When Bryson DeChambeau’s first column for Golf.com dropped Tuesday, it humorously coincided with the USGA and R&A dropping a seemingly perpendicular column of their own. DeChambeau discussed a number of different topics, including his proposed 48-inch driver, concluding, “I’m confident we’ll see it sometime in 2021.”
Just moments later, the USGA and R&A — golf’s primary governing bodies — gave him the ol’ Mutombo finger wag. On Tuesday, these organizations proposed a modern local rule that tournaments could put into effect that would prohibit drivers from exceeding 46 inches in length.
That could officially go into effect later this year, and if tournaments decide to use the rule, DeChambeau (and others) would not be allowed to use a driver over 46 inches.
It could curtail Phil Mickelson’s prediction from last year’s Masters where he used a driver that was 47.5 inches long. If implemented soon, Mickelson could feasibly have to reduce his driver length at the 2021 Masters.
“Ultimately, it might be five years, 10 years, 15 years, but every driver will be standard at 48 inches,” said Mickelson in November. The USGA and R&A, it seems, disagree.
DeChambeau, too, threatened to put a 48-inch driver in play at the Masters last year but ultimately could not get all the details right and played with the same driver — a 45.5-inch version — that won him the U.S. Open at Winged Foot by six strokes. Interestingly, he actually praised this proposed rule.
“From my perspective, I think it suits me really well because — as of right now — I’m still playing the 45-and-a-half-inch driver, and it’s suiting me perfectly well, and I’m not going to the 48,” said DeChambeau at the Saudi International on Wednesday. “So if someone was trying to go to the 48 for them, they could gain 6, 7 miles an hour pretty quickly and now it’s not a possibility. And I think it’s going to be more difficult for people to gain speed easily. They are going to have to work really hard, just like I have. For me right now, I feel like it’s a pretty good advantage from the way I look at it.”
Even more interestingly, DeChambeau was also encouraged by the direction both the USGA and R&A are taking going forward. Though nothing was set in stone, it seems as if both organizations are committed to limiting how far equipment allows the golf ball to go and perhaps even reducing the technology in modern equipment to pull the ball back from the distances it’s currently traveling. He mentioned the human element quite a bit.
“I think when they start trying to limit like how fast you can swing it and what you can practice with [would be a step too far],” he said. “If they say you can’t grip it a certain way or you can’t have a certain look to your swing, that’s when I would say it would be too far. But other than that, as long as it’s all equipment, we’ve all got to play under the same rules.”
This is intuitive for the one of the longest players in the world. Advantages in distance are not linear advantages over other players. It is more advantageous for Bryson to be 30 yards ahead of a competitor when he’s 240 yards away than to be 30 yards ahead of a competitor when he’s 100 yards away, according to Mark Broadie’s strokes-gained data.
Bryson (and Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy and other big hitters) are incentivized (or should be incentivized) for the USGA and R&A to implement any kind of rollback of equipment both because competitors’ misses are often aided by technology and because distance would be disproportionately rewarded.
“I think whenever you’re trying to shorten the equipment or whatever, the person that can swing it the fastest will always have an advantage,” said DeChambeau. “So no matter what way you look at it, from a swing speed perspective, the person that could swing it the fastest and control it the best is going to have a greater advantage in that regard no matter what way you look at it.”
While the incentive is there for DeChambeau to take this stance, the impetus for the USGA and R&A are not to protect the Brysons of the world but rather to protect the Winged Foots and Augusta Nationals of the world.
“I think they are looking at it from a different perspective this time,” said DeChambeau. “It’s not just about we want to cut distance down. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about making sure that you’re playing with the relative integrity of back in the day.”
Nobody knows where all of this is going to end, but it does seem interesting that the organizations that control distance (and who are literally trying to reduce it) are on the same page as the arguably longest player in the world. At first glance, this doesn’t make much sense. However, the math tilts in DeChambeau’s favor here.
Though the USGA and R&A probably care little about that, getting the biggest names in the game — most of whom happen to be the longest hitters — will be important politically in the near future. The real war will be between the governing bodies and equipment manufacturers with the best players serving as the best mediators between those two entities.