The Distance Debate

A Short Par 3

I’ve learned that the distance debate ranks up there with the “Do you, or do you not, like Donald Trump?” debate.  People are on one side or the other, and there isn’t much room for agreement, or discussion.

The Distance Debate–Is More Better?

I really think this simple question is what the distance debate boils down to.

Advocates of distance who think it is great, and that more distance is greater, seem to argue the following points:

  • Distance is not caused by the ball, or equipment, but instead by bigger, stronger, more flexible golfers
  • Distance is caused by technology, i.e., Trackman monitors, shafts/balls/clubs all paired for optimum performance, etc.
  • “Chicks dig the long ball.”  In other words, people come to tournaments to watch Cameron Champ and Dustin Johnson hit 200-yard 7-irons

There are many advocates in this camp:  Most of the PGA Tour pros, plus talking heads like Brandon Chamblee and Charlie Rymer, among many, many more.

Is Less Better?

The main defense that the Tour, and even the USGA for major amateur events, has to protect a golf course is to make the greens so fast and the rough so penal that not driving it straight, or missing a green, is a severe penalty.

We’ve all seen enough tournaments to know the standard set-up:  Green speeds at 13 or faster, pins cut five feet from the edge of the green, and collection areas and run outs that penalize a shot that on most courses would end up on the fringe.

And, last but not least, fast fairways.  I feel like I’m as knowledgeable as the next golf fan, and I’ve never understood the rationale of making fairways firmer and faster as a defense against long drives.  I assume it is because it’s easier to run a drive through the fairway and into the rough.  But with rough at most PGA Tour events equivalent to the rough at your local course, it’s really no penalty.  Why not slow the fairways down and grow the grass higher so the drives don’t run-out 50 yards like they do now?

But the above really begs the more fundamental question:  Why is that accepted as the only kind of course set-up that can keep scores in check?

As you can tell, I’m on this side of the equation.  I have good company:  Peter Kessler, Geoff Shackleford, and many others.  Here are my reasons:

  • Already, par-5s are irrelevant.  No self-respecting professional golfer takes three shots to reach a par-5 on tour unless he hit a really wayward drive and has to chip out.  If he is in the fairway on his drive, he is going for the green in two.  Every.  Single.  Time.    My challenge to the PGA Tour is, step up to the plate:  Either make par-5’s real par-5’s, or face the truth and call most courses that the pros play Par-68’s.
  • To balance the lack of real par-5’s, tournament courses have ridiculously long par-3’s.  Multiple par-3’s of 220 yards up to 250 yards are not uncommon.
  • It’s boring to watch driver-wedge on practically every hole.  By every player.  At least it is for me.

For the Brandel Chamblee’s of the world who ardently adhere to “the golfers are the reason for the distance increase, not the equipment or technology,” I offer the following:

  • Scott Parel, at 5′ 5″ and 170 pounds and 53 years of age, averaged 296 yards in driving distance on the PGA Tour Champions.  I’m not ragging on Scott Parel- he’s a great golfer.  But think about that:  53 years old, and like the quote in the movie Rudy  says, “You’re five foot nothin’.  A hundred and nothin’…”   And 296 yards on an average drive?
  • Kenny Perry, who is one of my favorites, averaged 295 yards per drive in 2017.  In 1990, when he was 30 years old, he averaged 270.8 yards.  Now maybe Kenny has, according to “Brandel logic”, been really working out and stretching.  Maybe he has learned how to fire his glutes in order to, 27 years later, add 25 yards to his average drive.  Maybe.

There are dozens…hundreds, really…of examples like that.

One final point:  Many of the arguments against rolling back distance in some manner– balls, clubs, the COR-effect, whatever– state that the amateur golfer would absolutely be dead-set against it.  And I, in all honesty, don’t understand that argument, or logic.

If the professionals, in some manner, started playing a 6800-yard course again like they did 30 years ago, is it not reasonable to assume that we, the average amateur, would also start playing a shorter course?  Why is it unrealistic to accept that all courses would just shrink by an equitable amount?  The white tees, which are the overwhelming average played by the amateur male golfer, would still be white tees.  They would just be shorter.  The ball is shorter, the course is shorter, the long guy is still hitting it further than everyone else, and still has the same approximate second shot to the green.

Why is that a bad thing?  Why would a 3 1/2 hour round of golf be a negative?  Why would walking a lot less from green-to-tee be a deal-breaker?  Why do so many people think everyone would be so adamantly against that?  I mean, wouldn’t the flip side of that argument be that all of us “Shooting Your Age amateurs” would be all in favor of hitting a superball off the tee 400 yards?  I don’t know anyone who advocates that.

I just don’t think the majority of golfers would–if every part of the game was scaled back equitably– be opposed to hitting it an equitably shorter distance.

If you took all of my money, gave me half back in new denominations, and cut the prices of everything by 50%, I would still be in the same situation I am now.

The Question No One Ever Answers

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I’m really addressing this to the most ardent proponents of distance:  Where does it stop?  If 400 yard drives are ok, does that mean 500 yard drives are going to be even better?  And before you think, “No one is ever going to hit 500 yard drives,” people were saying that about 400 yard drives just a decade or two ago.  That now happens almost weekly.

And I’ve never seen this question addressed by the golf pundits who make a living talking, writing, and opining about golf.

Where Does It Stop?  Or does it?  Should it?  If 400-yard drives are great, then 500-yard drives are greater?

We are going to come to a reckoning at some point.  The St. Andrews Old Courses of the world are going to start playing as Par-70s.  If you’ve been there, you know that, for example, there is no way to lengthen the first hole, unless the tee is moved up on the steps next to the entrance to the R&A.  Merion is already out of the U.S. Open rota because it just isn’t long enough.  Augusta National is spending millions of dollars to buy land from Augusta Country Club to lengthen the thirteenth hole.

Is that really what we want?

It’s a question that continues to polarize the golf world.  But I know one thing for certain:  Ignoring the fact that distance continues to increase isn’t going to make it go away.  And only the reader can decide if that’s good, or bad, for the game.

Now that everyone is riled up, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year!  We are taking a couple of weeks off for the holidays.  Thanks for all the support this year, and as always, thanks for reading and Enjoy Shooting Your Age!

See you next year!!!


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