It’s easy to understand why professional golfers might push back against the plan to reduce the distance that balls travel in the air, but using recreational players as a prop to oppose the change is disingenuous at best and laughable at worst.
Losing an average of 3-5 yards will not negatively affect club golfers or weekend warriors who fantasize about being the next Happy Gilmore. It will not materially change your score. The reduction is so negligible as to be insignificant.
But when professionals such as Keegan Bradley label the change “monstrous” for amateurs, they water a seed that never should have been planted.
Bradley grew up in a golfing household, with a father who is a club pro, so he understands that recreational players lack the technique, swing speed and accuracy to be impacted by the plan, which the USGA and R&A will implement for professionals in 2028 and for everyone else in 2030.
His statement earlier this month to reporters in the Bahamas was disappointing because it felt like an attempt to manipulate a gullible audience, which is what recreational players are. He gave us another reason to point the finger of blame for our on-course failures at everything and everyone except ourselves.
Bad shot? We tell ourselves it has to be the balls or the clubs, which is why we’ll purchase a dozen balls for $50 despite knowing we’re likely to lose at least two or three a round because we’re not as good as we think we are, or we’ll spend thousands on irons because we believe they will make our shots travel longer and straighter without the required practice time. Poor drive? Has to be the driver, which is why we’ll spend hundreds to replace the one we purchased the year before.
Perhaps Bradley felt he could help pressure golf’s leadership to rethink its plan by getting the common man to join his fight. But the truth is that the changes are necessary to offset advancements in technology and equipment. USGA data shows the number of top pro players averaging at least 300 yards off the tee has increased from 13 to 98 over the last 10 PGA Tour seasons, making it easier for them to avoid a well-placed bunker or a cluster of trees by simply going over them.
That was the concern of the USGA and R&A early last year when they issued joint statements that said, in part: “The governing bodies are continuing their work to address the long-term cycle of increased hitting distances and course lengthening that threatens golf’s long-term sustainability and undermines the core principle that a broad and balanced set of playing skills should remain the primary determinant of success in golf.”
Some courses have attempted to fight back by extending hole distances, but there is only so much available property and money to go around. Consequently, course management and shot-shaping appear to have diminished roles when mapping out plans for success.
The irony of Bradley’s statement is that he’s pushing a narrative that’s harmful to recreational golfers. They should be focused on how to navigate a hole instead of trying to drive like Bryson DeChambeau or Rory McIlroy. There’s a reason golf sages remind us that you drive for show and putt for dough, because the short game is the most effective and proven formula for lowering scores.
Our obsession with distance is one reason we can hit nine consecutive drives out of bounds yet continue to swing for the moon, in hopes the 10th strike finds the sweet spot and screeches through the air, eliciting oohs and aahs from onlookers as it finds the fairway. But the fact remains that we are never going to consistently hit it as far or as accurately as the pros, regardless of our delusions of grandeur.
The USGA and R&A sampled driving distances by handicap among club golfers in the United Kingdom and found that male amateurs of all levels averaged about 215 yards off the tee, that those with handicaps between 13 and 20 averaged 200 yards, and those between the high single digits and low double digits averaged just under 220 yards. Golfers with handicaps below six averaged roughly 240 yards.
The loss of 3-5 yards will not impact their games one way or the other, but the change to the golf ball could significantly affect professional players if the modification estimates are accurate. According to the USGA and R&A, the changes will reduce drives by 11 yards for tour pros and 7 yards for female tour players, though Bradley contends tests by Srixon, one of the leading ball manufacturers, showed a loss of 40-50 yards when using the new specifications.
“I think that the USGA … everything that they do is reactionary,” Bradley said. “They don’t think of a solution. They just think we’re going to affect 100 percent of the population that plays golf.”
Normally the everyman argument would be laudable, but this one is lacking because something needed to be done at the highest level of the game. If Bradley and his supporters were honest with themselves, or if they wanted the opinion of recreational players like me, they’d know the men’s pro game is becoming less interesting because it lacks those moments on the tee that require real thought as to consequence versus benefit. Too often we get: Long drive, pitch, putt.
Golf has enough challenges that merit serious discussion, like the PGA Tour and LIV Golf figuring out if they’ll ever be able to co-exist and what the game might look like if they do merge. Spending time complaining about a reduction of 3-5 yards on drives by recreational players should be a two-stroke penalty, if not an automatic ejection.
(Top photo: Luke Walker / Getty Images)