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The Solution to Golf Ball Distance Debate is Obvious

By: | Mon 03 Apr 2023

Golfshake's Derek Clements has been out of the loop for a month and returns to share his thoughts on the golf ball proposals from The R&A and USGA

I HAVE been in Australia for three weeks and returned home to the news that the USGA and R&A plan to introduce new regulations to restrict the distance that professional golfers hit a golf ball.

Rather than making changes to club technology, they want to see a new golf ball to be used in elite competition.

There are many people (including Golfshake's Digital Editor Kieran Clark) who believe that something needs to be done to rein in the distances today’s tour pros hit the ball. I used to be one of them, but I have now changed my mind.

This debate has been raging since Tiger Woods won his first major way back in 1997. The powers-that-be at Augusta reacted by attempting to Tiger-proof their hallowed turf. Others have followed suit.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the players are divided. Or that the sport’s ball manufacturers are unimpressed.

I believe that if a golfer dedicates his life to improving his physique and increasing his swing speed then he should be rewarded. Golfers are now athletes. And let’s be clear - yes, 320-yard drives are now routine but the harder an individual hits a golf ball the less likely that person is to be able to consistently find the fairway.

Call me old-fashioned, but the solution to this is not rocket science - if you really want to test these golfers make the rough more penal and put proper lips on fairway bunkers. In other words, penalise tournament professionals for missing the short and prepared.

Let’s take a look at some statistics. Does driving distance equate to success?

This season, man who hits the ball furthest on the PGA Tour is Rory McIlroy, with an average of 326.6 yards. Obviously, he is one of the best golfers on the planet. But the man in second place is Brandon Matthews, with an average of 320.4 yards. Brandon who? You might well ask. Cameron Young is third - he is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory. Others in the top 10 include Cameron Champ, Jhonattan Vegas, Matti Schmid, Wyndham Clark and Trevor Cone. They are hardly household names or prolific winners.

St Andrews Old Course

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Surprisingly, McIlroy is in favour of change. "For elite level play, I really like the proposals. I really do," said the world number three. “But I'm glad in this new proposal that they haven't touched the recreational golfer.

"I know that's a really unpopular opinion amongst my peers, but I think it's going to help identify who the best players are a bit easier. Especially in this era of parity that we've been living in these past couple of decades.”

Just two years ago, McIlroy described the R&A and USGA’s Distance Insight Project as a waste of time.

But he now says that he has changed his view. "Innovation is a part of every sport, it's a part of every industry," he said. "But whenever that innovation outgrows the footprint of the game, that's when I think we have a problem."

Others, including Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau, are against the changes.

And Acushnet, who make the best-selling Titleist balls, said the move was "a solution in search of a problem". The company sees the plans, which would leave recreational golf unchanged, as being unnecessary.

The proposals would see driving distances reduced by 15-20 yards. So you have to ask how the likes of Sungjae Im, Seamus Power and Keegan Bradley, who all currently hit the ball around 295 yards, would feel. In effect, this would see them hitting the ball the same distances that the world’s leading players were achieving with persimmon drivers.

I agree with Thomas when he says: “They are trying to create a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. To me, it's just so bad for the game of golf.

"The great thing to me is the fact that you [the club golfer] can play the exact same golf ball that I play. For an every day amateur golfer, it's very unique that we are able to play the exact same equipment."

Related Content

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Proposals Unveiled to Limit Distance For Elite Golfers

Survey Captures Views of Golfers on Proposed Golf Ball Rule

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup european tour dp world tour

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