Making professional golf better. That is a laudable idea, but the term better in this situation is nebulous.
One man’s better is another’s poorer, or worse.
That being said, I’m going out on a limb to make a suggestion that I think would make professional golf not only more compelling, but dare I say better.
In 1938, the USGA instituted a rule that limited the number of clubs to be used in a round to 14 (Rule 4-4: “Maximum of Fourteen Clubs”). The limit was adopted by the R&A in 1939.
Before the rule, golfers often took advantage of the lack of limitations, taking 30 or more clubs onto the course. Caddies sometimes had to carry two bags.
Why the USGA settled on a 14-club limit is unclear.
These days, with modern technology, golfers have been able to dial in their individual setups to fit them perfectly. At the same time, distance – or more precisely, how far the ball travels – has become a hot topic as classic-era courses become obsolete.
It seems clear that golfers at the highest level don’t need 14 clubs anymore, but a smaller number would bring a different approach to the game.
Changing the club limit to 10 clearly would change a player’s approach to each course and round, with greater gaps in distances between clubs requiring more creativity.
“Most definitely,” Rory McIlroy said. “Having to control your distance with clubs that you might have a 30-yard gap between two clubs, I think it would help the better player. It would help the more skillful player.”
McIlroy occasionally plays with a half set, eyeballing shots and letting instinct take over. A change would not be much to him and likely a benefit.
Bryson DeChambeau, the winner of the recent Shriners Hospitals for Children Open who plays with single-length irons, said a 10-club rule “would definitely change in ways that I cannot predict.”
“The reason I say that is, now you're going to start fitting the irons and the tools that you use to each course. So, you're going to have gaps. Not like your normal 4-degree gaps anymore. You're going to have these changes that you're going to have to plan out the golf course. You're going to have to strategize a little bit better. I think strategy's really what's going to change if they did that.”
While DeChambeau and McIlroy might seem to be proponents of a change, Henrik Stenson, the 2016 British Open champion and regarded as one of the game’s premier ball-strikers, is not as sure.
“Playing with 10 clubs, I don't know,” Stenson said. “I mean, do you think we have too many?”
Stenson thinks there is still a fair bit of skill in the 14-club game, but carrying fewer clubs would force some adjustments.
“If you got like 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-[iron], wedge, of course you're going to have to play more like a cut-off 8‑iron because you don't have a 9‑iron,” Stenson said. “So, in terms of shot-making skills, yeah, you could argue that a little bit, but I mean the technology. Take fairway woods, for instance. They're all made to go as far as possible, because that's what all the amateurs want, in general. We don't want that. We struggle at times to find a fairway wood, for instance, that doesn't come off hot. We want the clubs to go a certain yardage. I don't want to have a 5‑wood that goes 280 yards and then when I try and hit it 240, it goes 270.”
A change of this nature at the professional level does not require USGA and R&A action. The PGA Tour could decide to make it a local rule, as it has done with other rules in the past. Any change would need a buy-in from the players.
In the past, when the discussion of reigning in the ball or equipment has come up, the powers at the top of the PGA and European tours have not been interested in such changes.
While a move to 10 clubs would not be the same, it’s similar enough that the heads of the tours or the players might see it as undesirable.
If they have the courage to make such a change, the results could be compelling and almost definitely would make the game more interesting to watch.
It’s a long shot, but it’s an idea.
“It would benefit guys that are shot-makers, a guy like a Bubba Watson,” Rickie Fowler said. “It would be very interesting, for sure. It would definitely bring more of the feel and shot-making into play, because you wouldn't have where you're maybe taking 10 yards off a club; you would have to try and take 15 to 20 and hit little shots. It would be interesting.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli