July 6, 2009

Distance Controlled?

Ongoing ball research notwithstanding, several key stats suggest additional equipment rollbacks may not be necessary

Vijay Singh used this putter to record his third top-10 of the season at the AT&T National.

Vijay Singh used this putter to record his third top-10 of the season at the AT&T National.

Journalists have a tendency to elevate events worthy of discussion to earth-shattering moments, to wit the coverage of Michael Jackson's death or Sarah Palin's exit as Alaska's governor.

Golf is not immune. Remember all the talk about driving distance a few years ago? The oxygen expended discussing how far the ball traveled probably was disproportionate to what it deserved.

So why talk about distance now?

Well, although the new condition of competition for grooves is a done deal, the USGA still is in the midst of research on the golf ball (as well as high-lofted wedges). And when players such as Alvaro Quiros (who drove a ball 30 yards over the green at the 376-yard second hole at Doral earlier this year) or Bubba Watson (who once led the field in driving distance at an event using a hybrid club off the tee) unleash superhuman displays of power, golf's reactionaries tend to decry the game's out-of-control distance explosion and wonder if this is the evidence the ruling bodies need to implement their next technology rollback, presumably the golf ball.

Dig deeper, however, and such exploits are the exception, not the rule.

Fact is, average driving distance has been on a (very slight) decline the last two seasons and through 28 events this year, also is down. The number of players averaging 300 yards for the season has dropped the last three years and likely will fall again in 2009 (13 players topped 300 yards in 2008 and currently only nine do so). The number of players swinging more than 120 miles per hour has dropped from 12 in 2006 to five this year, while the number of players at 107 miles per hour or less has increased from 10 to 21. Such numbers are why Dick Rugge, senior technical director of the USGA, said recently: "We have seen over the last few years that driving distance has remained stable, and we expect it to stay that way."

That also may be why PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the AT&T National: "I don't foresee the need for more [equipment] regulation in the future."

Thankfully, the number and intensity of those shouting for more regulation because distance is ruining golf as we know it has lessened. It would be nice if it stayed that way. When Quiros or Watson or Tiger Woods unleashes an eye-opener of a drive, let's enjoy it for what it is—a display of superior physical achievement and not the next sign of golf's apocalypse.

Spotted

Ping will debut its G15 & i15 products (which will be in stores this fall) at the John Deere, U.S. Women's Open and Scottish Open. The clubs are designed to target the average-to-high handicap (G15) and the better player (i15). Among the notable newcomers is the i15 driver.

Bag Room

Ryan Moore used a Ping Tour W T 60-degree wedge at the AT&T National. The prototype is designed to enhance turf interaction off the tight lies often found on tour courses. ... After making just three of 12 cuts, Brandt Snedeker went back to the ball model he played last season, the 2008 version of Bridgestone's Tour B330S at Hartford. Snedeker made the cut at River Highlands then posted his best finish of the season at the AT&T National, a T-5. ... Another player using familiar equipment at Congressional was Vijay Singh, who used a Cleveland HiBore XL driver (a model Singh played during the 2007 season). Singh was T-7 at the AT&T, ranking T-18 in accuracy off the tee. ... Eunjung Yi won the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in her first outing with a JC 707 driver from Fourteen Golf.