Sunday 15 September 2019

PGA Tour faces battle with governing bodies over modern golf balls after average driving distance increases by seven yards in one season

Tiger Woods is reportedly among those urging golf authorities to impose limitations on modern balls. CREDIT: AP
Tiger Woods is reportedly among those urging golf authorities to impose limitations on modern balls. CREDIT: AP
Phil Mickelson lifts the Gene Sarazen Cup after his play-off victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Photo: Getty Images

James Corrigan

The PGA Tour is on a collision course with the game's governing bodies in the escalating controversy over apparent plans to "roll back" the modern golf ball.

The R&A and USGA yesterday released their annual survey on driving distances and with up to a seven-yard average gain recorded, concluded that the increase across the seven most prominent pro tours "in a single season is unusual and concerning".

They vowed to "conduct a thoughtful conversation about the effects of distance prior to making any specific proposals".

However, insiders say that after urgings from the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the R&A and USGA are determined to impose limitations which could see the ball's "capacity to travel" reduced by up to 20pc.

Indeed, Nicklaus revealed that Mike Davis, the USGA executive director confirmed to him that they were ready to act.

However, if they go ahead, it is clear that firms such as Titleist, the producer of the best-selling balls, will take legal action.

Wally Uilhein, the former Titleist CEO and still an adviser, dared to take on a legend and refuted Nicklaus' claims that "the game is biggest culprit of all" when it comes to scourge of slow play and declared that the distance boom - which is seeing eight times as many players averaging more than 300 yards compared to a decade ago - could be put down to six factors, citing better athletes, driver technology and course conditioning - as well as the "go-faster" ball.


And it seems that with so many of pros on the US circuits backed by Titleist, that the PGA Tour is ready to argue the case for nothing to change.

To pre-empt the report, Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, emailed the pros and stated that in contrast to the official "unusual and concerning" deduction, that the Tour does not believe " the trends indicate a significant or abnormal increase".

"Rest assured, we will continue to collaborate and share data with the USGA and the R&A," Monahan added.

"(We are) hopeful our perspectives will align."

The PGA of America showed yet more dissent. The association which oversees the US Ryder Cup team, all but dismissed the survey with CEO Pete Bevacqua, saying: "We are highly sceptical that rolling back the golf ball in whole or part will be in the best interest of the sport and our collective efforts to grow the game."

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson moved back into the top 20 in the world after becoming the oldest winner of a WGC event on Sunday night.

The 47-year-old who ended his five-year wait for a title when beating countryman Justin Thomas in a play-off the WGC Mexico, is up to 18th after last month looking likely to fall out of the top 50 for the first time in 25 years.

England's Tommy Fleetwood has entered the top 10 for the first time, with Tyrrell Hatton, who finished third in Mexico City, up to 13th.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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