Friday afternoons are a classic time for organizations to drop pieces of news that they hope will fall between the cracks and go unnoticed, but Phil Mickelson was happy to chat about some news he has been hearing with regard to distance and possible rule changes related to drivers.
Before heading to the first tee at Cave’s Valley Golf Club for his 2:19 tee time in the second round of the BMW Championship, the Hall of Famer and six-time major winner told his 766,000+ followers on Twitter that he has heard rumblings that the United States Golf Association is planning to shorten the maximum length of drivers.
Right now, the maximum length for a driver is 48 inches. The vast majority of drivers that are sold at retail are between 45 inches and 45.5 inches in length, and most professional golfers and elite players use clubs in that range too. Bryson DeChambeau has talked about using a 48-inch driver in competition but has not done so yet. Kramer Hickok has also experimented with a longer driver.
There are a handful of longer drivers sold, like Xxio’s Prime driver, which are made for slower-swinging players who struggle to generate speed and distance. The Xxio Prime comes standard at 46.5 inches.
In theory, a longer driver can allow golfers to create more clubhead speed, which in turn can create more ball speed and distance. But even that theory is not universally accepted.
In a 2016 Golfweek story on driver length, Club Champion co-founder and master fitter Nick Sherburne said, “We have never found a direct correlation between length and clubhead speed.” he added “Some people swing longer clubs faster, but some people swing shorter clubs faster. It really depends on the proper fit. What I tell people is, now that the USGA has restricted clubmakers with regard to size, COR (coefficient of restitution, the springiness of the face) and all this stuff, to get more ball speed you’ve got to hit it in the center of the face.”
That’s the real tradeoff when it comes to length. As clubs get longer, more golfers struggle to hit the ball in the center of the face, so even if they get more speed, the strike of the ball is less efficient, mis-hits are exaggerated and they lose control.
Mickelson’s followers on Friday afternoon were clearly not happy to hear him report the rumor.
In February, the USGA and the R&A announced they were going to start studying different changes and modifications to equipment rules that could reign in distance. The USGA and R&A also asked for feedback from manufacturers and industry insiders regarding several things as they relate to distance, including club length and conformance testing methods.
Over the past few years, Golfweek has spoken with several club designers and engineers and been told that making drivers slightly shorter will not significantly reduce distance for PGA Tour players Why? Elite golfers swing fast and are good at hitting the sweet spot, and even with modern 3-woods like TaylorMade’s SIM2 Titanium (43.25 inches), Ping’s G425 Max (43 inches), Callaway’s Epic Speed (43.25 inches) and Titleist’s TSi3 (43 inches), they often hit shots up to 280, 290 or even 300 yards. If they used a 460 cubic centimeter driver head on shafts that length, many experts think pros would still hit drives well over 300 yards.
The USGA and R&A’s comment period regarding its areas of interest is scheduled to end on November 2.