Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Wolff making courses obsolete

MAMARONECK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States plays his shot from the ninth tee during the final round of the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 20, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MAMARONECK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States plays his shot from the ninth tee during the final round of the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 20, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

After watching so many drives by Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff eclipse the 320, 330 and even 350 barrier, it’s clear that most courses in the U.S. are obsolete for PGA Tour pros.

It’s not their fault. It’s nobody’s fault. Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff and countless others we don’t even know the names of yet, are emerging bigger, stronger and with more power on the golf course than ever before.  For them, a 400-yard par four is almost a long par three.

What’s even more surprising is that there are a few guys currently ahead of them in the driving distance category. We might not know them later in the year.  They might not make the stats then, but right now, with the new year just started, there are some new names in the distance race.

Guess who’s No. 1 in driving distance on the PGA Tour?   Ryan Fox.  Who?  Exactly.

The current stats must be based on his U.S. Open play because that’s the only event listed for him in 2020.  Fox is from New Zealand. He finished 29th at the WGC Mexico tournament, but that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is his average for the U.S. Open which was 341.5 yards.

Then there’s Davis Riley.  Again, not a household name.  He’s actually on the Korn Ferry Tour, so his distance average also has to be based on the recent U.S. Open. His number is an equally shocking 336 yards.

Poor Cameron Champ is currently behind these two with an average of 334.3 yards.  Champ was 29th in the Tour Championship which happened less than a month ago.

Immediately after Champ are seven golfers, half of whom are guys you know, and they have ALL averaged over 330 yards:   Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff, Ryan Palmer (who knew?), Max Homa, Taylor Pendrith, John Rahm and Paul Waring.  They fill out the current top ten.

Bryson DeChambeau, with math that boggles me because his placement is so low, is in 18th place. His average is 325.8 yards. That’s three yards more than his 2019-2020 season average (which just concluded), and already he’s behind 17 guys.

What is going on out there?   Well, more length for sure.

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The current PGA Tour average drive is 304.4 yards. There’s no more sugar coating this situation. We have skipped waaaay beyond thinking we might have a distance issue. We definitely have one. It’s impossible to believe that the USGA and R&A are waiting another season to finalize their study.  All they have to do is watch a replay of the U.S. Open.  It’s final.  There’s a problem.

The average drive for a PGA Tour player is longer than three football fields. Just think about that for a minute.  Even if you can’t hit a drive that far, you know what a football field looks like in length. So now add two more to it.  That’s the Tour average.

Now add another half one for the longer hitters. Wow.

The occasional superbash, like those by Wolff and DeChambeau at the U.S. Open, is nearly a quarter mile.  Well, OK, I exaggerate, but not by much. A couple drives have actually closed in on it.

Someone named Connor Syme hit a drive 423 yards at the U.S. Open. He’s from Scotland and was 14th in the Order of Merit  in 2019.    He’s only 17 yards short of 440, which is a quarter mile.

Someone a lot better known, Dustin Johnson, struck a 419-yard drive also at the U.S. Open. Sergio Garcia crept over the 400-yard barrier with a tee ball that was 405.  Believe me when I tell you that, while Sergio Garcia is strong, he is not a big guy.  But he obviously has cat-like reflexes and timing to hit that far.

But none of this should be a shock to anybody who has been paying attention.  All the way back in 2002, which is when the Tour started keeping this kind of record, David Duval, now primarily a Golf Channel announcer, hit a drive of 454 yards at the Bob Hope ( now American Express).  That’s beyond a quarter mile.

That same year, Craig Perks hit it 451 at the Buick Classic. Steve Allan slugged a tee shot 445 yards at the Walt Disney World tournament.

So, PGA Tour players hitting the golf ball a long distance is not news. But what Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff did at the U.S. Open, by hitting shots repeatedly that seemed to go 350, 360, 370 and even 380 yards, according to television measurement, was to shine a humongous spotlight on the distance situation. They didn’t exactly turn Winged Foot into a pitch and putt, but it wasn’t far from that.

What it means for places that want to host golf tournaments is that they probably can’t hope to unless they already host a PGA Tour event.  Other courses just aren’t long enough to be a challenge for a tour that hits drives an average of 300 yards and has players who can reach the 400-yard barrier.  It could be one reason the USGA is supposedly going to a rota of U.S. Open courses.  Nobody else has the course length to host.

In the old days, back when people used persimmon, the line of demarcation between and par four and a par five was 475 yards.  Beyond 475, it was supposed to be a par 5.  Now we have players driving 400 yards and needing holes that are 600 yards to begin to hope they can qualify as par 5 for PGA Tour players.  But 475? That’s a medium to shortish-length par 4.

What’s the answer?  There are a few, but nobody wants to pull the trigger on them. The golf ball could be regulated, but nobody wants to use a golf ball that goes shorter. Clubs could be regulated, but again, no one wants to hit it shorter.  In fact, DeChambeau is getting ready to try a 48-inch shaft in his driver to hit even longer.

So, instead of having two sets of rules or two sets of equipment, what we have settled on by default of governing bodies is two sets of golf courses. A handful where the PGA Tour can play and all the rest.  And the gap between the two will continue to widen each year.