Paul McGinley, Masters pundits clash in heated golf technology change debate

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A trio of respected golf pundits have gone head to head in a passionate debate over one of golf’s most polarising topics – upcoming rule changes to make players hit the ball shorter.

As athleticism and ball and club technology has improved, players have hit the ball significantly further, forcing courses to increase their length in response – an unsustainable solution given land and financial constraints.

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The Masters, for example, was played over 6,985 yards in 2001. This year it stands at 7,555 yards.

In a landmark decision last December, golf authorities the R&A and USGA announced a “rollback” on golf ball specifications.

It will take effect in January 2028 – though recreational golfers can use their current balls until January 2030.

It will make a difference of less than five yards for recreational players, but is expected to shorten hitting distance by over 10 yards for elite men’s players – who have largely opposed the move.

Ahead of this week’s Masters, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley supported the rollback, saying: “For almost 70 years, the Masters was played at just over 6,900 yards. Today, the course measures 7,550 yards from the markers, and we may well play one of the rounds this tournament over 7,600 yards.

“I’ve said in the past that I hope we will not play the Masters at over 8,000 yards. That is likely to happen in the not-too-distant future under current standards.

“Accordingly, we support the decisions that have been taken … to address the impact of distance at all levels of the game.”

But the decision has sparked plenty of debate over whether it will deliver better golf – and golf experts Jaime Diaz, Paul McGinley and Brandel Chamblee butted heads over the issue in a heated debate on the Live at the Masters show.

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Veteran golf writer Diaz said: “This is probably not a perfect solution, but it’s a necessary compromise. An important first step in terms of the rollback. There may be another rollback needed.

“It’s important for the game to keep on top of this so that 8,000 yards (at the Masters) doesn’t happen.”

And four-time Ryder Cup winner McGinley agreed, saying: “I’m fully behind the rollback … I find it somewhat objectionable that current players are so resistant to it and the PGA Tour look like they’re going to be in line behind that. I think it’s wrong.

“The game has gone too far. The ball is going too far. Too many courses have been made redundant.

“This is not a massive change, the way it’s been painted. This is a small five per cent change, a 15-yard drop for the very, very top players. We need to rein something in here.

“The game has become so much about big hitting … big hitting is always a part of the game, I’m not diminishing that in any way.

“But it’s out of proportion now, the value of hitting the ball as far as you do, compared to other skill-sets in the game.”

“I have a real problem (with that) … I’m fully supportive of the rollback. It’s not significant. It’s five per cent. But it’s a line in the sand.”

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But Brandel Chamblee hit back, saying: “I’ve been against the rollback from really day one, once I dove in and started investigating ‘has the game materially changed’ … the game is still about who hits the longest and the straightest, and who hits the longest iron shots the best. Thereafter it’s about strategy and all the other things that make great players.”

He added that the rollbacks won’t address the fundamental issue of longer hitting: “So they roll it back five per cent – the players will recoup that in a blink of an eye.

“Not only will they recoup that, they’re going to so far blow past that. The distance (development) that we’ve seen in the last five, six years is just the tip of the iceberg.”

McGinley replied: “We don’t know that Brandel. Let’s try it and see.”

Chamblee said: “No, no, I hope you’re right. I hope it is more compelling golf and leads to more compelling golf. If it does I will say ‘well done, I was wrong’.”

But, he added: “The players that are coming up now, in 10 years, we’re going to see guys with 145mph club-head speed … they will recoup the distance and hit it so far past that. You cannot legislate for the athlete. You can legislate for the equipment … But who doesn’t enjoy watching these athletes and applauding the athleticism?”

Diaz said: “You’re going to have incredible athletes coming forward (so) you have another rollback. You keep letting the game fit the golf course, quit stretching the golf course.”

But Chamblee compared golf’s proposed changes with other sports, saying only golf is “obsessed” with keeping true to its historical self.

Chamblee said: “Why doesn’t the NBA keep raising the hoop? Keep raising it, keep raising it, keep raising it.

“Why don’t they make 100m runners run on sand? Slow them down. Why is it we’re all so obsessed with playing the game the way it used to be played? The game has changed, the athletes have changed.”

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But McGinley said the need for change was obvious: “If nothing is done, it’s not like the professional game at the moment is absolutely at its height and it’s amazing and everyone’s tuning in and everyone’s loving the product of golf.”

Chamblee replied: “That’s not on distance. No, I disagree.”

McGinley hit back: “It’s part of the problem (with) the product of golf. Part of the problem is it’s become very one-dimensional in how a lot of it is played.”

Chamblee replied: “One dimensional? You think Scottie Scheffler plays one dimensional golf? You think Rory plays one dimensional golf. You think Tiger played one dimensional golf?”

McGinley continued unabashed: “They’re taking these golf courses in the right conditions and bringing them to their knees. That’s not really what we want to see. We want to see compelling golf, we want to see a little bit more risk and reward. We want to see a lot more creativity in shots. We want to guys hitting three and four irons … that’s compelling golf.”

Chamblee said: “If the rollback is more compelling I’ll say ‘job well done, I was wrong’. But is it more compelling to watch short hitters or long hitters? The game is more compelling now.”

Diaz said: “It’s more compelling to watch long hitters, just don’t let them hit it so far. They’ll still be the longest hitters and they’ll hit more of the clubs you want to see – that are the most compelling shots, the most athletic shots.”

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As the situation got more heated, host Rich Lerner tried to intervene and change the topic – even grabbing Chamblee’s arm.

But Chamblee wasn’t deterred, trying to get one last point in.

He said: “The best way to combat this is to make the golf courses shorter, not longer. Then it’s more democratic and the shorter hitters have a better chance. Don’t make the golf courses longer.

“And for tour pros, grow a little rough. Make hitting the fairway more important. Not for recreational golfers, that’s not what you want to do.”

But McGinley said that tougher rough wouldn’t fix the issue either, saying: “Rough or not, it makes no difference. They’re so good out of rough. We need more trees.”

As Lerner tried to wrap things up – again – Chamblee joked they were being told to shut up, saying: “Our producers said ‘please’.”

Originally published as Fiery live TV debate erupts over golf’s ‘line in sand’ moment