Golf Monthly columnist Eddie Pepperell weighs in on golf's distance debate

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Eddie Pepperell On Distance Debate: ‘Rollback Won’t Make Any Difference’

I’ve just arrived back from the Middle East, and with the way the European Tour schedule is this year, I might only play one more event before April: the Qatar Masters.

The Oman Open isn’t happening this year, so I’d have to go back out to the desert for just one event, which I’ll probably do as there isn’t a great deal happening between now and spring.

I’m in the process of moving house, though, so that’ll give me something to do until the next run of events.

It’s almost as if I’m moving house to keep my mind occupied, which seems bizarre!

From April onwards, hopefully we can all look forward to a bit more normality.

The schedule looks quite healthy, and includes a lot of golf in the UK and Europe, which is just what I need.

Fingers crossed I’ll settle back into a rhythm that I haven’t been in for quite some time.

I don’t think fans will be back at all this year and if they are then it’ll be in a very limited capacity, but even having a few people watching you can make a difference.

I didn’t play well in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but one day some people had gathered by the 9th tee at Emirates GC and I hit my best shot of the round.

I’m not sure why they were watching me, but I enjoyed it.

While we were out in Dubai, the statement from The R&A and USGA on the Distance Insights Project was released.

What I would say is that regardless of what happens with the technology, there seems to have been a paradigm shift in golf whereby the key factor, certainly in terms of ambition, is to hit the ball further and further.

I don’t see that changing and I don’t see any prospective technological rollbacks changing that – a product of shifts in the game but also driven by things like data.

In the past, the narrative was that you had to be a great putter to be a great player, but the data now shows something quite different – that if you hit the ball a long, long way, you’re at quite a significant advantage.

People are smart enough now to look at the data and act upon that.

I don’t think a rollback will make any difference to that.

I’ve said this before, but if you roll the ball back ten per cent, although I gain an advantage on Bryson mathematically, I believe he gains more because of the disparity in iron play – it’s so much easier to hit an 8-iron than a 6-iron, and going from a wedge to an 8-iron is easier than going from an 8-iron to a 6-iron.

So I think any rollback will just mean people like me will hit 6-irons more and people like Bryson will hit 8-irons more.

This isn’t me complaining, by the way – I’d never want to get in the way of competition or progress doing its thing.

I think we’re at a crossroads – does the consumer want to see classic courses become more relevant or professional golfers play with more skill?

I think those two ideas are fundamentally incongruent.

I know Webb Simpson came out recently and said distance isn’t the issue, the problem is with course set-ups.

I don’t think he’s wrong, but having said that, I think it’s the tours’ responsibility to stage events at enough courses whereby enough players have an equitable chance of success.

The general trend, though, is that we’re going to longer and longer courses, and there are only a handful of events where length isn’t the main contributing factor to success. 

I also think there’s an environmental angle that needs to be considered (although I’m not sure the carbon footprint reduction in 500 fewer yards on a golf course makes much difference in the grand scheme of things).

I believe it’s inevitable the ball is going to get rolled back and that courses will have to be designed to be a bit shorter.

I also think bifurcation is probably inevitable, which I don’t really have an opinion on, because it can’t change how the professional game has evolved to this point and won’t change how it develops in the future.

It’s such a fascinating topic and there’s so much more to discuss.

I’m looking forward to sharing some more thoughts in a future column.

Related: McIlroy – ‘Distance Insights Project a huge waste of time and money’