Opinion

Vent your spleen on the distance debate

Last month, the R&A and the USGA launched a global online questionnaire and data-gathering exercise surrounding distance in golf.

As part of the Distance Insights project, golf’s governing bodies have opened up the doors to the world golfing public, asking for feedback and ideas about what is arguably the most hotly-debated topic in golf: is the ball going too far?

While it may seem to many (including yours truly) that the answer to the question is a resounding “Well, DUH!…OF COURSE the ball IS going too far!), there are still many people out there who live in the dark ages, arguing (against all evidence) that the ball simply isn’t going significantly further than in previous years (perhaps we should introduce these people to the “Flat Earthers”, who believe that our planet isn’t actually round, and that Australia doesn’t exist. I’m not making it up: Google it for yourself). 

Let’s be clear about one thing. The ball is going significantly further than in the past. Whether it is due to the ball itself, or player fitness, or club technology, or an anomaly in the (round) Earth’s gravitational pull, the simple fact is that distance has become an issue.  From octogenarian amateurs (who are able to hit drives further today than when they were in their prime at 20 years old), all the way to the professionals who are smashing drives so far that they only need a lob wedge for their second shots into a monster par-5, the ball is simply rocketing.

And as we know, this is causing heaps of problems in the industry: To accommodate the long game of the elite/pros, courses are thus forced to get extended/longer, which not only requires more maintenance (time and money), it also slows down the game, etc.

It also creates a situation that is slowly degrading one of the great skills of the game: long-iron approaches. In the “good old days” of golf, some of the most exciting shots were with the long irons (the famous Ben Hogan 1-iron in the 1950 US Open, for example). And what about going even further back, to the days when hickory clubs and feather-stuffed balls were the norm? Now THOSE guys and gals were real golfers – they had to manufacture shots, and really learn how to golf a ball with their long-iron “mashies”.

But today, the professionals play an entirely different game: Driver-Wedge, all day long. While players like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods create excitement with their wedge play, the “magic” of the long game is slowly disappearing at the professional level. It’s just not as much fun to watch.

The R&A have long claimed that they want to uphold the traditions and purity of the game. Well, from a technology standpoint, that horse may have bolted. They have sat on their hands for too long regarding the ball, and the game has suffered as a result.  

BUT… perhaps it’s not too late to help them turn this Titanic away from the iceberg.  They have asked for our opinion and (assuming that they will actually LISTEN to it), we should do everything in our power to tell them what we think.

So I implore (nay, BEG) each and every one of you to go to www.randa.org/distanceinsights or www.usga.org/distanceinsights, and share your opinion.  Note that they are only running the survey until the end of October, so be sure and log on asap.

The ball’s in your court.

See you on the fairways,

Richard

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