Why suddenly does the driver length matter?
With the days of increasing golf power at a premium comes the thirst for longer drivers. In fact, players like Phil Mickelson and particularly Bryson DeChambeau have successfully used the 48-inch driver.
But those days are about to be a thing of the past.
Tournament officials have been talking about reducing the driver length for a few years now.
Under Rule 8 in the USGA’s rule book, Individual tournament organizers can use a local model rule to implement a rule.
This means the reduction of driver shaft length two inches down from 48 inches, isn’t etched in stone per se. However, the LPGA and PGA tours have confirmed that they will implement this rule sometime in 2022.
Enforcement coming in 2022
The USGA will also enforce the rule for each of its 14 championships next year.
It has been stated that no single player’s success with the longer shafted driver increased the timing of the decision. One may think that Mickelson’s great win at the PGA Championship in May at age 50 with a nearly 48-inch driver propelled the decision.
Senior managing director of the USGA Thomas Pagel clearly indicated that the rule does not affect golf manufactures who want to sell longer drivers or use them by amateurs.
A statement from the PGA Tour about the Model Local Rule stated that the rule will be changed and implemented on January 1, 2022.
Happening to LPGA too???
Although the LPGA Tour is implementing the rule, their time frame in their response was a bit fuzzier.
They plan to implement the rule at some point after the 2021 season. Unfortunately, they did not elaborate or make any announcements.
Club length timeline
Golf club lengths have gradually increased over 25 to 30 years. At the beginning of the 1990s, when the shift from persimmon heads to metal woods became the norm, driver lengths were around 43 inches. Now the typical driver used on the PGA Tour averages 45 inches.
Club manufacturers have generally produced drivers with shafts under 46 inches. Cobra came out with a 48-inch shafted driver in 2011 called the “Long Tom” driver, and it was a resounding flop.
No PGA professional wanted to test this out on tour.
Does a longer shaft mean greater distance?
According to John Spitzer, USGA managing director of equipment standards, testing shows about a 3-to-5 yards difference when increasing shaft length from 46 to 48 inches.
In a study that DeChambeau would love, John McPhee, professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo, developed a biomechanical/physics golf simulator.
From this, the average golfer showed a 10-yard gain going from 44 to 46 inches, with optimal launch conditions at both 46- and 48-inch shafts.
In his study, McPhee concluded that the 46-inch shaft might reduce the distance gains in general, but most leaders in driving distance already use drivers with shafts less than 46 inches.
Is limiting the shaft length the only solution?
Pagel also quickly pointed out that the driving distance solution is not fixed by limiting shaft length. Although there aren’t many long drivers currently used on tour, the fact that Mickelson and DeChambeau are interested in using longer shafts prompted Pagel to address the situation before it becomes a real issue. Distance standards for the golf ball, a point made by golf legend Jack Nicklaus for many years, are also being reviewed.
The goal is to stop the seemingly never-ending cycle of increased distance. The game needs to remain healthy not only short-term but down the road several decades. There is no doubt that top players can get extra distance through longer clubs.
What do players on the PGA Tour have to think of the rule?
Justin Thomas doesn’t really agree with it. He thinks other things should be addressed, such as the different types of unconventional putters. He argues that since so few players are looking for the longer driver, it’s a real non-issue. Thomas also added that it’s also more difficult to hit a longer driver straight, keeping many players from considering using it.
Kevin Kisner feels there is nothing that will be accomplished other than keeping players from hitting it farther, which is the clear direction that the game is moving. For Kisner, anything that makes the game more difficult, he’s against.
One of the greatest players in the world, Dustin Johnson, feels that it makes no difference what length of the driver a player uses. Much like what Thomas said, Johnson feels it’s extremely difficult to hit the longer driver straight. There is a lot of loss of control; keeping Johnson from feeling is necessary to experiment with the longer driver.
Another former great, Adam Scott, also doesn’t think it makes any difference, noting that most guys aren’t using 47- and 48-inch drivers. He did note that if some more guys experiment with this length, other players will follow.
As for limiting the need to increase the courses to 8000 and 9000 yards due to increased distance if longer drivers are allowed, Collin Morikawa downplays that notion. He insists that everything is about course design. Short courses can play just as difficult as the longest on tour, so even allowing the longer driver shouldn’t affect much. Morikawa, like most others, also points out that most guys don’t use drivers longer than 46 inches.
Stewart Cink might have said it the best when he thinks it will have zero impact on the game simply because golfers aren’t using a driver that long in competition to begin with. Cink knows there are other areas to address in terms of distance, but a rule on the length of the shaft is probably the safest from a legal point of view.
LPGA is less vocal
Probably not surprisingly, the change has come with a much less vocal and mild response from the LPGA Tour. During a press conference at the Aramco Team Series, Nelly and Jessica Korda gave the near consensus opinion on the tour. The basic reaction is that it doesn’t affect them.
Sophia Popov, winner of the 2020 Women’s Open champion, simply doesn’t care because she doesn’t carry a driver longer than 46 inches in length. She noted that the shorter the driver, the harder she can swing and the better she can hit it. Clearly, It isn’t a big deal to Popov, whose sentiment is very common among the best female golfers in the world.
LPGA is not focused on distance
It isn’t difficult to understand the difference in opinion from a player on top professional tours in the world. While the men’s game is clearly focused on distance off the tee, the desire to hit the ball to the moon hasn’t come to the forefront in the women’s game.
Anne van Dam, who is at the top of the LPGA Tour in driving distance, doesn’t see it as a big deal. If a large percentage of the tour used the long driver, that would be a different story. For van Dam, there are other ways to curb distance, such as the size of the driver’s heads or scaling back the ball.
Very small percentage use
A large percentage of the top women players find a great deal of success with pinpoint accuracy, course management, and impeccable putting. In fact, of the overall three percent of professionals that used clubs longer than 46 inches, that percentage is much smaller in the women’s game.
While several members of the PGA Tour voiced their opinions, much displeasure, over the rule change, many of the women had very little knowledge of the impending change. Some only knew when they saw the reaction from some PGA Tour members on Twitter.
Long Bombs Golf Final Say:
It is happening regardless of opinion
Like the rule or not, the change will take place on the top professional tours next year. With few players using drivers more than 46 inches in length anyway, all this reaction is much to do about nothing.
The game will continue, and the best players in the world will thrive regardless of a change that affects only the smallest percentage of tour players.
Time to quit complaining and just go about your business on the course.