Shackelford: Distance Report has golf’s 5 governing families girding for battle

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Shackelford: Distance Report has golf’s 5 governing families girding for battle


Shackelford: Distance Report has golf’s 5 governing families girding for battle

PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua is a big fan of “The Godfather.” In announcing his organization’s opposition to a golf ball rollback – one not yet even proposed in Monday’s joint U.S. Golf Association/R&A Distance Report – his words amounted to a new war between golf’s five ruling families. 

Also joining the fray, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote to his membership assuring them they were not hitting the ball significantly longer. But he did confirm they were younger and taller as a group.

With these targeted and overwrought responses to the distance paper, it became clear two families were coordinating an effort to slow down what many expected to be an accelerated distance discussion by golf’s governing bodies, mandated by their 2002 Joint Statement of Principles. But the two PGAs also indirectly declared war with common sense, as fans and players increasingly see yardages that only Carl Spackler could have cooked up while whapping away at Bushwood’s daisies. 

Adding to the toxic mix, the LPGA Tour is believed to be more opposed to any distance discussion than the two PGAs combined. Where The Masters and new chairman Fred Ridley stand in all of this, no one knows. Either way, peace between the ruling bodies is out. 

In his declaration, Bevacqua sounded more like he was responding to Jack Nicklaus’ recent comments suggesting action will eventually be taken and not to the 24-page report setting off alarms about a driving-distance spike since 2016. Bevacqua was telegraphing the stance of his 20-person board before vowing to poll the 29,000 PGA of America professionals who make up the organization.

“Based on the information we have seen, we are highly skeptical that rolling back the golf ball in whole or part will be in the best interests of the sport and our collective efforts to grow the game,” Bevacqua said. “Our nearly 29,000 PGA professionals would be at the forefront of implementing this potential rollback, so we will be polling them this week to fully understand their perspective, especially on what it would mean for the vast majority of the golfers they serve.”

The report never mentioned a rollback. 

Monahan’s response was even more pointed when writing to his members on all tours who are absolutely driving the daylights out of the ball. A whopping 69 PGA Tour players are averaging more than 300 yards a drive, and the Tour is on pace for another big bump in 2018 as younger players replace older players and as Trackman refines technique and companies continue to innovate.

Monahan said whatever distance gains there have been, it’s all about fitting and athleticism, a roundabout undermining of the equipment manufacturers and his member’s assertions about equipment improvements.

“There is a strong correlation between clubhead speed and the total distance gains seen since 2003,” he wrote. “We believe this increase in clubhead speed is mostly attributable to a combination of factors, such as increased player athleticism and fitness, physical build of the player, enhancements in equipment fitting and the proliferation of launch-monitoring capabilities.”

In recent rules spats there have been disagreements between the bodies. But Monday’s stances from the professional organizations came in response to a mere white paper, not an actual rule change such as the recent anchoring ban.

The problem for the USGA and R&A: They committed to a Joint Statement of Principles in 2002 that did not care what caused distance spikes, and immediate action would be required.

“The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase,” the joint statement read.

All of those things have happened since 2002, prompting the governing bodies to take a serious look at things that will now be hampered by resistance from families in Ponte Vedra and West Palm Beach.

“These things gotta happen every five years or so, 10 years,” said Pete Clemenza in “The Godfather.” “Helps to get rid of the bad blood.”

Right now, there’s certainly no shortage of bad blood in the golf governance world.


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