Why are the R&A and USGA acting now?
Having witnessed only a modest increase across seven global tours in their previous two annual driving distance reports, the USGA and R&A felt no reason to act. Since 2003, they noted, we have seen only a “slow creep of around 0.2 yards per year”.
When the 2017 distance report landed on their desks, however, the two bodies noted, as one, that the slow creep had become too significant to ignore. “The 2017 data shows a deviation from this trend,” read the report’s preamble. “The average distance gain across the seven worldwide tours was more than three yards since 2016.”
The slow creep upwards had been replaced by something more alarming. “Our 2002 Joint Statement of Principles put a line in the sand,” said R&A CEO Martin Slumbers, referring to the fundamental notion that skill, not technology, should be the primary determinant of success in the game. “But when you look at this data,” he added, “we have probably crossed that line in the sand. A serious discussion is now needed on where we go.”
Slumbers wasn’t the only influential figure voicing concern. On multiple occasions, USGA CEO Mike Davis hinted new ball-related legislation may be necessary, most notably last November when he talked about the ‘horrible impact of increased distance’. Action was inevitable, though in what form remains to be seen.