A few things jumped out in Jim Vernon's interview with Mike James of the L.A. Times.
First, the questions, which included topics that few golf publications ask about. And no, I don't believe it's due to some perceived fear that they might upset manufacturers and lose advertising. Instead, I just don't think they care a whole lot about this state of the game stuff.
Second, is it me or does Vernon seem more candid in this interview than any USGA president in recent memory?
Obviously it's refreshing and can only help the USGA, even if you don't agree with the outcome of their research.
Here's the breaking news, first revealed by Barack and Geithner at GolfDigest.com, but not confirmed by anyone at the USGA until now:
We have been looking on a research basis at high-lofted wedges, we've heard anecdotal evidence that they may have some of the same effects as the grooves did. That is, without any particular increase in skill, a player has a way of recovering around a green or over a bunker. At the same time, we hear some pros say it is really tough to hit a 64-degree wedge. We don't have a proposal on the table, but we are taking a look at it.
About the ball study and the study of rolled-back balls:
We also have our ball-research project. We are in the final stages of player testing with shorter-distance golf balls. The ball manufacturers have been very cooperative giving us good quality but shorter-distance golf balls so that we can test them with players of all abilities, from hacks like me to Tiger Woods and that level. If we ever decided that we had to roll the ball back or reduce distance, this is something we can then pull off the shelf and put into effect.
And I don't know if any USGA President has ever acknowledged that some venues might be dated after the recent distance climb, or that it's a negative in any way. No mea culpa on behalf of the USGA here, but a huge start to acknowledging where the distance race has left us when it comes to golf architecture:
There are two problems: Courses are getting built longer, which requires more maintenance, more chemicals, all of which is more expensive. The second effect is you have these established courses our there, the Merions, the Shinnecocks, the Rivieras, these great clubs, and since all those facilities feel they have to accommodate golfers of all abilities too, they have to start incurring great expenses, moving bunkers, moving tees. It's a huge amount of money spent by courses around the country to adapt to increased distances players are hitting the ball. It's certainly added to the expense of golf, and in the long term that may not be a good thing. Golf is an expensive sport. We're going to get more people playing golf if we can keep costs down, and we're going to be better citizens if we can keep whatever effects, use of water or whatever, at a lower level.
Q: Do you see at some point reducing the distance of the ball?
A: We've seen a six-year period of stability on the PGA Tour. As long as that continues, I think it would take something pretty dramatic for us to take that big a step. On the other hand, if you were to see a shift in how far those tour pros are hitting it again, like the six or eight or 10 years before the last six, then I think you'd see a lot of pressure to do something, and rolling the ball back is one of the options.
Vernon also talks about the California Golf Tax proposal, golf in the Olympics and the potential of Riviera as a U.S. Open venue.