Losing Five Yards From The Tee is Nothing to Get Upset About
The change in golf ball specifications means that the sport’s biggest hitters are going to be reined in by an average of 15 yards and Rory McIlroy has welcomed the changes.
That may surprise some people as he is the longest driver of a golf ball on the PGA Tour.
"It will bring back some skills into the pro game that have maybe been lost," the world number two told Sky Sports.
McIlroy added: "I actually think it will make the pro game more entertaining to watch - you will see a different variety of games."
The 34-year-old believes that shot shaping will come back into golf, and and increased use of long irons will mean "the game at the top level will become a bit more skilful again."
McIlroy is among several players whose drives average more than 320 yards, with 98 pros on the PGA Tour beating the circuit's average of 299.9 yards last season. The R&A and USGA have consistently argued that something had to give. In 2002 only one player, John Daly (306 yards), beat the 300 yard barrier.
Club golfers are predicted to see an average decrease of just five yards on a perfectly-struck driver. And the good news is we don’t yet have to worry about having to throw away all those shiny ProV1s we are going to get for Christmas because the changes will not come into effect for the rank and file until 2030. For the pros, the changes will be applied two years earlier
As you would expect, there has been opposition from golf manufacturers and leading tours during a protracted period of consultation before this announcement.
But the rules makers insist the game has to act to limit hitting distances.
"This is a trend we need to take very seriously," R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers told BBC Sport.
"Golf courses are growing ever longer and we need to have a responsibility about protecting the integrity of golf courses, protecting the balance of skills and technology, and how the game is played.
"But also the sport has to take its responsibility and be cognisant of our environmental and sustainability impacts. Making golf courses ever longer, we start to run out of property and it is not environmentally responsible."
Modern premium golf balls (which cost around £6 each) when struck with the latest drivers have never flown as far as they do today.
McIlroy’s take on the changes is fascinating. He said: "I actually think it will make the pro game more entertaining to watch - you will see a different variety of games."
He believes that shot shaping will come back into golf, and and increased use of long irons will mean "the game at the top level will become a bit more skilful again."
McIlroy also said the new rules will have a positive environmental impact, as the longer courses being built need more water to maintain them.
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington has said they will make the game safer.
He said to the BBC: "I think everybody who plays golf would know of a golf course where there has been a hole closed or re-designed because it has become dangerous because people hit it too far.
"When people who hit it far miss, they miss big. It is causing play to slow down, it's dangerous, it's expensive for golf courses to build more open and wider so people don't get hurt."
Justin Thomas has criticised the changes and Keegan Bradley called the rollback "stupid." Speaking at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, he said: "For the amateur world, to hit it shorter is monstrous.”
But Harrington says the criticism comes from those at the top of their game.
"Anybody who is successful doesn't want change," Harrington added. "If you are at the top, you never want to change - you want to keep it where it is, your winning formula.
So just how are the new rules going to be enforced?
Under current regulations, a ball struck by a robotic club swung in laboratory conditions at 120mph is only allowed to travel 317 yards (with three yards tolerance). The new rules will maintain the same distance outcome, but for a club swung at the increased rate of 125mph, which is the top end of the speed generated by pros.
"We feel very strongly that we need to act and update the rules for the modern game," Slumbers said. "It is 20 years since we last updated the golf ball and a lot has changed in sport, and in golf, in that time.
"We feel that a reduction of 15 yards for the longest hitters is fair and will have a meaningful impact.
"But it is very important to understand that for the average recreational golfer we will see an impact of less than five yards."
So there you have it. Club golfers such as myself have been concerned about what is coming but will anybody really notice losing five yards off the tee? I doubt it very much.
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