March 4, that is Thursday week, will see the end of the comment period on the proposals by the R&A and United States Golf Association (USGA) to restrict the length of the longest non-putting club in the bag, which one would usually expect to be the driver, to 46 inches. The present limit is 48 inches and the word had been that Bryson DeChambeau, the powerhouse that is the reigning US Open champion, might soon switch to a driver of that length. He has since announced he is very happy with the 45-inch weapon which he currently wields while also finding it “flattering” that the game’s governing bodies might be looking to shake up the rules a little because of how far he hits the ball.
While this is interesting, the bigger deal in the battle to prevent tour players rendering present-day courses from becoming obsolete will surely be the update on testing methods for golf balls and on club tolerance levels. The comment period – the period up to when interested parties can make representations – in those cases ends on August 2. I don’t know, of course, but it seems reasonable to surmise that amended regulations could be in effect at elite level, on the professional tours, by next season. None of which is to say that there will be no lawsuits.
In practice, it seems the likely route will be to allow tournament organisers to declare ‘local rules’ – that is, which equipment is permitted in their tournaments and which is not. For the monthly medal at your club, no one cares about that stuff and the golf club need do nothing. But at the Open Championship (run by the R&A) and the US Open (run by the USGA) they could, for example, put a limit on the ball compression. Augusta National have made it abundantly plain they would like to see something like that for the Masters. It’s hard to see the PGA of America wanting to behave differently. (Isn’t it?) In which case, how likely is it that competitors on the PGA Tour, European Tour and so on would want to be playing under different rules than they had to in the major championships? Precisely.
There has already been some pushback from top players, perhaps most eloquently expressed by Rory McIlroy. “The authorities are looking at the game through such a tiny little lens,” he said. “What they’re trying to do is change something that pertains to 0.1% of the golfing community. I think this distance insight report has been a huge waste of time and money, because that money could have been way better distributed on getting people into the game, introducing young kids to the game, introducing minorities to the game.”
It’s a point well put but the distance issue is getting out of hand. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, told the Daily Telegraph earlier this month: “It is highly unlikely that we will end up doing nothing.” So a reining-in of some sort is pretty much guaranteed. What McIlroy, and others, are worried about is that golf’s authorities may be about to indulge in some raining on their own parade.
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