No one was surprised. On Tuesday morning, the USGA and R&A announced a new equipment rule – or more accurately, a Model Local Rule – that they’ve named and numbered MLR G-10, which sounds more like an Acura sports car than a rule of golf. The reason it’s forgettable is it only applies to a miniscule number of players: those who try to squeeze out an extra 4 or 5 yards by hitting an extra-long driver.
Under the new Model Local Rule, according to a release by the governing bodies, “beginning on January 1, 2022 … those running professional or elite amateur golf competitions (have) the option of limiting the maximum length of a golf club (excluding putters) to 46 inches.”
So, no more Bryson DeChambeau hitting 48-inch drivers in the Masters. No more Phil Mickelson “hitting bombs” with a 48-incher in this or that event where the fairways are wide and the rough is less than penal. Chi Chi Rodriguez, in his final days on the PGA Tour Champions, had a broomstick of a driver that was between 48- and 50-inches long. And while Cheech swore that he got an extra 15 out of it, center-of-the-clubface contact was always in question.
“We have taken time to consult fully with the golf industry, including players, the main professional tours and equipment manufacturers, and have considered their feedback carefully.” – Martin Slumbers
Beyond those rare examples, this was, what we call in the trade, low-hanging fruit, a way for the governing bodies to signal a move in the direction of distance control without igniting a firestorm.
“We’ve worked closely with our industry partners to ensure the future for golf remains strong,” USGA chief executive officer Mike Whan said in a statement. “Admittedly, this is not the ‘answer’ to the overall distance debate/issue, but rather a simple option for competitive events. It’s important to note that it is not a ‘Rule of Golf,’ and as such, it is not mandated for the average, recreational golfer. Rather, this is an available tool for those running competitive events.”
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, said in the same statement: “We have taken time to consult fully with the golf industry, including players, the main professional tours and equipment manufacturers, and have considered their feedback carefully. We believe this is the right thing for the game at this time and will provide tournament organizers with the flexibility to choose for themselves within the framework of the Rules. We are working hard to maintain an open, collaborative and considered dialogue with these key stakeholders as we continue to evolve the Equipment Standards Rules to ensure they reflect the modern game.”
“This is a proactive measure,” Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior managing director of governance, told GGP+ on Tuesday morning. “We’ve been talking about it since 2014. We have a lot of research to show that increasing club length from 46 to 48 inches obviously increases clubhead speed, which increases ball speed and increases distance. We haven’t managed the variables for weight and things like that but you’re looking at 4 or 5 additional yards of distance (with 2 extra inches of shaft length). “Right now, that’s unrealized gain because so few players have taken on clubs that are longer than 46 inches. So, this is an opportunity for us to be proactive and get ahead of it before more players gravitate to it and experiment with longer clubs.
“It just seemed like a no-brainer for us. If we could cap this and take away the unrealized gains, it seemed like the best time to do it and the best thing to do.”
“In the past, we’ve been accused of being reactive. The last thing we would want, or the game would want, is for clubs longer than 46 inches to become the norm. So, the time was right to put a cap on it.” – Thomas Pagel
Again, hardly anyone will notice. But, as Pagel noted, this is a baby step in an ongoing journey.
“This is not the solution to distance,” he said. “It’s not even a solution to distance. This is something in advance of (the Distance Insights Report). And as we continue that conversation, which we’re committed to, it seemed like the time was right.
“In the past, we’ve been accused of being reactive. The last thing we would want, or the game would want, is for clubs longer than 46 inches to become the norm. So, the time was right to put a cap on it. And being a Model Local Rule, if there are recreational golfers out there who enjoy clubs longer than 46 inches, they can certainly continue to use those. That’s one of the benefits of (doing it this way).”
The USGA will be exempting amateur qualifiers from this rule for 2022, in part because some of the U.S. Amateur Four Ball qualifiers have already begun or will begin in the coming weeks. “We have more than 650 qualifiers for our championships, so we didn’t want to rush this,” Pagel said. “We want to make sure everybody understands the rule. And sometimes slower is better.”
But momentum, at least from the governing bodies’ standpoint, is shifting toward reigning in distance, at least at the elite level. Pagel warned against jumping to conclusions but this is a sign the USGA and R&A have no problem letting play-for-fun amateurs get away with stuff that could eventually be barred from elite competitions. In a word: bifurcation.
“We have a process that we follow as it relates to equipment rules,” Pagel said. “We’re very much in the middle of continuing our research, along with the industry. As manufacturers and other stakeholders submit their research and their views on the topic (of distance), we need to thoughtfully consider those. November 2 is the next timeline for the (Distance Insights) project when we hear back from manufacturers. But there are no preconceived solutions or timelines here. We just need to let the process play out. Frankly, that’s what the industry expects of us.”
Pagel also wants to downplay the notion of friction between the two sides.
“A lot of people frame manufacturers and governing bodies as adversaries,” he said. “I’ll tell you straight up that’s not the case. At a functional level, our teams work together weekly if not daily with manufacturers on R&D and testing. Those relationships are really strong. I had breakfast yesterday with a manufacturer. We’re friends. We’re all in the industry.
“And there are points of agreement. We need to focus on those. One of them is, look, the game is really healthy right now. We’re experiencing something that I don’t think any of us could have expected. So how do we build on the strength of today and insure the strength and health of the game in the future? Everyone wants the next generation to inherit a healthy game. I think the conversation is: ‘What does a healthy game look like?’
“From our standpoint, increased hitting distance and increased pressure on golf courses to lengthen is a formula that perhaps stresses the health of the industry. But I don’t think anyone is looking at it as if there’s a battle coming. I don’t think anyone (in the industry) is viewing this as adversarial in nature. I think everybody is looking at it as: How can we work in the long-term best interest of the game?”
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