This year's media coverage would lead one to believe that the arrival of the Power Game to the PGA Tour and the distances achieved by some players have brought professional golf to the edge of ruin.
Virtually every media forum has the same message...the Power Game has arrived on the PGA Tour, the world of professional golf is not what it once was, irreparable harm is upon us and judgement day cannot be far behind!
Evidence of Irreparable Harm?
Today the PGA Tour is golf's most successful commercial endeavor.
Players compete for more money, more money goes to charity, and players pay more taxes (sounds like a win-win-win situation).
PGA Tour ratings remain very strong portending nothing but continued success.
If professional golf is experiencing some irreparable harm, it has yet to be identified.
Okay, but 'something' is going on...
Fair enough, but 'something' has been going on to increase driving distance for a few years...
Recently, professional golf has seen changes with (a) player fitness and conditioning, (b) course conditions, (c) golf clubs and (d) golf balls.
the hierarchy of contributions to improved performance on the golf course, the
available evidence suggests the following sequence:
Most Influential Variable The Player.
Second Most Influential Variable The Golf Club.
Third Most Influential Variable The Golf Ball.
This hierarchy of variables has often been overlooked in the search for a 'cause' and a 'solution,' as have golf course and weather conditions which significantly impact the fluctuation in driving distance from week to week.
The Player and the arrival of the Power Game
Early evidence of the Power Game was seen in the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Faldo who sculpted their bodies as well as their games with the premise that athleticism was as important as coordination and feel. This signaled the arrival of the future face of professional golf.
Today's Power Game players have clubhead speeds of 115-120mph+, launch it high, spin it less and take it deep. It is not a coincidence that most of these 'Bombers' are the biggest, strongest, most fit and best conditioned.
Currently, the elite, athletic players are the minority. When they play well, exploiting their strength, fitness and conditioning edge, they are difficult to beat.
In his 1998 acceptance speech, incoming USGA president Buzz Taylor was prophetic when he predicted this Power Game, quite possibly, would be the future of professional golf.
When a minority introduces change, many of the majority feel threatened. Today, many players are threatened with what some refer to as a 'Bombers' Paradise.' Rather than acknowledge the size, strength, fitness and conditioning factors which are the root contributors to the Power Game's arrival, the reaction is often to blame equipment technology for the increasing performance gap between the 'Bombers' and the 'Non-Bombers.'
Based upon the hundreds of professional golfers we have tested, this assignment of blame is misguided and misdirected. It is the athletic player who is the primary cause and explanation of the Power Game's arrival.
More problematic are the 'end of the world' theorists advancing emotionally appealing solutions, that hardly address the issue.
Why two sets of rules ("Bifurcation") is not the answer
Bifurcation is an innocent notion that history will be restored by having two sets of equipment rules: one for the professional game and one for the non-professional game.
In its extreme form, it suggests that much like major league baseball, tour professionals would play with wood-woods and restrained golf balls.
Intrinsic to the 'bifurcation' concept is the notion that a technological rollback reducing distance for professionals by 10% will right the golf world.
Some words of caution and insight
A 10% rollback for Ernie Els will mean less to him than to David Toms or Loren Roberts. Ernie will still hit par fives in two, David and Loren probably will not.
|Current Driving Average||Less 10%||New Average|
|Ernie Els||304 yards||274 yards|
|David Toms||288 yards||260 yards|
|Loren Roberts||266 yards||240 yards|
Physics are physics.
Secondly, for those who think the solution is just to take some air out of the ball by further limiting its coefficient of restitution, this too is misinformed thinking.
A lower speed golf ball will be shorter and fly lower. Golf ball manufacturers will work with this 'slower' ball, changing its aerodynamic characteristics and/or modifying spin and launch angle. Players will continue to get bigger and stronger. Drivers will be optimized for use with the "rolled back" ball. In short time, the stronger players will regain most, if not all, of the lost distance; and those players with less size and less strength will be most negatively affected. Since the player and the club have a greater influence on distance, the golf ball cannot realistically be expected to negate the gains attributable to club design AND the natural evolutionary improvements of the athletic golfer.
Every generation before us when confronted by changes with players, course conditions, and equipment technology, frequently felt that the end of the world would soon follow. Yet the professional game continues to grow and prosper, because the rules in place more than adequately control technological influence.
Players' abilities should enjoy upper case recognition. Where is the harm in this? After all, as the tagline says ... "these guys are good!"
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