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The distance debate is golf’s version of a ‘this is going to ruin the game’ controversy.
Just like people say the surge in 3-pointers is taking the fun out of basketball and too many home runs supposedly destroying the integrity of baseball, the high-flying golf ball is seen as a problem by some.
Traditionalists scoff at the idea that this game of skill and finesse could be dominated by sheer brute force. Golf architects say there’s not enough real estate to keep adding length to courses. Even two of golf’s top governing bodies, the USGA and the British R&A, said they’re considering new equipment rules that would dial back players’ ever-increasing range off the tee.
Lately, no one has more brute force than Bryson DeChambeau. The 26-year-old rising star brought the distance conversation back to the forefront when he returned from the PGA Tour’s three-month, COVID-19 stoppage with 20-plus pounds of added muscle and 20-plus yards of added power.
He brings his extreme swing to TPC Harding Park in San Francsico this week for the PGA Championship. Due to a pandemic re-shuffled scheduled, it’s the first major of 2020 and a chance for DeChambeau to put his muscle where his mouth is.
So far, his increased power has translated to exceptional play. In six tournaments since golf returned, he’s rattled off four top-10 finishes, including a victory at the RBC Heritage in June. He’s vaulted to seventh in the world and made a name for himself with Happy Gilmore-esque drives, arguments with officials and a generally brash attitude.
Like him or not though, the results undeniable. And winning his first major while leading the PGA Tour in driving distance would only further ignite the argument over distance.
On paper, Harding Park doesn’t appear to be a layout fit for a power player with its listed yardage this week at 7,234 yards – not particularly long by PGA standards. But players collectively say it’ll play much longer with the coastal marine layer, cool and humid weather, and swirling winds from the adjacent Lake Merced.
“I think this golf course suits the bomber if you can hit it straight,” DeChambeau told The Golf Channel on Tuesday.
That’s a big if. Harding Park is a public municipal course, but the PGA retooled it to make it much more difficult by shrinking the fairways to 60 percent their normal width and growing out the rough to about ankle-high depth. Aftter finishing practice rounds, several players said the hefty grass will play a big role this week and that hitting it straight will be vital.
DeChambeau isn’t fazed.
“As the rough stands right now, I think the risk is definitely worth the reward,” he said. “If you do hit it into the rough I still think you can get it to the front edge of the green.”
And it’s not as if DeChambeau is the only prominent player focused on the long ball these days.
Two-time defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka, consistently among the biggest hitters on tour, was asked Tuesday what one thing he’ll need to do to succeed this week.
“Drive the ball well,” Koepka said.
Tony Finau, another power player, said distance will be important this week and said he won’t be afraid to stay aggressive on the tee.
“If I am going to miss a fairway, I want to miss it as far up as I can to give myself a chance to still hit the green,” he said.
Today’s players are apparently ditching the old “drive for show, putt for dough” philosophy and embracing the big bashes.
The distance debate isn’t a new one in golf as players have steadily hit the ball farther and farther through the years. Whether or not the sport’s governing bodies should regulate will be a hot topic in the coming months and years.
But for now, bombs away.
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