How golf’s regulation changes could affect the game’s top players

By Rhys Noye-Allen
July 1 2020, 12.20

Golf is set to undergo one of the biggest regulation changes in its history as it looks to address the increase in hitting distance.

The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA), golf’s governing bodies, agree the increase in hitting distance is unsustainable.

The Distance Insight Project Report conducted by the bodies explained the continuing increase was detrimental to the game.

The statistics demonstrate the dramatic change in hitting distance over the past 30 years.

The longest average driver on the PGA Tour in 1980 was Dan Pohl, who finished the year with an average of 274.3 yards.

Almost 40 years later, Cameron Champ finished 2019 with an average driving distance of 317.9.

The increase of almost 20% makes it clear why golf’s governing bodies decided to reassess the equipment used, according to head professional at Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club Dean Rodgers.

He said: “The top 20 players in the world are now driving the ball further which means they are playing a different ball game and many well-known courses have needed lengthening.

“Golf clubs can’t keep extending holes and they can’t keep spending money and resources on these changes every 25 years – it’s not sustainable or economical.

“When a course like St Andrew’s Old Course needs to build tee boxes out of bounds to make it long enough and tough enough for certain tournaments, you have to agree with the governing bodies.

“I suspect they considered other resolutions to make the course harder such as making the fairways tighter and the rough longer, but are still forced to increase the length of the course.”

Any changes to equipment could affect golf’s biggest hitters to differing extents.

If shorter distances were hit from the tee, there would be a greater emphasis on the accuracy of iron shots into the green on longer holes.

The best way to judge which players would benefit the most from the possible regulation changes is to see which players hit the greens in regulation (GIR) most consistently from the same distance.

Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson were the top three golfers at the end of 2019 and were also in the top ten longest drivers.

But their dominance didn’t transfer entirely to GIR.

When it comes to distances between 175-200 yards, McIlroy and Koepka both make the top 10, at ninth and second respectively.

Johnson, contrastingly, finished in 162nd on the tour with a percentage of just over 50%.

At distances between 150-175 yards the three players fared even worse.

McIlroy finished highest at number 30 with Koepka and Johnson lagging behind in 124th and 165th respectively.

The changes to distance could have adverse effects on the biggest hitters, who could find themselves drifting down the leader board as they play unfamiliar shots.

Featured image provided by John and Nathalie Collard at Sports Impact/

Related Articles