It’s been great watching some of the world’s best getting 2018 off to a fun start in Hawaii this weekend. The amazing scenery of The Plantation Course at Kapalua reminds winter-bound golfers that better days are coming. The Plantation Course also lends itself to generating some ridiculous driving distance statistics. This tweet from the PGA Tour caught my eye last night:
Most drives of 400+ yards at Kapalua
2018 (thru Round 3): 58
2009: 24 pic.twitter.com/HmVa0vwkKM
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 7, 2018
Yes, that isn’t a typo. There have already been 58 drives that have measured over 400-yards this week in Hawaii. If that doesn’t feed the haters of the modern long game nothing will. But, take a second look at the tweet. There were 76 drives over 400-yards way back in 2004. Huge drives are not as new to the Tour as many people think.
Of course, the terrane and conditions in Kapalua are a big part of these ridiculous distances. I just find it enlightening that, while the tournament is on pace to potentially break the old record by a drive or two, it isn’t a new issue and it isn’t getting massively worse due to new technology.
Equipment Silly Season Is Here
We’re in the heart of new equipment season from the major manufacturers. Taylormade is out with their new M3 and M4 drivers and related irons. Cobra is promoting their new F8 drivers. And, thanks to the USGA conforming list, we know Callaway will soon be announcing new Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero drivers. On and on it will go over the coming weeks. By regulation, none of these drivers will allow you to hit a ball any farther than anything else currently on the market. Or will they?
Golf’s ruling bodies are about physics at the end of the day. Given a known swing speed, the ball is not allowed to come off of the face beyond a specific calculated rate. They will reject a club if the ball comes off of the face too hot. However, what If a new club allows you to swing faster with the same amount of control? Then that club has the potential to give you more distance all other things being equal. What if the club is engineered to provide better results from off-center hits? If you aren’t as consistent at finding the middle of the face as Dustin Johnson, then you may see better average distances with a new driver. It all sounds very tempting.
The real key to all of this is that the engineers have been pushing against a very solid wall of limits for a long time now. Their advances in true measurable performance improvements have been minor as of late. YouTuber Rick Shiels recently produced a series of head-to-head tests that compared the performance of specific manufacture’s drivers to each other over a 5-year period. Here’s an example of a test he did with Callaway drivers:
Not be a spoiler, but, Mr. Shiels’ comparison videos usually prove that the differences are minor if not statistically non-existent year over year in recent driver technology. But that doesn’t mean, when properly fitted, a new driver may not be a significant improvement for your specific set of skills.
So What Now?
All of that to say this: Golf has constantly changed every year since it was first invented. Technology will continue to change the game that we love. It’s up to us to balance the pace of that change. Golf shouldn’t be a sport that we freeze in time. It needs to continue to evolve. A point of emphasis needs to be towards growth in the general enjoyment of the game by the average player. If a new driver helps in that effort, either because it legitimately helps improve a player’s stats or just makes them happy to have a new toy, then that sounds like a win. Does that mean we have to learn to live with the top players in the world hitting the ball huge distances and making shorter golf courses irrelevant? Perhaps. But we need to also remember that the folks we watch hitting the ball 400+ yards down the hill in Hawaii are not the only part of golf that matters. Let’s focus on keeping the game evolving and improving for the typical player and let the tours take care of their own problems themselves.