Columnist image
Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter


So maybe golf doesn’t really have a distance problem.

After the release of a distance report by the United States Golf Association and the R&A, a number of the game’s stakeholders weighed in to dispute the findings in the document produced by golf’s governing bodies.

The PGA Tour, the PGA of America and equipment manufacturers offered up evidence of their own to show that perhaps the distance a golf ball travels doesn’t need to be curbed.

Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, sent a letter to the players disputing the findings of the report.

“Having carefully reviewed the data, we do not believe the trends indicate a significant or abnormal increase in distance since 2003 or from 2016 to 2017,” he stated.

Monahan did not dispute the 2.5-yard increase in driving distance on the PGA Tour from 2016 to 2017. However he pointed out that there have been similar fluctuations in the past.

“Since 2003, there have been three instances where a significant gain was recorded between years, and five instances where the average decreased.”

Likewise, the PGA’s CEO, Pete Bevacqua, said his association was not certain any changes were needed.

“Based on the information we have seen, 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,” he told Golf Digest.

Bevacqua added that the PGA will be reaching out to its 29,000 members – the club pros at courses across the United States – to determine their opinions.

Some of the most concrete evidence disputing the USGA/R&A report came from Titleist, which has, not surprisingly, been on the offensive against any sort of distance limitations. It produces the ProV1 and ProV1x golf galls, which are far and away the No. 1 sellers in the game.

It pointed out that the year-over-year results on the PGA Tour can be misleading because tournaments are not always held at the same venues.

A company release stated that at 33 PGA Tour events conducted at the same venue in 2016 and 2017, where data was collected, the average driving distance increased just half a yard. At the eight events held at new venues the driving distance increased by eight yards.

Titleist also pointed out that major championships accounted for a significant portion of the driving increases, with three of the four tournaments played at different courses from the previous year.

The U.S. Open was up 20.4 yards (Erin Hills vs. Oakmont); the Open Championship up by 8.1 yards (Royal Birkdale vs. Royal Troon) and the PGA Championship had a 7.0-yard increase (Quail Hollow vs. Baltusrol)

At Augusta National, there was actually a decline in driving distance of -0.4 yards for the Masters.

A number of PGA Tour players also weighed in on the matter, all of them standing in favour of leaving the ball as is.

Lucas Glover, a well-spoken veteran, even pointed the finger at the governing bodies and wondered why the matter was coming to the forefront now.

Jimmy Walker pointed out that a rollback of golf ball distance would likely have disastrous effects on the masses.

It’s unlikely the governing bodies thought they’d have an easy time making changes to the golf ball or the distance debate overall. The reaction to the latest stats show it may be tougher than they imagined.