If you thought the governing bodies were just floating around relatively harmless ideas about a narrowing of the distance, well, as the kids would say, “[excrement] came true.”
In a notice to manufacturers dated June 8, the USGA and R&A announced new proposals in their “focus areas” regarding rule changes that would serve not only to reduce the current distance at all levels of the game, but but also to reduce the distance to Tour level. maybe as much as 30 years.
If implemented, the changes would impact golf balls and, at least at the tour level, severely set back driver performance. In one case, most golf balls now on tour and in stores would immediately become non-compliant for going too far. In a second area, drivers playing on tour would have less animated faces than early titanium drivers. And in terms of forgiveness, elite players could be using less forgiving clubs than the irons they currently use. It would point to the most distinct and drastic type of rule bifurcation between elite male players and average golfers in the history of the game.
For now, these are just proposals that go through a notice and comment period that ends in September. But they are either a scare tactic or an ominous harbinger of the kind of legal battle between governing bodies and manufacturers that could make the LIV Golf/PGA Tour conflict look like a disagreement over Legos between two little boys.
The advisory updates two specific areas that governing bodies previously targeted as they study ways to clamp down on distance. Previously, one of the proposed changes was the procedure the USGA uses to test the maximum distance of golf balls. The original proposed change was to increase the test turn speed for the general distance standard from the current 120 miles per hour to 125. The June 8 announcement now proposes to study a test speed “between 125 and 127 mph and will include studies of the effects of these speeds test the launch conditions and the aerodynamics of the golf ball”. At most, that speed would be more than 12 mph faster than the current average clubhead speed on the PGA Tour, but only slightly more than two mph faster than the current two fastest swings on the tour, Cameron Champ (124.76) and Branden Hagy (124.41).
As the USGA’s John Spitzer noted earlier when the speed under consideration was 125 mph, almost every ball played on tour would not meet the new standard, and of course many of those balls are also among the most purchased balls on the tour. market.
However, the larger set of changes proposed in the June 8 notice would not affect average golfers, but could drastically alter the performance of drivers at the elite level. The new proposal suggests that tournaments or tours could institute a “model local rule” for the team that would severely curtail how elastic faces are and drivers’ leniency on off-center hits.
This is technical talk about test methods, but one change would be a new lower bound on characteristic time, which is a measure of spring effect. Instead of the current limit of 257 microseconds, the new proposal for a model local rule would be one third less than 170 microseconds. The latest announcement indicates that the governing bodies’ investigation is focused on CT values of no more than 200 microseconds and no less than 150 microseconds. In practical terms, lowering CT to 170 would push the spring effect to a level prior to the mid-1990s when titanium drivers like the Great Big Bertha were first introduced. In 1994, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour was 261.2 yards, or about two yards more than in 1981. Today, it’s 298.2 yards, which would represent an increase of nearly six yards over the last five years.
In terms of the other model local rule idea, governing bodies are also considering a push back on forgiveness, specifically moment of inertia. MOI is a measure of how stable a head is on an off center hit, the higher the number the less energy is lost and the more an off center hit behaves like a center hit. The current rule limits the MOI to 5900 grams/cm2 with a tolerance of 100 grams/cm2. The new model local rule proposal would limit the MOI to 2,600 grams/cm2, although the report indicates that governing bodies are considering a limit as low as 2,000 grams/cm2. In practical terms, that would make the drivers less forgiving than most current 3-woods and almost in line with many game-improving irons. (At 2,000 grams/cm2, the tolerance would be less than most current muscleback bladed irons.)
Again, these are just proposals and the governing bodies are accepting comments from manufacturers and anyone else until September 2nd. They will study those comments and may go through another notice and comment period before making a final rules proposal. The June 8 announcement also referenced research areas where the governing bodies will not introduce new distance control efforts. These include increasing the rough penalty, reducing the maximum tee height, increasing the minimum spin on golf balls, and changing the size or weight of the golf ball.
Several manufacturers contacted by Golf Digest had no immediate comment on the latest advisory from the governing bodies.