Golf’s distance debate: R&A and USGA make first move

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Phil Mickelson has not taken too kindly to the latest update from the sport’s governing bodies

They’ve found favour in the hands of both Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson but golf’s governing bodies have moved to clamp down on super-long drivers.

The R&A and USGA have announced that a new Local Rule will give those running professional or elite amateur tournaments the option to limit the maximum length of a golf club.

Model Local Rule G-10, which will be available from January 1 next year, will cap that length – excluding putters – at 46 inches. It currently stands at 48 inches. It will not apply in the club game.

The proposal was first announced in February and drew the ire of Mickelson, who launched a twitter tirade in August branding the move “PATHETIC”. He was quick to wade in again today when the new Local Rule was confirmed.

In a joint statement, the two ruling bodies said the results of a notice-and-comment period, allowing the industry to provide feedback, were “carefully considered” before the decision to proceed with the new Local Rule was reached.

A Golf Digest report said the PGA Tour had confirmed the rule would apply to its events from January 1. The report added the USGA had confirmed the same. It’s highly likely it would also be employed by the R&A in its championships.

It was back in 2014 that the governing bodies issued an “Area of Interest notice” – indicating research was being conducted into the impact of club lengths of more than 48 inches on hitting distance “and whether that limit remained appropriate”.

A proposed change was put forward in five years ago, but the subsequent Distance Insights project, which is studying the past, present and future impacts of distance in the sport, put that on hold.

The initial findings of that project has concluded that increasing length in golf was taking the game “in the wrong direction”.

Confirming the new Local Rule, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, said: “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 it will provide tournament organisers 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.”

Mike Whan, USGA chief executive, added: “We’ve worked closely with our industry partners to ensure the future for golf remains strong.

“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.”

What do you think of the Local Rule? Is it time to start reining in distance or should the governing bodies leave well alone? Have your say in the comments, or tweet me.

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