Interesting comments from Padraig Harrington ahead of this week’s Honda Classic. The Irishman isn’t sitting on the fence when it comes to the great distance debate.
It’s all relative for the three-time major winner. If the R&A and USGA decided to install measures to stop players like Bryson DeChambeau trying to hit 400 yard drives, it won’t disadvantage them one little bit. In fact, Harrington says DeChambeau will be even more advantaged than he is now. The three-time major winner says:
“The one thing that nobody seems to be getting in the whole of this argument, it's a massive advantage to the long hitters if they tail back the equipment. Bryson gains massively if they draw back the equipment. If you reduce Bryson by 10 percent, say he's hitting it 350 and he's now hitting it 315 and you reduce a guy who's hitting it 300 and you reduce him to 270, Bryson is okay. He's still that same percentage ahead but it's a lot easier to hit the golf ball on a golf course at 315 than it is at 345 or 350. It is an incredible advantage to the long hitters if they tail back how far the ball goes.
“He should be screaming for a rollback because it would give him a big advantage.”
Harrington cites pace of play, maintenance costs, and golf courses becoming obsolete as reasons for dialling down distance:
“Golf ball going further means it's more expensive to build a golf course, it's more expensive to maintain a golf course. Golf ball going further definitely slows down the round of golf in terms of it's a longer walk, it takes longer, and that's the biggest issue with golf is the pace, the time it takes to get around. The golf ball going further also slows down the style of play because there's more bottle necks when people wait on par-4s and par-5s. Golf ball going further has meant that some golf courses are obsolete, some of the great courses.”
I can vouch for that last fact. The Dukes course at my home club Woburn is an excellent course. (Yes, I’m biased.) It was good enough to stage the British Masters on 14 occasions. While it’s a tough test for Woburn club members, sadly it’s probably too short for today’s long bombers. They would reach every par-5 easily in two shots, and could probably drive a few greens on par-4s too. The course would probably need to be tricked up to defend against the onslaught.
Woburn isn’t alone. Many great courses have sometimes been rendered toothless in the wake of the distance the top players hit the ball. It still beggars belief Justin Thomas went round Medinah Country Club’s Number 3 course in 25-under in the 2019 BMW Championship. He was one of three players to break 270. Medinah measured 7,561 yards when it hosted the 2006 PGA Championship, then the longest course to stage a major.
Harrington added safety as a sixth reason for rollback, citing a modern safety hazard of balls flying through doglegs or wildly offline and potentially harming other players.
“For those six reasons, I think the game should be tailed back,” Harrington says.
The real question is, would it really matter if distance was dialled back for elite players? The “mashed potato” boys might object, which might be no bad thing, but would genuine fans really care? Surely golf fans don’t just go to professional tournaments to see brutes like DeChambeau hit the ball 360 yards?
Surely the drama we saw between DeChambeau and Lee Westwood going head to head in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill would have been just as great if Bryson was tonking it 315 yards off the tee and Lee was “only” hitting it 290?
After all, it’s all relative. Especially in Padraig’s world.
#JustSaying: “The combined carry and roll of the ball, when tested on apparatus approved by the R&A, must not exceed the distance specified under the conditions set forth in the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls on file with the R&A.” Page 582, Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2016–2017