Ruling bodies propose changes to limit equipment

Here we go again…R&A Chief Executive Officer, Martin Slumbers has indicated that the fresh talk about bifurcation rule changes, that would see professionals along with elite amateurs ruled to use distance-controlling equipment, has nothing to with a ‘specific person’.

The R&A and its sister ruling body the USGA has announced proposed equipment standard changes including a limit of the driver being 46-inches and also changes with regards to the golf ball.

Martin Slumbers R&A CEO Martin Slumbers (Credit: R&A)

And in addressing the effectiveness of current equipment testing processes, protocols and standards with respect to distance limits, both the R&A and USGA are seeking comment from equipment manufacturers on three proposed Equipment Standards changes, as follows:

Proposal 1: Club Length Reduction to 46 inches available as Model Local Rule (MLR) (Original proposal delivered in 2016 and paused in 2017 due to the Distance Insights project). Comment period ends on 4 March 2021.
Proposal 2: Ball Testing Update on testing method for golf balls. Comment period ends on 2 August 2021.
Proposal 3: Change to testing tolerance – Characteristic Time. Comment period ends on 2 August 2021.

When we talk of ‘specific person’ there is just one that comes to mind – reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

DeChambeau topped the 2020 PGA Tour ‘driving distance’ stats with an average of 329.1 yards (301 metres) with 78 other players averaging 299. 6 yard (274 metres) or more.

“This is not person specific,” said Slumbers when asked if the proposed changes had anything to do with a reaction to DeChambeau’s impact since returning to the game looking more like ‘Hulk Hogan’.

“We were looking at this four years ago and in our ‘Distance Insights’ report, this was one of the options available to us when we were considering this back in February last year.”

“We’ve tried really hard in this to be agnostic to individual players, but, inevitably long hitters could be personalised in that and there is no doubt there has been a lot of players who explored the use of longer drivers, not just Bryson.”

Bifurcation, meaning the division of something into two branches or parts, would mean the professional tours and elite amateur competitions could require competitors to use equipment that is restricted while allowing everyday players the benefits that those technological gains bring them.

If the changes are approved a tournament committee could limit the maximum length of driver via what would be called a ‘model local rule’.

As for the professional tours, including the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour as well as the major championships all play by USGA or R&A rules, depending on jurisdiction.

The exceptions made at the highest levels — such as the “one-ball” rule used on the pro tours — are all covered in the rule book, typically under local provisions.

After years of discussion on the topic, the governing bodies now appear ready to act on distance gains, rightly…or wrongly depending on your view.

Obviously any changes made to equipment rules will first make a significant impact on the OEM’s.

Acushnet, who manufacture products such as the Titleist Pro V1, the number one ball on every major tour, had the following to say about the proposed changes:

“Equipment evolution, along with the increased athleticism of today’s competitive player, has helped to advance the game’s timeless and aspirational appeal,” said Acushnet Company CEO David Maher.

“Our initial response is focused on the proposed change to golf ball testing methodology. Established by the USGA in 1976, the Overall Distance Standard (ODS) has stood the test of time and has evolved over the years to take advantage of improved testing technologies and reflect updated player launch conditions.”

“The proposed consideration of a bandwidth approach…disconnects the process from the elite player and introduces a wide range of complexities as it relates to golf ball design, manufacturing and conformance which we need to further research.”

“Acushnet looks forward to participating in this process and contributing our perspective which is informed by more than 80 years of experience designing and manufacturing conforming equipment.”

World No.3 Justin Thomas was one of the first players to speak out against the changes and it goes without saying that it wasn’t positive.

“I mean, if you give us different stuff we’re still going to try to find a way to hit it as far as we possibly can. I don’t think there’s any reason or it’s not necessary at all to change the golf ball.”

“I think it would be extremely selfish of the USGA and the R&A to do that because of all the hard work that they’ve (OEM’s) put in to make their equipment and golf balls as great as they possibly can…look at your everyday golfer and go up to him and tell him that you want him to hit it shorter because just the top .001 percent of all golfers are hitting it too far.”

“I think it’s not a very good decision, but you know, I’m not sitting in the boardrooms and making those decisions. But hopefully the right thing will be done.”

Will the ruling bodies finally get their own way? Only time will tell.