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Jack Nicklaus responds to USGA and R&A’s long-awaited Distance Insights project

February 5, 2020

The talk of the last day in the golf world has been centered around one thing: the long-awaited release of the USGA and R&A’s joint Distance Insights project. Seemingly everyone involved in golf is somewhat of a stakeholder, so opinions on the findings have been flying for the better part of the last 24 hours.

Now, one of the most well-respected legends in the game has shared his thoughts on the findings. Although the report has been polarizing, Jack Nicklaus sounded off with a ringing endorsement of the work done on the project by the game’s two governing bodies.

“As many know, this has been an important topic to me for years, if not decades, and I have been passionate about my position,” Nicklaus said in a tweet. “I applaud the USGA and R&A for their comprehensive research, as well as their continued hard work and efforts. Pleased the process has started now that they have clear findings obtained from century of collecting data & its impact on all levels—from golf played at highest level to recreational golf—I look forward to supporting industry’s collaborative effort to find solutions that are in best interest of game’s future.”

Nicklaus’ supportive stance comes as no surprise after some of his past comments on distance in golf. He shared his thoughts in 2016 when asked about the possibility of adding length to the 13th hole at Augusta National.

“The simplest solution is change the frigging golf ball,” Nicklaus said. “The golf ball goes so far, Augusta National is about the only place, the only golf course in the world that financially can afford to make the changes that they have to make to keep up with the golf ball. I don’t think anybody else could ever do it.”

Nicklaus brings up a valid point on the modern golf ball’s effect on distance. The switch from liquid-filled balls to the current solid-core construction in the mid-2000s coincided with a substantial jump in driving distances, though other technological advancements and enhanced fitness have played a role as well.

Since Nicklaus was in his prime, distance gains have changed the way the game is played – and viewed – substantially. The leader in driving distance in 1980 (the first season the PGA Tour has driving distance stats available) was Dan Pohl at 274 yards. That would have ranked 188th on Tour in 2019. Nicklaus ranked 10th in driving distance and won two majors during that 1980 campaign, but his 269 yards off the tee would have been dead last on Tour in 2019.

It appears that the USGA and R&A will eventually come to some sort of joint decision to alleviate the various stresses that distance has made on the game, but don’t expect that decision to come down any time soon.

“After this process is complete, 9-12 months from mid-March, we anticipate releasing a set of solutions,” a representative from the USGA told GOLF.com recently. “Those include changing equipment specifications, and that’s when we’d propose specific rules changes. This is a long-term play, a multi-year process.”

So strap in, it looks like there will be plenty of time for takes on the hottest issue in golf.

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