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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Pro Golfers Are Hitting Balls Way Too Far. Some Say It Has to Stop.

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When the Masters Tournament is contested at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia next month, for instance, the par-5 13th hole will be 35 yards longer than it was last year. The hole, lined with azaleas and historically the course’s easiest, will now measure 545 yards; the full course will run 7,545 yards, up 110 yards from a decade ago.

Faced with the distance scourge well beyond Augusta, golf’s rule makers considered a policy targeting club design. They concluded, though, that such a reworked standard would cause too many ripples, with multiple clubs potentially requiring changes if drivers had to conform to new guidelines.

“If you don’t, you’ll end up with a 3-wood that could go further than a driver, and that was a very good point, and that could have affected three or four clubs in the bag,” Slumbers said. Instead, after years of study and debate, the U.S.G.A. and R&A settled on trying to urge changes to the balls that players hit.

The rules currently permit balls that travel 317 yards, with a tolerance of an additional 3 yards, when they are struck at 120 m.p.h., among other testing conditions. The existing formula has been in place since 2004, and Whan has said it is not “representative of today’s game.”

The proposal announced Tuesday is not final, and its authors will gather feedback about it into the summer. Although some members of the game’s old guard have openly complained about modern equipment and the governing bodies’ response to it — the nine-time major champion Gary Player fumed last year that “our leaders have allowed the ball to go too far” and predicted top players would drive balls 500 yards within 40 years — the executives are bracing for at least some resistance.

“We have spoken to a lot of players, and as you can imagine, half of the world doesn’t want to do anything and half of the world thinks we need to do more,” Slumbers said.

The debate may be more muted in some quarters than others, but the surges in distance have not been confined to the PGA Tour. Between 2003 and 2022, the R&A and the U.S.G.A. said Tuesday, there was a 4 percent increase in hitting distances across seven professional tours. Only two of the scrutinized circuits, the Japan Golf Tour and the L.P.G.A. Tour, posted year-over-year declines in driving distance in 2022.

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