We’re still weeks away from the opening tee shots at the 2021 PGA Championship, but that hasn’t stopped the tournament from making major championship history already.
For the first time ever, competitors will be allowed to utilize rangefinders throughout the course of tournament play at the PGA at the end of May. The change came as a surprise to many when the PGA of America announced it in February, including, it seems, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, Justin Thomas.
“I won’t — I don’t think we’ll use them,” Thomas said in a press conference ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship Wednesday. “I think maybe if you hit one on another hole or you have some kind of crazy weird angle you have the opportunity to use it, that’s one thing. But I think I made my stance on it pretty clear. I don’t really like them.”
The change marks a dramatic shift in long-standing tournament rules in which caddies and players were responsible for marking off their own distances during practice rounds, then using those distances to determine numbers during the course of play. For Thomas — whose only major championship victory came at the ’17 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow — rangefinders diminish the importance of caddies, who otherwise would play a critical role in the shot selection process.
“I think it takes away an advantage of having a good caddie that maybe goes out there and does the work beforehand as opposed to someone, especially now between the yardage books, the greens books and range finders, you technically don’t even really need to see the place or play a practice round,” he said. “You can go out there and know exactly what the green does, you know exactly what certain things are on certain angles because you can just shoot it with the range finder.”
At the time of the announcement in February, PGA of America president Jim Richerson emphasized the rule change as an engine for helping pace of play.
“We’re always interested in methods that may help improve the flow of play during our championships,” Richerson said in a release announcing the decision. “The use of distance-measuring devices is already common within the game and is now a part of the Rules of Golf. Players and caddies have long used them during practice rounds to gather relevant yardages.”
But Thomas doesn’t see how Kiawah promises to play faster with rangefinders than any other course in any other year.
“I certainly don’t think it’s going to speed pace of play up at all unless you have a scenario where you do hit it on another hole or some kind of crazy angle where it would take you a long time to get a yardage,” he said. “At the end of the day, Kiawah Island isn’t some kind of course where the greens are going to be really soft and you just see pin, hit pin. It’s going to be, okay, I have 193 [yards to the] hole, we have 174 front, I need to probably land this probably 180 to 182, a little wind off this way.”
Thomas, who won the Players Championship in March and currently is the No. 2 golfer in the world, figures to enter the PGA as a favorite alongside longtime caddie Jimmie Johnson. The pair plans to roll into Kiawah the way they do every week — just don’t expect them to spend much time at all with a rangefinder in hand once the tournament starts on Thursday.
“You’re still going to need to get all that information, but then it’s just going to add another element that’s going to add time to the rounds in terms of shooting it with the rangefinder,” Thomas said. “I don’t have any interest. I enjoy that process because it’s all the things that I need, but if an opportunity arises where I hit it offline then yeah, I might use it.”