It’s been a while since we talked distance in this digital space but given the topic is never far from the surface (no matter which side of the debate you’re on) let’s give it another whirl this week.
As is so often the case it was a Tweet that planted the seed for today’s musings, this one from U.S. Based ‘Golf Stat Pro’ Lou Stagner.
“The only distance problem in golf,” he tweeted, “is amateurs don't have enough of it.”
It’s an odd statement that sort of hints at something without really saying anything yet is almost guaranteed to get a response from parties on all sides. (I think young people call it trolling?)
‘Enough distance for what?’ Is the first and most obvious question followed closely by ‘Which amateurs?’
That aside, Lou makes a valid point in the case of some players (who struggle to generate effective clubhead speed) though I’m not sure that’s who he was referring to.
"For me perhaps the worst thing about the ever present focus on distance is that it encourages such one dimensional thought about a game that has so much more to offer." - Rod Morri.
Regardless, the notion that the game as a whole would be improved in some way by recreational players hitting the ball ever further is one that fails the common-sense test. At a couple of levels.
The first and most obvious almost always gets overlooked and that is that distance is relative.
In a world where 280 is average 300 is ‘long’. Move the average to 300 and now 320 is long. This is precisely what has happened in professional golf over the past 25-30 years for no obvious benefit.
But distance is also relative to the course and this is an issue which doesn’t require technology to solve, just common sense.
Hitting the ball further is effectively the same as playing a shorter course so moving up a set of tees is a simple solution to any golfer struggling with distance.
The second failure is not recognising the reality that courses cannot continue to expand their footprint.
As players have continued to hit longer and longer shots over recent decades so courses have continued to add length to maintain their challenge.
Given land is a finite resource, this is clearly a flawed model for the long-term health of the game.
Existing courses in urban areas worldwide are already under pressure from outside agencies. Making them less challenging (and less appealing) in the eyes of golfers and thus reducing their financial viability is akin to signing the game’s death warrant.
But for me perhaps the worst thing about the ever present focus on distance is that it encourages such one dimensional thought about a game that has so much more to offer.
Score is only one part of golf and in many ways it is the least interesting, particularly at the recreational level where it matters not a jot (except perhaps to the golfer themself).
Hitting fun shots for the sake of it, immersing oneself in the architecture of the course, taking in the surrounds, banter with playing partners and friends, reading great writing about the game … all these things are at least as – if not more – satisfying than numbers on a scorecard.
It's easy to get swept up in the notion that golf is all about score and competition and lower handicaps but to reduce golf to only this does the game a huge disservice.
As does constantly obsessing about distance.