Golf’s rulers set to shake up ‘distance’

Martin Slumbers confirms that talks have taken place to address the issue of how far the professionals can hit the ball.
Martin Slumbers confirms that talks have taken place to address the issue of how far the professionals can hit the ball.
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Golf’s governing bodies are set to instigate “serious discussions” in a bid to address the sport’s distance issue after feeling a “line in the sand” has been crossed in the professional game.

A week after USGA chief executive officer Mike Davis hinted action is about to be taken over how far top players are able to hit the ball, his opposite number at the R&A, Martin Slumbers, has confirmed that is indeed the case.

A joint report by the two bodies will be published in the next month and the data in it will form the basis of action that many in the game feel is long overdue as courses are continually overpowered by the likes of world No 1 Dustin Johnson.

Slumbers said: “There has been significant move up across all tours,” as he spoke at the R&A’s Equipment Test Centre on the outskirts. “We’re also looking at the longest on record average driving distance and both of those have caused us, as well as our colleagues at the USGA, serious concern.

“We had talked for a number of years about slow creep, and this is a little bit more than slow creep. It’s actually quite a big jump. Our 2002 joint statement of principles put a line in the sand, or purported to put a line in the sand.

“I think our view is when you start to look at this data now that we have probably crossed that line in the sand and that a serious discussion is now needed on where we go.”

A report published by the R&A and USGA in 2016 controversially stated that driving distance on four of the major golf tours increased by approximately one per cent between 2003 and 2015. However, at a time when nearly 70 players are averaging more than 300 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour this season, a change in attitude towards the distance issue is definitely in the air in both St Andrews and Far Hills in New Jersey, where the USGA is based.

“We’ll be publishing the distance report within the next month and there is a statement in there from the USGA and the R&A on the data that’s contained within it,” added Slumbers on an issue that has led Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to express support for limiting the distance the ball can travel. A “bifurcation” of the rules by which professionals and amateurs would be using different equipment is a possibility.

“I think there are many, many options available,” said Slumbers. “There’s a lot of work still to be done with a lot of people, and engaging with not just the game but the equipment manufacturers and all sorts of things, but that work we now feel needs to be done.

“I’m hoping that we have a constructive conversation with all stakeholders for the good of the game. What do we want to do? We want the game to expand. We want more people to play. We want to see it as a skilful game. I think we will all work and talk around this whole distance issue.”

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the 150th Open Championship will be played over the Old Course at St Andrews in 2021.