Thomas says R&A & USGA would be “extremely selfish” to roll back equipment

Bernie McGuire

Justin Thomas (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bernie McGuire

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Justin Thomas has slammed fresh R&A and USGA talk of bifurcation rule changes that would see professionals along with elite amateurs ruled to use distance-controlling equipment as ‘extremely selfish’.

The R&A and sister ruling body the USGA announced late Tuesday their proposed equipment standard changes, including a limit of the driver being 46-inches and also changes with regards to the golf ball. And in addressing the effectiveness of current equipment testing processes, protocols and standards with respect to distance limits, both the R&A and USGA are seeking comment from equipment manufacturers on three proposed Equipment Standards changes, as follows:

  • Proposal 1: Club length – reduction to 46 inches available as Model Local Rule (MLR) (Original proposal delivered in 2016 and paused in 2017 due to the Distance Insights project). Comment period ends on 4 March 2021.
  • Proposal 2: Update on testing method for golf balls. Comment period ends on 2 August 2021.
  • Proposal 3: Change to testing tolerance – Characteristic Time. Comment period ends on 2 August 2021. 

Thomas, competing in this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, was quick to pick flaws in the new proposals: “I mean, if you give us different stuff we’re still going to try to find a way to hit it as far as we possibly can. I don’t think there’s any reason or it’s not necessary at all to change the golf ball. I am fine with them maybe not going any farther with it, but I think Tiger said it a while ago that they missed that opportunity probably 20 or so years ago.


“Companies have put billions of dollars I would say — I mean, I don’t know that, so I’ll say millions of dollars into the construction of golf balls and equipment, and to be perfectly honest, I think it would be extremely selfish of the USGA and the R&A to do that because of all the hard work that they’ve put into making their equipment and golf balls as great as they possibly can.

“Maybe just take a step back and realise that we’re doing some pretty awesome things with the golf ball and the golf clubs, and also look at your everyday golfer and go up to him and tell him that you want him to hit it shorter because just the top .001 percent of all golfers are hitting it too far, if you will. I think it’s not a very good decision, but you know, I’m not sitting in the boardrooms and making those decisions. But hopefully the right thing will be done.”

R&A Chief Executive Officer Martin Slumbers indicated the fresh talk of bifurcation rule changes that would see professionals along with elite amateurs ruled to use distance-controlling equipment had nothing to with a ‘specific person’. But everyone in golf knows when we talk of ‘specific person’ there is just one – reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

DeChambeau topped the 2020 PGA Tour ‘driving distance’ stats with an average of 329.1 yards (301 metres), with 78 other players averaging 299.6 yard (274 metres) or more. The current World No.8 ranked American, competing in this week’s Saudi International, drew more attention to his golfing DNA when going public, ahead of last November’s rescheduled Masters, stating he was considering packing a 48-inch driver into the golf bag to take to Augusta National.

DeChambeau actually hit two 400-yard drives in the span of three holes during his first round of last July’s rescheduled Memorial tournament, and then on the 17th hole of ‘Jack’s course’ he unleashed a tee shot, easily clearing the bunker on the left with 348-yards of carry, rolling down the hill toward the green to finish 407-yards from the tee.

The American must have had the green jacket members of Augusta National clearly quivering when in September he used a 46-inch driver to overpower Winged Foot, one of the toughest courses on the rota, to win the U.S. Open by six shots. However, Augusta was seemingly saved when DeChambeau, using a 46-inch driver, finished outside the top-30 and failed to break 70 just once of the four November days.

“This is not person specific,” said Slumbers when asked if the proposed changes had anything to do with a reaction to DeChambeau’s impact since this year returning to the game looking more like ‘Hulk Hogan’. “We were looking at this four years ago and in our ‘Distance Insights’ report, this was one of the options available to us when we were considering this back in February last year. We’ve tried really hard in this to be agnostic to individual players, but, inevitably long hitters could be personalised in that and there is no doubt there has been a lot of players who explored the use of longer drivers, not just Bryson.”

Bifurcation, meaning the division of something into two branches or parts, would mean the professional tours and elite amateur competitions could require competitors to use equipment that is restricted while allowing everyday players the benefits that those technological gains deliver.

If the changes are approved, a tournament committee could limit the maximum length of drivers via what would be called a ‘model local rule’ for the professional tours, including the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour as well as the major championships all played by USGA or R&A rules, depending on jurisdiction. The exceptions made at the highest levels — such as the “one-ball” rule used on the pro tours — are all covered in the rule book, typically under local provisions. After years of discussion on the topic, the governing bodies now appear ready to act on distance gains.

“The research … clearly shows that hitting distances have consistently increased through time, and if left unchecked, could threaten the long-term future of our game at every level and every golf course on which it is played,” said Mike Davis, chief executive officer of the USGA. “This is the first forward step in a journey and a responsibility the USGA and the R&A share with the worldwide golf community, to ensure that golf continues to thrive for the next hundred years and beyond.”

Slumbers, a normal member at Crail Golfing Society to the east of St. Andrews added: “The research topics and the proposed changes we have announced will be the focus of our attention in the coming months, and we look forward to gaining insights from the golf industry and fully understanding their perspectives in key areas. We remain fully committed to conducting this hugely important exercise for the sport thoroughly, efficiently and collaboratively.”


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