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USGA and R&A say distance needs to be reigned back in

USGA/R&A Distance Report  

100 members have voted

  1. 1. Which of these has made the biggest contribution to distance gains on Tour in the last 30 years?

    • Ball technology
      32
    • Driver tech/fitting
      20
    • Fitness
      33
    • Launch monitor optimization
      4
    • Course conditions
      11
  2. 2. Is too much distance a problem on the Tour?

    • Yes
      44
    • No
      56
  3. 3. Is too much distance a problem for amateurs?

    • Yes
      6
    • No
      94
  4. 4. Which best represents your solution to the distance issue?

    • There's no issue. Keep things the way they are.
      19
    • Bifurcate: roll back the balls/clubs for the Tour, but leave the amateur equipment alone
      12
    • Change course conditions on Tour: taller grass, narrower fairways, etc.
      65
    • Roll back balls/clubs for everyone
      4
  5. 5. If the USGA rolls back the ball for everyone, would you switch to the new ball?

    • Yes
      38
    • No
      62


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3 minutes ago, GolfSpy MPR said:

Yeah, you're right on both accounts. It's really long, and I don't have a definite conclusion on the distance debate itself. My main point was to just remind everyone involved that we're trying to figure out the best rules for a game. That means there's no definitive right and wrong here. I think that reminder applies more to the rollback/bifurcation side of the debate, who sometimes frame their arguments hyperbolically: that the modern game is a travesty, etc.

I don't want to discount the real logistics issues: length increases maintenance, etc. But what we're arguing about, chiefly, is our taste in the kind of golf we want to watch.

Maybe we could frame it this way: laying aside personality and just focusing on style of play, would you rather watch

  • A Zach Johnson or Jim Furyk plot their way around the course, laying up on par 5s to get birdies with stellar wedge play, or
  • A Rory McIlory or Jon Rahm hit mammoth drives and laser approach shots, or
  • A Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson, hitting huge drives and hitting heroic recovery shots with imagination?

To be sure, it is good for the Tour if there's room for all of these guys. Variety is part of what makes the game interesting. But it's likely that one kind of player will be predominate. Which archetype should the Tour seek to have as the most common player?

Honestly, I'd rather watch the Bubba/Phil guys. In my judgment, they are the most entertaining and provide the most "Did you see that?!" moments per round. But it's impossible to make those guys the majority, not only because (I suspect) that style of play isn't something you can really teach, but because it just isn't the most prudent style of play for most guys if they want to have a sustainable Tour career.

Watching a ZJ or Furyk play is absolutely fascinating, but (for me) I can't imagine that having a Tour filled with those guys would be more fun to watch than a Tour filled with Rory/Rahm clones. The ZJ/Furyk types are interesting for two reasons: they're more relatable than the others, and they provide a contrast.

So on balance, it seems to me that the Tour would be making itself less interesting, on balance, if it made changes to favor a Tour filled with ZJ/Furyk types.

That's as close as I get to an answer 🙂

I like watching them all and all type players you mention win on any given Sunday.  It may (to some already has) become mundane watching the bomb & gouge show. My guess is that we'll see a hard cap placed on balls and equipment design.  We'll also see some changes to course conditions that further penalizes long, offline drives.  Someone mentioned adding deep pothole bunkers in those long, offline landing areas - ones that require a layup 90% of the time.  Sand is eco-friendly and easy to maintain.  Watching Cam disappear into a 10 foot deep crater, a puff of smoke emerge, and him reappearing will add some fun.

Even with these changes, the player profile in the year 2060 may have physically evolved to the point that average swat speeds are regularly approaching 200 mph. The USGA may need to add a new section to their regulations - "swole limits" (love that term) 🤣

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24 minutes ago, fixyurdivot said:

I like watching them all and all type players you mention win on any given Sunday.  It may (to some already has) become mundane watching the bomb & gouge show. My guess is that we'll see a hard cap placed on balls and equipment design.  We'll also see some changes to course conditions that further penalizes long, offline drives.  Someone mentioned adding deep pothole bunkers in those long, offline landing areas - ones that require a layup 90% of the time.  Sand is eco-friendly and easy to maintain.  Watching Cam disappear into a 10 foot deep crater, a puff of smoke emerge, and him reappearing will add some fun.

Even with these changes, the player profile in the year 2060 may have physically evolved to the point that average swat speeds are regularly approaching 200 mph. The USGA may need to add a new section to their regulations - "swole limits" (love that term) 🤣

Definitely agree both 1) that the governing bodies need to cap equipment distance where it is and that 2) through conditioning and launch monitors, upcoming Tour pros are going to continue to add (significant) distance in the next few decades.

I also agree that having a variety of styles in play makes watching golf better. Unfortunately, the impact of science on sport tends toward uniformity. When there's a breakthrough novelty (the Fosbury Flop), it's only novel until it's proven to be better, at which point every single competitor adopts it.

(As a side observation: I think it is very likely that the move from the video-based coaching generation to the launch-monitor-based coaching generation will have the side effect of bringing back a lot of variety in swing styles. Video, by the very nature of the tool, focuses on the visual conformity to a pattern. Because LMs don't care how you swing it, so long as you're hitting your numbers, you have an increased likelihood of getting a Wolff or even a DeChambeau.)

The Mark Broadie/Scott Fawcett/Lou Stagners of the world are showing (using hard data) that hitting the ball far is unquestionably the best way to score low. As a result, I think we'll see the same thing we've seen in other sports that have been strongly influenced by analytics. Guys trying to make a career shooting midrange jumpers or as traditional big men are having a hard go of it. I don't think we're even going to see a Rickey Henderson/Vince Coleman 100-base stealer ever again.

Should those losses make us nostalgic? Yeah, I think so, especially if you grew up with a connection to a team or player that was of that model. And it's great when an "old-school" guy like that can make it work in the modern game.

But even talking about appreciating the short hitters now on Tour is kinda silly. Zach Johnson averaged 287.5 off the tee last season. While he's 30 yards shorter than Cameron Champ, 287.5 is not short. Short is obviously relative on Tour, and there will always be guys 30+ yards shorter than the longest guys, and so that variety will always exist.

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2 hours ago, GolfSpy MPR said:

So on balance, it seems to me that the Tour would be making itself less interesting, on balance, if it made changes to favor a Tour filled with ZJ/Furyk types.

In my opinion, there will always be long hitters and shorter hitters, and distance off the tee will always be a substantial advantage.  That won't change if distance is decreased, length will remain as an advantage.  What a distance reduction COULD do is to bring most hazards back into play for most of the players.  As it is, the Zacks and Jims have to navigate around bunkers, while the Dustins and Rorys just hit the ball over the bunkers.

I agree with another thing you said, this is all opinion-based.  We can all have opinions as to what the proper balance of required skills is.  The USGA report says that the distance increases in elite golf have swung the balance too far towards length, so that some of the other skills matter less.  Its their opinion that the trend is undesirable, is harmful to golf for a number of reasons.  We can disagree, many of us might enjoy long hitters and not care that accuracy has diminished importance, I can respect that side of the discussion, even if I don't agree.  

I agree with the USGA/R&A on one thing, that the only aspect contributing to the distance increases that they have the potential to regulate is the equipment.  Its impossible to regulate training, strength, coaching, techniques.  Its impossible to regulate how a golf course prepares the grounds for an elite competition.  The only thing left is equipment regulation.  

Personally, I'd hate to see bifurcation of equipment rules.  I have a hard time thinking that the PGA Tour would accept a "local rule" that requires them to play different equipment from the stuff their sponsors are trying to sell to the general public.  I see a lot of issues with transitioning from "normal" equipment growing up to "reduced distance" equipment at some point, is it college, or elite junior events, is it only the Pro Tours?  I believe that one set of rules for all golfers is the best way to go.

I'd prefer that distance not be reduced for everyone.  As many have said, distance is really only an issue at the very top levels, most of us need all we can get.  But really, if we all lose a few yards due to equipment regulation, we're not going to quit golf.  Of course a few people would, and many more would be screaming bloody murder for years, but we'd adjust.  My preference would be to freeze distance where it is now.  I'd also support new regulations and testing, perhaps a maximum distance for fully assembled clubs, under a variety of swing speed and angle of attack scenarios.

Edited by DaveP043
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14 minutes ago, DaveP043 said:

As it is, the Zacks and Jims have to navigate around bunkers, while the Dustins and Rorys just hit the ball over the bunkers.

I think you've nailed it... and why some fairly low cost course changes are needed to once again bring those poor shot penalties back into play for them.  Think deep craters with past 180 degree ball grabbing lips 👍.  

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29 minutes ago, fixyurdivot said:

I think you've nailed it... and why some fairly low cost course changes are needed to once again bring those poor shot penalties back into play for them.  Think deep craters with past 180 degree ball grabbing lips 👍.  

But again, this is completely beyond the ability of the USGA/R&A to regulate.  I do think that a report like this might "encourage" the PGA Tour (and the other tours) to reconsider some of the course set-ups, maybe to work with the host course to find ways to reward accuracy (or penalize inaccuracy) more than they have in the past.  I think there's enough money available at the top levels to help the courses make changes.  The problems come when "everyman" courses feel pressure from the golfing public to do the same types of renovations.  Everyday golfers don't need additional bunkers or heavier rough to be appropriately challenged, but we want to play the clubs the pros play, and many want to play courses just like the pros play.

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42 minutes ago, fixyurdivot said:

I think you've nailed it... and why some fairly low cost course changes are needed to once again bring those poor shot penalties back into play for them.  Think deep craters with past 180 degree ball grabbing lips 👍.  

Growing the grass or watering it more will not fix this. Long hitters will still hit it over bunkers that the short hitter have to navigate. 

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8 minutes ago, DaveP043 said:

But again, this is completely beyond the ability of the USGA/R&A to regulate.  I do think that a report like this might "encourage" the PGA Tour (and the other tours) to reconsider some of the course set-ups, maybe to work with the host course to find ways to reward accuracy (or penalize inaccuracy) more than they have in the past.  I think there's enough money available at the top levels to help the courses make changes.  The problems come when "everyman" courses feel pressure from the golfing public to do the same types of renovations.  Everyday golfers don't need additional bunkers or heavier rough to be appropriately challenged, but we want to play the clubs the pros play, and many want to play courses just like the pros play.

One of the best things that the game of golf offers is exactly this. I can play the same course with the same equipment, with slight differences, as the pros. 

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Personally, I don't have an issue with bifurcation of the rules.  I'm still going to play and watch golf if that's put in place.  Different rules/equipment at various levels of other sports don't seem to affect their popularity.  Yes, golf is unique with its equipment rules as is, but changes appear necessary at this point.

I think standardizing the ball would be a no brainer whether its rolled-back or held at current status quo.  For example, watch a Formula 1 race and the teams/drivers have choice of 3 different tire compounds:  soft, medium, and hard.  Have a standard range of golf balls that are lower, medium, and higher spinning.  Maybe even design a range of 5 or 6 balls all with different characteristics so players still have choices.  It might help drive the cost of balls down too.  

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1 hour ago, DaveP043 said:

But again, this is completely beyond the ability of the USGA/R&A to regulate.  I do think that a report like this might "encourage" the PGA Tour (and the other tours) to reconsider some of the course set-ups, maybe to work with the host course to find ways to reward accuracy (or penalize inaccuracy) more than they have in the past.  I think there's enough money available at the top levels to help the courses make changes.  The problems come when "everyman" courses feel pressure from the golfing public to do the same types of renovations.  Everyday golfers don't need additional bunkers or heavier rough to be appropriately challenged, but we want to play the clubs the pros play, and many want to play courses just like the pros play.

It will be what the PGA Tour will decide to do.  Personally, I think the USGA/R&A will eventually adopt "local rules" for The Open and US Open, and I also think the Augusta National will follow along at the Masters.  That leaves the PGA the decide whether to acquiesce for the PGA Championship.  All other tournaments will go with the majors because I don't think the players want two sets of equipment to manage.

After the initial change, the public won't know the difference.  We will still watch.  The pros will still hit the ball further than most of use, so their game will still be nothing like ours.  It's a shame really... I wanted to see a 54 before I die.

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41 minutes ago, Kenny B said:

It will be what the PGA Tour will decide to do.  Personally, I think the USGA/R&A will eventually adopt "local rules" for The Open and US Open, and I also think the Augusta National will follow along at the Masters.  That leaves the PGA the decide whether to acquiesce for the PGA Championship.  All other tournaments will go with the majors because I don't think the players want two sets of equipment to manage.

After the initial change, the public won't know the difference.  We will still watch.  The pros will still hit the ball further than most of use, so their game will still be nothing like ours.  It's a shame really... I wanted to see a 54 before I die.

Remember, the PGA Championship is run by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour.  The Tour runs the Players Championship at Sawgrass (i.e. the fifth Major).

I do wonder whether the "local rule" will fly.  From the manufacturers' side, its not a real money-maker to develop clubs and/or balls that will be used by well under 1% of all golfers.  Without cooperation from manufacturers, the USGA/R&A won't really have the choice of mandating the use of distance-limited equipment in the tournaments they run, the players can't play if there's no equipment available.  Another question concerns advertising, will Titleist and Calloway and TaylorMade spend the same amount of money if they're not selling us the same ball as the tour pros use?  If not, that's money out of the pockets of the players and the networks.  The last question for local rule use is when will it be applied?  All USGA national championships?  USGA Junior championships, college, maybe AJGC?  Will top level amateurs need two sets of equipment, one for big-time state and national championships, one for local play?  A buddy of mine played in both the Virginia Senior and in the USGA Senior Championships, could they be held with different equipment requirements in the future?  I just think that bifurcation has a lot of potential complications to work through.

I'm with you on the last point, we golf addicts will watch, even of the pros are forced to play with hickory shafts and featheries.  THAT level of roll-back we'd definitely notice.

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4 hours ago, DaveP043 said:

Everyday golfers don't need additional bunkers or heavier rough to be appropriately challenged, but we want to play the clubs the pros play, and many want to play courses just like the pros play.

Since excessive distance gains are not an issue at the amatuer level, I wouldn't expect the vast majority of golfers would want these additional challenges.  Heck, most could add significant challenge by simply moving back a tee or two.

 

4 hours ago, DaveP043 said:

But again, this is completely beyond the ability of the USGA/R&A to regulate.

I was under the impression they have input on putting greens?  If that's the case doesn't their input carry any weight with the course designers on other attributes?

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5 hours ago, THEZIPR23 said:

Growing the grass or watering it more will not fix this. Long hitters will still hit it over bunkers that the short hitter have to navigate. 

I don't think anyone is suggesting growing grass will fix it but rather it will reduce distance off the tee.  That coupled with narrowing landing areas and new, difficult bunkers, strategically placed where errant bombs land, will certainly force some different strategy.  Current rough conditions don't adversely affect the long hitters - they demonstrate that every week.  The errant shots cost them almost nothing - change that outcome and you change their game plan. Both of these options relatively cheap to implement and stay clear of much more controversial changes.

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10 minutes ago, fixyurdivot said:

I don't think anyone is suggesting growing grass will fix it but rather it will reduce distance off the tee. 

I agree that this is part of the solution.

11 minutes ago, fixyurdivot said:

new, difficult bunkers, strategically placed where errant bombs land, will certainly force some different strategy. 

This is what they have been doing for years. This is why golf courses stretch to 7500 yards. Add more tee boxes to bring hazards back into play. It is much cheaper that way. It has been effective to a point, yes scores aren't lower, but courses keep getting longer, which is a big part of the problem. 

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52 minutes ago, fixyurdivot said:

Since excessive distance gains are not an issue at the amatuer level, I wouldn't expect the vast majority of golfers would want these additional challenges.  Heck, most could add significant challenge by simply moving back a tee or two.

 

I was under the impression they have input on putting greens?  If that's the case doesn't their input carry any weight with the course designers on other attributes?

For that matter, most golfers would be better off playing a tee more forward, but for most of us (I have to include myself much of the time) play longer tees than we really need to.  In fact, if we were to move forward more often that, we'd be experiencing the course in way that's closer to what the tour pro experiences.  But instead of carrying the bunkers, hitting flip wedges into many greens, we play too far back, and hit long irons and hybrids to the greens.  

I think the USGA has suggested specifications for building greens, primarily intended to help promote healthy grass and good drainage.  They also have guidelines (not regulations) about where you should locate the hole, in terms of proximity to edges, and slopes.  But I was really talking about the way existing courses are set up for PGA Tour stops.  For those, the USGA has no control at all over length of fairway or rough, width of fairway, location of tees (forward or back), the PGA Tour makes most of those decisions, working with the course's own crew.  And that's an area that the PGA Tour could change the perception a bit, by increasing the "punishment" for inaccurate drives.  I think that's what really bugs the folks at the USGA/R&A, that players don't seem to value accuracy, they act as if they can get up and down from anywhere if they hit it far enough.  So make it substantially worse to miss a fairway, make accuracy valuable again, and the Ruling Bodies may revise their opinions.  

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On 2/6/2020 at 2:06 PM, DaveP043 said:

AAhhh, a "non-linear" golf ball, nonlinear meaning an increase at say 80 mph clubhead speed would produce a significantly greater "reward" than the same increase at 120 mph.  I wouldn't doubt that this can be done, and could have the potential to address the distance issue at elite levels without hurting us mortals.  Do you have a suggestion of how to structure the specification?  You'd have to decide where the break point(s) in the reaction curve would be, and find a way to test the ball at multiple clubhead speeds, but it does seem like a feasible option.  Makes me wonder if Dean Snell would be willing to provide some insight.

I don't doubt that it is possible in some capacity, but I doubt that it would be possible to make a large enough reduction at the high end of the spectrum to appease those calling for a rollback to finally put this argument to rest and avoid a repeat of this argument in 20 years. With that said, I would much prefer something like this over official bifurcation or pseudo bifurcation via a local rule.  

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On 2/5/2020 at 8:55 AM, DaveP043 said:

There is absolutely no evidence that this is the "goal" of the Ruling Bodies, and in fact the report says just the opposite. 

I'm certain that there are people within the organization who would prefer to reduce distance, but they don't have complete control.  The idea of a local rule allowing different equipment limits for certain events is almost certainly not going to be acceptable.  None of the professional tours will use it, because as a group their customers (you and I) love to see big hitters. I do think that they'll look at testing and limiting more aspects of the equipment than they currently do, in order to limit further equipment-related gains in distance.  I actually don't have a problem with finding ways to limit the equipment part of the equation, as long as they don't try to roll back distances, as long as they do what their documents says.  There are going to be further improvements in techniques, in training, and in fitting, that's unavoidable.  

I have limited sympathy for golf course ownership complaints, because their marketing strategies have put them in the position of "needing" to make courses longer.  They market "championship" courses, and to be a championship course it needs to be long.  The agronomy practices seen for PGA Tour events have contributed to the problems, now the golfing public expects to play on fast greens (even if the greens are too fast for their skill level), they want their drives to roll 50 yards, and they want to play the back tees, to "play the whole golf course".  All of that is completely unnecessary, golf was great when fast greens rolled at 10, when players worried about flyer lies in the fairways.

 

I agree that the local rule approach is dumb as few outside of the USGA, R&A, and ANGC would use it (the PGA Tour and PGA of America responded in opposition when this study was initially announced 2 years ago). Depending on the severity of any rollback the USGA always runs the risk of the PGA Tour simply saying no and creating their own set of rules which could severely threaten the USGA's authority. 

The big reason that the USGA has reverted to equipment regulation is because that is truly all that they have control over. Changes to course setups are not a valid solution for their perceived problem because they only control one elite event per year (three if you consider that the R&A and ANGC will follow suit). This is the reason why they handled the groove rollback the way that they did given that the simple solution was just to let the rough grow out. 

As for the concern around courses increasing in length, this has been greatly overstated in recent years based on a very small number of highly visible courses making changes. According to the USGA's own data, the most drastic course distance increases happened between the 1930s and the mid 1990s. Since the mid 1990s, the average course length ranges and 90th percentiles have only increased by 100 yards. The reality is that most courses have not changed much recently and few new courses are being built in the US anyways due to the decrease in value associated with golf courses attached with new housing developments following the great recession. Ultimately I have little sympathy for places like ANGC where money is no object, if they really cared about maintenance costs or water usage they wouldn't have payed millions for the additional land from the local country club to slightly expand their real estate boundary and slightly extend #13. 

Edited by storm319

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5 hours ago, DaveP043 said:

I think that's what really bugs the folks at the USGA/R&A, that players don't seem to value accuracy, they act as if they can get up and down from anywhere if they hit it far enough.  So make it substantially worse to miss a fairway, make accuracy valuable again, and the Ruling Bodies may revise their opinions.

Tour players don't just act as if they can get up and down from anywhere, they know they can.  The data, in conjunction with course setups, support this.  If the quality of the lie mattered more and if the angle in to the pin mattered more, Tour players would adjust their games accordingly.  Getting more aggressive with the rough can help this, and so can getting more aggressive with hole locations.

Getting back to MPR's post about the different kinds of Tour players, I want to see more players that can hit a variety of shots.  High, low, left, right, everything.  The way Phil used to play when he could hit irons, the way Tiger still plays when he's on.  The President's Cup was compelling to watch because players needed to hit a variety of shots to play well.  Tiger put on a masterclass out there.  The Internationals did a great job of embracing strategy over bomb and gouge and got off to a great start.  American players started the event trying to overpower the course, and they were exposed.  But lo and behold, the best players in the world quickly figured out how best to get around that golf course, started playing like the best players in the world again, and took home the cup.  And the golf was still great to watch.

Not every course they play on tour is the quality of Royal Melbourne, but there are many ways to reward the golfer that's in the correct position and punish the golfer that's out of position.

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Yeah, you're right on both accounts. It's really long, and I don't have a definite conclusion on the distance debate itself. My main point was to just remind everyone involved that we're trying to figure out the best rules for a game. That means there's no definitive right and wrong here. I think that reminder applies more to the rollback/bifurcation side of the debate, who sometimes frame their arguments hyperbolically: that the modern game is a travesty, etc.
I don't want to discount the real logistics issues: length increases maintenance, etc. But what we're arguing about, chiefly, is our taste in the kind of golf we want to watch.
Maybe we could frame it this way: laying aside personality and just focusing on style of play, would you rather watch
  • A Zach Johnson or Jim Furyk plot their way around the course, laying up on par 5s to get birdies with stellar wedge play, or
  • A Rory McIlory or Jon Rahm hit mammoth drives and laser approach shots, or
  • A Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson, hitting huge drives and hitting heroic recovery shots with imagination?
To be sure, it is good for the Tour if there's room for all of these guys. Variety is part of what makes the game interesting. But it's likely that one kind of player will be predominate. Which archetype should the Tour seek to have as the most common player?
Honestly, I'd rather watch the Bubba/Phil guys. In my judgment, they are the most entertaining and provide the most "Did you see that?!" moments per round. But it's impossible to make those guys the majority, not only because (I suspect) that style of play isn't something you can really teach, but because it just isn't the most prudent style of play for most guys if they want to have a sustainable Tour career.
Watching a ZJ or Furyk play is absolutely fascinating, but (for me) I can't imagine that having a Tour filled with those guys would be more fun to watch than a Tour filled with Rory/Rahm clones. The ZJ/Furyk types are interesting for two reasons: they're more relatable than the others, and they provide a contrast.
So on balance, it seems to me that the Tour would be making itself less interesting, on balance, if it made changes to favor a Tour filled with ZJ/Furyk types.
That's as close as I get to an answer


I think the USGA wants to keep the game at or returning to a place where all of the above have a chance - they see the pendulum swinging towards the ZJ/Furyk group being left out.

The difficult issue for them will be how to reign it in or roll it back without impacting everyone else.


Sent from my iPhone using MyGolfSpy

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This is where the premier league comes in. Must maintain a 410+ drive.

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4 hours ago, revkev said:

 


I think the USGA wants to keep the game at or returning to a place where all of the above have a chance - they see the pendulum swinging towards the ZJ/Furyk group being left out.

The difficult issue for them will be how to reign it in or roll it back without impacting everyone else.


Sent from my iPhone using MyGolfSpy

 

Right now, the ZJ/Furyk guys are finding it hard to win. ZJ is, on average, nearly 30 yards back of Champ.

He's also, on average, driving the ball 285 yards! If he's in almost any four man scramble, he's your anchor driver. The difference between him and the "bomber" in your scramble isn't distance; it's that ZJ is hitting all those shots down the center.

The only place he's short is relative to the even bigger hitters on Tour.

Is the professional game broken because there's literally no place at all for a guy averaging 250 off the tee? Or 235?

We recognize that there's always going to be a guy on Tour who's the shortest on Tour. There will always be a group of guys 30-35 yards behind the longest hitters.

In 30 years, the "short" guys will be averaging 300.

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