LOS ANGELES — With the release of the USGA and R&A’s Distance Insight Project, stakeholders from across the industry had chimed in. Some players had made their opinions known, too, from Phil Mickelson to Billy Horschel to Patrick Cantlay and more. But because the report came out on the Tuesday following the Farmers Insurance Open, nobody had heard Tiger Woods’ thoughts — until Tuesday, that is.
Woods, dressed in a white sweater with Nike Swoosh hat to match, sat down for a mid-morning press conference ahead of the Genesis Invitational. He’s the host here, and he’s from here, and he’s Tiger Woods, so there were plenty of interested parties. After a brief intro it took just one question before Woods was asked about the distance debate. This was clearly something he’s been thinking about.
“Well, I’ve always said that the game of golf, it’s fluid, it’s moving. The golf ball is certainly going a lot further than in the balata days,” he said. “We’ve changed it from using a tree to using high-tech metal. We’ve come a long way in this game. What’s been crazy, I’ve been a part of all that. My career, when I first started, I beat Davis Love in a playoff and he was using a persimmon driver.”
Woods pointed out the dramatic changes in carry distance he’s seen over time. Rather than 270 yards representing a big swat with a driver, longer hitters are eclipsing that mark with 5-woods and hybrids. As a result, they can overpower short golf courses.
“We’re running out of property to try and design golf courses that are, from the back, 7800 to 8000 yards — it’s difficult.”
But Woods acknowledged there’s nothing simple or cut-and-dry about a solution to the distance issue. “We want to keep the game so enjoyable and we’re trying to get more participation, and having the larger heads, more forgiving clubs, it adds to the enjoyment of the game,” he said. “So there’s a very delicate balancing act.”
As for the idea of bifurcation, where pros would play under one set of equipment standards and amateurs would have another? Woods wasn’t ready to rule it out.
“I think that is certainly in the discussion, it’s on the table whether we bifurcate or not,” he said. “It’s only one percent of the guys or women that are going to be using that type of equipment, but we want to keep the game enjoyable, we want to keep having more kids want to play it.
“That’s, you know, it’s going to probably even well after my career and my playing days that we will figure that out.”
Woods was also asked if he thought Riviera, the classic site of this week’s Genesis, has withstood the test of time and the onslaught of distance increases.
“You know, it has and it hasn’t,” he said. “We’ve lengthened 12, redone 8, they’ve moved a few tees back…Yeah, there have been some holes that they’re able to extend, but for the most part the confines are what they are here. So where they’ve tried to add distance, they have, but there’s really nowhere to go.”
In summation, Woods was thoughtful and considered the sides of the issue — but recognized there may not be a silver bullet solution. In other words, he has plenty in common with the golf public.
Woods tees off on Thursday at 2:41 p.m. ET alongside Justin Thomas and Steve Stricker in the first round of the Genesis Invitational.
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