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Hot Seat: Heat on the suits and ties

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The “conversation” on how distance is impacting the game promises to intensify after the USGA and the R&A’s new annual report was released this week.

The governing bodies determined that increases in driving distances last year were “unusual and concerning,” and they will initiate a more comprehensive analysis on how that impacts the health of the game.

This report moves the Hot Seat to the executive board rooms, to the seats of power that control where the game goes.

Here’s our special heat index gauging the toastiest of those seats:

Smoking hot polymers: Mike Davis

The USGA executive director didn’t create the distance dilemma, but he inherited the challenges that go with it when he took charge of the organization.

Are distance gains helping or hurting today’s game?

There may not be a more sensitive and potentially divisive question in the sport. It’s difficult to envy Davis overseeing that analysis and discussion among the game’s major stakeholders.

Titleist wasn’t the only entity immediately pushing back on the USGA and R&A’s assessment that gains are “unusual and concerning.” Surprisingly, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America were quick to make statements showing they weren’t particularly concerned with “deviations” shown in the report. The PGA of America went as far as saying it was highly skeptical that “rolling back the golf ball” would help the game. That leap showed just how potentially enabling the report was deemed to be for advocates of rolling back the ball.

Davis will be in an awfully hard spot managing this “conversation” with different stakeholders who bring such strong emotions to their opposing viewpoints, but he has proven himself a very skillful point man. He’s good out front, and the game will need him at his best. All his considerable powers as one of the sport’s most important and influential caretakers will be tested in this endeavor.


Molten molecular mayhem: Martin Slumbers

The R&A’s chief executive officer is joined at the hip with Davis, with the Englishman’s skills as a leader and mediator equally important to his American counterpart’s in this difficult quest.

Technology vs. skill.

That is what this comprehensive analysis of distance gains is really all about, an attempt to determine if technological advances are making the game easier than it should be. This “conversation” is about the line in the sand the USGA and R&A drew when they released their Joint Statement of Principles in 2002, which reads as a mandate to protect “skill” as the “dominant element of success throughout the game.”

There has been some question about whether the R&A has been on the same page as the USGA on distance issues in the past, but there is no question about it now as they make this unified attempt to answer a complex question.


Flaming corporate cauldron: David Maher

The CEO and president of Acushnet, Titleist’s parent company, will be out front protecting the innovations that have helped pros, amateurs and recreational players enjoy the game more.

The game’s history is as defined by technological innovation as it is the achievements of its legendary players.

“Titleist controls the game,” Jack Nicklaus said two weeks ago when asked about the company’s push back against his desire to roll back the ball.

Maher and his fellow CEOs in the manufacturing of balls, drivers and exotic shafts are guardians and caretakers of another sort in the game’s rich history. They’re now commissioned to explain whether they believe new distance gains are “unusual and concerning” and whether technology is now a threat to skill in the game’s balance of power.