View From The Fairway - The Great Distance Debate
FINALLY, it seems, the R&A and the USGA have removed their collective heads from the sand and decided that the time has come to address the great distance debate. It appears that they are now looking at the possibility of restricting the length of golf shafts. You will recall that Bryson DeChambeau has been experimenting with a 48-inch shaft on his driver as he strives to regularly propel the golf ball 400 yards. Golf’s governing bodies are looking at restricting shaft lengths to 46 inches. This totally overlooks the fact that DeChambeau is already regularly driving the golf ball in excess of 350 yards using a shaft of that precise length. Ironically, DeChambeau, who says he is flattered at all the noise that is being made, has announced that he will not, after all, be putting a 48-inch driver into play. Unsurprisingly the world’s top golfers have had plenty to say on the subject. World No1 Dustin Johnson says there is no need to do anything. He says that he has tried a 48-inch shaft but abandoned it because although he was able to hit the ball 20 yards further he was unable to control the ball. Rory McIlroy has been especially vocal. The Northern Irishman says the money spent looking at the distance professionals hit the ball should instead have been diverted into looking at ways to grow the game. He has accused the R&A and USGA of self-importance. There is a consultation going on that involves the sport’s leading ball and club manufacturers and you can be sure that the R&A and USGA will be aware of the threat of legal suits from the manufacturers. We have looked at this issue before - wouldn’t it just be simpler to look at thicker rough, deeper fairway bunkers and harder, faster greens on the courses used by the PGA and European Tours? There has been talk of reducing the size of driver heads, of introducing minimum driver lofts and of introducing a tournament golf ball. The major club and ball manufacturers have invested far too much money in technology to take this lying down. This is a story that is going to run and run - a bit like one of DeChambeau’s drives.
CONTROVERSY seems to follow Patrick Reed wherever he goes. The American’s victory at the Farmers Insurance Open will not be remembered for the brilliance of his golf or the fact that he beat a world-class field by five shots. Instead it will be remembered for a dubious free drop he took during the third round on Saturday. He had hit a ball into the rough at Torrey Pines and claimed the ball was embedded. However, TV replays quite clearly showed that Reed’s ball had bounced upon landing. To make matters worse, he awarded himself a free drop BEFORE consulting with a rules official. I am a big fan of the way that Reed plays the game but it does seem that he is more than happy to bend the rules when it suits him.
REED could learn much from Justin Thomas. The American landed himself in hot water when uttered a homophobic slur after missing a short par putt during the Tournament of Champions and was later dropped by Ralph Lauren, one of his main sponsors. Thomas was genuinely mortified when he was informed that his outburst had been picked up by TV microphones. “I apologised many times for what I said,” Thomas said. “But I didn’t publicly say - and I feel terrible about this - that I didn’t apologise to the people that were affected and offended by what I said, and I feel like I should take the time now to say that.” He also said that he respects Ralph Lauren’s decision and insists that he is using the incident as an opportunity to grow as a person. “I am continuing to try to progress each and every day and each and every week,” Thomas said. “I have had some great conversations with a lot of friends and the amount of support and sponsors and family friends that have reached out has meant more to me than a lot of people know. That’s kind of helped me get through this.” It is patently obvious that Thomas is not homophobic and deeply regrets his actions. He should now be allowed to get on with his life and his career.
IT IS little surprise that organisations such as Amnesty International should condemn professional athletes who choose to compete in Saudi Arabia. Two years ago Paul Casey, who is a UNICEF ambassador, said that, because of Saudi’s human rights record, he would not take part in the Saudi International. And yet there he was playing in the 2021 edition alongside the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tyrrell Hatton. Casey now says that his original stance was wrong. Hmmm….the likes of Johnson and DeChambeau will have received considerable incentives to play in Saudi, where the authorities say they are trying to grow the game. They point to the fact that they hosted two women’s events last year. On the face of it they do seem to be making progress. That is until you realise that Loujain al-Hathoul, a Saudi women’s rights activist, was sentenced to five years and eight months in jail back in December after being found guilty of spying with foreign parties and conspiring against the kingdom. She had been detained since May 2018. Part of her sentence was suspended, meaning that she will freed next month. When questioned about the jail term, Casey said he knew nothing about it. And that is perhaps the point. How can sportsmen say that their original stance was wrong when they quite clearly don’t have all the facts. And, as a UNICEF ambassador, Casey should be fully aware of what is happening in Saudi.
There was a world-class field assembled in Saudi Arabia but it is a worrying sign of the times that the European Tour is effectively going into hibernation, with the next event being the Qatar Masters, which takes from March 11-14. The European Tour has done a quite astonishing job of being able to put together any kind of a schedule at all but it is quite clear that Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact. A number of tournaments have been cancelled as the South African variant continues to run rampant across the globe. On the more positive side, the Open de France will return to the fabulous Le Golf National, scene of Europe’s sensational Ryder Cup victory in 2018. It will be staged from May 6-9 and will be the fourth tournament in a five-week stretch on European soil between the Masters and US PGA Championship. The others are the Tenerife Open, Gran Canaria Open, Portugal Masters and British Masters.
JUSTIN ROSE has returned to some kind of form, culminating in a top-five finish at the Saudi International. Much has been made of Rose suffering a slump after changing his club manufacturer but it also coincided with him parting company with long-time coach Sean Foley. Rose decided that he wanted to work on his own. So what’s behind his resurgence? He has admitted defeat and gone back to Foley, with instant results!
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