By Adam BarrNovember 20, 2003, 5:00 pm
Frank Thomas, former senior technical director of the U.S. Golf Association and now a golf equipment consultant, discussed modern golf ball distance with Adam Barr.
Adam Barr: What is the crux of the distance question?

Frank Thomas: The problem hasnt been really well-defined, except for the fact the pros, who consist of such a small segment of the golfing population, are hitting the ball so much farther now than they were 30 years ago. And some of the grand old golf course designs could be compromised. Im not sure thats enough of a justification for rolling back the ball, which will affect all golfers.

AB: What factors contribute to this?

FT: Because of better agronomy, increased athleticism, diet, exercise, teaching techniques and more, the driving distance has increased a foot per year between 1968 and 1995. But in 1995, titanium clubs became popular because they can be larger and more forgiving. And the faces of these clubs got thinner and acted like a spring; they propelled the ball five to six miles an hour faster at impact for tour-level swing speeds, which are about 110 miles per hour. And distance increased.

Also, companies learned more about optimization, about how high the ball should be launched and at what spin rate. On top of that, multilayer golf balls improved, with better covers and more responsive rubber core.

All this added up to a distance increase among better players of 20 yards or so over the last five to eight years. Its had more of an impact on elite players, who hit the ball more often in the center of the clubface than average players.

AB: Is there a solution?

FT: A lot of people dont believe this is a problem. Course setup is something we should start looking at, especially at the major events, where youre trying to identify the best player. But at other events, regular tour events, people come wanting to see records fall. Thats entertainment, and I dont think theres anything wrong with it. And for 90 percent of us, were not hitting the ball far enough. I never knew anyone who said theyre hitting the ball too far.

AB: So theres no need for two sets of rules?

FT: Thats a bad option from a couple of points of view. I think most golfers relate to the superstars because theyre playing the same equipment. Also, its highly impractical to have two sets of rules, because at some tournaments, such as the U.S. Open, amateurs enter with professionals. And what about pro-ams? As golfers move up in skill level, when would they switch over to the pro rules?

AB: What about the fact that only four players broke par at the 2003 U.S. Open?

FT: Well, thats just an example of course setup at work. The fact is, long players arent winning everything. But if you really want to test golf skill, you could impose a limit on the number of clubs allowed in players bags at major championships. Try 10 clubs, for example, instead of 14. Make it a local rule, or a rule for elite players only in the relevant events.

AB: Whats the future of golf technology in relation to the distance the ball flies?

FT: The laws of physics are in play, and were not going to get more than another 10 yards or so due to technology ' that encompasses aerodynamics, coefficient of restitution, and optimized performance. But after that, were pretty near the top.
Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.