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NPG Episode 31: How to Fix the Distance "Problem"

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The USGA and R&A have released their joint Distance Insights Report; are they overlooking a potentially simple solution to their looming distance issue? Also, Taylormade's new Truss putter, and repeat after us: Union Green is NOT Titleist.

0:51 - Our take on the results of the Distance Insights Report
34:46 - Taylormade is turning heads in their effort to prevent heads from turning with the Truss putter line
43:51 - When is a Titleist not a Titleist? Union Green is Acushnet's take on the DTC golf ball.
1:09:51 - Don't miss out on our Member Testing opportunities. Join the MGS forums and keep the equipment that you test.

 

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When growing the grass...

Just narrowing the fairways to put a premium on accuracy, and allow the big hits if they're good enough or would you follow this thought process.

  • When this course was designed by >whoever<, they were thinking 250m drive followed by a 200m shot in.
  • We want to stop players hitting 320m, wedge in.
  • We will stop the fairway and put genuine rough from 250m to 350m all the way across the general play area, to force players to lay up or if they do, they can do it out of long grass.

It also seems an Australian thing... The rough is a lottery. Watching the Vic Open, if you get in the rough, it could be sitting deep down in long stuff with some pigface holding it, or be on bare dirt. Would that lottery so a good thing or a bad thing?

 

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Good listen. I was kinda surprised that it seemed that the majority seemed (I could be wrong) to be in favor or at minimum supportive of some kind of role back or additional cap being placed on equipment.

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8 hours ago, Green Sheep Productions said:

The rough is a lottery. Watching the Vic Open, if you get in the rough, it could be sitting deep down in long stuff with some pigface holding it, or be on bare dirt. Would that lottery so a good thing or a bad thing?

IMHO, it's a good thing.  The rough is supposed to be tough.  It shouldn't be uniform and manicured.  

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On 2/9/2020 at 1:29 PM, Green Sheep Productions said:

It also seems an Australian thing... The rough is a lottery. Watching the Vic Open, if you get in the rough, it could be sitting deep down in long stuff with some pigface holding it, or be on bare dirt. Would that lottery so a good thing or a bad thing?

I noticed that watching the Vic as well.  That's a great idea and would certainly add some additional risk to the unfettered bombs.  Some of those clumps of grass/weed looked downright problematic. We have some perennial ryegrass in Montana that grows in nice thick, nasty, wedge killing clumps.  Heck, I have enough around the property to seed most if not all of the TPC courses... for free. 🙂

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I found the discussion about pro vs. am distance data interesting.  Tony stated numbers like 12% for pros and 8% for am's.  Earlier it was stated that am's average distances have pretty much been flat for a long time.  Not that it makes a hill of beans as it pertains to the issue on tour play, but an 8% increase is pretty significant.  If they don't at least check the COR, shaft lengths, ball designs, etc. now, it's plausible this tour only issue becomes a problem at public courses (if trend continues)... no?

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Finally got to listen on the ride into work today.  Seriously just #growthegrass.  I think this would fix so many of the problems, but still be fair to today's athletes.

A little bit of reasoning (I Hope):

  • Equipment has had its limits set for a while, and it doesn't seem that the needle is going to move greatly at this point.  Improvements YoY seem to be in the "optimization" category versus "Revolution" where if you had a good fitting and are swinging the same this year you are not likely to see gains on your best shot, but may get more consistent.
  • Top athletes are more fit and are making better swings now than in the past.  We shouldn't punish them for having increased club head speeds and better mechanics.
  • If you Grow the Grass you'll solve a few issues, especially if the rough gets longer or fairways get narrower as you get closer to the hole
    • The premium on raw distance will be lessened, but not eliminated.  Accuracy will become important again as the penalty for a missed fairway will be greater.
    • Roll will be reduced if the fairway is just a touch longer/softer
    • Courses will use significantly less fossil fuels and contribute much less to greenhouse gas emissions by not needing to mow as frequently.
    • Water use may be more, less, or about the same.  I'm really not sure if it takes more to grow it a little longer, or if the short fast tracks actually need more to keep it from burning out completely, but I'd image it would be less than adding 4-500 yards to each course.
  • If you dial back the ball you're not REALLY solving the problem
    • Player A who has a 120MPH club speed is still going to have a significant advantage over player B who has a 108MPH club head speed.
      • Player A will still be significantly longer than Player B on the course, even if total distance is reduced you haven't changed the game to be more competitively balanced.
      • Player B will have even longer approaches into greens, that are still hard and fast, potentially penalizing them even more with difficulty holding greens.
      • If we grow the grass in a way that still allows for long hitters, but makes missed more costly Player A and Player B will have a more equal opportunity to compete effectively and have a chance to win.

I don't see how doing anything outside of growing the grass and setting up the courses can eliminate some (not all) of the competitive advantage longer golfers have, while bringing back some competitiveness for those guys who excel with irons and their shot-making ability.

Agree or Disagree? I'd love to see some other member's thoughts.  

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@B.Boston, because I love the challenge of playing devil's advocate...

1) There's limits on drivers for distance, so why not balls? If we look at Most Wanted Ball data, cap compression at 100, this would punish faster swing speed players more than slower, evening the field more.

2) Lol, I can't think of a decent argument against better fitness or technique. Maybe... Olympic Competitive Walking (Pfft, not a sport, but should be there more than golf IMHO) as evidence that bigger stronger faster better isn't required in a sport?

3) Like all things, water usage is dependent on heaps of things... On one hand, less may be needed because ground is shaded, on the other more photosynthesis means more water needed...

Really, I've got nothing!

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1 hour ago, Green Sheep Productions said:

@B.Boston, because I love the challenge of playing devil's advocate...

1) There's limits on drivers for distance, so why not balls? If we look at Most Wanted Ball data, cap compression at 100, this would punish faster swing speed players more than slower, evening the field more.

2) Lol, I can't think of a decent argument against better fitness or technique. Maybe... Olympic Competitive Walking (Pfft, not a sport, but should be there more than golf IMHO) as evidence that bigger stronger faster better isn't required in a sport?

3) Like all things, water usage is dependent on heaps of things... On one hand, less may be needed because ground is shaded, on the other more photosynthesis means more water needed...

Really, I've got nothing!

I can see capping compression, but not going backwards.  Honestly I didn't realize that there wasn't already some sort of cap on balls.

You don't have to be bigger to be faster!  haha  I'm only 5'4 (and a half) but can swing in the low-middle 110's, but yeah... its not like they can tell Brooks or Dechambeau to stay out of the gym...

Like Adam said in the podcast... it just seems so simple to try that before you have to go changing equipment standards when its pretty clear that the courses have changed significantly in the same period we've seen distance increase.  

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Maybe the USGA should first start out by saying what the ideal length of a golf course should be. They haven’t even delved into that process. Haven't mentioned it, talked about it, no indication whatsoever.

I agree, grow the grass and so much more. The USGA is talking about returning the decision process to the game. So, not only grow the grass, but insert pot bunkers as they have in the U.K. How about a meandering creek. It doesn't even need water in it or be very wide, just high banks and stones. How about grass bunkers that never get mowed? How about just one tree strategically placed. If they are worried about costs, how about no grass from the "Championship tee" to say 40 yards in front of the most forward tee. The problem is the USGA and course designers have deemed the only solution is to make the courses longer rather than quit being lazy and actually design a bloody golf course. You can't tell me that you want to play the holes strategically and then add no hazards other than distance. Augusta is threatening to lengthen #13 and yet last year there were a bunch of balls in the little creek that fronts the hole and/or balls to the back or over the green avoiding the creek. All they need is one freaking tall bushy tree 10-20 yards right of the creek at the dogleg, or 2-3 pot bunkers strategically placed, or slant the fairway more towards the creek. If they roll the ball back, how hard are #11 and #12 at Augusta going to get? The US Open setup is another prime example. Does it seem to you the USGA loses their collective panties if the score breaches 10 under? The USGA says a hard and fast course will reveal the best golfer. WHAT?  Uh, maybe a wet and sloppy course with long grass and lots of obstacles reveals the best golfer. Just saying. They have caused their own problem. The Brits are so much better. If there is gorgeous weather and the score gets run up, so what? There will be weather next year bubba, count on it. 

I can't imagine the run on premium golf balls if they enact a golf ball rule limiting potential. Let me ask this, if they roll the ball back 20% and an amateur hits the ball 220 now, the rollback drive is now 176, what 6000 yard course has tees that would regularly accommodate that driver yardage? It's absurd. Even a 10% rollback would be a problem because every par 4 over 400 yards would virtually require new tees and then the hazards aren’t in the right spot. And instead of citing some British yardage for amateurs that is really suspect, how about digesting the thousands of shots recorded by Shotlink. This doesn’t solve the problem of course conditions and weather although the outliers could be thrown out, but at least holes where less than a driver is hit off the tee would not be counted in driver yardage.

This whole hoopla reminds me of the NRA thing, I’m 67. They can pry my PRO V1 and Epic driver from my cold dead hands and until then, leave me alone. BTW, how much was that MAVRIK?

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Golf is so subjective - talk to a pro and they need this or that for the course to be competitive, talk to a scratch amateur and they need something slightly different, then there is the weekender/weekly hack (like me) and they are just glad to be on the course.  Is there an "ideal" course - never will be as long as different skill sets play the same holes albeit from different tee boxes.  Granted growing the grass does make missed fairways tougher, added bunkers call for better shot placement, wild grass bunkers would be a challenge. 

Here's a wild thought.  Maybe tell the pro's they cannot have a club lofted stronger than 15 degrees with a max of 10 clubs in the bag, with a maximum of 3 wedges (min loft 48deg, max loft 58deg),  minimum of 2 metal woods (which includes the "15 deg driver"), balance of 4 irons of their choosing (no stronger than 20deg, no weaker than 44deg) and a 33" bullseye putter.  Of course I am being very sarcastic in these specs so no flames please. 

The end result there will be no end result and we will continue to discuss it as it does make good watercooler talk.  

 

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It was a good episode of NPG, as most are.

I wasn’t sure growing the grass for pro tournaments would be enough, but their point of ‘just try it’ is compelling. Why not, there’s no downside I can think of. And they’re right some tournaments like US Opens where just growing the rough often brings down scores dramatically - supports Adam’s idea.

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On 2/11/2020 at 2:23 PM, Green Sheep Productions said:

@B.Boston, because I love the challenge of playing devil's advocate...

1) There's limits on drivers for distance, so why not balls? If we look at Most Wanted Ball data, cap compression at 100, this would punish faster swing speed players more than slower, evening the field more.

 

There already is a distance limit on golf balls, the ODS.  It's been around for decades.  And, the ball was already rolled back, albeit slightly, when the ODS methodology was updated to a 120mph test speed, to allay the fears that modern balls benefitted faster swingspeeds more than slower (they don't).

Speaking to the topic at hand, I've long thought the "issue" is borne of MOI.  Could be interesting to see what happened if Tour Players had to use something no more forgiving than a Big Bertha Warbird.  Or Precept Tour Premium (bit shorter, heel to toe).  May not make much difference, but....

Edited by NRJyzr

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4 hours ago, NRJyzr said:

 

There already is a distance limit on golf balls, the ODS.  It's been around for decades.  And, the ball was already rolled back, albeit slightly, when the ODS methodology was updated to a 120mph test speed, to allay the fears that modern balls benefitted faster swingspeeds more than slower (they don't).

Speaking to the topic at hand, I've long thought the "issue" is borne of MOI.  Could be interesting to see what happened if Tour Players had to use something no more forgiving than a Big Bertha Warbird.  Or Precept Tour Premium (bit shorter, heel to toe).  May not make much difference, but....

Agreed. Every ball attribute that has a meaningful impact on distance has been limited for years (current minimum diameter/maximum mass limits have been limited since the 1930s, maximum initial ball velocity/overall distance standard since the 1970s, and dimple symmetry since the 1980s). 

Where the USGA really dropped the ball (and has yet to admit guilt and apologize) was the too late approach to limiting maximum driver size/dimensions when we saw a very fast increase in the late 90's/early 2000's. Limiting the maximum size and dimensions much earlier than they did would have eliminated MOI from even being discussed, but unfortunately they missed their chance (also regulations prior to mass adoption tend to be a non-event). Regardless, I recall seeing DJ and JD carry the green over on a short par 4 playing slightly over 300 with their respective 3 woods (both under 180cc/under COR limit) at Chambers Bay in 2015 so I doubt that 350cc drivers would have resulted in much of a difference with the way elite golfers approach the game. 

Edited by storm319
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I couldn’t agree more with storm319. It’s incredibly difficult to predict ingenuity but yet the USGA continues to make rules that try to thwart it. The USGA seems terrified of bifurcation but they already have that with the courses where tournaments are played. How many amateur players, other than perhaps a handful of high-level types, ever play a 7500-yard course?  You can make a fairway 100 yards wide with crew-cut grass everywhere & few amateurs will play from those tees.   Yes, yes, it’s fun to play a course set up for a tournament once in a while just to see how well (poorly??) you can do at such a venue. But I doubt it’s the go-to layout. So, if they narrow the fairway, grow the rough & speed up the greens for tournaments, they require a pro to have a diverse set of playing skills. My guess is that the number of players who can smash the ball 340 yards AND still get on the green-in-regulation will be an elite few. After all, how many names do you see on both the PGA Tour AND the Long Drive championships? One-trick ponies need not apply!!!!

Someone criticized Adam’s Twitter post about growing the grass longer saying that will increase the amount of water & chemicals used and therefore it doesn’t solve the environmental issue of longer courses. I don’t believe that’s true at all. Long grass uses less water than short grass because of reduced evaporation (fact). And since some of the chemicals used are to make the grass look greener when cut short, it’s possible fewer chemicals will be needed as well. At worst, IMHO, they won’t need more chemicals.

So, the “grow the grass” solution is something that can be tried now without the multi-year battle necessary with manufacturers. If it doesn’t work, at least they then know easy isn’t the solution. I am not at all opposed to modernizing rules to help slow down golf course lengthening, even if just to be sure we don’t run out of real estate. But come-on, this is easy to try!  

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20 hours ago, storm319 said:

Agreed. Every ball attribute that has a meaningful impact on distance has been limited for years (current minimum diameter/maximum mass limits have been limited since the 1930s, maximum initial ball velocity/overall distance standard since the 1970s, and dimple symmetry since the 1980s). 

Where the USGA really dropped the ball (and has yet to admit guilt and apologize) was the too late approach to limiting maximum driver size/dimensions when we saw a very fast increase in the late 90's/early 2000's. Limiting the maximum size and dimensions much earlier than they did would have eliminated MOI from even being discussed, but unfortunately they missed their chance (also regulations prior to mass adoption tend to be a non-event). Regardless, I recall seeing DJ and JD carry the green over on a short par 4 playing slightly over 300 with their respective 3 woods (both under 180cc/under COR limit) at Chambers Bay in 2015 so I doubt that 350cc drivers would have resulted in much of a difference with the way elite golfers approach the game. 

 

The Augusta National used to have nets at their driving range, 275 out.  Davis Love III used to bomb tee shots over those nets in the 90s.  With a Tour Balata, and persimmon driver.

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Is there really anything that hasn't been said already? The easiest "fix" is exactly what Adam suggested and, just grow out the damn grass and as MIgregB pointed out longer grass requires less water so that addresses the concerns over water usage. If you (they, USGA) are really concerned about water conservation trying growing more native grasses like Rivermont in Georgia, but don't pretend to use water usage fears as cover for a shoddy distance report that nobody buys into. 

Watch Erik Anders Lang try to break 90 at Pebble Beach ( which played just under 7,100 yards) last year and listen to the caddy comment on how the fairways are 28 yards wide for the US Open instead of the usually 50+ yards wide. Look at the way they shaved the fairways at the edges of the cliffs. Clearly course set-up can go a long ways toward making something more difficult. A course doesn't have to be long by tour standards to be difficult, heck Merion was playing 6,996 yards when Justin Rose won at +1 and the following year Pinehurst played 7,560 and Kaymer won at -9. 

I can play any number of courses up here in the Pacific Northwest that take driver our of my hands (unless its a scramble tournament) on half of the holes and I'm not playing courses that are over 7,000 yards long (Sahalee CC plays at 7,000 from the black tees). Maybe if the USGA stopped thinking that making a course longer was the only way to make them harder, or that hitting driver on every par 4 or par 5 was somehow important to the game, and started getting creative about design, course set-up or reconsidering what par should be on a course (the US Open does it every year) this wouldn't be an issue... not that anyone seriously thinks that it really is an issue.

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The course increases have been greatly exaggerated. According to the USGAs own data, the increase in distance (both total and 90th percentile averages) has been around 100 yards since the 1990s. The greatest increases occurred between the 1930s and the 1990s. Also, I’d you look at the majority of the classic high visibility major hosts, the increases since the 1930s have been less than 10% (Augusta and St Andrews are the exceptions that everyone keeps focusing on). 

The real resource waste for newer stadium courses is more due to the non-playing real estate required to host a PGA Tournament (grandstands, crowds, sponsor/hospitality tents, tv infrastructure, parking, etc). Reducing the playing length by even 10% would not have as big of an impact on resource/maintenance costs vs these non-playing areas. 

Edited by storm319

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The USGA and PGA need to get with Jack Nicklaus who proposed changed decades ago regarding this exact problem. 

 

https://www.heraldstandard.com/sports/local/nicklaus-palmer-pleaded-for-changes-in-golf-balls/article_9da48578-4aca-11ea-8599-cb09a8c8a97a.html

 

At the 2019 masters :

Nicklaus has long been outspoken about the dangers that modern technology could cause the game, and on Thursday, the 18-time major champion railed against the modern day golf balls, believing the extra distance they now provide players with has gotten out of hand.

“The golf ball has gotten ridiculous. I have so many things on that. The golf ball from 1930 to about ’95 gained about six yards. From 1995 to 2005, about 15 yards, and that’s a big difference. Probably the organizations won’t tell you that, but that’s exactly about what happened.”

Like Nicklaus, Gary Player believes the current technological innovations are damaging to the sport, and the three-time Masters champion fired a stark warning on Thursday concerning the possible consequences of a lack of action on the issue from the game’s organizations.

“We’d better start thinking. They are going to hit wedges to all the par-5s, and golf courses like St. Andrews, this marvelous golf course, is completely obsolete. They can drive probably six greens. So I don’t know where we’re going.

And our leaders of such have got to get together now and form a ball for professionals that’s different to the amateurs. Let the amateurs have anything they’d like. … But we have got to stop this, otherwise it’s going to be a joke, in my opinion.”

 

Edited by Tsecor

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30 minutes ago, Tsecor said:

The USGA and PGA need to get with Jack Nicklaus who proposed changed decades ago regarding this exact problem. 

 

https://www.heraldstandard.com/sports/local/nicklaus-palmer-pleaded-for-changes-in-golf-balls/article_9da48578-4aca-11ea-8599-cb09a8c8a97a.html

 

At the 2019 masters :

Nicklaus has long been outspoken about the dangers that modern technology could cause the game, and on Thursday, the 18-time major champion railed against the modern day golf balls, believing the extra distance they now provide players with has gotten out of hand.

“The golf ball has gotten ridiculous. I have so many things on that. The golf ball from 1930 to about ’95 gained about six yards. From 1995 to 2005, about 15 yards, and that’s a big difference. Probably the organizations won’t tell you that, but that’s exactly about what happened.”

Like Nicklaus, Gary Player believes the current technological innovations are damaging to the sport, and the three-time Masters champion fired a stark warning on Thursday concerning the possible consequences of a lack of action on the issue from the game’s organizations.

“We’d better start thinking. They are going to hit wedges to all the par-5s, and golf courses like St. Andrews, this marvelous golf course, is completely obsolete. They can drive probably six greens. So I don’t know where we’re going.

And our leaders of such have got to get together now and form a ball for professionals that’s different to the amateurs. Let the amateurs have anything they’d like. … But we have got to stop this, otherwise it’s going to be a joke, in my opinion.”

This is the easy part, saying "Roll the ball back"  or "Roll the ball back for the professionals".  The hard part is developing a criteria and test methods.  The hard part is telling the player who now hits it 200 that he's only going to hit it 180.  The hard part is convincing the manufacturers to work with the changes, instead of litigating against them.  The hard part, if you DO bifurcate, is deciding where that bifurcation comes.  Professionals only? Amateur National championships, or maybe state amateurs.  Maybe your high-school-age kid is playing in the State Am with one set of equipment, and in AJGA events with the longer equipment.  Its a very difficult issue, without clear answers.  

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