Combatting golf's distance boom
Professional golfers are hitting the ball such long distances that courses can't keep up. Now, golf's governing bodies appear ready to act.
Driving the news: The USGA and the R&A (Europe) jointly announced Tuesday that they will explore four potential changes intended to curb distance gains:
- Changing the specifications of equipment
- Changing how manufacturers test equipment
- Limiting the maximum club length to 46 inches
- Allowing tournament organizers to implement equipment standards
What they're saying:
"Golfers need to understand that this every-generation-hits-the-ball-farther is affecting the game negatively. ... We're just trying to fit the game of golf back on golf courses."— USGA CEO Mike Davis, via Golfweek
The backdrop: Three key factors in determining hitting distance have undergone significant advancements this century: the swing, the club and the ball.
- It's put the game at a crossroads: Should courses expand to keep up with the modern golfer, or should equipment be altered to reduce distance?
- A year ago, the USGA and R&A stated that the continuing increase in length was "detrimental" to the game.
By the numbers: In 1990, the average PGA Tour driving distance was 262.8 yards. In 2020, it was 296.4 yards — an increase of nearly 13%.
- Bernhard Langer, who plays on the PGA's senior circuit, drives the ball farther at age 63 (273.5 yards) than he did in his prime (269.7 yards in 1985).
The big picture: If distance-related changes are made at the professional level, it could lead to a bifurcation of rules like we have in baseball.
- Just as metal bats are used at every level below the majors and minors, certain golf equipment could be permitted for everyday players, but not pros.
What's next: There's no timeline for when the proposed changes, if adopted, would be implemented.
- But it likely won't be for at least another year, as the USGA and R&A gather research alongside manufacturers and other stakeholders.