News & Opinion

What is the bigger threat to the game's long term health?

Golf Equipment

Hawk and Rude talk slow play or unharnessed equipment technology

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Jeff Rude are co-hosts of a weekly podcast, Hawk & Rude, in which they discuss and debate the hottest issues in golf. They also share their takes in this weekly installment.

What is a bigger threat to the game’s long-term health: slow play or unharnessed equipment technology?

John Hawkins Headshot
John Hawkins

Hawk’s take: Pace of play can be policed, but nuclear driver heads and golf balls on steroids? Those poisons infiltrated the atmosphere long ago, and there’s no putting the anthrax back in the bottle. The USGA completely whiffed a chance to regulate (and modify) equipment standards in the late 1990s, which is why Justin Thomas shot 25 under last week at one of the toughest courses on earth. Why guys were ignoring the doglegs and blowing it straight over the treelines, leaving them with wedges into 480-yard par 4s.

Medinah was so easy to score on that it should have been renamed Madonna.

The game has tolerated progressive technology for 20 years, but when Chicken Little arrived in Chicago and announced that the sky was falling, enough felt like enough. Something has to be done to bring a certain measure of art and skill into play. The TaylorMades and Callaways won’t like it, and the big equipment companies might even challenge such legislation legally, but that’s a chance golf’s governing bodies need to take.

Dozens of classic layouts have become outdated, thanks to the 350-yard drive. Many of those courses can’t be made longer, so it’s imperative to make the little white ball travel shorter. Until then, the apocalypse will continue to wreak competitive compromise.

Jeff Rude Headshot
Jeff Rude

Rude’s take: Depends what segment of the game we’re talking about.

Technological advances haven’t hurt recreational golf; rather, they have made the game more enjoyable for the great unwashed. My ball doesn’t go too far.

So, for the recreational golfer, slow play is a much bigger problem. No family man wants a five-hour round. No businessman wants a five-hour round. Time is money.

On the professional tours, however, the opposite is true: Technology is a bigger threat (and that’s saying something, considering the PGA Tour’s pace issues). Dustin Johnson’s ball already goes too far. The USGA took its eye off the ball years ago, and the PGA Tour watched. Far too many courses have been rendered obsolete (read: Medinah used to be a monster) and architecturally tweaked.

The average Tour drive increased 38.4 yards, from 256.9 to 295.3, from 1980 to 2018. Moreover, Dan Pohl led the Tour in driving distance in 1980, the first year that driving-distance stats were available, at 274.3 yards. That’s 45.4 yards less than leader Rory McIlroy’s 319.7 total last season.

In other words, the Tour needs to slow down the ball but speed up the pace.