Is long-distance driving harming golf?

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Rarely has a golfer dominated a golf course with as much confidence and verve as Bryson DeChambeau did at the US Open. At Winged Foot, New York, a notoriously troublesome course, the American simply bullied the course with a series of venomous drives to triumph over the difficult conditions and win the tournament by a clear margin. DeChambeau was the only player to register an under-par final scorecard at the major. 

It was justification for the methods DeChambeau used to improve his driving game. He deliberately gained a considerable amount of weight to make himself bulkier, and as a result more powerful from the tee. It is that transformation which yielded DeChambeau’s first major title, and although his methods gained scorn from many sections of the golfing community, it proved to be an effective way to maximise success in the sport. 

That improvement in driving distance is the main reason DeChambeau now finds himself as the favourite in the golf US Masters 2020 odds. The Augusta major is set to be played in the autumn for the first time, and with conditions likely to be heavier than they would be in the spring, an effective drive game will be the order of the day. 

One of the main debates in golf at the moment surrounds the distance many players can drive the ball, and whether it is detracting from the sport as a spectacle. For some, the fact that players can knock the ball over 300 yards from the tee means that much of the skill is being taken out of the game. At the end of the day, golf courses are only so big, and to have such a weapon as a long, powerful drive is crucial at the highest level. 

Of course, the theme of long-drivers having an edge in golf is nothing new – it’s the way the sport has been going for the last decade or so. DeChambeau, although his deliberate means of getting such a driving ability are novel, is by no means the first player to triumph using such technique to their advantage. 

It is one of the main reasons for Brooks Koepka’s recent success, the 30-year-old having won four majors over the last three years through a similar style of long drives, followed by pragmatic play closer to the greens. Rory McIlroy is another player who owes much of his success to his exceptional driving ability.

This trend of heavy-hitting, long-driving golf has been bubbling up for a long time now, and many feel that this growing force is detracting from the skill of golf in terms of pinpoint accuracy and precision. Players are now so adept at wedging the ball out of the rough that distance is king when it comes to lining up a drive, and this is how players like DeChambeau, Koepka and Dustin Johnson have gained so much of their success. 

There is no easy fix in terms of preventing players hitting the ball as far. It is a theme in every physical sport across the globe. Athletes are getting stronger, faster, more consistent, and as a result standards of physicality are rising all the time. The R&A and USGA recently launched an initiative called the Distance Insights project, which is geared towards examining the issue and coming up with solutions, but it may be a case of simply accepting that this is the game golf is going to become. 

We’ve seen it happen already in tennis, where height and speed of serve have become key components of many top players. Now golf is having to come to terms with this increase in the levels at which its players can perform in terms of physical aptitude. As far as DeChambeau is concerned, he is simply finding a way to win in a hugely competitive sport. 

“It’s tough to rein in athleticism,” he said after winning the US Open. “We’re always going to be trying to get fitter, stronger, more athletic. Tiger inspired this whole generation to do this and we’re going to keep going after it. Will they rein it back? I’m sure. I’m sure something might happen. But I don’t know what it will be. I just know that length is always going to be an advantage.”

 

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