The distance debate: “They’re taking away our guns”

Give over – controlling technology’s influence is what sports’ governing bodies do and golf has let distance become too dominant for too long, says Northern Golfer editor Dean Bailey

A show of hands please, who thinks they drive the ball as well as the longest male golfers on the planet? Next, hands up who categorises themselves among the average professional tour and elite male players? Those of you who have raised your hands, can you confirm that your drives differ in distance by less than 15 yards? If not, you may put your pitchforks and torches down as the changes to the rules governing golf ball testing, which come into force in 2028, aren’t going to affect you any more than your current variance in driving distance.

Everyone else, I can safely say we’re better off worrying about hitting the middle of the clubface than the expected five yards (or less) difference the new golf balls are going to make on those two or three drives we button.

A great deal of noise has been made about the changes outlined by The R&A and USGA. In short – the way golf balls are tested is changing to account for the increased swing speeds of the game’s longest hitters. Instead of testing balls at 120mph clubhead speed, they’ll be tested at 125mph with the limits they must meet remaining the same.

Without boring you with the details – read the full Distance Insights report if you wish – the longest hitters are expected to see a reduction of 13-15 yards in driving distance. Average professional tour and elite male players are expected to see a reduction of 9-11 yards, with a 5-7-yard reduction for an average LET or LPGA player. The change is expected to have a minimal impact, five yards or less, for most recreational golfers.

For us, that’s not a big change – though you may have one extra club into the green every once in a while, which isn’t the end of the world when you’re playing courses which range from 5,500 to around 6,500 yards.

On tour, the impact will be greater. However, have you stood behind Rory McIlroy and been any more impressed by a drive which went 360 yards than one that went 345 yards?

With a curtailing of distance will come other benefits. Few highlight reels show tee shots with driver, but they do show approaches with long irons, and recovery shots following approaches which were more difficult than a flick with a wedge. By being slightly further from the green, I hope we will see the best irons players shine more often – rather than the balance of golfing skill being so skewed towards power and driving distance.

Controlling distance has taken a long time, and we’re still a long way from 2028, but at least the ball is rolling…