As golf's governing bodies continue to determine the appropriate steps for curbing ever-increasing hitting distances, the USGA and R&A provided an update on Wednesday.
After consulting with industry stakeholders, the governing bodies are narrowing their focus on research topics initially presented in a February 2021 release. Specifically, this targets two areas of interest, both of which are explained in-depth in an official notice sent to equipment manufacturers:
- 1. Potential changes to the testing methods for golf balls.
- 2. Model Local Rules for club performance characteristics.
In regards to ball testing, the USGA and R&A plan to investigate the impact of increasing the launch speed when determining conformance to the Overall Distance Standard so that the launch conditions better reflect the clubhead speeds of the game's longest hitters.
The proposed increase would see the testing clubhead speed go from 120 mph to 125 mph. This testing condition was last updated in 2004, when the clubhead speed was raised from 109 mph. Optimum launch conditions, such as launch angle (between 7.5 and 15 degrees) and spin rate (2,200-3,000 rpm), are also being looked at in tandem with clubhead speed. Last season on the PGA Tour, the top 10 leaders in clubhead speed averaged 124.8 mph while the average maximum clubhead speed of those same players exceeded 130 mph.
The hope is, according to the USGA and R&A, is that these new parameters would allow for the Initial Velocity Test to be modified or eliminated in order to provide more innovation for recreational golfers with slower swing speeds.
Secondly, there is also interest in establishing Model Local Rules that would not only reduce the spring-like effect (or characteristic time) of drivers but also their moment-of-inertia limits. With less MOI, it would place a bigger premium on finding the center of the clubface.
By doing this via MLRs, which would be intended for "elite competitions," the USGA and R&A note that it could allow for MOI limits to be removed for the average golfer, which would be a significant move as it relates to bifurcation between the elite and recreational games.
As stated in a USGA/R&A release: "The governing bodies believe that the changes being considered could address hitting distances for the longest hitters, whose impact on the game and golf courses has been the most significant; minimize the impact on shorter hitters with slower swing speeds at the recreational level; allow for continued innovation of balls and clubs for players at all levels."
Of course, these research topics are merely, as they are called, "areas of interest." Not only have no decisions been made, the governing bodies contend, but no proposals are being presented at this time, either. When proposals are made, they will be "communicated in accordance with the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures."
On Jan. 1, one of three proposals from that February 2021 release was made available: MLR-G10, reduction of allowable club length to 46 inches.
However, the governing bodies have decided "not to separately proceed" with the two other proposals – an update on the testing method for golf balls using optimized launch conditions, and a revision to the testing tolerance for measuring the characteristic time using the pendulum test – which will be further considered as part of the broader review discussed above.
Comments are due by Sept. 2.