Around this time last year, 48-inch drivers were one of the hottest topics in the golf equipment world. That was mostly thanks to Bryson DeChambeau’s announcement that he’d be testing 48-inch drivers following his 2020 U.S. Open win. DeChambeau had just torched the field at Winged Foot, home of one of the most difficult U.S. Open venues, and he shortly thereafter proclaimed he’d be testing out longer drivers to push his distance limits.
You could almost hear the thoughts swirling in the heads of his competitors at the time: If Bryson gets even longer, I’m gonna be forced to keep up. Others were likely more skeptical of longer drivers, but either way, DeChambeau did bring up a viable point. Why not experiment with longer driver builds to see if there’s significantly more distance to be had?
In the wake of DeChambeau’s declaration, some tour players ordered 47- and 48-inch drivers from their PGA Tour equipment reps to try out. As onlookers, and experimenters ourselves, we speculated: Will 48-inch drivers become the new norm? Will so many players switch into longer drivers that golf courses will become completely obsolete?
Maybe you could argue that distance was already a problem on the PGA Tour, even without longer drivers being thrown into the equation. The USGA has certainly been researching the distance debate for itself.
In the last year, though, 48-inch drivers haven’t quite taken over professional golf like some thought they might.
Sure, Viktor Hovland has experimented with the concept. And yeah, Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship with a driver measuring 47.9 inches. But as the PGA Tour discovered in its recent research on the matter of driver length, only 3 percent of professional players use clubs longer than 46 inches. That’s not exactly the takeover that us equipment insiders were anticipating.
Regardless, on Tuesday, the USGA and R&A announced a new local rule option to limit driver length to 46 inches.
“Admittedly, this is not the ‘answer’ to the overall distance debate/issue, but rather a simple option for competitive events,” Mike Whan, the USGA’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “It’s important to note that is not a ‘Rule of Golf,’ and as such, it is not mandated for the average, recreational golfer. Rather, this is an available tool for those running competitive events.”
In a statement, the PGA Tour then announced that it would implement the local rule for its competitions starting on Jan.1, 2022.
“After understanding the feedback received from the golf manufacturing community, we also undertook a survey of usage of clubs in use across the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and the Korn Ferry Tour and found that a very small number of players either have used or are currently using clubs greater than 46 inches,” the statement read. “The PGA Tour Player Advisory Council recently reviewed the subject and we have concluded that the PGA Tour will implement the Local Rule on Jan. 1, 2022.”
We already know Mickelson’s stance on the subject, as you can watch in the embedded Tweet below.
What do some other PGA Tour players think about the ban of drivers longer than 46 inches? Here’s what a collection of PGA Tour pros had to say at the 2021 CJ Cup following the news.
“Yeah, I don’t really agree with it,” Thomas told the press on Tuesday at the 2021 CJ Cup. “I think it’s — I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of other things, you know, like the arm-bar putter, that they should be approaching as opposed to the length of driver. I think the fact that you see only a few people using a long driver speaks for itself, that it’s not really that big of an advantage. It’s a lot harder to hit it straight.
“In terms of do I think it makes the game of golf and growing the game better? No, I don’t at all, but they seem to have their kind of mind around that for a while now, so it seems to be the issue because if there’s an amateur golfer or players at home that want to hit it a little bit farther, so be it. Or if there’s guys out here that want to have a chance to put it in play with a 47-, 48-inch driver, then power to them. I had that opportunity, I just chose not to. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it is what it is.”
“I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish other than to keep people from hitting it far,” Kisner told GOLF.com. “I mean, the game’s moving in that direction. I think they’re just trying to figure out a way to keep it in some sort of a realm. But anything that makes the game harder I’m against. So if it makes it harder, I don’t wanna do it. The game’s hard enough, man.
“My opinion is more, I don’t think it matters what length someone uses, because the longer the driver gets the harder it is to hit straight,” Johnson told GOLF.com. “So if you could hit a 48-inch driver and keep it on the planet, then more power to you. I’ve tested with ‘em, and yeah it goes further, but it also goes a lot more crooked. You lose a lot of control, so for me, I don’t think it’s necessary.”
“My initial reaction is that I don’t think it’ll make any difference,” Scott told GOLF.com. “The only thing I can say is maybe for the future if everyone started using 47- and 48-inch drivers and they all started to go down that route, but for now I don’t see it making any real difference. I don’t know how many guys were using 47-inch drivers.”
“Look, it’s not going to change my driver specs, I’ll tell you that, and I don’t think it’s going to change many other guys’ driver specs,” Morikawa told the press on Tuesday. “Is that the answer to hitting it shorter? No. You know, I think yeah, if you have a long driver and you see what Bryson did, you see what long drive guys do, they have a longer driver, right, and they’re able to hit it farther, but can you maintain that on the golf course? Hasn’t been done yet. Not saying it won’t be done, but you know like if a guy wants a 47-inch driver, I think they should let them, because why not?
“We’ve seen courses that you end up shooting 10-to-15 under, and it’s not because the course is 9,000 yards long. We don’t play that. It’s because it makes you shape shots, it makes you hit different shots and it’s all about course design. So that’s my opinion in it or on it, is that I think course design needs to be structured in a way where we don’t need 8,000-yard courses. Yeah, they’re great sometimes, but there’s a lot of short courses on our tour that don’t provide 25 under par and it’s because of the way the layout is and the conditions. So I don’t think many guys have over 46 inches, their driver, anyways, so I don’t think it will change much.”
“I mean I can’t hit a 48-inch driver, so, it doesn’t really bother me,” Swafford told GOLF.com. “I hit a 45-inch driver; pretty standard, actually a little shorter. So it doesn’t really bother me. It is what it is. I don’t really care. But it’s interesting; people are trying it and picking up a lot of speed. I picked up like a 46-inch and picked up speed, but I can’t hit it straight. So it didn’t do me any good.”
“I think it’s going to have zero impact on golf, because I don’t know if I’ve ever known a golfer to use a driver longer than that in competition out here,” Cink told GOLF.com. “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge impact. To me it seems like there’s other areas, if they want to address distance, the length of the shaft is probably not the main thing, it’s probably just to safest one from a legal standpoint.”
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