Golf governing bodies take another step in limiting driver lengths | Golf News and Tour Information

When it comes to Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson and their thirst for 48-inch drivers, golf’s governing bodies have only one thing to say: Not so fast.

Technically, Tuesday’s announcement that the USGA and R&A will reduce the maximum shaft length from 48 inches to 46 inches counts as a suggestion. This is called a Model Local Rule, which is usually designed to give tournament organizers or presumably any tour the right to implement a rule limiting driver length. But a spokesperson for the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour has confirmed that its tours will apply the local rule in 2022, with the PGA Tour confirming January 1, 2022 as the first application date. Thomas Pagel, USGA’s senior managing director of governance, said the new limit will apply to 14 USGA championships, also starting in 2022.

“I think it’s very fair to say this is a proactive measure,” he said of the new limit, which was discussed and studied by the USGA and the R&A. since 2014 with a few stops and starts in between. It was announced as a proposal in February.

“You’ve seen a trend of more players experimenting, and I would say the governing bodies have been accused in the past of being reactive, and this was an opportunity for us to be proactive and cap something that’s going to have a very small impact as much as the number of individuals. If we had waited, I think the change would have been much more difficult.

To be fair, Pagel said using or hitting a player with a longer driver didn’t speed up any decisions. In other words, Mickelson’s May PGA Championship win with a 47.5-inch rider had no bearing on the stem length reduction. Pagel called the model local rule the “least disruptive” approach, making it clear that the rule does not affect recreational golfers or any manufacturer interested in selling drivers longer than the new 46-inch limit.

“If there are recreational golfers who play anything over 46 inches, they can continue to play that if they want to,” Pagel said. “We felt it was appropriate to now run as a model local ruler. This does not mean that at some point in the future it will become a rule of golf, perhaps a shorter club will even be considered. It’s nothing we’re discussing now, but it’s hard to say never.

Here is the PGA Tour’s statement on Tuesday acknowledging that it would enforce the rule: “After understanding feedback received from the golf manufacturer community, we have also undertaken an investigation into the use of clubs used on the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and the Korn Ferry Tour and found that a very small number of players have used or are currently using clubs longer than 46″. The PGA Tour Player Advisory Council recently reviewed the subject and we have concluded that the PGA Tour will implement the Local Rule on Jan. 1, 2022.”

The LPGA Tour did not provide a definitive timeline with its response: “[We] plan to implement the new rule at some point after the 2021 season. We have already begun communicating with the small number of players who may be impacted by the change, to ensure they can make any necessary adjustments in time. timely.

Pagel said the other professional tours and major golf championships “have been involved and engaged” in the decision on the new rule, and he expects them to announce their decisions shortly. Although contacted by Golf Digest, the European Tour and Augusta National did not respond with comment. A PGA of America spokesperson said the organization will review the rule change and make an announcement ahead of any 2022 PGA events. Several major manufacturers contacted by Golf Digest declined to comment at this time.

For perspective, driver shaft lengths have increased over the past quarter century, both on the PGA Tour and in the marketplace. It was typical in the 1990s for drivers played on tour to be in the 43 inch range, and now the majority of touring players use a driver between 44.5 and 45.5 inches. In addition to Mickelson and DeChambeau’s interest in drivers at the current 48-inch limit, the LPGA’s Brooke Henderson has also played a 48-inch driver in the past. Almost all drivers introduced by manufacturers now feature a shaft length of 45 to 45.75 inches.

Although some manufacturers have introduced drivers with shaft lengths longer than 46 inches, few have been successful. Ten years ago, TaylorMade’s Burner Superfast 2.0 measured 46.5 inches and was popular for a while before the company’s next model reverted to a shorter shaft. Cobra introduced a lightweight 48-inch shaft in their Long Tom rider in 2011 which saw little pull.

Of course, the evidence is not universal that a longer shaft will translate to longer driving distance for every player. John Spitzer, general manager of equipment standards for the USGA, said several tests conducted show a difference of three to five meters from 46 to 48 inches. “When we started looking at this, we only saw a few players on the circuits using drivers larger than 46.5 inches,” Spitzer said. “And now we see an order of magnitude bigger than that.

“And they don’t go straight from 46 to 48, but they do progress, and as they progress the manufacturers will eventually come out with longer clubs. So the timing was perfect.”

John McPhee, a University of Waterloo engineering professor and Golf Digest technical committee member, and his students have developed an optimized biomechanical/physical golf simulation that projects a six-meter distance gain when a golfer The average human goes from optimal launch conditions at 46 inches to optimal launch conditions at 48 inches, but his model showed a 10-yard gain in optimals going from 44 inches to 46 inches.

In a paper on the subject submitted to the International Sports Engineering Association’s 2022 conference, McPhee and his student Spencer Ferguson conclude, “A rule to limit club length to 46 inches could help curb future distance gains. at the elite level, but current driving distances are unlikely to be reduced, as five of the most recent driving distance leaders on the PGA Tour used drivers less than 46 inches in length.

For what it’s worth, according to PGA Tour stats, Mickelson was about five yards shorter this year than he was in 2019 and his strokes won/off-tee rank still hasn’t entered the top. 150. Nonetheless, Mickelson recently took to social media to criticize the USGA for seeking to reduce the length of the shaft.

“What data was there to say that driver length should be capped at 48 inches?” Mickelson said, shaking his head in a Twitter video posted last month. “What’s the data that says it should go 46 inches? We’re attacking the wrong problem and again misinterpreting the data, just like the 2010 grooves.”

Of course, Mickelson’s rant seems out of place since he spends much of it arguing against the effect of the shaft length rule on average golfers, which the new rule would have no impact at all. .

Pagel said the shaft length rule is now aimed at elite players to avoid any further issues later. He said they see no evidence that long drivers are commonplace on the tour or in the market or among young, developing golfers. But Mickelson and DeChambeau were vocal about exploring the use of longer shafts. Pagel said it was time to act.

“At the highest level, we were seeing the numbers slowly increasing,” he said. “With the swing speeds at that level and the abilities at that level, that’s where it would start to take off and that would be the start of a trend. Once elite level players start doing something, it will trickle down. How long does it take, it could have been 10 years before we saw a bunch of kids trying out long leads, but the thing is, we’re being proactive now.

Pagel was quick to point out that driver shaft length isn’t the governing bodies’ ultimate solution to the riding distance issue. New USGA CEO Mike Whan even went so far as to say in a statement, “Grantedly, this is not the ‘answer’ to the global distancing debate/problem, but rather a mere option for events. competitive.”

The USGA and R&A are inviting comments on the broader topic of distance with a Nov. 2 deadline — so there’s more to come, Pagel said. Among the topics discussed are a tightening of the tolerance zone for measuring spring force and new distance standards for measuring optimal flight conditions for a golf ball. But the ideas go beyond these two proposals, which were also announced in February along with the shaft length rule.

“We’re in this critical discussion about the role distance plays in the game and it’s ongoing,” he said. “Once we have that feedback, we plan to spend a lot of time reviewing it and allowing it to inform whatever next steps. People will say we’re moving slowly, but in this case I think it’s intentionally slow. We don’t want to rush things, and I think that’s important for the industry.

“This model local rule is in no way intended to be a solution that helps stop the cycle of increasing striking distances. We are committed to what we have said before and there will be solutions, but this isn’t that solution. What they are, we’re not sure yet, but that’s not it.”

“We are determined to end the cycle of increasing hitting distances. We have the long-term health of the game in mind. How healthy is the game 20, 50, 100 years from now. It is something to which we remain attached. We know elite players can achieve increases in distance using a longer club, and as an industry as we lead a critical conversation about the long-term health of the game and the role distance plays with that, we just thought it best to cap this now while we have the rest of this discussion.

Michael C. Ford