say So

In 1991, this long haired, chain smoking Razorback burst on the scene at the PGA Championship because he was hitting 300 yard drives and having fun playing golf.  From that moment on John Daly was a draw on the PGA Tour.  It wasn’t because of his good looks, I think he would even agree with me.  It was because of his long swing and the ability to hit the ball 300 yards.  So is distance the problem?

I think that the problem is the people making the decision are upset because they still can’t hit a ball 300 yards with the technology.  They think that the results on the PGA Tour are what is happening across the game.  Well they are mistaken.   

Sure there is the idea of bifurcating the rules of golf.  This would have the professional game and recreational game play under 2 different sets of rules.  If you think this is a great idea don’t worry the “governing bodies” don’t.   They love the idea that all golfers play under the same rules.  

They are also blind to look at any other variables on how to balance the game out.  If you really want to do this and find out the right solutions you need to start with people that understand the gaps in the game.  Ill volunteer to sit on a panel to help improve the game.  Get some more voices maybe the guys from Chasing Daylight, Enjoy the Walk and Biggs Golf Talk Pod Casts could join in.  Maybe add Idaleeeo and Stogies and Bogeys?  How about adding Phil or Tiger into the mix to get their feedback too.  Hear from other sports commissioners about how to grow the game.  I’m sure Rob Manfred would tell you that the ball going too far isn’t a problem.  It puts people in the seats in stadiums across Major League Baseball.   

If the USGA continues down the path of taking things away from players we will be back playing hickory shafts, persimmon heads and feathery golf balls because that is all that will be left to use.  Someone needs to speak up and stop the people in power from making decisions that they think are in the “best interest of the game.”  They have gotten us into this and it is time to let smarter minds get us out of it.   

 

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