Last week the USGA and the R&A published a report which came to the conclusion that in the period 2003 to the present, driving distances on the Professional Golf Tours did not significantly increase, only about 1% according to their data. To quote the great Gary Player, ‘[The report] It’s really laughable.’
Below is a chart which the report used to show the driving distances on the professional golf tours. Driving distance is measured at every professional event using either Par 4’s and/or Par 5’s and the holes must be in opposite directions of each other.
The organizations chose to really start the time period of focus in 2003, because that’s when they came out with their ‘Statement of Principles’ regarding technology advances in golf. A portion of the Principles is as follows:
‘The governing bodies believe that golf balls, when hit by highly skilled golfers, should not of themselves fly significantly further than they do today. In the current circumstances, the R&A and the USGA are not advocating that the Rules relating to golf ball specifications be changed other than to modernize test methods.
The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase.’
The conclusion of this report is truly off-base. First, the organizations essentially cherry-picked the time frame they chose to analyze based upon their date of their Statement of Principles. They have chosen to ignore the data leading up to that point in time, as you can see by the graph. Furthermore, they also do not acknowledge that the players are not always hitting drivers on the distance-measuring holes on the tours. We have seen more and more players using 3 woods and driving irons off even the longest of Par 4’s in todays’ game. However, this is not mentioned in their conclusions.
What the USGA also needs to explain is that if driving distances are not significantly increasing and the ball does not go further, why have you lengthened a Par 3 at Oakmont this week to 288 yards, versus 250 yards in 2007 when the last US Open was played there. Why are there Par 4’s at every Open over 500 yards now? Why is almost every US Open venue building new tees to lengthen their courses in preparation for hosting US Opens and major championships. Why did Augusta National choose to add length to what is considered by many to be the best golf course in the world? Why do you choose to have hole locations much closer to the edges of greens now than you did 10 years ago? On a personal note…why do I (older and not in as good of shape) hit the ball 15-20 yards farther off the tee than I did 10-15 years ago?
I could go on…but it just seems this report by the governing bodies of golf just raises so many more questions than actual conclusions.
'Cultivate attention because attention is currency.' --Chris Brogan
The Ladies European Tour drew a good bit of attention this week with the debut of Paige Spiranac. The Instagram and internet sensation was playing in her first professional tournament at the Ladies Dubai Masters. Having played golf at San Diego State, Paige turned professional in August and was invited as a sponsor's exemption to the tournament field. She was a decent player at SDSU, but not a national champion or All-American. Instead, she has been branded as the 'Hottest Athlete in the World' (unofficial, of course) because of her presence on Instagram and Twitter. She has 547,000 followers on Instagram and probably has the largest presence on social media of any female golfer. She had not played an event on the LPGA or Futures Tour prior to the debut in Dubai this week.
Of course, her lack of tournament results and credentials drew the ire of many in the field and in the golf world. European Tour professional Henriaetta Zuel said, 'It’s really embarrassing for women’s golf. Social media narcissism is not a criteria [for entry into the tournament].' Golf writers and international media criticized her for unfairly profiting from her social media presence. It even produced this editorial cartoon in the Irish Examiner
What these critics do not understand is that as a sponsor (in this case Omega and Dubai Tourism) can invite anyone of their choosing because they are putting up the money for the event! It's not like Omega invited my dog to play in the tournament (despite not having an Instagram account, she is the prettiest dog on the internet). Paige shot 77-79 to miss the cut...not bad in her first professional event against some of the best players in the world. No matter what her result was for the week, inviting Spiranac was a stroke of genius for the sponsors of the tournament.
What was the largest benefit of her playing in this event? ATTENTION. Outside of major championships, when was the last time a Ladies European Tour (heck maybe even LPGA) event has this much spotlight? She brought more attention to this tournament than it would have received had she not played. This is what sponsors pay for! It is well within their right to have someone play in their event which they feel can bring a return on their investment in the tournament.
But people like Paige are going to help draw more people to golf, especially among millennials. The golf population is getting old and it needs an infusion of youth. People that millennials can identify with through the internet draw them into the game. Despite not having won a tournament yet, Spiranac is good for the game. Until Rickie Fowler started winning events, he was the cool kid, wearing the flat bill caps and loud colors. But the kids loved him...and still do no matter how many events he wins! Spiranac with continued practice and competition could develop into the LPGA's Fowler... and that would be a great thing for their tour! More attention for that tour will help them develop more sponsors and more money. That's Marketing 101. When the players are competing for more prize money, I don't think they will be criticizing players like Spiranac...because players like her can help elevate the visibility of that tour.