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Barney Adams: Ball rollback isn’t the right move to combat “The Golfer of Tomorrow”

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The announcing crew at the 2020 U.S. Open seemed obsessed with “the bombers”—players who drove the ball extreme distances with little regard for the occasional tee shot into the rough. TV has selected Bryson DeChambeau as their representative, given his length and victory.

I thought I’d wait a bit to see what the industry sources had to say. I can’t say it’s unanimous, because I haven’t seen everything, but the theme is: “Get Ready for The Golfer of Tomorrow”

  • 350-yard carry
  • Clubhead speed which tears through the rough allowing the ball to launch high and carry to the green
  • The ‘new’ instructor who teaches distance be it ground up or whatever new method is used
  • Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
  • And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf

At the same time the USGA and its organizational allies are planning meetings focusing on not if the ball will be rolled back, but when—clearly, influenced by visual evidence from a great Winged Foot course in our national championship.

Let’s look deeper!

A hypothetical: go back a few months. You are on the planning committee for the U.S. Open to be held at Winged Foot, one of America’s great venues. This year because of COVID-19 there will be no galleries, something never experienced at a USGA major golf event. I repeat, your committee is planning for the U.S. Open. That implies “Open Rough” a term that is significant on its own. You don’t play from Open Rough, you escape…maybe.

The nature of Open Rough is a thick chunky base with long tendrils reaching skyward. These make it very difficult to find your ball in the best of circumstances and when attempting to advance these tendrils wrap themselves around your hosel closing the face, sending your ball deeper into hostile territory. That’s if you can even find it, Open rough has “disappeared” many balls over the years and done so within full view of gallery spectators aiding course marshals. The rule of thumb for competitors has always been to find the most reasonable patch of fairway and get out.

But this is the year of COVID-19. No galleries. Marshals, but relatively few because of no galleries. Now, considering that normal U.S. Open rough will produce many searches where marshals are important, the shortage of them will cause endless searches—which don’t make for great TV viewing. So, a decision is made, cut the rough down so shots can be found. Still in the rough but sitting on the chunky base and very often can be played. A tough call for the purist but an objective economic evaluation leaves no choice.

The announcers regale us with astonishing distances and swing speeds that allow escape from Open Rough that used to be impossible! The golf publications jump on this theme and predict that the Golfer of Tomorrow will be “DeChambeau-like” not sweet swingers but physical hulks rewriting the book on distance strongly influenced by no fear of the rough.

My point here is those publications and instructors, jumping on the “longer and slightly crooked is better” bandwagon have added 2+2 and gotten 5 when using the 2020 U.S. Open as a premise.

DeChambeau is a great and powerful player, however, I don’t think he’s known for his putting. Now I may have dozed off but I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific, probably influenced his score! He is our National Champion, an unsurpassable honor. But his style has me betting that the USGA is working on dates to discuss changing the golf ball, as in making it shorter.

I’m 100% against such a move. Golf is a game where amateurs can go to the same course play the same clubs and given a huge difference in skill achieve some measure of affiliation with the pros. A birdie is a birdie, not a long or short ball birdie. From a business perspective, the overwhelming majority of those golfers financially supporting golf are over 50. And we want them to hit it shorter?

Well, Mr. Adams what would you do? I know zero about golf ball manufacturing, but keeping the distance the same I’d change the dimples to increase curvature—just enough so it doesn’t affect slower swings that much but very high swing speeds so it’s in the player’s head

More thoughts. As an admitted TV viewer, get rid of those yardage books. Fine for practice rounds but when the bell rings it should be player and caddie, not an “on green” conference. What’s next, a staff meeting?

I’ll conclude with a note to the PGA Tour and, importantly, an admonition. To the PGA Tour: The minute a tee goes into the ground on #1 every player is on the clock. Stroke penalties, not fines, will get their attention.

To the rest of the golfing world: Let’s not blindly pursue the Golfer of Tomorrow concept without considerably deeper study.

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Barney Adams is the founder of Adams Golf and the inventor of the iconic "Tight Lies" fairway wood. He served as Chairman of the Board for Adams until 2012, when the company was purchased by TaylorMade-Adidas. Adams is one of golf's most distinguished entrepreneurs, receiving honors such as Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 1999 and the 2010 Ernie Sabayrac Award for lifetime contribution to the golf industry by the PGA of America. His journey in the golf industry started as as a club fitter, however, and has the epoxy filled shirts as a testimony to his days as an assembler. Have an equipment question? Adams holds seven patents on club design and has conducted research on every club in the bag. He welcomes your equipment questions through email at [email protected] Adams is now retired from the golf equipment industry, but his passion for the game endures through his writing. He is the author of "The WOW Factor," a book published in 2008 that offers an insider's view of the golf industry and business advice to entrepreneurs, and he continues to contribute articles to outlets like GolfWRX that offer his solutions to grow the game of golf.

53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Larry

    Oct 26, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Ultimately is there an audience for what is basically a Pitch & Putt match. Without fans professional golf will vanish.

  2. John

    Oct 26, 2020 at 5:28 am

    The PGA have, for years, tried to put the shackles on the big hitters by lengthening the courses when, in fact, all they are doing is playing into their hands. The solution is simple and blindingly obvious – make the courses shorter and and trick them up so that skill and imagination is rewarded rather than sheer brute strength.

  3. 8thehardway

    Oct 25, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    Gentlemen, allow me to suggest a solution that burdens neither courses nor manufacturers of equipment; one that eliminates a pre-existing bifurcation and draws us closer to our favorite players as they traverse difficult courses; in short, I propose ruling bodies eliminate the caddy.

    A moment’s reflection suggests that the energy required to lug a tour bag over 18 holes, searching for errant drives by yourself under time constraints, raking traps, cleaning clubs and confirming yardages reduces both the ability and incentive to launch 400-yard drives while holistically involving each pro in the more complete and authentic process we experience daily.

  4. geohogan

    Oct 25, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    “Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
    And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf”

    Seems Bryson has a lock on the last two points, that go hand and hand.

  5. Karsten’s Ghost

    Oct 25, 2020 at 3:23 am

    No equipment bifurcation. If you want to, make 80-compression a maximum for everyone. Then your amateurs don’t get dumped on.

  6. ray arcade

    Oct 24, 2020 at 11:49 pm

    Don’t do anything to the ball. Limit clubhead speed. Every tournament has a launch monitor on the tee… Anything over some PGA/USGA defined limit is penalized.

  7. Larry

    Oct 24, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    Just cut the max club length for PGA events to 42 inches and we will see only a few 320 yard drives.

  8. Speedy

    Oct 24, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Rock on, Barney, you’re always a good read.

  9. WiggyM

    Oct 24, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Some golf holes could have an “offside/hazard” line that runs across the hole at a certain yardage, be it 380, 400 yards, whatever it may be on depending on the actual strategy of the hole. One stroke penalty if your ball crosses that line with your tee ball.

    It would still reward distance but it would make you put some thought into your tee shot if you were a long bomber. It would never be a factor for 99.9% of amateurs so no need to roll back any equipment…. Or they could just not play golf courses and hold long drive contests on a Trackman every weekend.

  10. Jack

    Oct 24, 2020 at 8:21 am

    Yes, Mr. Adams, you obviously “dozed off”. Sort of like Rip Van Winkle. Over the past few years, DeChambeau has transformed himself into one of the best putters on tour. Perhaps you should drink more coffee.

    • Brad

      Oct 24, 2020 at 11:29 pm

      Unfortunately, Jack, II think you may have “dozed off” during English class. Mr Adams was correctly making the point that Bryson is not KNOWN for his putting, but that he SHOULD be. The opposite of what you are implying he said.

      “…I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific…”

  11. Paulo

    Oct 24, 2020 at 5:37 am

    I’m sick to death of this debate. Golf is a sport and like any sport the athlete pushes themselves and the champion is the one who breaks the ceiling. When the first sub 10 second 100m was recorded they didn’t make a 100m longer. So what if we keep going and going until 49’s are winning ? As long as there’s separation keep pushing the boundaries until everyone is tied. Well done Bryson. WhT he’s doing now isn’t different to what tiger did to the likes of Tom Kite abd Colin Montgomery back in 97.

    • Rich

      Oct 24, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      Several holes in that logic:

      — Running faster doesn’t make the track obsolete, but hitting the golf ball so much farther has taken some golf courses out of the scene for professionals

      — Sports like track (and tennis and baseball and football and basketball) are competed against other competitors, not the course or venue. That’s why NBA players can be much taller and stronger, yet the court can stay at 94 feet and the basket can stay at 10 feet. Golf is played against the course. As we know, courses have gotten a lot longer–and some made obsolete–because of the distance phenomenon.

      This has been an issue since a long time before BDC, but it still hasn’t been addressed. I’m in favor of returning the risk/reward factor in distance. Distance would still be an advantage, especially when coupled with accuracy. But when distance totally trumps accuracy, you have little more than a long-distance contest….and those are really boring.

      My solution: change the ball and clubs in ways that hamper the pros and yet do not really affect the weekend duffer. Spinnier balls, lower COR, and less-effective grooves would be where I’d start.

      • Paulo

        Oct 27, 2020 at 11:56 am

        You’re completely wrong. Players play against each other on a course. Lowest score wins , so worst if somebody shoots 57,57,56 etc etc to win. Lowest score wins . I just don’t get your logic here at all

  12. Bear

    Oct 24, 2020 at 5:27 am

    The opinions posted here show how small minded the amateur golfer is. Roll back the ball 20%. Deal with it. Its not about punishing any one player, its about returning the game to a spot where courses aren’t obsolete. There will always be a bomber on tour but the golf ball of today goes 20-30% further than in 1930 regardless of who’s swinging the bat.

    • Jbone

      Oct 24, 2020 at 8:28 am

      20% is absurd and will never happen.

      Let’s be serious and not even try to appeal to somebody like this.

      • Barry

        Oct 24, 2020 at 10:27 am

        No, not absurd, very doable. Probably a necessity at this point.

        Would be good for golf at every level.

        Bad for a ball manufacturers for a few months, but they’ll go back to making the same profits as before when they realize “wow, people still need these.”

      • Bear

        Oct 24, 2020 at 10:44 am

        20% Is absolutely accurate and should happen. People will quickly get over it when they realize they are still the longest hitter in their foursome. If you can’t reach the green in two Jbone, maybe its time you moved up a set of tees or took up croquet.

        • Jbone

          Oct 24, 2020 at 8:34 pm

          It won’t ever happen so what’s the point in arguing. It is absurd imo. People like you can continue to be pessimistic about the state of the game.

    • Not dumb barry

      Oct 25, 2020 at 3:04 am

      You’re really really dumb

  13. Matt

    Oct 24, 2020 at 12:11 am

    2 piece golf balls only. Want short game spin you also get high driver spin. Want low driver spin to hit long bombs you sacrifice short game spin and feel. Core and cover thats it. Simple fix.

    • Hogan Mike

      Oct 25, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      This is actually a cool idea! It will also make golf balls more affordable

  14. Rwj

    Oct 23, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Ban metal spikes. Most Local clubs have for everyone else. Make stability an issue

  15. Rwj

    Oct 23, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Im a fan of banning green reading books. Green reading should be a skill.

    Yardage books are okay, just not fully detailed.

    Make bunkers true hazards. Long teeth rakes, not beautiful smooth beaches that are easy to play from.

    Plant trees

    More “out of bounds” stakes and areas

    Out of box ideas for pro tournaments:
    Make the hole smaller
    Limit # of clubs
    Limit the maximum club length
    Required grooves on entire driver faces

  16. Rich

    Oct 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    No manufacturer–like the author–wants bifurcation. The only other sport that bifurcates (other than some accommodations for women, like forward tees or a smaller basketball) is MLB with its wooden bat requirement. No sport commonly played by adults is bifurcated.

    But I like Barney’s thinking around making errors at high speeds more dangerous. (Like NASCAR?) Or changing other characteristics–driver length comes to mind, or limits on wedges’ lofts or grooves–that professionals and top players can take advantage of that most weekend duffers cannot. As Barney says, perhaps the ball can be changed to make it more dangerous at high speeds–frankly, the way wound balls with balata covers were at one time.

  17. Jeff Allen

    Oct 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Because I want to see Usain Bolt running in Jesse Owens’ track shoes to protect Track & Field par. athletes and people are bigger, stronger and faster. Even with all that WRX just published an article that said the average single digit index hits the ball less than 225 yards. I say bombs away

  18. Chadd

    Oct 23, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    How about going back to V groves? We no longer see flyers coming out of the rough. And I would second the comment above regarding wedges not exceeding a certain loft.

  19. The Truth Jr.

    Oct 23, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    I enjoyed this article. Not sure why people are so bent out of shape with BAD. He won a few tournaments, so what. Throughout history some of the best golfers were long hitters. I’m sure Bobby Jones pounded the ball in his day. Remember Tiger Woods? He hit the ball super far too.

    Don’t change equipment, don’t modify rules to limit ball flight. Let BAD play the game his way, that’s what’s cool about golf. Let the sport evolve, let people hit it far. Hitting it far is a skill, its really hard to do and its every golfers dream to hit bombs. If someone says they don’t want to hit the driver farther they are lying.

    Lets move on and enjoy the ride! The pros who are complaining need to step up their games or loose their cards.

  20. Bobby44

    Oct 23, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Why does everyone blame the ball?
    Amateurs are not hitting it any further.
    And why is Bryson hitting it 30 yards further, the ball?
    Hell no! He went to the gym, put on 40 pounds and focused on one thing; speed!
    I’m pretty sure he was using the same ball pre-Bryson 2020 so it’s not the damn ball.
    If you wind back the ball, the guys that hit the gym and do the work will have an even bigger advantage.
    Let’s say no Bryson hits SW into a par 4 that other guys are hitting with a 7-iron.
    You think they’re gonna do better if he’s hitting 7-iron and they’re hitting 3-iron? I doubt it!
    There are always guys that come and go that are super long, but most aren’t prolific winners or winners at all because they can’t chip, pitch or putt like Bryson. So it ain’t just the length, it’s the short game that goes with it.
    Last time this happened no one complained! There was a kid who was hitting it 20 yards past everyone, with his 2-iron no less, and he had a short game that matched too. He was incredible and no one complained that he hit it too far, which was due to his superior technique and physicality.
    His name was Tiger Woods.

  21. Jeff

    Oct 23, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    Get rid of yardage books and lines on the ball. Also you are only allowed to mark the ball once on the green unless you are in another golfer’s line. Finally get rid of the alignment line on the ball. Nothing worse that watching these guys fiddle with the ball trying to line up the hole with the line on the ball.

  22. Barry

    Oct 23, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Breaking news! “Equipment industry lifer against additional equipment regulations.” In related news…sky blue, water wet.

    Just as turkeys will never vote for Thanksgiving, those with a financial stake in manufacturing and selling equipment will never support anything that threatens the illusion that “we play the same game as the pros” because it is financially beneficial.

    In another surprise, readers of GolfWRX, a website of the hardest core equipment junkies known to man, think anything that might even cost them two yards off the tee is unthinkable. We are talking about people who regularly drop $500 on a driver shaft that maybe provides a 1% performance gain. Yeah, another shocker folks here are dead set against a rollback.
    Mr. Adams, you say you are 100% against a ball rollback, I am 100% for it. I think it’s entirely possible that this could be accomplished in such a way that 99% of golfers would never know the difference. It’s by far the best and most sensible idea because:

    1)You cannot regulate athlete size, physical training, or coaching. You can barely regulate the performance enhancing substances modern pros put in their bodies (and that is highly suspect).

    2)The golf ball is for all intents and purposes a consumable commodity. It is by far the easiest item to regulate and adjust and keep the game in scale.

    3)PGA Tour golf is first and foremost an entertainment product. Watching pros go driver lob wedge into every hole is as boring as golf can get. Seriously, why bother putting? Let’s just go full LDA because accuracy doesn’t matter at all in the modern game.

    4)All non-insane sports realize that some adjustments to rules are necessary to keep a product entertaining over time as athletes improve. When something gets out of balance, you test a few theories, then you try some things to restore balance. You don’t sit on your hands for 20 years saying “This is fine” because you’re deathly afraid of an Acushnet lawsuit.

    5)Preparing a golf course that presents a comprehensive test of a golfer that carries the ball in excess of 350 yards with driver is an absurd and unnecessary use of water, land, and energy. Golf needs to be becoming more ecologically aware, not less.

    Do we really want a game where you can’t play the Open at St Andrews? We are in such a poor state of affairs because the USGA and R&A have been asleep at the wheel on this issue for decades.

    • Bear

      Oct 24, 2020 at 11:22 am

      I think we’d get along Barry. No BS. You should try the hickory game! Its a breath of fresh air although these turds are finding ways to slowly ruin that too.

    • Darnie

      Oct 24, 2020 at 10:36 pm

      Correct. “that carries the ball in excess of 350 yards with driver is an absurd and unnecessary use of water, land, and energy. Golf needs to be becoming more ecologically aware, not less.”
      The ball limits were wrong, the COR limits were wrong and the driver size limits were wrong.Where does it end? 20% increase in 1980’s PGA courses would put them at over 8000+ yards. They are playing courses that would be equivalent of a person hitting it 275 playing the up tees at many courses. It just illogical for this to continue.

    • Barney Adams

      Oct 26, 2020 at 4:36 pm

      I had to re read my article. There it was , change the spin , makes the tee shot much more challenging ! A perfect solution ? Nobody knows but it’s a relatively painless way to start.

  23. Dave

    Oct 23, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Barney, why do you assume the ball has to roll back also for the weekend duffer? You kind of jumped the shark there…
    Dave

    • Rich

      Oct 23, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      Because golf manufacturers are absolutely against bifurcation. They thrive on the illusion that the equipment you buy is the same as the equipment the pros use.

      They also conveniently ignore the fact that professionals play an entirely different game. Their courses are immensely more difficult, they have a personal assistant with them who knows their games intimately, etc.

  24. Mike

    Oct 23, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    Dechambeau, over 4 days, averaged 1.5 strokes under par per round & his short game / putting was fantastic. That’s 1.5 strokes per round, & I don’t think anyone else broke par over the 4 days. Sorry, looking at those scores, I don’t see the ruination of golf as we know it.

  25. Jbone

    Oct 23, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Persimmon, wound balata, no graphite, 56* limit wedge.

  26. Carolyn

    Oct 23, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    Just adjust the COR on the driver face to give less or NO rebound…90% of players do not swing fast enough to get any benefit anyway…so with out rebound effect the 350 drive becomes 325..better.

  27. Jason G

    Oct 23, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Bifurcation is the answer to rolling the golf ball back. College football players play with a slightly smaller ball than the NFL and it is much stickier than the “Duke” that is played in the NFL. Junior High basketballs are smaller than high school. The 3 point line in high school is closer than the NBA. NASCAR had the “car of tomorrow” that was required for particular races and ended up teaching us a lot about how to better protect drivers.

    • Jbone

      Oct 23, 2020 at 12:44 pm

      Ridiculous comparisons that just do not translate to golf

      • Moosejaw McWilligher

        Oct 23, 2020 at 2:12 pm

        The apt comparisons in golf would be that shorter players use shorter (and lighter) golf clubs, and that there are multiple sets of tee boxes which you can choose based on strength and handicap. AND, there is the handicap system.

        Bifurcation in golf changes one of the core premises of golf – that we are all playing the same game.

        There are also MANY questions unanswered about what a golf ball “rollback” would mean: a “single” tour ball? Is that fair? Would this ball affect the longest hitters disproportionately? Is that fair? Will the current short hitters drive the ball even less far – and would that eliminate their chances anyway?

        Like Tiger said, it’s pretty hard to put the genie back in the “bag”.

    • Joey5Picks

      Oct 23, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      Excellent comparisons. There’s already bifurcation in golf. Professionals play 7200+ yard courses. We don’t. Pros play on 12+ stimp greens. We don’t. Pros play under the “one-ball” rule. We don’t.

      Who cares if my score wouldn’t be directly comparable to a Tour Pro because they were playing a “tour ball”? It’s already not comparable because:
      1) even if we play the same course, it’s not in PGA Tour tournament condition
      2) we’re playing a course that’s ~1,000 yards shorter

      Again, it’s already bifurcated. Shave 5% off the Tour Ball

      • Moosejaw McWilligher

        Oct 23, 2020 at 7:49 pm

        You can take %5 off the ball all you want. Pros will find a way to get that distance right back with their fitting, their fitness, etc. That’s what has happened in recent years – the “ball” has not continued to fly further. Everything else has gotten better as well. You would need a seriously limited “tour ball” to achieve any significant reduction in current distance. And if that happens – will it remove XX% across the board? Will longer players be “penalized” more than shorter hitters? Is driving distance not at all part of the golf skill set? Maybe just make drivers illegal – let everyone tee off with hybrids and long irons.

  28. Jbone

    Oct 23, 2020 at 11:50 am

    Good thoughtful article.

    The rollback of the ball is such a shortsighted and elitist view.

    • Roy

      Oct 23, 2020 at 3:18 pm

      “The rollback of the ball is such a shortsighted and elitist view”

      And that why it scares me what the USGA might do about it…..

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