THE CASE AGAINST ROLLING BACK
Moments before Dustin Johnson crushed that tee shot 341 yards over the lake at the Northern Trust, Jordan Spieth had plotted a more standard route: a 315-yard drive into the fairway, leaving a 7-iron to the green. In those two approaches we saw the case against rolling the ball back: in his ability to propel the ball such vast distances, Johnson is the exception not the norm. More players are driving the ball further than ever. In the 2000 season, only John Daly averaged over 300 yards off the tee. By the end of 2017 there were 43. But these are extremes. In 2017, the USGA and R&A produced numbers to show that between 2013 and 2016, the average PGA Tour driving distance had grown by 2.8 yards — 0.7 yards per year. “The slight upslope over the past four years is something we’re keeping a close eye on,” said John Spitzer, the USGA’s managing director of equipment standards.
That report pinned the driving distance increase as merely a “slow creep”, and not something for them to act on — at least not yet. And you’ve got to think this is how the USGA like it. The sight and sound of a DJ or a Rory McIlroy propelling 350-yard drives off and making birdies and eagles makes for better box office, because we fans want to see great players doing things we can only dream of. It sells more tickets and keeps the gravy train on track and moving forwards.