USGA's Davis: Distance Explosion Impact Has Been "Horrible"

In what's increasingly smelling, sounding and feeling like a buildup to a serious product-driven discussion about how to deal with the distance chase, the Wall Street Journal's Brian Costa talks to several about where we are headed.

The Saturday WSJ piece (thanks reader JB) is titled "Golf Weighs Big Shift To Reduced-Distance Golf Balls" and says golf's governing bodies are discussing "different balls for different levels of the game."

This is similar to something the USGA's Mike Davis floated in March and now Costa reports:

“I don’t care how far Tiger Woods hits it,” Davis said. “The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game.”

For those of you more recent readers, you may not know it, but these may be the strongest comments yet from a governing body figure related to the distance explosion's impact.

The concept Davis is floating would leave it to other groups, from the PGA Tour all the way down to private clubs, to decide which category of balls is permitted on any given course. It could also create new options on the lower end of the sport.

“What if we said to get more little kids into the game, we’re going to come up with a conforming golf ball that’s the size of a tennis ball, to help them hit it up in the air?” Davis said. “We are really trying to think outside the box.”

One question to be answered is which groups would mandate the use of reduced-distance balls. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan declined to comment. Until someone requires golfers to use something other than the best-performing balls they can find, manufacturers will have little reason to bring reduced-distance balls to market.

Unless of course their favorite pros are playing them to play courses as they were meant to be played.

But as Davis notes, there are potential options to that also help kids, beginners or seniors potentially enjoy the game more as part of this solution.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

Every party involved has some incentive not to force the issue. If the governing bodies tried to mandate a more restrictive ball for all golfers, they would face a massive fight from equipment companies. Those companies thrive by making a hard game easier, not harder. The PGA Tour relies on eye-popping distance numbers to highlight the skill and athleticism of its stars, which isn’t always apparent to the naked eye.

Brian Mahoney, head of the New York-based Metropolitan Golf Association, said elite amateur events like the ones his group organizes would be receptive to a reduced-distance ball. But for the idea to be more than an option presented by the governing bodies, some influential club would need to be the first to adopt it.

Costa floats the concept of a Masters ball and Fred Ridley's recent statement that they would prefer not to go that route. Which is why the mandate to play such a ball will come from a classic that is dealing with safety issues and other questions about its integrity brought on by the distance chase.

As to the timing of this, the comments of Davis follow March's first mention of variable distance balls, Martin Slumbers bringing up the distance "movements" at The Open, Tiger's pointed comments to Coach Geno and Bridgestone's CEO endorsing a tournament ball.