Is Distance Really an Issue?

Is Distance Really an Issue?

We’ve heard about golf’s battle on distance for 20 years now. We heard about Augusta National “Tiger Proofing” the course after Mr. Woods tore it up in 1997 by hitting pitching wedges into par 4’s and 6 irons into par 5’s. All that simply meant was stretching the holes and moving the tee boxes back to make it longer. The USGA has already set a limit on the size of a driver (460 cc), the length of a driver (48”) and they’ve limited the “trampoline effect” off the face as well (Characteristic time 257).

Jack Nicklaus has gone on record by stating many times that of all the technological advancements in equipment, the modern golf ball is the biggest. They just don’t spin like they used to, especially on miss-hits. They fly straighter, longer, and are more durable than the balls his era played with. But Bubba Watson proves that if you have the talent and imagination to shape a shot, you can still do it. Tiger is known for playing an incredibly high spinning version of a ball that isn’t even available to the consumer.

Forget about the advancements made to the ball and the driver; what about the advancements made to the players? Nobody looked like Tiger or DJ 40 years ago. You had Greg Norman and Gary Player, and then a bunch of guys. Yes, world class, talented guys…but normal guys. Bryson DeChambeau would still swing a persimmon driver 125 mph. Would he get 185 mph ball speed from that wooden driver? No. But the point is the new class of golfer is an exceptional athlete, especially the ones competing on golf’s major tours. The influx of players the Tiger Boom first brought to the game disappeared due to many factors but mostly because of a recession. This new boom brings in players with top notch athleticism who succeeded at other sports as well. These players are picking up golf at a young age who would otherwise be excelling at basketball, football, baseball, and track.

This is not just happening at the game’s highest level. As an instructor and club fitter I am seeing more athletic players than I ever have before. It seems like every day I am working with someone hitting a 7 iron 175 yards and a driver around 290. Custom orders with x-stiff flex shafts are through the roof and there’s more x shafts in fitting carts than ever before. Now, to play devil’s advocate here I am also seeing players hit the new clubs distances they should have no business hitting. The ball speeds on irons and the performance from the new lightweight shafts is utterly amazing. What I am seeing is average guys get a lot out of very little and the extremely athletic guys get every single drop out of what they bring to the table.

So we’ve established that today’s golfer is more athletic and hits the ball a long way, whether it’s your local Wednesday night league at the muni or the U.S. Open. But is today’s amateur a better player? The average 18-hole handicap in the US is 26.4 and that hasn’t changed in 30 years. Only 26% of players break 90 consistently. The average driver goes 226 and the average 7 iron travels 133. I don’t think we need any restrictions in place to hinder the everyday golfer. The game is as popular as it’s ever been. Leave well enough alone.

But I don’t think we have an issue on the pro side either. Going back to Augusta “Tiger proofing” after ’97. The Masters is a different and unique animal. They never added rough, just length. Augusta is it’s most dangerous when it’s firm and fast. Its defense is the greens. Players can take advantage when it’s wet and there’s moisture, but even the state-of-the-art sub-air system ensures they don’t stay soft for long. On many holes if you want to get within 10 feet of the pin you need to land the ball 40 ft to the right of it. Augusta plays 400 yards longer today than it did 20 years ago. And that’s after a revamp every few years due to other players not named Tiger hitting it a long way. What about the US Open? Winged Foot played 7,500 yards and had plenty of rough and some of the most protected greens in the world. DeChambeau was the only player under par at -6 and not because he was the longest player in the field. He out-chipped and out-putted everyone as well. Sure he took lines off the tees that other players wouldn’t even think about, but when he hit it 350 into the rough, it wasn’t his “off the charts” equipment that got him close to the hole. It was his shear strength and speed with a shorter club in the rough. A guy with tremendous speed and a wedge is going to hit it closer out of 4 inch rough than a guy with average speed and a 7 iron. He set a goal, worked on his body physically, and achieved it. That’s what pro athletes do. That’s part of the reason they are in the 2%; work ethic.

Sure it’s nice and refreshing when the pros struggle to shoot par blah, blah, blah. It happens a few times a year. But I like to see their world-class talents on display and birdies and eagles. It’s humbling when they shoot 80. It reminds us how tough the game is. But I’d rather see a 59. I’m not condoning steroids but baseball was at the peak of its popularity in the 90’s for one reason: homeruns. And think of all the star power and household names that decade had. Sure I love a pitcher’s duel and the historic nature of a no-hitter or a perfect game, but I don’t wanna see one every day.

Golf is a game by itself in that you can play what the greats play and play where the pros play. You want to try to make Tiger’s slippery 12 footer on the 18th at Torrey Pines? You can. You want to try Jack’s 1-iron at Pebble Beach’s 17th? Have at it. You want to play the same ball Rickie Fowler plays? Get you a dozen. For these reasons and hundreds more I am not for different equipment lines for the pro tours and for amateurs. Hell I don’t really love different sets of rules except for a few adopted changes for leagues and such to speed up play. I just ask that when you do travel to these bucket list places, or any course, you play the correct set of tees for your game. If you hit it 260 yards off the tee, which is very respectable and longer than average, don’t play the tips if they’re over 7,000 yards. It will still be a challenge from the next tee up at 6650. Golf is fun and it’s more popular than ever. I’d like to keep it that way.

Fantasy Picks If you have been overlooking this segment you better quit sleeping on your boy! My sleeper pick Max Homa captured victory at the Genesis and made poor Tony Finau a bridesmaid for the 109th time. This week’s WGC event that used to be played in Mexico is now the WGC Workday  Championship and is held at Concession Golf Club outside Sarasota. Winner Tony Finau I know, I know…he’s born to finish second. I don’t think so. His attitude and response to losing in yet another playoff was just what I wanted to hear. He is playing great golf and is going to continue to enjoy playing great golf. Will contend Dustin Johnson He has the 2nd most WGC wins behind Tiger. Won this event in Mexico and the change of scenery won’t bother him. Sleeper Louis Oosthuizen Quietly one of the best players in the world who always shows up in big events. Because of the qualifier only World Golf Championship we also have an opposite field event taking place at the Puerto Rico Open. Winner Emiliano Grillo Tied for 3rd last year and lost in a playoff the year before. Will contend Patrick Rogers Finished tied for 12th last week at Riviera. Sleeper Ian Poulter Just missed qualifying for the WGC. Plays well when he’s angry.

Enjoy the game and each other.

Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional

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