SC golf community reacts to upcoming changes in ball distance technology

The much discussed and often cussed proposal to roll back the distance a golf ball can travel off the tee finally is official and means ... what?

The game’s governing bodies, the USGA and the R&A, announced revisions to ball-testing conditions that will take effect in January 2028 for professionals and two years later for recreational players.

Combating the increased distances elite players hit the ball off the tee is for the “long-term stability” of the game, officials said in revealing the decision after a lengthy study that included input from players, officials and equipment manufacturers.

The new tests will be with 125-mph clubhead speed and 183 mph ball speed, numbers that most golfers see only in their dreams. Data indicates the top professionals would lose 13 to 15 yards off the tee, average pros and elite amateurs would lose 9 to 11 yards, female pros would lose 5 to 7 yards and the average weekend golfer would lose no more than 5 yards or so.

The major impact, then, “will be on maybe one percent of players,” SCGA executive director Biff Lathrop said.

Rolling back distance “is what Jack Nicklaus has been saying for 25 years or more,” noted Robert Dargan, a two-time South Carolina Mid-Amateur champion and coach of the A.C. Flora’s boys’ powerhouse program. “It’s hard to believe (officials) ignored him that long. The game is so much different now.”

Yes, it is, agreed the Spur at Northwoods pro Greg McBride. The teaching philosophy has changed from hitting the fairway and playing strategic golf to hitting the ball as hard as possible “and worry about direction later,” he said.

The changes in technology for equipment and physical training/athleticism have today’s longest hitters covering 300 yards in the air off the tee. It’s that ability that caused the late Hootie Johnson, then chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, to lengthen the treasured course.

“I’m tired of seeing Jeff Sluman (a short hitter) hit 9-irons into par-4s,” he once said.

McBride laughed at the statement and said, “That would be wedges today” at Augusta National’s original length. “And give (the pros) wedges today and they’ll go for the pin every time. But put them back a little further and they have to take a head cover off, that changes the game a bit.”

To emphasize the distance point, he said that today, at age 61, he hits driver-wedge on the Spur’s par-4 — “the same clubs I hit 33 years ago. That’s technology in clubs and balls.”

Lathrop pointed out that the state’s top amateurs “hit the ball a long way, but our supposedly short course — Florence, Camden, Musgrove Mill, Palmetto and the like — stand up very well.”

Dargan, 54, swings at 105 mph off the tee, puts his drives in the 290-yard range — “and I’ve got some (high school) players who blow it by me by 30-40 yards.”

One thing lost in the discussion is the data that points out that the roll-back will not impact shorter irons very much, if at all.

For the average amateur — the one who statistics predict will lose up to 5 yards off the tee — Dargan suggests the changes could be much ado about nothing. All the data is compiled on perfect hits and, he wondered “how many (recreational) players do that all the time? A player might have a difference of 20 to 30 yards off the tee on consecutive holes.”

So, updated testing parameters have been established. And they really mean ... what? Check back in, say, five years for the pros and about seven for recreational players for answers.

Chip shots. Former USC stars Wesley Bryan, Ryan Hall and Keenan Huskey are among 11 South Carolinians who will be seeking PGA Tour cards in the final stage of the Korn Ferry’s qualifying school Dec. 14-17 at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Also competing will be former Clemson All-American Bryson Nimmer. The top five and ties gain 2024 PGA Tour status. Bryan and Ricky Werenski (Aiken) are former PGA Tour tournament winners who are seeking to improve their status through the q-school. ... Chris Eassy (Simpsonville) and Jeremy Revis (Greenville) joined forces to capture the season’s final event in the SCGA’s Forty Plus Series. They combined for a 12-under-par 130 at the Heritage Club in Pawleys Island. ... Graduate student Savannah Grewal became the first Clemson player to earn a place on the LPGA Tour in the organization’s Q-series. Grewal, who tied for 10th in the six-round event, set 32 Clemson records.