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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Count Webb Simpson as firmly in the camp of those who don’t think golf needs to roll back the golf ball.
Discussing the USGA/R&A announcement Tuesday that it is considering the reduction of maximum club length (outside the putter) from 48 to 46 inches available and a potential use of a Local Rule that specifies the use of clubs and balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances, Simpson didn’t hold back.
“My first problem I have with the driver length is if a 6-foot, 10-inch really good golfer comes out, like are we really going to tell him he can’t use anything longer than 46 (inches in length)? So, that’s my only problem with the length of the driver,” said Simpson, speaking in his pre-tournament interview at the Waste Management Phoenix Open where he is the defending champion. “But I’ve been kind of saying for the last few years, I don’t think equipment is the problem. I do think – Jack Nicklaus hit it a lot farther than Bobby Jones, and then the guys after Jack are going to hit it farther than Jack. Distance was never really that big of an issue when Jack was playing and hitting it 300 yards.”
To hear Simpson, a Titleist ambassador, tell it, the bigger issue is golf course architecture.
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“We need more doglegs. We need tighter fairways. We need longer rough. We need smaller greens. We need more firm greens. All those things I just named save money, saves water, saves land that you have to build a golf course. We know that 8,000-yard golf courses are not the answer. Brooks Koepka shot 16 under at Erin Hills (at the 2017 U.S. Open),” he said.
Note to Simpson: amateur golfers don’t need more bunkers, firmer greens, more trees, or thicker rough.
“Lengthening courses is not the issue. Bunker placements, dog legs, tree placements. I even think at Augusta on 13 we don’t need that tee 40 yards back. What they need is a mid-sized tree 20 yards in front of the tee box and five feet left of the tee box because the issue right now is guys can tee it up on the right and they can even cut it, some of these guys, over the tree. Well, if you put a tree there guys can’t do that.”
“I don’t think an equipment rollback does anybody any good when we can change the way golf courses are designed and it’s better for amateurs, it’s better for pros, and there are plenty of golf courses on the PGA Tour that have stood the test of time because of the way they’re designed,” he continued. “Equipment advances don’t really pay off or pay a dividend on those courses, and I just feel like these tweaks we could make are really not that hard and they’re cost effective.”
Simpson’s comments on course architecture begged the question of whether he thinks the PGA Tour needs to pick venues better suited for the modern game.
“I just think the PGA Tour needs to take a harder look, as well, about where we’re going in the game,” he said. “You take a golf course, a perfect example, No. 10 at Quail Hollow (home of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte), my home club, the bunker is 300 yards to carry it. Well, if you can carry it 300 yards, which I would say roughly 30 to 35 guys on the PGA Tour now can carry that far, their fairway is roughly twice the size of a guy who can’t carry it 300.
“My idea was, hey, flip the bunker, just flip it, and now the amateurs, they have a wider fairway. Shorter hitters have a wider fairway. The bombers can still hit driver but now it’s 330 to carry; nobody is carrying that bunker. You’ve made the hole harder for the more advantaged guy who hits it forever, but it’s still in his court to hit driver if he wants to, and you’ve made it easier for the amateur. So, that little tweak I think is where some of these TPCs the PGA Tour could say, hey, we’re going to make this harder but we’re not going to add length. We don’t need length. We need more bunkers, we need more trees, like I said. I think it’s almost more of the major championships, where they’re going. They want to make them hard. Well, make them hard by doing the things that I’ve said with trees and bunkers. …
“I think there needs to be more of that kind of outside-the-box thinking than simply let’s make courses longer and limit the distance. The Dustin Johnsons and the Bryson DeChambeaus of the PGA Tour with limited equipment are still going to be the bombers if this happens, and I think we’ll have the same problems. We’re very adaptive out here. We’re going to figure it out, and I think they’ll have the same issue again in 20 years.”
While the USGA and R&A have served as the long-time shapers and administrators of the Rules of Golf, Simpson said the PGA Tour should have more than just a seat at the table for any changes aimed at impacting the professional game.
“I think their voice should be very loud,” Simpson said. “I respect the USGA and R&A a great deal, and I know that their intentions are great, but I don’t think an equipment rollback is what we need. I think we need to tweak our golf courses.”
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