— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) August 24, 2020
Welcome to a new era as Phil Mickelson made his PGA Tour Champions debut on Monday in Ridgedale, Mo., where he quickly shot a 10 under 61 to soar to the top of the leaderboard at the Charles Schwab Cup Series at Ozarks National.
His second birdie as a PGA Tour Champions player came on the third hole, where he drove the green on the 350-yard par four. He finished the first round with a 315.5-yard average driving distance. Welcome to the tour rookie.
Mickelson’s round came less than a day after Dustin Johnson won the Northern Trust, the first event in this year’s FedEx Cup playoffs, by 11 shots. Along the way, Johnson averaged 311.5 yards off the tee to go along with his 85.71 per cent accuracy. He wasn’t too shabby with his irons and putter, either.
Johnson is just 17th on the PGA Tour with a 308.3 yard average. Bulked up Bryson DeChambeau leads the way at 324 yards, followed by Cameron Champ at 321.2.
You know that annoying guy who yells “get in the hole” on every shot? He’s getting closer to reality, even off the tee on par fours, and maybe sometime soon on par fives.
There’s been a constant supply of exclamation marks tacked on to a statement made by Jack Nicklaus just over a month ago at the Memorial.
The Golden Bear said on a day when DeChambeau launched a couple of drives over 400 yards that it was time to stop studying and stop talking about combating distance gains and start actually doing something about it.
Earlier this month, however, the R&A and USGA delayed the release of research topics related to the next phase of their Distance Insights Project to allow the golf industry to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
The target date is next March, but who really knows what will happen between then and now with this pandemic? It’s stalled again.
Nicklaus says he went to the USGA 43 years ago with the idea of rolling back the golf ball for professionals and there has been no pandemic as the decades passed until this year.
Now, there is one, but it shouldn’t get in the way of golf’s governing bodies getting in the way of getting done whatever it takes to remedy a situation that is critical to the future of golf, according to the conclusions from the Distance Insights Project last February.
“Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary to make golf challenging, enjoyable or sustainable in the future,” it read.
“In reaching this conclusion, our focus is forward-looking with a goal of building on the strengths of the game today while taking steps to alter the direction and impacts of hitting distances in the best interests of its long-term future.”
If, and this is a big if, the USGA and R&A get back at it next March, they will present topics for research and assessment that include potential changes to equipment rules (balls and clubs) and the effects of course design, conditions and set-up, among others.
Nicklaus’ suggestion to stop studying and start doing something about it is ringing louder and louder each week as players turn the pro power on at tournament after tournament. The whole issue is bogged down in the present, despite the claim of being focused on the future, apparently never to be resolved.
The main focus of this debate should be the PGA Tour and manufacturers that could be affected by any equipment changes, not the entire golf industry, but we’ve been down those roads before.
TaylorMade CEO David Abeles voiced opposition in 2018 concerning any potential technology rollback, but would like the company to be part of any discussion. Earlier this year, David Maher, CEO and president of Acushnet, issued a statement saying the conclusions drawn in the Distance Insights Report undervalue the skill and athleticism of top players and that existing equipment regulations effectively govern significant increases in distance.
Players such as Tiger Woods, Johnson and Colin Montgomerie go along with the idea of rolling back the golf ball, but plenty of others don’t.
The PGA Tour is in the business of selling a brand of golf in which monster shots amaze its spectators and players continue to feed that appetite. As it stands right now, there are still plenty of very real and potential roadblocks ahead.
The wheels on the bus go round and round …
Yet, this bus is going nowhere.