Natural Evolution of A Healthy Sport?

In the January/February 2003 Virginia Golfer, USGA Executive Director David Fay said

I believe a burning issue facing the game is whether the talent gap between the best players in the world and the rest of us is widening to the point where we need to consider a more restrictive set of equipment rules for the most highly skilled players. A number of very thoughtful people who have golf's best interests at heart have widely divergent views on this topic. The game is attracting more outstanding athletes who are better trained and more fit and they are benefiting from advances in golf equipment technology and golf course maintenance. And these athletes are also much more committed to spending seemingly endless hours fine-tuning, practicing and improving their games. As a result, today's golf courses are playing shorter for the best players than ever before. Whether this is a "problem" or a natural evolution of a healthy sport depends on your point of view - and quite often, your age. 

That final comment went over wonderfully with folks who were tickled to have Fay write their views off to nostalgia. He used a similar "age" argument during this May's Sports Illustrated roundtable

Now, in Matthew Rudy's excellent Golf World story on steroids, various experts state that performance enhancing drugs are used in golf or will become an issue for the sport. Especially as long as there is no testing and power is rewarded.

In the Rudy story, Fay refused to comment on the subject. Maybe that was a wise move, since the same story reveals PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem demonstrating a Donald Fehr-like interest in steroids (and we know how well Fehr's approach went over).

Earlier this year, Fay touted the USGA's compliance with the International Olympic Committee's policies on boys-becoming-girls as part of his and Peter Dawson's International Golf Federation quest to get golf recognized as an Olympic sport. Yet, as part of the unsuccessful Olympic effort, there was no publicly-stated interest in having the U.S. or British Open become IOC-compliant on steroid testing.

"Gender reassignment" was a higher priority.

The thought of a golfer taking strength-enhancing drugs was once unfathomable, and yet we are now learning that various steroids or performance enhancing drugs may help players get an edge.

So why the lack of action by the governing bodies or Tours?

Perhaps because no change in golf has been more important in rewarding and understanding the role of clubhead speed than optimization of launch conditions. This fitting process allows ball-driver combinations to pass the USGA testing under the launch conditions stipulated in the rules, while allowing players to go undetected even as they exceed the Overall Distance Standard under their own launch conditions.

Strength is going to be vital to the golfer of the future that wants to get the most out of today's equipment and who hopes to further optimize launch conditions under the USGA/R&A radar. Matched with the right ball-driver combination along with added strength from performance enhancing drugs, a player could pick up significant tee-shot distance without breaking any rules.

Yet courses are getting longer and narrower in response to dramatic changes in the way golf is played thanks to this lax (well, negligent) deregulation.

Is this really the natural evolution of a healthy sport?