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Should we really “roll back” the golf ball? A deep dive…

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The USGA and R&A ruling bodies recently released their 2017 Distance Report, which gathered data from seven major tours. The driving distance of each player was measured using TrackMan and ShotLink on two select holes during each tournament. This analysis cumulatively yielded roughly 40,000 pieces of data over the course of a year. The report revealed that the average driving distance on the PGA Tour increased by a total of 3 yards over the past year, while the greatest increase was 10 yards on the Web.com Tour.

The report ignited a firestorm of comments. The general consensus is that the sport is facing a crisis — depending on who you believe and/or your group affiliation. They all have a vested interest in the outcome.

There are two issues on the table. They are linked together, but they also have individual considerations.

  1. The Distance the Golf Ball is Traveling: There are many reasons why the ball is going farther than ever before. There are some in the industry who believe the golf ball is not the problem and it would be a mistake to roll it back.
  2. The Golf Ball Itself: There are others in the industry of the opinion that the answer is to roll back the distance the golf ball travels by as much as 20 percent. Those in this group believe the golf ball is the problem, regardless of other factors that are contributing to what has been dubbed a“Distance Creep.”

In both cases, most everyone agrees that something must be done. The numbers tell the story. In 1980, the first year of officially measured drives on tour, the average distance off the tee was 257 yards. In the early 2000s, there were only a few players who we able to drive the ball over 300 yards. Today, there are 57 PGA Tour players who average 300 yards or more off the tee. A major concern is that most of the great courses throughout the country are becoming obsolete.

Wally Uihlein, the former leader of Titleist, has argued there are many contributing factors to the increased distances shots are now traveling: “thin face, oversized titanium drivers; low-spinning, solid core, high performance golf balls; the physiology of today’s professional golfer; improved technique and instruction; mobile launch monitors and customization of equipment; improved golf course conditioning and agronomy,” as he told GOLF in 2017.

GROUP 1

These three men, together with their respective organizations, will ultimately make the decision as to what should be done with respect to the golf ball and distance issue.

  • Mike Davis, Executive Director of the USGA: Davis is the lead spokesman on this issue for the USGA. “These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game. The impact it has had has been horrible.”
  • Mark Nowell, President USGA: The newly elected President’s comments have been more general in nature. “We have been, and we’re going to be focused on what that situation is and how we can deal with it … there is no fixed timetable, but we will commence this process immediately and endeavor to reach a conclusion as promptly as possible.”
  • Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A: The R&A will vote in accordance with the USGA. “I’m looking at the balance between skill and technology — are they in balance, is it good for the recreational game? And should it be the same for the elite game?”

GROUP 2

There are two other groups that have the ability to sway both public and private opinion. They are the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. The leaders of these two groups believe that the golf ball in not the problem, but that there are other extraneous factors responsible for the increased distance the golf ball travels.

  • Jay Monahan, Commissioner of the PGA Tour: “We believe this increase in club head speed is mostly attributable to a combination of factors, such as increased player athleticism and fitness, physical build of the player and enhancements in equipment fitting.”
  • Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America: “We are highly skeptical that rolling back the golf ball in whole or part will be in the best interests of the sport and our collective efforts to grow the game.”

GROUP 3

And then there are the players, past and present. Jack Nicklaus has been at the forefront of this issue dating back to 1977 when he first called on the USGA to look at making a change to the ball. Nicklaus believes the distance the ball travels should be rolled back 20 percent.

  • Tiger Woods agrees with Nicklaus that the ball travels too far. “I think the ball is going too far,” he said. “You would not want to take away the amateur’s ability to hit the ball farther and straighter, but with the touring pros you might want to roll the ball back… like in baseball you would have a pro ball and an amateur ball.
  • Dustin Johnson agreed with Tiger Woods in a press conference in late November 2017, but then he changed his mind a few months later.” When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don’t really understand what all the debate is about, because it doesn’t matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole.”
  • Geoff Ogilvy agrees with Tiger Woods, using a similar baseball analogy. “Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats … everywhere else in baseball, they use aluminum bats. That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters. We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So, do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter?”
  • Gary Player, Hale Irwin and the late Arnold Palmer all have at one time or another agreed with Jack Nicklaus that something needs to be done with the ball because it travels too far.

GROUP 4

The last group that is a stakeholder in any decision made are the manufactures. A required change in the ball could mean thousands if not millions of dollars required to retool golf ball manufacturing plants. And from Titleist’s perspective, as they are the leader in sales with the greatest presence on the professional tours, there looms the possible loss of market share.

  • Wally Uihlein, Former President and CEO of Acushnet, Titleist’s parent company, does not believe the ball is the problem. Titleist conducted its own study adding further context to the Distance Report’s finding of a three-yard average gain year over year across golf’s seven prominent professional tours. Titleist’s research shows a 0.5-yard gain in distance at PGA Tour events in 2017 that were played at the same course as 2016. Of the courses that were new for the 2016-17 season, Titleist found most of increase came at three of the major championship venues: the U.S. Open (Erin Hills vs. Oakmont, +20.4 yards), the British Open (Royal Birkdale vs. Royal Troon, +8.1 yards) and the PGA Championship (Quail Hollow vs. Baltusrol, +7.0 yards).
  • Angel Ilagan, Bridgestone Golf President and CEO, says the company agrees with Tiger Woods that the distance the pro ball travels should be reduced while the equipment and the ball should be “juiced for the amateur.” “As it relates to the Tour, there needs to be something to standardize the ball because these guys are hitting it way too long,” he said.
  • David Abeles, CEO and President TaylorMade: “We believe innovation and technology lead to better performance, and better performance brings more joy to the game for all who play it … As the discussion around bifurcation and rollback formalizes, we look forward to having a seat at the table to lend our voice. Until then, we will continue to create the best performing products for all golfers.”

In the end, we know it is about what the R&A and the USGA decide. They are like the Supreme Court; their decision is final. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America are like co-counsels presenting their case unofficially to the public and the media. And the players are on the opposing side, presenting their case for change—a roll back of the distance the ball travels.

What will the USGA decide, and when will it decide? We have seen through other changes at the USGA and R&A that they prefer a slow rollout rather than an fast rollback. The USGA has had to deal with other sensitive issues in the past. The current issue is reminiscent of the “battle of the groves” when Ping’s Karsten Solheim sued the USGA for $100 million in 1987. The lawsuit was eventually dropped, and Ping’s Eye2 irons were grandfathered in.

There was most recently the ban on anchoring, in which the PGA Tour and the PGA of America were considering enacting their own rules. After the USGA announced its intention in May 2013, the ban went into effect January 1, 2016. There was a period in which open discussion was entertained, and then after listening to various points of view the USGA set a date in which the ban on anchoring would go into effect: January 16, 2016. The PGA of America and the PGA Tour eventually capitulated.

In 1998, there was the issue of thin-faced drivers that were popularized by Callaway and TaylorMade. The USGA implemented a new rule restricting the coefficient of restitution to a value of 0.83 for drivers. The rule was then adopted world-wide by 2003.

It’s clear that the USGA moves carefully. It’s interested in hearing every point of view, which takes time. It also favors setting a date in the future when the rules change will become effective but, in the meantime, there is a waiting period in which those who are affected have the time and opportunity to adjust. What is also clear is the USGA is interested in doing what’s best for the game. While its actions may at times seem capricious and arbitrary, those who hold that opinion are the individuals that have been directly affected by a rules change.

As in the past, the USGA has shown that it will not back down from a fight if it believes the cause is just. At the same time, however, the USGA will listen to every point of view. This approach obviates the possibility of an out-and-out showdown. The greatest predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and for that reason I would predict that the USGA will announce its intention to make a change in the rules with regards to the ball in 2018. But whatever changes it decides, it will not go into effect until 2020 for professionals.

As for amateurs, the USGA will have to decide what the best approach is when it comes to them. They could:

  1. Reduce the distance the ball travels to match the standards applied to the professionals
  2. Keep it the same as today without making any changes
  3. Increase the limit the ball travels

Those who are in favor of regulating the distance the ball travels are not in favor of doing anything that would reduce the enjoyment of the amateur or have a negative effect on growing the game. As we consider the issue, we must believe that Mike Davis, Executive Director of the USGA, meant what he said over dinner with Jack Nicklaus in November of 1997. They were discussing the increasing distance the ball is traveling, and sarcastically Nicklaus asked Davis, “Are you going to study the issue for another 10 years?”

And Davis answered defensively, “No, no, no, we’re going to get there… and I’m going to need your help when we do.”

That sounds like a promise to me. What do you think?

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

68 Comments

68 Comments

  1. Paul

    Mar 29, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    Maybe this is a dumb question, but why can’t we let the pros just shoot lower scores?

  2. Tom Newsted

    Mar 29, 2018 at 8:13 am

    This has been covered by so many people across the internet who have done testing with balls from today and balls from 20 – 25 years ago. I say put them on the robots and see if there is any major difference 20-30 yards is a major difference. If the robots are close then there is no reason to change the ball. I have said many times that this issue is the result of the players being in much better shape than ever before. Both PGA and LPGA players are extremely fit and have a physical trainer as part of their game. This along with some technology is why the ball is going further not the ball itself. When Tiger came on the scene in 97 he was the only one that took physical fitness seriously now all the kids that grew up wanting to be Tiger have done the same thing.

  3. glfhsslr

    Mar 29, 2018 at 6:36 am

    MLB uses wooden bats yes. Ask some of the MLB pitchers of their opinion of the ball, They’ll all tell its juiced.
    If the USGA decides to roll the ball back I think they should expand the hole to 6″ wide lol. Id make that exchange all day

  4. Square

    Mar 29, 2018 at 5:54 am

    Every single decision should be based on how to make the game more fun, affordable, and optimum pace for amateur players. There should be no consideration as to what Tour Players are doing. Rolling back the ball for amateurs will not grow the game. I hit the ball 280 off the tee 25 years ago. At age 48 I still hit it 280 off the tee. Technology has allowed me to enjoy nearly the same experience for 25 years. If I was hitting it 240, I’d probably have slowed down a bit and picked up other interests.

    • gvogelsang

      Mar 29, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Why would you want the game to be easier. A big part of what makes golf a great game is the difficulty.

      If you need easier, move up a set of tees, or two.

  5. ewfnick

    Mar 29, 2018 at 5:14 am

    I have stopped watching golf on TV these days as it is simply boring, driver, wedge, driver, wedge, all that gets shown most of the time is putting, as the approach game has become too obvious.
    I will continue to love and play the game, but watching for me, is now a thing of the past.

  6. A. Commoner

    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    Don’t care what the PGA, Tour, USGA, or R&A does. There will be makers of and markets for balls appropriate for 90% of us “real” golfers. Just an aside: some people have strange ideas about how to “grow the game.”

  7. KP

    Mar 28, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    Been playing since 1993. Busted my a** trying to hit it longer any straighter. Down to a 3 now, was a scratch about 10 years ago. I practice a few times a week and play on one or both weekend days. My handicap climbed when they got rid of belly putters. If they roll the ball back because the beasts that are the PGA Tour are hitting it further than they like and I start hitting it noticeably shorter…I’m done.

    • Hogan Fan

      Mar 29, 2018 at 4:52 am

      In all seriousness, the article compared golf to baseball and the analogy is correct. Do we rebuild all the stadiums or just make the ball go shorter? If they make it a bit shorter to control the costs of course maintenance, then everyone should just move up a proportionate amount. 10% rollback? Stop playing 7000 yards and go back to playing 6300. There are a ton of great courses under 6500 yards.

      • Mat

        Mar 30, 2018 at 4:32 am

        No, MLB also requires all parks to be 330 to the poles now, and 400 CF. So you can’t go saying “play a shorter course”, and say baseball is an example. It’s opposite. They are ensuring the “course” is a minimum distance.

  8. Mat

    Mar 28, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    Frankly, there’s only one thing I care about. Whatever is decided in the area of the ball, and equipment in its entirety, is simple; it must remain equal, pros and amateurs.

    If it’s reduced for the pros, it’s reduced for the ams. We all play conforming clubs, and the ball should be no different. If they do or don’t change, what I care about is that the ball is the same one that the professionals play. Right now, they play the same ball I can buy off the shelf. If that ever changes, you’ll find that golf will suffer. It is the fact that pros play the SAME as me that makes what they do amazing. Otherwise, I don’t have anything to compare them, and that’s when you lose the connection so vital in the game.

  9. Golfer 5

    Mar 28, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    After reading a lot of comments it is a variety of factors in my opinion which has increased distance:
    -Player fitness
    -Faster conditions
    -New technology

    One thing that I think has really increased distance across the board is club fitting, even for pros. That in itself is so much more detailed and technologically advanced now it is crazy! The intricacies pros can maximize on are only going to increase their production further. If you combine all those factors and add in the fact that any golfer has a chance to play the most perfectly tailored set of clubs, then you are obviously going to maximize performance.

    In that respect, perhaps they should regulate the COR standard of woods further, and put parameters on fairway woods as well.

    • Charles Miller

      Mar 29, 2018 at 9:25 am

      That is the critical point. Just publishing distance stats takes no account of clubhead speed. A recent analysis of the top 20 on the US PGA tour showed a 4mph (which translates to c.10 yard) improvement over a decade, so better heads and shafts, stronger players and perhaps a more aggressive approach all play their part. Given that the USGA and R&A have not changed the maximum permitted ball velocity for ages, other factors come into play.

      One of those is the performance of today’s golf balls. Optimising spin, and fitting balls to players, means they nowadays fly better and more predictably (regardless of distance) than they did.

  10. Bob

    Mar 28, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    I don’t see what the problem is. The game is fun and exciting to play as an amateur and it is fun and exciting to watch the pro’s play. Roll back the ball and you roll back the fun and excitement and you end up rolling back the growth of the game. Sorry, I think the USGA and the R&A are a bunch of old fuddy duddies

  11. Bob Jones

    Mar 28, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    The problem, if there really is one, exists only in professional golf only. I don’t think my 220-yard drives are hurting the game.

    And where is Group 5? A set of recreational golfers, who represent only about 95% of people who play the game?

  12. Billable Hours

    Mar 28, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    I don’t understand why anything needs to change

  13. Vance

    Mar 28, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    No course is obsolete. They will always be free to have tournaments at any course. They are only afraid of scores being too low, but won’t admit it. The same people who readily admit that players are better these days seem unable to accept that scores might be lower as a result.

  14. gvogelsang

    Mar 28, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    They should roll back COR and reduce the driver head size for “elite” players. They have already defined elite players when they changed the groove rule.

    A COR of .76 and a driver head size of 200 cc would work just fine.

  15. R Symes

    Mar 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    I believe the Ball is going further due to a combination of inputs as mentioned by multiple people, course conditions, Ball technology improvements, club technology improvements, physical fitness. I do not see it as an issue as all play in the same environment with the aim to get the ball in the hole with the least number of strokes.
    Why not conduct some analysis with the top ten players mixing up combinations of current balls/clubs and balls/clubs from 20 to 30 years ago! How far does the modern club hit the old ball and vice versa?
    Get on with the game and let everyone enjoy it.

  16. Golf fan 55

    Mar 28, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    I am an advocate of keeping the golf ball the same, and agree with Dustin Johnson being that the object “is getting it into the hole”. Why I wouldn’t compare golf equipment to baseball equipment.

    1. The only reason aluminum is used everywhere but professional baseball is because of availability of wood and cost for amateurs to use wood.

    2. Tiger’s comparison about the “Pro” baseball and “Amateur” baseball is exactly what is wrong with pro baseball right now, and why homeruns have become such a joke and how hard pitchers are throwing. There is a very distinct difference in how tightly wound the “Pro” baseball is and the height of the seams compared to a “Minor League” ball compared to a college/high school ball, thus creating less resistance in the wind. It is simply a money-maker for the sport of baseball.

    I agree with all those who have said that the conditions of the course should change!!! The pros on average seem to be getting 20-30yds of roll-out on drives due to how fast, tight and firm the fairways are. And if putting greens are way faster today than when Arnie, Nicklaus, etc used to play, aren’t the fairways as well??? How is this not flawing the numbers as well? All in all, I do not think overall carry distance is much different through the years.

    • Golf fan 55

      Mar 28, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      I do not think pros needs to play on fairways that run 9-11 on a stimpmeter, which is faster than some of the greens most of us play on. And of course, something that runs that fast will also be more firm allowing the ball to roll more, thus distance+

      • Golf fan 55

        Mar 28, 2018 at 4:35 pm

        In my opinion, Golf is the only sport where the playing conditions are significantly different considering professional play vs “ordinary” conditions amateur conditions. Perhaps the pristine conditions of the courses need to be addressed as the conditions are contributing to distance gain.

  17. dat

    Mar 28, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    Make the courses play harder. Or force all pros to play steel shafts over 100g in their woods. That will slow things down and force a decrease in length.

  18. Dave

    Mar 28, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    as soon as they make anything different than i use. i will lose substantial interest in golf. i spend about 10k annually on golf. no longer will their 340 drive seem amazing as it will only be 300yards…i will be hitting 300 yards and so will DJ. STUPID. not every course needs to be tourney playable. its only those courses that need length and they only need that length for tourneys. no one is even playing the tips at any courses i play. half the time the tips are grown over. Just narrow the damn fairways and you will see more irons off the tee, hybrids etc. problem solved…

  19. Rick Wilmoth

    Mar 28, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    We know its about the money, not the integrity of the game. However, to fix it is pretty simple. Same reasoning behind the baseball rules. Amateurs can use whatever they want, but the pros have to hit a standardized ball and use wood woods.

  20. AndyK

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    For what it’s worth

    Top 10 players in World and swing speed (Fleetwood sub for Koepka, no keopka 2018 data)

    1 D Johnson 121.6
    2 J Thomas 117.7
    3 J Rahm 118.4
    4 J Speith 113.1
    5 J Rose 117.7
    6 H Matsuy 118.4
    7 R McIIroy 122.4
    8 R Fowler 115.2
    9 S Garcia 119.0
    11 Fleetw 116.7

  21. Peeza

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Since the MLB seems to be the most common comparison, maybe the Tour courses should be made tougher like the MLB parks are made larger. High school and college baseball fields don’t measure up to MLB parks. Make the fairways narrower and softer, while making the rough longer and greens smaller.

    99% of amateur golfers don’t play the courses the pro’s play. Change the pro’s courses and leave the am’s alone. Equipment remains the same.

    • Chuck

      Mar 28, 2018 at 3:07 pm

      We have been doing that — tricking up golf courses — for many years, and it is long since time to stop it. It does not produce the best golf. And it isn’t just doing tricky stuff in setups. We are changing golf courses — lengthening them, stretching them, changing them — all to accommodate $3.50 golf balls.

      Ridiculous.

  22. GolfGolfGolf

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    simple – no

  23. farmer

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    1980 is damn near 40 years ago. How much longer were tour players in 1980 than in 1940? Did that 1980 ball need to be rolled back?

    • Chuck

      Mar 28, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      You are helping to make the rollback argument.

      The differences between clubs and balls in the 1940-1980 period was negligible, to the 1980-2020 differences.

      In 1940, as in 1980, all clubs were steel-shafted. Drivers were persimmon. Clublengths and lofts were mostly the same. In the 1970’s, a great many tour players were still playing with collectible MacGregor Tommy Armour drivers that were made in the 1950’s and 60’s.

  24. Peeza

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    At what playing level does the USGA make it mandatory to use a reduced flight ball(if they go that route). What does this do for guys on the Web.com Tour or college players aspiring to be pro?

    The USGA will have to define a threshold where players competing at a certain level will have time to adjust.

    A college player deciding to go pro will be at a serious disadvantage when they tee it up on a mini tour or the Web.com tour with a reduced flight golf ball. They will need time to adjust to their new yardages and the new ball’s characteristics.

    Someone else already mentioned this but what will this do for the amateur that qualifies for a pro tournament? They’ll have to use a ball they haven’t used before or have very little practice with.

    Also, will there now have to be another division for amateur tournaments for amateurs that want to use pro compliant equipment?

    Too many variables for the roll back case IMO.

  25. CB

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    A semi-scientific thought…

    A pro who achieves a very efficient contact may lose 20% with a new-tech ball. BUT an amateur with less efficient ball striking would lose a much lower % of their distance – maybe only 5%, because so many other factory are at play.

    I think a ball which bunches the driving distances could be good – only the best longest pros getting to 300yds whilst the club players who get about 230 or so at the moment will be less effected an come out of this with 220 or 225yd drives.

  26. Peeza

    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Just for the record…MLB baseball is not the only league that uses wooden bats. Some Division II College baseball conferences use wooden bats. Like, the NE10 in New England.

    Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble. Well, not sorry really.

  27. Scooter

    Mar 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    The problem is that the courses are set up to reward longer hitters. The setup for tournaments should allow for long drives up to a pre-determined threshold. At that point, distance gets penalized with hazards, bunkers, long rough, etc.
    Face it. Golf courses can’t continue to be made longer and longer. PGA tournament setups are rewarding only the bomb and gouge players by making the courses play longer and eliminating the shotmakers on tour. Give the long hitters 3-5 holes that reward their distance and setup the rest to level the field off the tee.

    • Scott

      Mar 28, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      (Scooter) And then make the cups smaller for better putters. Why penalize a player that can do something you can’t?

      • AndyK

        Mar 28, 2018 at 1:31 pm

        Haha seriously this is so true. That’s the real reason PGA guys light up course When they hit 15 greens and have 24 putts they is just insane.

        That is much harder then hit the ball 300. I know plenty of guys shoot in 90s that hit it 300+

  28. Dino

    Mar 28, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Rod … you missed the group of players that are content with the golf ball and the distance issue. I suspect that there are plenty of players that would like to see it stay right where it is, but for some reason they never get the “ink” or “airtime” to make their perspective more clearly known.

  29. nyguy

    Mar 28, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    on and on and on and on…. my god.

  30. HeineyLite

    Mar 28, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Going to the baseball comparison, make all pros play blades and and smaller than 360cc drivers. Maybe limit clubs they can carry from 14 to 11? IMO

  31. kevin

    Mar 28, 2018 at 11:53 am

    the real issue is when course strategy is removed because of the distance guys can carry it. i’m all for thicker rough and tighter fairways, but if guys now have ability to carry the hazard, carry the fairway bunker, cut the dogleg, and essentially eliminate the risk and reward the course architect spent so much time creating, then the game changes for the worse.

    combine this with the forgiveness in the large driver heads and lack of spin with the new balls, and the separation or gap between the best ball strikers is narrowed. I want a bigger emphasis on ball striking as the deciding factor on tournament success vs what the game is quickly becoming…which is workout, perfect your launch angle to hit driver as high and far as possible, and become a good putter. course management, iron play, working the ball is taking a back seat to the bomb and gouge type of play. not sure that’s great for the game.

  32. Humble Golfer

    Mar 28, 2018 at 11:25 am

    I think that we can use MLB as an example. Professional baseball are the only ones that use wooden bats. If they do pull the trigger on this, they should only reduce ball distance on Tour golf balls not consumer based balls. Just like golf clubs; pros use equipment that amateurs can’t get. Should be the same for the golf ball.

    • Allan

      Mar 28, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      Its hard to use MLB as an example. you don’t see true amateurs playing in the MLB. There are many Professional golf Tournaments that allow Amateur players to compete (IE Masters, US Open, British Open…the list goes on). So if Pros and Amateur are using different equipment, How cab they level the field? Only way would be to force Amateur to use Limited golf ball which is not what they’ve practiced with or play with on a regular basis, so the are at an immediate disadvantage.

    • HoleIn2

      Mar 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      What happens to top amateurs, top juniors, club championships, state, and national tournaments? Where do you draw the line.

      • Den

        Mar 28, 2018 at 11:17 pm

        You can’t draw the line because a line can’t exist…. would they take away the u.s. am champs invitation to the masters or u.s. open because they used the “amateur” ball instead of the regulated tour ball to qualify? it just wouldn’t work with two sets of rules. you’d have to do it for everyone…. and a 20% rollback would mean a 300yd drive would only go 240. so no recreational golfer could legitimately hit the ball 200yds basically. sounds like a great idea

  33. Man

    Mar 28, 2018 at 11:15 am

    They should stop cutting the fairways so thin and running them out so firm on the Tour courses and let them get shaggy and clumped with crab grass like they are on many real, muni courses across the US. And then let’s see how the Pros do on courses that aren’t so perfect where the ball doesn’t roll out 50 yards

    • BH

      Mar 28, 2018 at 11:54 am

      Yup. The ball is NOT the problem.

    • AndyK

      Mar 28, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      TV wants low scores on long drives. Notice how they always but these shot tracer driving distance hole on a hole that’s off a cliff down hurricane with lava rock fairway.

      All the pros care is how far they carry the driver and only a few can carry it 300.

  34. Sam

    Mar 28, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Of course longer hitters on tour like Tiger and DJ want the ball rolled back. When they(longer hitters) are now hitting short irons and wedges into greens where other guys are hitting mid irons, roll the ball back and now the big hitters are still hitting short irons to mid irons to the greens the short guys are forced to hit long irons. Who’s going to have the advantage of getting the ball to stop close to the pins on the these fast greens? Yup the big guys.

  35. Rev G

    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:59 am

    I think there is another perspective that you’re missing. Player’s on the tours hit it further for many reasons (clubs, balls, fitness, nutrition, instruction, course conditions, etc.) The ball is the easiest and most logical thing to roll back to counteract this. Saying the ball is at fault for the increase is not the point, the point is that the ball (and only reasonable) thing you can roll back. Tennis has encountered the same issues – the ball was traveling too fast because of new racquet technology, fitness, nutrition instruction, etc.). So what have tournaments done to counteract, they’ve made the ball fluffier. The ball wasn’t at fault, but it is the easiest thing to use to counteract.

    • Matt

      Mar 28, 2018 at 2:11 pm

      If fitness is the reason for the length then put a 300cc Wood headed driver and Balata ball in their hands and see what happens. Their swing speeds will drop and distances will go down regardless of how fit they are.

    • RS

      Mar 30, 2018 at 1:59 am

      Was just about to leave a comment, but your post nailed it. The ball is the only logical thing to roll back.

  36. Bye

    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Are we allowed to discuss this again? Every roll back thread seems to get shut down.

    • Chuck

      Mar 28, 2018 at 3:25 pm

      I think that the reason that these threads get shut down is because of the bad behavior of a small number of commenters. (Invariably the anti-rollback crowd.)

      I haven’t seen any heavy-handed censorship by GolfWRX, and I congratulate GolfWRX on allowing this debate.

      Kudos.

      btw: I very mistakenly hit the “Report Comment” instead of the “Reply” button a moment ago. There is nothing wrong with Bye’s comment, and I apologize for the missed click.

  37. Cory

    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Watch Rick Shiels’ video about him testing the titleist pro 90 vs the new pro v1. It’s a very small sample size but still effective for getting an idea of how far the ball has come. Teaser: there’s not much difference. The biggest factor in distance these days is the new era of pro golfers who train and lift weights and golf club technology IMO. Like the poster above me said, make the course conditions more punishable on fairways missed.

    • Mike

      Mar 28, 2018 at 11:30 am

      +1

    • Peeza

      Mar 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      Agree 100%

    • Matt

      Mar 28, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      Not sure how you get “There’s not much difference.” His Driver test showed 12 yards difference and his 7i showed 6 yards. That is what this discussion is all about.

      • James

        Mar 28, 2018 at 4:44 pm

        Which is one whole club. Not the doom and gloom that the powers-that-be are crying over

  38. Jack

    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:39 am

    grow the rough up narrow and soften the fairways. problem solved

    • Phil

      Mar 28, 2018 at 11:54 am

      Agree with Jack & Man. Soften the fairways & grow the rough. Evaluate after this ….

    • Chuck

      Mar 28, 2018 at 3:34 pm

      “Grow the rough up; narrow and soften the fairways… PROBLEMS CREATED.”

      First problem; effectively narrowing golf courses eliminates the architect’s original design intentions. Angles are shut down; natural landing area challenges are minimized or overlooked. You have eliminated much strategy, and turned course management into little more than a golf simulator, banging shots down a narrow one-dimensional chute.

      Second problem; “softening” golf courses is bad in multiple ways. You first and foremost eliminate the “ground game” and the need to understand and manage the way that balls run out. It is also bad if a “softened” course cannot handle extra moisture in the form of rain during a tournament week.

      Third problem; punitive rough is a terrible way to handle distance. The right way to handle extra distance is to address the distance; not trick the player into holding back because he fears the rough on a particular hole, but still has the reserve distance to bomb it over fairway bunkers on a different hole

      I will never stop being amazed at the mentality that would regard it as better and more logical to make changes to a priceless, irreplaceable, historic golf course, simply to avoid making changes to something as forgettable as a golf ball.

      • Chris

        Mar 29, 2018 at 11:24 pm

        They aren’t talking about changing the golf course, but rather about keeping it as it is the rest of the year when there is no tournament and NOT change it with starved fairways running at 10 on the stimp. During tournament week only.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: The 2018 Open Championship

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The 147th Open Championship gets underway this week as 156 players launch their quest to capture the Claret Jug. The oldest and for many, most prestigious event returns to Scotland, where Carnoustie will host the tournament for the eighth time in its history.

The last time Carnoustie hosted The Open was 10 years ago when Padraig Harrington finished tied with Sergio Garcia at 7-under par after 72 holes. Harrington went on to outlast Garcia in a dramatic playoff to capture his first of two-straight Open Championships.

The weather is expected to be kind this year and the rough will less penal than it was in 2007, which should offer more birdies than it did in 2007. Carnoustie will measure just over 7,400 yards. With the course playing fast and firm, however, distance is not going to be an issue.

Strategy will be vitally important, and we’ve heard that players will be able to lay up on some of the holes by taking short irons off the tee. The likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy have all stated that they will be taking driver off the tee to eliminate many of the pot bunkers on the course. The reason for this comes down to the fact that the rough is playable this year, which allows for attacking golf. As with any Open Championship, players will need to have every single part of their game in shape for the difficult challenge that links golf always provides.

Last year, Jordan Spieth won the Claret Jug by playing his final five holes in 5-under to post 12-under and beat runner-up Matt Kuchar by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 12/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Rickie Fowler 18/1
  • Rory McIlroy 18/1
  • Jon Rahm 20/1
  • Jordan Spieth 20/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 22/1

Considerably cheaper in salary than both Spieth and Mcilroy, and only marginally more expensive than Fowler, Jon Rahm (20/1, DK Price $9,800) looks to offer excellent value this week at the top of the board. The Spaniard has shown he can play links golf very well, as he once again performed excellently in Ireland, posting a top-5 finish two weeks ago. Rahm now turns his attention to Carnoustie where he’ll be gunning for his first major championship victory.

Rahm comes into this event with a clear strategy. He’s going to play as aggressive as always and hit driver off the tee at every opportunity. Rahm believes the course layout and conditions will suit his explosive game. When you listen to his assessment of Carnoustie this year, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Speaking to the media this week, Rahm said:

“If you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green. If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”

With playable rough, Rahm should feel every bit as confident as he sounds about his chances this week, as the only thing that prevented him from winning in Ireland was the odd blow-up hole. But with his power allowing him to take the pot bunkers almost entirely out of play, combined with light rough, Carnoustie should be an excellent fit for him. Rahm’s experience in contention at Augusta earlier in the year should put him in good shape mentally as he attempts to win his first major championship, and if he can keep his volatile temperament in check, then Rahm has every chance of claiming the Claret Jug.

From the middle of the range prices this week, Francesco Molinari (33/1, DK Price $8,600) may be the safest man to add to your lineups. The Italian has been in imperious form lately, winning twice and finishing runner-up twice in his last five events. Molinari leads the field in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds and sits third in ball striking over the same period.

Molinari’s Open Championship record has been solid, making the cut in five of his last six appearances at this event. His best finish at this event is a T9 back in 2013 at Muirfield, where the conditions were also dry. Molinari enters this event in the form of his life, and the way he is hitting the ball right now, he looks primed for his best Open Championship performance yet.

A links specialist, Marc Leishman (50/1, DK Price $8,000) has performed excellently at this event in recent years. Leishman has recorded three top-10 finishes at the Open Championship in his last four appearances, and he looks reasonably priced to go well once again this week. An excellent wind player, Leishman will relish any wind that may descend on Carnoustie. With him being so adept at playing links golf, taking an expert at $8,000 seems a prudent play.

Leishman’s immediate form hasn’t been spectacular, but he has made five cuts from his last six events, including a runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson where he shot a brilliant 61 in the opening round. The Australian finished T13 at his previous outing at the Quicken Loans National, which shows his game is in solid shape. With his expertise on links courses, Leishman may well be able to conquer Carnoustie and finally get his hands on the Claret Jug.

Emiliano Grillo (200/1, DK Price $6,800) is undervalued this week. On DraftKings, with the books, everywhere. Grillo has been playing terrific golf lately, and Carnoustie should suit the Argentine’s clinical ball striking. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits 15th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Strokes Gained-Putting, 17th in ball striking and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. Grillo has three top-25 finishes in his last four events, and he has shown he can produce his best golf at this event in the past, finishing T12 at Royal Troon back in 2016. At 200/1 and $6,800 on DraftKings, Emiliano Grillo looks the value play of the week.

Recommended Plays

  • Jon Rahm 20/1, DK Price $9,800
  • Francesco Molinari 33/1, DK Price $8,600
  • Marc Leishman 50/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Emiliano Grillo 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Opinion & Analysis

The Golf Engine predicts the top 25 finishers at The Open Championship

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The field for the 147th British Open is set at the historic Carnoustie Golf Links. The Golf Engine modeled over 1,500 statistics tracked by the PGA Tour for every tournament dating back to 2004. We looked at how each stat contributes to what we can expect from players on this stage, at this tournament. It’s a complex web of information that can only be properly analyzed by a machine, yet yields some objectively surprising results.

This year’s British Open is no exception as the model is calling for Webb Simpson (125/1 odds) to make a run into the top 10 at least.

Some surprises:

Back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (22/1) inside the top 5.

Webb Simpson (125/1) and Phil Mickelson (66/1) inside the top 10.

Emiliano Grillo (100/1) inside the top 15.

Kevin Na (175/1), Luke List (125/1), and Ryan Moore (150/1) inside top the 25.

Perhaps just as surprising are the golfers that may under-perform this week. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood don’t make the top 10 cutoff. Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari who finished T2 at TPC Deere Run last week, and Sergio Garcia are all projected outside of our top 25.

Notable left-outs:

Rory McIlroy (16/1) and Tommy Fleetwood (20/1) finishing outside the top 10.

Alex Noren (30/1), Francesco Molinari (33//1), and Sergio Garcia (28/1) all finishing outside the top 25.

A few more points of note:

Top 5

It’s fascinating that Dustin Johnson gets the call for top dawg from both the oddsmakers and the model. No question he is the best player in the world right now, but it’s been a few years since DJ really contended (2011) in this tournament — and at a different course — Royal St George’s. He does have a pair of Top 10’s in 2012 and 2016 and has made the cut every year since 2009 (his first Open).

Justin Rose, not that his name doesn’t come up every year for this tournament, just that his style of play is generally considered to be different than the players on either side of him (Johnson and Koepka).

Speaking of Koepka, few are calling for him to win at Carnoustie though he does shows up inside the top 5 here…

Jordan Spieth, although winning this tournament last year – has not put up the best numbers of his already memorable career the past few months. Frankly I’m a little surprised the numbers bear this out…

Perhaps the third least surprising name to see on this list (aside from Johnson and Rose) is Rickie Fowler, aka: Mr. Consistency, aka: the Perennial Contender, aka: always the Bridesmaid. Rickie almost always brings his A-game, and the data suggests it suits this course well. Curious to see if this is the year his major championship drought comes to an end.

Top 10

Webb Simpson might be the most surprising pick on this list. Clearly the model likes something about his game this year and the way he is set up for this tournament. A career-low 61 to open at The Greenbrier (his last start), T10 at the U.S. Open a month ago and earning his 5th career victory at The PLAYERS were each separated by missed cuts.

Top 25

For a guy with short odds, Rory McIlroy to be projected outside of the top 10, which really speaks to the consistency (or lack thereof) of his game this season.

Other notables:

No love from the model for Matt Kuchar, Scotsman Russel Knox, Adam Scott, Ian Poulter, or Louis Oosthuizen.

Projected Rank Player Odds
1 Dustin Johnson 12/1
2 Justin Rose 16/1
3 Brooks Koepka 22/1
4 Jordan Spieth 20/1
5 Rickie Fowler 16/1
6 Webb Simpson 125/1
7 Justin Thomas 22/1
8 Jason Day 33/1
9 Phil Mickelson 66/1
10 Jon Rahm 20/1
11 Henrik Stenson 28/1
12 Emiliano Grillo 100/1
13 Paul Casey 40/1
14 Patrick Reed 35/1
15 Rory McIlroy 16/1
16 Tommy Fleetwood 20/1
17 Bubba Watson 80/1
18 Tiger Woods 22/1
19 Kevin Na 175/1
20 Hideki Matsuyama 50/1
21 Bryson DeChambeau 125/1
22 Luke List 125/1
23 Ryan Moore 150/1
24 Tony Finau 100/1
25 Charles Howell III 500/1
Odds Courtesy of Bovada

View the projected finish of the entire 2018 British Open Field.

How the Golf Engine makes its picks

In golf, a pro matches up as much with the golf-course as another competitor. Which is why any attempt to predict the outcome of a golf tournament, must take into account the nuances of the course. Beyond conjecture made by the golf pundits, analyzing past and present data through the use of math can more accurately project future performance.

In this model, we use machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset allows gives us an opportunity to predict players that are sitting on low round scores.

The machine learns how these statistics can become a unique strength or glaring weakness for each golfer by comparing tens of thousands of different combinations and separating the patterns from the noise. The resulting ‘model’ is able to ‘deep dive’ and determine when to expect low rounds from a pro, given their unique style of play. These calculations are next to impossible to do quickly and certainly without personal and subjective biases, until now.

Learn more about the author, Pat Ross.

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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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