Is A Rollback Necessary?
Scoring, distance data suggest that today's ball is not a problem.
When it comes to the length the golf ball is traveling, there is no shortage of talking points for distance killjoys ranting about how the high-tech ball is ruining the game at the elite level.
Distance is out of control. Scores are too low. Courses are obsolete. The game has become one of driver-wedge.
The problem, however, is that this emerging conventional wisdom is rarely challenged. Too infrequently does anyone provide the research to either support or refute these statements.
So let's try.
Is distance out of control? Only if a seven-yard drop in driving distance since last year counts. Scores too low? Last year's scoring average was a whopping .02 lower than that of 1994.
Courses obsolete? Pardon me, but I don't think so. Thirty-four of the 50 courses that hosted PGA Tour events in 1994 are on the schedule in 2005. Yeah, but they're babes that have been lengthened into behemoths, right? Hardly. Fifteen of them still measure less than 7,000 yards. The average distance of those courses today is 7,090 - a 133-yard increase and only eight have added 200 yards or more. Among the under 7,000-yard crowd are Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Harbour Town and Westchester. Could it be some older courses are just fine while newer courses need to add extra yardage because they're not quite as good a test?
Which leads me to the fact the pro game has not, as some have claimed, become one of pitch-and-putt- - - at least statistically speaking. According to ShotLink data for the 2004 season, approximately a third of all shots were played from 175 yards and beyond while only some 20 percent were from 125 yards and closer. And by the way, ShotLink tells us that on shots from 125 yards and in, the average approach shot ended up 19 feet, five inches from the hole. And good as these guys are, that's no gimme. The stats say a PGA Tour pro makes less than one in five from that distance.
If the USGA is true to its word that "no rule changes are needed under current conditions" and "decisions to change or not change rules are based on factual information", then don't expect to see a rollback anytime soon.
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