Last week the USGA released the preliminary results of their Distance Insights Project. The project is a joint initiative by the USGA and R&A to study the impact of distance in golf.
As you may have heard, the nearly two-year study concluded that ever-increasing distances are going to be a problem for the game of golf. The following two statements from the report's "Conclusions" document sum up the USGA and R&A's thoughts pretty well:
“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end”
The response from most current players is that they're not exactly thrilled with the idea of limiting distance.
When asked about the report by Golf Digest, Jason Day said, "I don't know why they would want us to hit it shorter".
Webb Simpson, in a Q&A session with GOLF.com following his victory at the 2020 Waste Management Open, acknowledged his game has never been about distance, then added, "I feel like our game is in as good a place as it’s ever been. I do not feel that the solution is to limit distance."
The response from players should come as no surprise, especially when you consider most players are sponsored by equipment manufacturers.
The lifeblood of equipment manufacturers is distance. Distance is the excuse for a new "groundbreaking" club release every year. Distance drives the bottom line, distance drives profit, distance drives share price. Take away distance, and you take away the path to profit. From a marketing standpoint, advertising a gain of 15 yards is much sexier than advertising a club that's 15% more accurate.
If I was a pro I wouldn't bite the hand that feeds either.
As a fan of professional golf, I couldn't care less about distance. It just doesn't do it for me. I don't particularly care. Do you tune in on Sundays because you're excited to watch DJ hit it 340 off the tees? I sure don't.
I tune in for unbelievable saves.
And mind-bending shots.
And, ultimately, a chance to witness magic.
More than anything, big distance inspires awe from average golfers and fans, alike. Driving the ball is physical, athletic and a great show of power - but it's not what makes the game memorable. We don't talk about massive drives the same way we talk about Tiger's chip at the 2005 Masters.
When you think about what makes the game great and how we can grow the game (the most tired term in all of sports), focusing on the aspects of golf that lower handicaps and strokes, which in turn make the game more enjoyable because you're improving, is more important than just hitting bombs. Golf Digest reports that most recreational golfers average 195-205 with their drivers, so it's not like the ever-increasing distance of tour pros is even relatable.
Beyond the subjective reasons why I could care less about distance, there is one big objective one, too: we're running out of space.
Lengthening courses is expensive and many courses may not even have the land. When you consider the significant decline in the number of golf courses across the U.S. due to challenges with profitability, the prospect of these courses buying more land to keep up with distance is even less realistic.
So, in conclusion, I think something should be done in professional golf to address ever-increasing distance. Like baseball in the 90s - the game is juiced to the point that things are on the verge of getting silly.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts about the distance debate in the comments, below.
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