Rugge: We have time to be careful with our research

The USA Today's Jerry Potter looks at this year's driving distance numbers, setting up Dick Rugge to lay the groundwork for some good ole red-white-and-blue USGA spin.

Twelve players, led by Bubba Watson at 318.5 yards, average 300 yards on their drives, but that's not even close to the record 26 who ended 2005 as 300 hitters.

Just wait, however, says Dick Rugge, the senior technical director for the U.S. Golf Association. They're on their way.

"It's a natural year-to-year variation," says Rugge, who notes that there were 11 players at 300-plus last year at this time.

Wet conditions in the winter made for soggy courses that held down distances. As the hot summer progresses, fairways will harden and golf balls will roll. And tournaments coming up in high-altitude areas, where drives carry farther, such as The International in Colorado and the Reno-Tahoe Open in Nevada, should increase the totals.

"My expectations are that the number of 300-yard drivers this year will be pretty much the same as last year," says Rugge, who points out that there are 14 players between 298 yards and 300.

That in itself is a bit of an upset, however: The number has been steadily climbing in recent years — one in '02, nine in '03, 15 in '04 and 26 in '05.

The overall average also might have hit a high.
Here's the fun part.
The average distance has been relatively stable in recent years after a jump from 273.2 yards in 2000 to 279.4 yards in 2001. The average climbed again from 278.8 in '02 to 286.3 in '03. Advancements in driver technology and club fitting are credited for those changes, but the USGA's recent restrictions on drivers have helped level off that average. Since '04, the number has been about the same: 287.3, 288.9 and 288.0.

This stability might mean Rugge and his staff have caught up to changing technology.

"The train has not pulled out of the station," he says. "We're in about the same place we were three years ago. We have time to be careful with our research and thorough with our investigation."

Ah yes, notice he says three years ago.

Because we want to focus on that lack of change since 03.

After all, if we go to '02, that means having to abide by that pesky Joint Statement of Principles where they say no more distance increases will be tolerated.  If you haven't read them in a while, you'd be wise to do so.