When social media and mainstream media weren’t debating important issues on the weekend such as whether Tyrell Hatton, who won the BMW Championship on the European Tour on Sunday, committed a fashion faux pas by wearing a hoodie, the conversation turned to the destruction of the game by a guy who eventually tied for eighth at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Vegas
Not that there’s anything wrong with a top 10 finish. Bryson DeChambeau has seven of them in a dozen starts since his return from the COVID break, including a couple of wins, not the least of which is last month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, his first major championship.
The memory of this mass of a man, who returned from the break 40 pounds heavier, hoisting the hardware with his massive pipes after his six shot victory when he was the only player in the field to go under par still has pundits pontificating about Armageddon in golf as we know it.
Even classing it as a battle between good and evil in the truest definition of Armageddon is a misnomer since DeChambeau’s eye popping distance has been attained within the parameters allowed by golf.
The result is his 322.1 yard average led the tour in 2020 and so early this season, he’s doing the same at an increased 344.4 yards.
Nor is it the final, great battle over distance a la Armageddon. It’s one that’s been going on for decades.
After all the steak and potatoes and chocolate milk and bacon he’s consumed, after all the training he’s done, after the hours he’s spent on the range, scientific theories he’s studied and equipment changes he’s made, DeChambeau is the latest personification, as imposing as he is, of the distance ruining the game complaints that you heard not only last week but for decades.
The great Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, complained about it back at this year’s Memorial. Nicklaus, a proponent of rolling the ball back, said the USGA and R&A needed to quit studying the problem and actually start doing something about it, adding that he first began discussing the issue with the USGA 43 years ago, before DeChambeau was even born.
The USGA and R&A continue to study the problem through their joint Distance Insights Project that has already concluded that golf’s future is best served by bringing to an end the cycle of increasing distance and golf course lengths.
The two governing bodies are expected to give their next update on the project in March and while it is expected to contain equipment research topics, don’t expect it to have an answer to the distance debate as some I heard on the weekend believe will happen.
In other words, more study, but even if there is an unlikely potential solution put forward, the inevitable backlash from various quarters will delay its implementation.
The PGA Tour, while collaborating and sharing data with the R&A and USGA, has in the past had reservations and it is the elite level that the distance discussion is all about, not recreational players. From the tour’s perspective, there is a “Wow” factor to the big bombers and why would they change that?
While Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Gary Player have come out in favour of a ball rollback, others are cool to the idea.
Our game is in a good place. Equipment improvements and distance are here to stay. Full stop. We need a ‘serious’ premium on accuracy. Golf courses don’t need to be longer. Make the Tour rough knee high, fairways fast and firm which is fair for all players. pic.twitter.com/rwUvJ14vq2
— Ernie Els (@TheBig_Easy) July 18, 2020
The PGA of America has expressed its reservations as have golf ball brands such as Titleist. It isn’t out of the question that some company could take the matter to court. It’s happened in the past on other equipment issues.
Golf is an industry that often complains about slow play, but issues such as this drag on for decades, as Nicklaus points out. There are so many moving parts to this discussion that you wonder if there will ever be a solution.
It’s unlikely to come in March, if at all.