During the U.S. Open, NBC ran an infomercial-like piece on technology that allowed USGA officials to tout their ball research program. Naturally, segments like this one are probably envisioned by a lobbyist who believes they are "branding" the USGA's position.
But they usually just end up providing fodder that will come back to haunt the organization.
In this case, it was David Fay's televised mention of the 2002 "Joint Statement of Principles" and calling it the benchmark for future analysis and discussion of changes in the game. The key line:
...that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game.
The statement itself is thoughtful and very clear, which is why the USGA and R&A may devote much of 2006 to revising it, or falling back on Clintonian spin to suggest that the meaning of significant has significantly different meanings to a significant number of significant people.
Here was my take on the "significant" changes in the game as they relate to the Statement of Principles.
The real problem this time around for the USGA/R&A: the numbers don't lie. Check out these numbers since 2002 for a reminder how much has changed since the statement drew the line. This year's final driving distances stats for the Nationwide, Champions and PGA Tours are impressive considering the early season rains, while ShotLink's revelation of 2059 drives over 350 yards was first reported here (thanks PGA Tour communications for digging up that number). Though comparing it past "longest drives" would be tough.
But not as tough as it will be for the governing bodies to weave their way around the Joint Statement of Principles.