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roll back the rock

Updated: Mar 18

...but not to the dawn of time as the John Goodman voiced 'Rex' might call for.

In 1996 Tiger Woods gave us his famous “Hello world.” If only his exclamation had the impact of overshadowing a simultaneously occurring announcement by the USGA and R&A akin to the news this week. Alas, that was not the case. Instead, this week's announcement occurred in a world in which social media exists and everyone has the opportunity (or is it a need?) to make a statement. We won’t get to play with the pros play!!! What about the tees?! What about tournament directors?! Why not an across the board rollback?! Who will think about the OEMs!?

There are several primary viewpoints to adopt on the issue of golf and technology, and within each viewpoint there are several focal points to discuss, dissect, and deliberate. From my point of view, here are a few of those focal points this conversation is or is not about.

What it is not about:

1) Score. I repeat, this is not about score. Score is a by-product of so many things. Technology. Course length. Course setup. Weather conditions. Course setup. Fitness. Time of year. Those are only a few. Score manipulation is easy, and technology is an inefficient way to try to manipulate score. I admit a rollback might influence score. But it might not. Or, maybe in some ways it does and other ways it does not. More on that later.

2) Length. Ok, this is sort of about length. But it is not about absolute length. I could not care less if a rollback does not stop players from hitting it the distances they are currently hitting it. I think length should be rewarded. Swing away. Bomb it. Reap your rewards. I admit, it is fun seeing transcendent length…sometimes. More on that later.

3) Par. See 1). This is not about protecting par. I could not care less about protecting par. Any discussion that centers score or protecting par is tiresome and only tangentially related to the current debate.

As a quick aside, if we were a match-play dominated game is the US, this whole ordeal would be mitigated.

4) Difficulty. Or hardness, easiness, and <insert your favorite metric of judging successful labor here>. These are false constructs as it relates to the game. They are instead personal constructs that center the individual’s ego against the backdrop of their personal expectations. Golf is a relative game. It is about where you are and where you’ve been. And it is about how you have a match. There is no need to look at the game through the lens of difficulty. Ever.

As another quick aside, it is ironic how many scratch players call the game hard. Pre-scratch versions of themselves would probably laugh in their face.

5) Fixing. Golf does not need fixed. It will never need fixed. Especially if we honor its traditions, soul, and roots.

What it is about:

1) Variance. Variance in dispersion. Variance in playing style. Variance in outcome. Variance in decision making. Variance in length based on strike. Variance in scoring. Golf is about balancing finesse and power. Golf is about balancing risk and reward. Golf is about decision making and consequences. Golf is about responding to adversity through recovery. Variety, or variance, is at the heart of what makes golf a healthy game. Any form of regulation should seek to maintain or add more variance to the game. Returning to the point on scoring, I welcome regulation change if it results in more variance in scoring (I underscore change in variance, not average and not low scores). Similarly, I welcome regulation change that results in more variance based on strike.

2) Ego. And giving it up. Golf is bigger than you. It is bigger than all of us. I acknowledge that any rollback, and particularly one that includes a form of bifurcation, will involve some inconvenience–I am personally situated in the minuscule, minority group that will be impacted by the current decision. But let's stop taking ourselves so seriously and acting like we are important to the game. Let's stop acting like we are so detail oriented and dialed in with our games that it is unreasonable to ask that we switch between a ball as we move from elite amateur events to our member-guest. Let's stop acting like switching between such events and styles is going to be so cumbersome that it will cost us our games, clients, or some self-driven social status we hold onto. Let's stop acting like that individual who shows up at the local kickball, ultimate frisbee, or basketball league fully suited up and ready to complain about the field or court not being exactly regulation size (yes, this is an ironic analogy and also an example of the problem with using analogies). And let's stop looking to technology to make us "better". Golf is a relative game, and improvements in technology do not improve your game. They may assist you in improving your game, but any so-called improvement that occurs solely through an evolution in technology (e.g., a ball that goes 5-yards farther) is not an actual improvement. Claiming that your game is improved is akin to claiming you've learned the content when you ace a test using the solution key.

3) Preservation. Golf has a rich history and soul. Golf, as a game or match, is meant to represent life. Golf is not meant to represent society. Many evolutions in society, including those stemming from technology, are net positives. But not all are. Take the microwave and other technological innovations with respect to food preparation. Although they've made cooking more efficient, they've chipped away at the cultural enjoyment of cooking including the social connections we form over cooking and dining. We should not dogmatically opposed the integration of golf and technological advancements, but we should always work to preserve the relationship between golf and the human condition. Governance and regulation is critical to that preservation.

I add as a closing point that I hate that “rollback” is the phrase associated with the current conversation. This is governance of a sport, and specifically governance of the professional and competitive side of the sport. The notion of governance and corresponding regulation adjustments should not send seismic waves through the community. It should be a semi-regular occurrence that leads to curiosity, adjustment, exploration, and innovation. It is an opportunity to refresh. It is an opportunity to research. It is an opportunity to introduce strain, which is a key component of learning (whether physical or mental). Get over yourself, get on with it, and put the peg in the ground.

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