USGA and R&A release report in driving distance increases on pro tours

The U.S. Golf Association and R&A today co-published an 18-page paper they say reports “important facts on driving distance’’ in professional golf. Supporting data comes from seven tours, going as far back as possible – in the case of the PGA Tour to 1968.

The USGA and R&A have released a report on driving distance on the top seven pro tours

The USGA and R&A have released a report on driving distance on the top seven pro tours

It’s a good read for stats geeks ( but basically is meaningless for recreational players that comprise the rank and file of their memberships and who they attempt to embrace whenever it fits their needs. The report is another example of the USGA and R&A, each while claiming to be organizations interested in all players, make rules that impact only the small percentage of top tier golfers.

The report begins by saying that the R&A and USGA believe that “any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.’’

Undesirable to whom?

The report says that a comparison of major men’s and women’s professional tours, including the PGA Tour, the average driving distance has increased by approximately one percent from 2003 through the end of the 2015 season. This increase, the report says, is characterized by a slow “creep” in drive distance over this period of around 0.2 yards per year

One percent? Oh the humanity!

Eighteen pages (and no doubt countless millions of dollars) of geek speak for one percent performed by the game’s best players. What about the millions of players who don’t have 105 mph-plus swing speeds, plus handicaps and custom-fit drivers? How have their driving distances changed over the past 12 years? That report is coming out…. NEV ER. The USGA and R&A want everybody to play by the same rules despite the fact this report clearly shows the two ruling bodies make equipment rules only for the top one percent – or less – of players.

From the report: “The R&A and USGA continue to believe that the retention of a single set of rules for all players of the game, irrespective of ability, is one of golf’s greatest strengths. The R&A and USGA regard the prospect of having permanent separate rules for elite competition as undesirable and have no current plans to create separate equipment rules for highly skilled players.’’

Why not have separate rules? Think about it – players in the average Saturday foursome at the local muni hit two balls off the tee, don’t putt-out every ball and take drops wherever they want. So they’re already not playing by the same rules as “highly skilled’’ players. The best part is, nobody in that foursome cares! That’s one of golf’s great strengths.

The report also addresses the 1.62 ounce gorilla in the room – the golf ball.

Golf balls used by the vast majority of highly skilled players today, according to the report, “have largely reached the performance limits for initial velocity and overall distance which have been part of the Rules since 1976.

“The governing bodies believe that golf balls, when hit by highly skilled golfers, should not of themselves fly significantly further (farther is more accurate) than they do today. In the current circumstances, the R&A and the USGA are not advocating that the Rules relating to golf ball specifications be changed other than to modernize test methods.’’

In other words, the USGA and R&A want to stay as far away as possible from more golf ball regulations because they fear the wrath (and lawyers) of Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein.

From the report: “The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game.’’

So essentially, what the report is saying,  is that as a result of a one percent increase in driving distance over the past 12 years by the game’s best players, the USGA and R&A are against more athletic players, improved coaching of players, and improved golf course conditioning because they might harm the game.

And they wonder why the game is not growing.


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