Dustin Johnson WITB 2017

Does it matter how far we hit the ball?

Do we need to rein in how far pros can hit the ball? Does anyone really care? The NCG team get stuck in...

Steve Carroll: It was either a cure for cancer or a scandal equivalent to Watergate, depending to whom you listened.

It was hard to drown it out actually because both sides were shouting really, REALLY, loudly.

The nub of it is that the R&A and USGA released this report. It revealed top players’ driving distances are longer. But not by very much – 18 centimetres a year to be precise.

Well things got very heated very quickly on social media. Accusations flew around about the veracity of the figures and the impact they are having on the game.

I watched all this, with a half smirk, and wondered: Does it really matter?

I’ll get some grief for this but I couldn’t care less if Rory McIlroy hits it 600 yards. I enjoy watching these players crash the ball down the fairway and the spectacle it creates.

I also like that technology helps me – an 11 handicap hacker – to clear the ball past the forward tees. I’ve no desire to go back to the days of hitting a driver 170 and feeling like I’ve muscled it.

But am I wrong? Is it the end of the game as we know it? Or should we all just calm down and get on with it?

Dan Murphy: It does matter. It’s very sad to see our great courses unable to cope with the modern tour player/elite amateur because they have run out of room to put new back tees in.

It’s good that the authorities have provided us with some figures and it’s good that these figures are being scrutinised. I just hope they are being scrutinised rather than dismissed out of hand on principle.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that we are all hitting the ball further now – but there are several factors.

One that interests me is how much more often we all use our drivers these days. It used to be the hardest club in the bag to use but now it’s arguably the easiest.

Or at least the easiest to make meaningful contact with. I reckon that whereas the novice used to worry about topping or dunching their tee shot into trouble in front of the tee, it’s now a case of smearing it high and wide – usually to the right – into the long stuff.

Dustin Johnson WITB 2017

Mark Townsend: The sad part for me is that there are so many brilliant courses that could stage big amateur events and even Tour venues but they’re not long enough.

Twenty years they would have done and they were far better spectacles and would show off the game far better than a lot of today’s resort-type layouts.

Figures are figures but, from my limited experience of what I see, most club players aren’t making these courses obsolete or anything close to that. People exaggerate greatly about how far they hit it, going off one TrackMan stat or a bone-hard par 4 in July.

I hit my driver better than any other club but now hit it 15 yards shorter than around eight years ago due to being older, fatter and slower.

Alex Perry: Here we go again. I’ve made my feelings on this quite clear. Golf isn’t won by the longest hitter, it’s won by the player who gets the ball in the hole a fewer amount of times than all of his or her opponents.

The US Open isn’t played over courses 8,000 yards long – and when the winning score there is under par, it’s rarely by more than a handful.

One of the longest drives on the PGA Tour last year – by Dustin Johnson, obviously – was over 400 yards to the front of the green. He then three-putted for par.

Georgina Simpson: I tested a trial ball the R&A were considering about three years ago during a practice round at Archerfield. I think it went 80% the distance of a normal ball.

It was the weirdest, most frustrating round of my life. The ball felt like it went nowhere – not helped by the 20 mile-an-hour wind on the day.

I very much hope they don’t decide to go down that route.  I kept three of them for when I’m messing around with friends. Would anyone like to try a new ball?

AP: I think that would make a fun feature…

Will Shucksmith: I was watching Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf the other day and it was eye opener – Fred Couples vs. Mark Calcavecchia from 2002.

While I know Freddie was a long hitter I would never had said that of Calc.  First hole they both have 189 in, and they both hit 7 iron. It was plenty of club.

Both were regularly driving it over 300 yards and, on one hole, Calc hit it 345 yards.

This basically continued throughout the match. I can also remember hitting in places on courses in the late ’90s I will never get near now.

Jamie Millar: I don’t get what all the fuss is about at all. It seems that golf is the only sport that complains when the quality of the top athletes improves.

I agree with what a few people have said, no one moans when the record for the fastest serve in tennis has been broken, they applaud it and are in awe because of the work and talent that goes into it.

Another reason these guys might be hitting it further is because of the emphasis on health now. The guys at the top now look ripped and are spending far more time in the gym and are far more powerful.

I don’t see the problem. There are far worse things in the sport that need attention. This isn’t one of them.

Tom Lenton: Pro events at UK courses – is this down to money though and infrastructure for spectators? If it’s purely down to length just make the players use a different distance ball depending on what length course they play or how hard officials want to set up a course.

At a US Open, where it is 7,500 yards and really hard scoring conditions, then use the normal ball.

At a European Tour event, at a 6,900-yard course where they will shoot 22 under over 4 rounds, make them use a ball that McIlroy and so on can only hit 290.

AP: That might be the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. So Keith Pelley will love it.

James Savage: What is the obsession with protecting par via length? Why not let players shoot 55 on shorter courses? That would be brilliant to watch.

But maybe the danger is that Bernhard Langer will win the Grand Slam – which would also be brilliant to watch for some people but may not excite the millennials.

This debate should have been had in 2001 not 2017 with regard to how far tour players hit it.

“I hit the ball too far nowadays,” said no handicap golfer ever.

There are ways of making golf courses difficult for the pros without stretching them to 7,800 yards.

AP: Mic drop.

What’s your say on this hot topic in golf right now? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Alternatively, you can tweet us.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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