Huffman on Vernon Speech

Bill Huffman in the East Valley Tribune:

Like you, I enjoy driving the ball as far as I can. But I was bothered by comments from USGA official James Vernon, who was the guest speaker at last week’s Arizona Golf Association awards dinner at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix.

Vernon is the 2006 chairman of the Equipment Standards Committee. He also is in his first year as vice president of the USGA after serving as a member of the Executive Committee for the past three years.

In other words, Vernon knows golf. And what he said about the high-tech ball in relation to how far it’s traveling these days deserves our attention.

For instance, Vernon mentioned how all of this bombing of the ball has led to a “de-skilling of the golf swing.’’ And he’s right, as Tiger Woods doesn’t resemble Bobby Jones or Ben Hogan in any way, shape or form.

And face it, everybody wants to be like Tiger. If that means hitting it a mile and then searching for it, so be it. That Woods ranks No. 9 in distance (302.9 yards per drive), No. 140 in accuracy and No. 3 in money ($2.16 million) says it all.

According to Vernon, higher swing speeds are “more about athleticism’’ and less about rhythm and tempo.

“Today, there is no correlation — none — between driving accuracy and winning on the PGA Tour,’’ Vernon said. “But there is a clear increase (in money won) for players who drive it over 300 yards.’’

Vernon said it’s gotten to the point where the Tour’s motto — “These guys are good!” — is debatable.

“Maybe,’’ he said of the Tour’s claim. “But more and more, they’re hitting it off-center and getting away with it.’’
Vernon sees the impact of the high-tech ball on the “No Fear” generation, and it troubles him. He said unless the ball gets brought back by 20 yards or so, we’ll be forced to bulldoze our way into the future.

“The lengthening of golf courses is costly, and in many cases, impossible,’’ Vernon said. “That’s why we need everyone’s cooperation on this (issue).’’

The textbook case is Augusta National, which this year has been lengthened — for the third time in five years — to 7,445 yards for the Masters. And it’s a crying shame, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus told Golf Digest.

Trust me, it’s not like Arnie and Jack are old fuddy-duddies lashing out at change. It’s more like golf has become “Star Trek,” with Captain Tiger and his crew powering the ball at warp speed to destinations unknown.

So Huffman wasn't bothered by Vernon, but by theme of his speech.

Here's the lowdown on Vernon's speech to the USGA Annual Meeting earlier this year spelling out what was likely talked about in Arizona.

I must say it's most encouraging to hear that the USGA is letting Vernon speak to groups like this to explain its findings.  Not only does it restore some balance to the argument, but enlightens those are curious about the ramifications, but were afraid to ask.

It also demonstrates that the Executive Committee is not paying much attention to the position put forth by David Fay earlier this year: that the USGA really governs more for the average man than the elite player.