Was Tiger Woods responsible for the golf distance debate
Tiger Woods dominated golf as he won 14 majors between 1997 and 2008. He became one of the first true golf athletes at a time where mainstream golf pros rarely even visited the gym. Nowadays they nearly all have personal coaches.
Tiger also dominated his rivals in golf distance, regularly hitting the golf ball over 300 yards from the tee. Other pros were hitting it 30 yards less. With his success, the golfing world started to move away from the old advice that consistency was far more important. More and more coaches and younger players started to build up their swing speed at an early age. Working out became part of their routine from the start.
We have also learned that golf club swing speed is maximised when a golfer starts swinging fast at an early age. In fact, the earlier the better with 8 or 9 years old being perfect. Growing up watching Tiger on TV, young golfers such as Rory McIlroy started to hit the ball at their local driving ranges and golf courses as fast as they could.
The new generation of golf pros have brought driving distance to even higher new levels. They regularly hit their drives over 320 yards and some up to 350 yards. Bryson DeChambeau has made the golf distance debate even more topical in 2020. He returned from lockdown with a new muscular athletic form and started on a personal quest for 400-yard drives.
Meantime, the joint R&A-USGA report (European and PGA Tours) on the distance debate has been published and widely reported on. It concludes that while the pro tours are increasing average yardage year on year, the same cannot be said of average golfers whose average driving distance is not increasing at all. In fact, they feel they need all the help they can get to gain more golf club distance. While golf equipment and golf balls have improved, it seems the main reason for increased club head speed and distance is the increasing athleticism of modern pro golfers.
With new golf ball and club tracking technology such as Trackman, professional golfers are learning to be even more efficient than before to get the most distance out of their swing speeds. Professionals now extensively use such technology in all their practise sessions to fine tune and optimize their golf swings.
There are several problems caused by the increasing ability of modern pros to continue to gain distance, especially at the elite level. These include-
- Golfers such as Graham McDowell (US Open winner 2010) who cannot drive the golf ball 300 yards are not able to compete on certain courses which favour the long hitters
- Many great old traditional golf courses can no longer aspire to hosting future major tour events as they are simply too short for the modern pros. Hallowed venues such as the old course at Saint Andrews in Scotland are becoming almost obsolete in terms of a competitive modern venue
- The costs of building and extending golf courses that need to be almost 8,000 yards long for the elite players are prohibitive. This is even worse when you consider that such lengths are completely irrelevant to the remaining 99.9% of the golfing universe
There are no easy answers to this debate. Most current talk is around trying to do something that limits only the tour pros. A so call twin or ‘bifurcation’ system between professional and amateur equipment, with either golf clubs or balls being limited for the pros has been proposed. This seems to be finding potential favour with both Tiger and Rory recently expressing mildly supportive views. Amateur Male and female golfers will be able to keep the golf game they already enjoy, aspiring to the day they can hit the ball 270 yards and use a pitching wedge on a par 4!
Another alternative, which the author favours, is making Tour course fairways progressively narrow and the rough progressively worse between say 250 and 350 yards. That way, the longer hitters face more of a risk versus reward choice on most drives. This would create an even more exciting spectacle for fans as well watching the results of these choices.
So, back to the original question, was Tiger woods responsible for the current total distance problems facing the game? Only if you believe that an athlete becoming the best he can be is something to be blamed for.
Mankind and sport stars will always aspire to improve on what went before. As proven by the example he gave to the current generation of golf pros, Tiger was only responsible for creating one of the most exciting and progressive periods of development the game has seen. Remarkably, even though he can no longer beat the young guns for distance, his victory in the 2019 Masters only highlights what a sporting genius he still is to this day.debate