Feb 4th, 2021
Rory rages at Distance Insights Project
But I can't help think he is conflating issues
Words: David Adair Photography: Getty Images
Rory has every right to voice his opinion but he seemed to go beyond sensible comment with this rant against the R&A and USGA. There is a clear issue in the game about how far the golf ball is travelling in the professional game and it would be not very responsible if it was not addressed and debated by the governing bodies.
The R&A and USGA are looking at the issue through 'a tiny narrow lens' according to McIlroy with 99.9% of golfers happy with the equipment advances. Apparently, us amateurs need all the help we can get to get the ball in the air!
McIlroy also criticised the amount of money spent on the Distance Insights Project telling the Golf Channel that it was a "waste of time and a huge waste of money."
"The money should have been put back into the grassroots of the game," said McIlroy. "We need more young in the game; we need more minorities in the game. That is how we keep the game going for the next 100 years."
I can't fault Rory's worthy sentiments about broadening the game's reach; many people have been saying the same thing for years. But the project is about more than just the popularity of the game.
In 1980 the average player on the PGA Tour was hitting the ball roughly 255 yards, the average driving distance in 2020 was 295 yards. The scoring average in 1980 was just over 72.2 and this has come down around 70.5.
Existing golf courses have pushed back tees as the top golfers and pros started to hit the ball greater distances. The great Augusta is now a monster compared to the course Jack Nicklaus conquered on route to his final major title.
Augusta had considerable resources to 'Tiger-proof' the course some years back but most clubs have neither the resources nor the land to keep tinkering with the layout. Even in the amateur game, the average driving distance has risen by 16 yards in the last twenty-five years.
It's not as if the governing bodies haven't previously made changes to the rules governing clubs and in particular, the driver. Back around the turn of the century restrictions were put on the coefficient of restitution (COR) for titanium drivers which eventually rendered certain clubs illegal.
The driving force behind the move was not purely the distances being achieved but also the advantage of those golfers who could afford the latest technology received over his poorer opponent. Maybe, if Rory is concerned about encouraging more people into the game, he should also be keen that they can compete on an equal footing?
It is clear that part of the reason pros are hitting the ball much further is they are finer physical specimens. Gone are the days when pros can rely on pure talent and can hit the bar rather than the gym after a round.
However, if one looks at the progression in driving distances, the original boost came from the introduction of the titanium driver. More recently, the improvements with the ball have had the largest impact on the distances golfers are hitting shots.
The knock-on effect of the distances hit off the tee is that professional golf has become a different spectacle. In many events, it is rare to see a player not being able to reach a par five in two shots and most holes reduce to a drive and a short iron for the majority of the field.
I would argue that spectators would rather see professionals struggling to post good scores rather than seeing twenty-under plus totals winning events. Given the strength of current-day players, the only variable that often separates the best from the rest is the weather.
No one is saying there shouldn't be big hitters, we all love watching Bryson, but for the good of the game as a whole, it is surely right to debate whether technology has gone too far. The R&A and USGA have to consult on the issue and to do this, they need to gather the data which costs time and money.
"It wreaks of self-importance" said the multi-millionaire McIlroy. Might I suggest that this is 'the pot calling the kettle black?'