Is Distance Sacrosanct?

Somehow, we seem to have evolved into believing that driving the ball a long way is a “right” and needs to be protected.  Yes, it is a skill developed from hard work on the range and being blessed with the ability to coordinate all the moving parts. This skill combined with accuracy is one of many – not the only skill — which defines a good golfer.

As I recalled in Just Hit It, Jack Nicklaus once told me that golfers today are hitting the ball too far and something must be done about it. Jack has a selectively short memory, which I had to point out to him about 18 years ago, reminding him that he won the long drive contest in 1963 with a distance of 341 yards. He insisted that it was not 341 yards but 341-yards and 17-inches.  This, using a steel-shafted persimmon 42.625  inch driver  and a balata covered wound ball.

About six days later his drive on the first hole of the final round of the PGA Championship he estimated to be 350 yards. He went on to win.

Yes, today’s equipment has made the game a little easier for the average golfer as well as the tour professional. The USGA, by permitting spring like effect in clubs combined with the multi-layered ball, and the optimization of launch conditions – now maxed-out — gave the tour players about 28 – 30 yards free. So, a reborn Jack would be right up there with the longest drivers on tour and the subject of his own concern.

Not only is Jack the greatest golfer the game has seen, but if he had used a better ball in his prime — based on rigorous golf ball tests I conducted —  I am confident in saying that he would have won several more majors.

We need to be reminded that it is not the equipment that is affecting the TV ratings nor the general decline in participation but other factors which need to be seriously studied as a whole, not in bits and pieces, if there is any hope to reverse the trend.

What are your thoughts about course length for the majors? Did you enjoy this year’s U.S. Open? Is distance sacrosanct? Please reply below to share your thoughts.



12 thoughts on “Is Distance Sacrosanct?

  1. i think the fairways should start getting narrow at around 280 yards and get more narrow 300 yards and more at 325 and more at 350 to make it more challenging to the bombers to take that chance. it would make the game more interesting.

  2. The winning score for the US Open should be closer to par if not over par. I remember the wining score being +7 once and thought that was great. The best players having to deal with par as a good score was a pleasure to watch.

    The USGA should buy 1000 acres somewhere in the middle of the country to build a course that would be the permanent home to the US Open. Then they could build a 8500 yard monster that MIGHT challenge the best players and they could modify it to their pleasure in order to provide the maximum challenge.

    I have read that there are college players who routinely drive it over 350 yards so the display of distance will only get longer in the years ahead.

    • I like it! I too abhor watching Tour Pro Golf destroying par at any venue, it is boring nor is it faithful to the challenge of golf.

  3. Despite the brouhaha (well deserved) over the length of the course I thought the best thinker and planner won the day. Koepka’s general attitude was first class and despite the pressure he must have been feeling he kept his rhythm and his demeanour and actually seemed to be enjoying the day (as did Fleetwood). I enjoyed the spirit in which the play took place (pity about the TV commentary).

  4. I find it incredibly hard to believe that in my late 20’s and into my mid 30’s that I could drive a ball well over 300yds. Now in my mid 70’s, I can barely drive one 200yds. I remember when Nicklaus was the “King Of Distance” on the tour. Distance was a wonderful thing to possess, especially combined with excellent directional stability. Too bad I couldn’t putt worth a hoot. Never could improve on a 0 handicap. Now I can putt a little, but can’t reach the greens in regulation from the white tees these days. Distance is a most wonderful thing to carry in one’s bag.

  5. As always, Frank, your perspective is spot on. Yes, it is boring to see 1 mammoth drive after another and to see double digit under par scores. Are PGA touring pros really that good? It is understandable that there can and should be an occasional amazing low score, like baseball’s rare perfect game, pitched when a pitcher is in their own zone with 3,4 or 5 different pitches working well. But, let’s find out how good. Like other ball centered sports everyone who is a professional golfer playing a tour event has to use the same distance limiting golf ball. Distance limiting in the sense that a dive will max out at 250 yds, for example. Courses should be set/up so that long clubs have to be hit into greens, nothing less than a 7 iron unless the player lays up. Just make the competition more real rather than super powered equipment handled by super conditioned players. I move up a tee, 6000 yds gives me plenty of golf with scoring opportunities, hitting longer and shorter clubs into greens, and not destroying par scoring. It’s real!
    And yes golf is expensive and takes at least 4 hrs to play on a week- end, and significant practice time. Ya gotta want it!

  6. Frank, I thought this years Open may have been somewhat misleading. My personal belief is that the course set-up was not actually over 7,800 yards. as stated.

    Granted the Pro’s are long, but I don’t think they all have the capability to reach a 638 par 5 with 2 swings. These golfers were hitting 6 & 7 irons unrealistic distances. I realize they actually hood their irons as they contact the ball first……but???

    60 yard wide fairways were ridiculous for the Pro’s. You do not need a long course to provide difficulty. Why not shrink the fairways. and bring rough into play? It does not need to be 24 inch high, thick fescue. A 4 inch rough would provide a challenge.

    These guys are all long……what separates them from the Nationwide Tour is their chipping and putting. Make the chipping and putting more of a challenge and bring it into play. Test all of the Pro’s skills…..not just the “gorilla bombers.”

    All we heard about was the tall fescue on the media. The weekend players pretty much avoided it. I believe it was the 3rd cut of rough off of the spacious fairways..

    Forget the outrageous length……it isn’t necessary……make the Open a test of golf skills.

    Is it ironic that right after these guys made mincemeat of the 7,800+ golf course …..that the PGA announced a new Testing Program for PED’s?

    Tom Campbell

  7. It’s my understanding that we’re reaching the outer limits of how far a ball can go. The 460cc clubhead, limits on springlike effect, and other technical limitations have boxed the manufacturers into a limiting box for performance. Yes, today’s pro (and even we hackers) have access to optimization programs that can help us combine clubheads, shafts, and balls to achieve maximum head speed, ball speed, spin and launch angle. But that’s it. I’ll never be able to swing at 120mph, so even if I dial in everything else, my distance is theoretically limited even if all else is optimized. The same is true of Bubba Watson or any other long ball hitter. So it’s not just about new equipment which DOES make it easier for more people to hit a ball further, but it’s also a factor of advanced training methods and data that the top golfers have access nowadays. If Jack had worked out in the gym the way the guys do today, worked with athletic trainers, dietitians, physiologists and and had access to the launch monitor info they’ve got today, I’m sure he’d have also been able to improve his already amazing record, even with a persimmon wood and wound balata ball.

  8. I witnessed Jack driving on the first hole of the Doral in 72 or 73. Pro-am day, the local paper had a prize for the person who came closest to guessing Jack’s drive on #1. It was 356, and only the last few yards was roll! Of course, Jack didn’t swing like that in actual competition, because he didn’t have to. Only Weiskopf and a couple of others were close, and no one was as accurate as he in the 270-280 range.

  9. The concept of same rules, equipment, balls and golf courses for all is faulty. There is no way that a 75 y/o can be compared to a 30 y/o in regards to strength, flexability and concentration. More people need to play it forward and let elite players work out their own solutions. Incidentally, Jack was not the longest hitting teenager in Columbus let alone Ohio. However, nobody hit it further and straighter. One interesting factoid is that Jack won the Ohio Open when he was 15 and I think Palmer was the runner up. Jack had two eagles in the last round. Arnold was in the Coast Guard in Ohio.

  10. Extreme distance, in the 300 yard range, is boring. If these are elite golfers, let’s see them make the tough shots, the creative shots. An accurate 8 iron to a blind green is more thrilling than 300 yards down a rock-hard fairway. Modifying the ball is one answer; letting the fairways grow to 1″ is another.

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