Updated: Aug 8
Read a Special Story From One of Coach Erik's Students at the End of This Special Report on Golf Distance Gains
Hi Friends and Golfers! My name is Coach Erik Schjolberg. I have coached golf for over 25 years. You can find me in Scottdale, AZ at my Academy, EJS Golf. Thanks to Sportsbox ai, I am helping golfers all over the world with their golf games using their game changing 3D technology. I've spent countless hours studying the game of golf. I've analyzed every aspect, from the swing mechanics to the equipment used. Today, I want to share my insights on a topic that's been the center of many debates in the golfing world: distance in golf.
Recently, the USGA and R&A released their joint Distance Insights Report, a comprehensive document spanning 102 pages that delves into everything from distance on tour to sustainability of the game at over 7500 golf courses. In this most thorough of reports, I am left with more questions than answers.
The report was expected to provide definitive conclusions and an action plan, likely involving rolling back the ball. However, it was surprising in its near-total lack of conclusions. The only certainty is that more study is needed, and the only real surprise is the suggestion that the governing bodies might be open to implementing local rules that would functionally roll back equipment at the tour level only. Bifurcation is what this is known as to most. So, no longer do you play the same golf ball as your favorite player.
If you need a break from this and want to learn a bit about distance, check out this video here. I get into actionable ways for you to start crushing it. In the end, I want to see you in my teaching bay in Scottsdale, AZ at McCormick Ranch so we can get you on my 3D Dual Force Pressure Plates.
For those invested in the future of the game, or what the game’s future might mean for you, the report is worth a read. You can find it publicly available for your consumption here. The report is filled with charts, and I want to focus on a selection of these from the Distance Insights Report. Amid the indecision is a collection of insightful, thought-provoking, and cool bits of data that are relevant to both the larger distance discussion and what we do here at EJS Golf Academy.
The first chart shows driving distance across major tours over a 39-year span. It's clear that professionals have been steadily gaining distance for decades. However, it doesn’t make sense to focus on much before 2006 when the last bit of meaningful distance limiting regulations went into place. Going back to 1980 provides plenty of ammo to sound off on massive distance increases but data from before the limit on length, head size, volume, and MOI are basically just for show.
I believe that the governing body is looking closely a the data from the Korn Ferry Tour. This is where our next generation of professional golfers is coming from. Depending on the year, they’re already five to 10 yards longer than the PGA TOUR guys and it’s reasonable to assume that the guys behind them will be longer still.
As a former golfer at a high level and now a golf coach to those same players, I am seeing data that doesn't seem to be talked about at all. Although these younger guys coming up are longer, they are much more wild. There is a trade off at some point for distance depending upon the golf course. Can these players hold their swings together for 4 days at these high speeds without major errors? My opinion is that there will be length but they are going to have to learn to hit it less offline which will most likely mean they will have to take some off of it. If you’re concerned about distance on the PGA TOUR and what that means for classic courses and the real estate necessary for new courses, this chart is your best argument. The data from this chart come from the R&A which conducted research with club golfers. As you can see, amateur golfers are not overpowering courses. As a whole, we haven’t gained much of anything from one year to the next. Score one for an aging population of golfers, I suppose.
The average driving distance is 216 yards for all male golfers. For golfers with handicaps of nine and under, it’s 237. This just shows that there is no problem at the amateur level.
The reason for the continued distance increases at the professional level is the optimization of Ground Reaction Forces. There are some coaches now that have invested in 3D Dual Force Plates and this, along with training is a game changer. As the owner of 3D Dual Force Plates, I am a witness to the transformations that I am able to make with willing students. I don't want to leave out the influences of great coaching, fitness, optimization, and the equipment itself. As we saw from the tour distance chart, USGA regulations haven’t changed and certainly haven’t been relaxed since the MOI limit was put into place. One would thin equipment would be cappped but with aerodynamic and manufacturing improvements, the clubs are getting fractionally better.
What is not finished or has a conclusion been stated as to the raise in club head speed at the upper levels. The increased speed, along with improved launch conditions, likely explains the continued distance increases, in my humble opinion. These are better athletes than the past. What will happen if they go to an 85% ball is that they will be back to driving it to 300 except for those like Brian Harman that won the Open. He will be left behind forever.
For a long time I have said to add some of the trees back in, bring the fairways in, place bunkers in positions that matter and get rid of the massive roll to keep the courses of old relevant. Many would say that softening the course is impossible with shortening supplies of water. I would bet on those that make up the turf that they can design a blend that needs very little water.
Bringing the ball back so it doesn't fly as far is the low hanging fruit. It is the most thoughtless and easy to do. What would you think though if you are the no. 1 ball in all of golf and you are asked to spend millions on research to bring out a golf ball that no amateur will ever by. As a Staff member of Titleist I feel strongly for them and back their opinion strongly. Read what Titleist has to say about all this by clicking here.
Among the charts in the report were several related exclusively to the evolution and performance implications of golf equipment. Some of what follows are things we wanted to look at anyway so we appreciate the USGA doing the work for us. It’s not just drivers that are going farther. You know the equation: if you want irons to go farther, jack the lofts.
Not even the best players in the world hit the center of the face all the time and there’s little doubt that some portion of the increase in distance can be attributed to improved MOI. The USGA’s data suggest that, on the extremes, you’ll lose between 10 and 25 yards on an extreme mishit with a higher MOI driver. With lower MOI designs of the past, it’s 30 to 40+ yards. Even for pros whose misses aren’t as big, there’s a handful of extra average yards that can be attributed to improved off-center performance.
It is hard to argue that the governing bodies have not done an exhaustive study. The role of rules and governing bodies is to protect whatever they oversee. This can go wrong b/c many of these bodies feel like they have to make changes or rules to validate them being there. I do think that equipment is going to be the one caught on the short end of the stick here. This will hurt the elite companies like Titleist.
It appears that a rollback in golf ball distance for elite competition is likely to happen, as proposed by the USGA and R&A. However, there are some new developments to consider:
For the first time, there are indications that the USGA and R&A may be willing to differentiate between the amateur and professional games.
Although they are not comfortable with bifurcation, the governing bodies might be open to using a loophole that allows them to implement separate rules for different levels of play.
This approach would not involve creating two distinct sets of rules, but rather providing an option regarding a specific piece of equipment.
In summary, while a rollback seems almost certain, the USGA and R&A may be considering a more nuanced approach that distinguishes between amateur and professional play, even if they don't explicitly call it bifurcation. This will be confusing on so many levels for those aspiring juniors trying to figure out which golf ball to play and when. I would propose not going for the easy way out of this. Fix the courses at a minimal cost. As a golf coach, I am committed to helping golfers of all levels improve their game. Whether you're in Scottsdale, AZ, and can come to my academy at McCormick Ranch Golf Club, or you're somewhere else in the world, I can help.
Let's all get better together!
PGA Tour Player's Perspective
I am a student of Coach Erik at EJS Golf Academy I've been following the recent discussions on the Distance Insights Report with keen interest. After all, distance in golf has been my personal quest for the past three years. When I started on the Tour there was a premium on hitting fairways and playing under control. We would hit a lesser club to lay up to a distance that is further away from the hole to hit our supposed favorite yardage. Just another mistake we made back then not knowing about Shots Gained. Mark Brodie changed the golfing world when he released his book, Every Shot Counts.
When I first came to Coach Erik, my driver swing speed was 107 mph. I was hitting what used to be a respectable distance of 275 yard carry. I knew that I needed to transform my game to stay out here on the Tour. I wanted to unlock that potential. I wanted to be one of the long bombers, the guys who make par 5s look like par 4s.
Under Coach Erik's guidance, I embarked on a journey of transformation. Through a combination of technical adjustments (especially on coaches 3D Dual Pressure Plates), fitness training, and mental conditioning, I managed to increase my swing speed to 123 mph. Without coach Erik and his understanding of Ground Reaction Forces and how to increase mine by using his pressure plates, this would not have happened.
In tournament play, I now average a swing speed of 120 mph. This speed allows me to carry my driver around 315 yards when I nail it perfect on the face. The results have been nothing short of phenomenal. I'm hitting the ball further than I ever thought possible. But more than that, I've gained a new level of confidence in my game. I step onto the tee box knowing that I have the power to take on any course.
Now, with the talk of rolling back the ball, I've been reflecting on what this could mean for my game. Some argue that this move would level the playing field, reducing the advantage that long bombers have. No disrespect to the governing bodies but I see it differently.
Even with a rollback, the fact remains that distance is a significant advantage in golf. If I'm hitting my driver 320 yards and another player is hitting theirs 290 yards, we're both going to lose distance with a rollback. But I'm still going to be 30 yards ahead. I'm still going to have a shorter club into the green.
The longer hitters and bombers, those of us who have worked hard to maximize our distance, are still going to benefit. We're still going to be hitting shorter irons into greens, giving us a better chance to attack pins and make birdies. This is the problem, don't say that it is about fairness when that is not what this is at all about.
In my view, the focus on equipment and potential rollbacks overlooks a crucial aspect of the game: the skill and effort it takes to hit the ball long distances. It's not just about having the latest driver or the fastest ball. It's about the hours spent on the range, the dedication to fitness, the fine-tuning of swing mechanics.
As a student of Coach Erik, I've experienced firsthand the commitment it takes to improve distance. I've seen the results in my own game. And I believe that this effort, this dedication to improvement, should be rewarded on the golf course, regardless of any equipment rollbacks.
If you're interested in improving your own distance, I highly recommend checking out Coach Erik. His approach to golf instruction is truly transformative. I owe everything to coach for what he has done for my career and family. You will not meet a person in the world nicer than him, more genuine, intelligent, creative and more important than anything he truly cares about you.