Phil Mickelson took to Twitter last Friday and told his 770,000 followers that he heard rumors the United States Golf Association and the R&A, the two governing bodies of golf, are thinking about reducing the maximum allowable length of a driver from 48 inches to 46 inches.
The six-time major winner and World Golf Hall of Famer was, not surprisingly, against that idea. After all, this is a 51-year-old who loves nothing more than, “hitting bombs and hellacious seeds.”
It has now been six days, but Mickelson is not done arguing his point.
On Thursday Mickelson posted a three-minute video on Twitter and to his 1.2 million followers on Instagram stating that he thinks the USGA is using the wrong data to make decisions with regard to distance and equipment rules.
The groove rule change that Mickelson refers to in the video went into place in 2010 and reduced the size and shape of grooves, making them smaller and their edges less sharp. His point is the groove rule was intended to make things more challenging for elite golfers, but in reality, recreational players who struggle to generate spin and hit greens in regulation wound up being punished more than elite players.
“So, we misread the data and we continue to make the wrong adjustments in the game,” he said.
Instead of shortening the maximum allowable length of drivers, Mickelson wants the USGA and R&A to look into modifying the ball.
“If you remember when the liquid center golf ball was the ball of choice 20 years ago, there was more weight in the center of the ball than there was on the perimeter,” he said before explaining the physics of how liquid-core balls behave.
“What if we just got rid of the perimeter weighting so the ball wasn’t as stable and we had more weight in the center of the golf ball? We’re going to get more sidespin. And who’s that going to affect? The guy that hits the ball 300 yards, as opposed to the guy who hits 200 yards. Yeah, they might get more offline, but (recreational golfers) hit it so short, it’s not gonna get in as much trouble as the guy that hits it farther.”
The 2021 Titleist Pro V1, Pro V1x (Titleist)
Mickelson is certainly not the first person to propose changing the rules governing the ball to reduce distance or want to debate golf ball performance. However, while it’s nitpicking, Phil’s memory is a little off.
Twenty years ago, the Titleist Pro V1 revolution was starting on the PGA Tour. It debuted at the 2000 Invensys Classic in Las Vegas and nearly 50 pros put the ball in play, including the eventual winner, Billy Andrade. Mickelson, using a Pro V1, came in second that week and then won the Tour Championship two weeks later with the solid-core Pro V1.
Twenty-five to 30 years ago, pros did use wound golf balls that had liquid-filled inner cores.
There are a lot of things the USGA and R&A could do to change the performance of today’s premium golf balls. For example, balls could be mandated to spin a minimum amount in driver tests or not exceed over a specific speed in driver tests.
Golfweek has spoken with numerous engineers who specialize in driver performance and been told, consistently, that making drivers shorter, driver faces thicker and less springy, or making driver heads small in volume would have a much bigger impact on weekend players than on pros.
But when it comes to driver length, Mickelson might be the one looking at the wrong data.
According to Club Champion, which has 85 locations throughout the United States, only five percent of the golfers it fits for drivers end up in a club that is 46 inches or longer. The vast majority, approximately 70 percent, use a driver that is 45 to 45.5 inches in length. Another 10 percent of golfers Club Champion fits end up in a driver that is 45 inches long or shorter; 10 percent buy drivers between 45.5 and 46 inches in length.
With only a handful of exceptions, manufacturers sell drivers that come standard between 45 and 45.75 inches in length.
So, if the USGA and R&A bring the maximum driver length down to 46 inches, only a tiny percentage of golfers would be affected. However, Mickelson could be one of them.
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) August 27, 2021
It is also worth considering that Mickelson, who has played a few Champions Tour events this season, may want to continue using a longer-than-standard driver when he starts playing the 50-and-over tour more frequently. A rule change announced in late-2021 or 2022 would not likely go into effect for two or three years after the announcement, which might coincide with the time when Mickelson, who has a lifetime exemption on the PGA Tour, shifts to the Champions Tour.
The USGA and R&A are currently soliciting feedback and information from equipment manufacturers, as well as conducting studies related to distance. The comment period regarding its areas of interest is scheduled to end on November 2.