PGA Tour

McIlroy rips distance report for ignoring leisure golfers

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Rory McIlroy. (PA)
Rory McIlroy. (PA)
PA/Supplied

Rory McIlroy ripped the R&A and US Golf Association distance study as a waste of time and money, saying on Wednesday the governing bodies should focus on growing the game.

On the eve of his debut on Thursday at the PGA Tour's Phoenix Open, the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland said trimming distance from elite players was much less important than keeping the sport enjoyable for recreational players.

"I think the authorities, the R&A and USGA, are looking at the game through such a tiny little lens," McIlroy said. "What they're trying to do is change something that pertains to 0.1% of the golfing community - 99.9% of the people that play this game play for enjoyment, for entertainment. They don't need to be told what ball or clubs to use.

"Honestly, I think this distance insight report has been a huge waste of time and money, because that money that it has cost to do this report could have been way better distributed to getting people into the game."

The R&A and USGA unveiled details of the distance study on Tuesday, with ideas such as a reduction on club length limits from 48 to 46 inches, excluding putters, plus local rules allowing specific events to limit equipment as desired and a review of equipment specifications to mitigate continuing distance increases.

"Hitting distances have consistently increased through time and, if left unchecked, could threaten the long-term future of our game," USGA chief executive officer Mike Davis said.

"This is the first forward step in a journey and a responsibility the USGA and the R&A share with the worldwide golf community to ensure that golf continues to thrive for the next 100 years and beyond."

Sixth-ranked McIlroy took direct issue with Davis.

"I heard Mike Davis [say] we're trying to protect the game for the next 100 years. This isn't how you do it," McIlroy said.

"This is so small and inconsequential compared to the other things happening in the game. It's the grassroots. It's getting more people engaged in golf. That's where they should be spending their money."

McIlroy said he would be fine with local rules at courses or different rules for PGA players versus amateurs.

"I would be all for that," McIlroy said. "If they want to try to make the game more difficult for us... try to incorporate more skill, I would be all for that.

"But we're such a tiny portion of golf. Golf is way bigger than the professional game. It's the other stuff that really matters and that's the stuff they need to concentrate on."

Big hitters will thrive

World No 3 Justin Thomas warned that no matter what equipment they use, PGA players will still be blasting for the biggest distances possible.

"A lot of the players are taking the training and becoming stronger," he said. "If you give us different stuff we're still going to try to find a way to hit it as far as we possibly can."

Thomas said he felt golf supremos missed their chance at equipment changes 20 years ago given the millions of development dollars invested.

"It would be extremely selfish of the USGA and the R&A to [force changes] because of all the hard work [and money] they've put in," Thomas said.

"Look at your everyday golfer and go up to him and tell him that you want him to hit it shorter because just the top .001 percent of all golfers are hitting it too far. I think it's not a very good decision."

Defending Phoenix Open champion Webb Simpson wants changes in courses not equipment.

"I don't think an equipment rollback is what we need. I think we need to tweak our golf courses," Simpson said. "The issue comes down to golf course architecture. We need more doglegs. We need tighter fairways. We need longer rough. We need smaller greens. We need more firm greens."

Wager woes worrying

A US simulcast golf show debuts this week and players worry about yells to disrupt players for the sake of wagers even with a small crowd as will be allowed this week.

"I worry about any sort of sketchiness going on with... someone could potentially yell or do something to affect a person that would have a wager," Thomas said.

"I would hope it would never come to that. But at the end of the day you can't sit there and tell me that that's not a realistic chance."

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