‘I’m dead honest with you: We don’t know:’ USGA’s Jason Gore on corralling distance

It’s the first tee and first player off on the last day of the U.S. Open, and Jason Gore is trying to wake up now at 6:30 a.m., let alone play. An odd number of players have made the weekend cut, so Gore, a longtime pro and now the USGA’s player relations director, is playing as a marker this Sunday at Torrey Pines for Wilco Nienaber. That’s Nienaber, a 21-year-old South African who’s 6-foot-2 and maybe 175 pounds — and smacks it twice that weight number off the tee. 

Nienaber swings. Gore hears it. 

“Sounded like a cannon was going off,” he said on this week’s episode of the Subpar podcast.  

Then Gore sees it. Then doesn’t. 

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“He takes it up and over the right-hand bunkers on purpose, and it’s like — I’m making a number up — 320 to carry it, at 6:30 in the morning, and I looked at Casey [his caddie] and I go, I’m not taking that line, dude,” Gore said. “First shot of the day, he hits it 368.9. Or 367 point — he hit it 370 basically, right out of the box. And I’m like, oh, god. 

“And then a couple of times — he hit one on 7 that I just kind of put my head down and shook it and just started laughing. And it wasn’t like — Bryson looks like he’s going to give it a hell of a rip. This guy is kind of like, shooo. I guess just all of a sudden he took it back and everything got blurry and it was gone.”

Gore’s bosses may have written the Distance Insights Report, but Gore got the audio and visual version of it.

That report, released in early February of 2020, was developed by the USGA and the R&A as a summary of what the governing bodies perceive to be golf’s distance problem. It was advanced earlier this year, when an update addressed three proposed equipment rules — a 46-inch limit on the driver shaft, down from 48; and updates on ball and driver testing. And it also discussed “research topics/areas of interest” — specifically, “the potential use of a Local Rule that would specify the use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances,” and “a review of the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls.”  

Of course, then there’s Nienaber, who could hit 250 with a toothpick.   

Subpar co-host Colt Knost asked Gore: “Do you come back and tell the rest of the USGA, uh, guys, we might have a problem here in a few years.”

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“I mean, I went to [the USGA’s] Thomas Pagel and like, listen, I’m like an open book when it comes to this, and I’m like, how do you stop it? Do you want to stop it?” Gore said. “Like this guy, he’s a freak and I think it’s going to come, you know, full circle and so that’s my question, all right, how do you stop it? 

“So you’re going to stop him from hitting 370 and roll it back X amount and now he’s going to hit it 350? There’s people out there that are just better trained, more stronger, faster, bigger and better fit, and like it’s just, hey, we don’t do this to roll that car window down anymore, either, so when times move on, you’re just going to start seeing these kids come out and they just know more than we do. So how you going to stop it?”

So … how do you stop it, Jason? Co-host Drew Stoltz asked: “Is there an answer for it?”

“I don’t know,” Gore said. 

“I don’t either,” Stoltz said. 

“I’m sure there’s going to be more conversations about it, and I’m dead honest with you: We don’t know. We don’t know how to stop it. We know there’s issues, right? There’s resource issues. There’s land issues. There’s all of these things, and we know if this starts to keep going in that direction, then, you know, it’s going to be too expensive to maintain a golf course. We’re going to run out of land. 

“It’s going to be this over here and this over here so we know there’s a problem, but we don’t know exactly what, how to solve that. And that’s why we’re still going through the — trying to get advice from the manufacturers and so many other outside agencies. And that’s the issue. We don’t know. We don’t know.”

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