Golf’s biggest hitters have been warned that they won’t be allowed to keep dismantling courses with a combination of technology and power – even if that means manufacturers being reined in.
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers told Sportsmail that the next step of their review into distance, delayed by the COVID crisis, can’t be kicked into the long grass forever.
And, while Slumbers is personally impressed and fascinated by the way Bryson DeChambeau has beefed up to blow apart the competition, he isn’t shying away from the need to restrain the top ‘bombers’.
Bryson DeChambeau (left) has stunned golf with his newly-acquired brawn, which has transformed him into the game’s biggest hitter; R&A chief Martin Slumbers (right), however, has served notice that such long drivers must not be allowed to dominate
‘It’s a topic I feel very strongly about,’ he said, adding: ‘It’s our responsibility, as a governing body, to have a view on the broad implications of your question.
‘We published our report, along with the USGA, in February. And it said we needed to put a line in the sand and come back – because we think it’s gone too far.
‘My view is very much that golf is a game of skill. It’s important to have a balance of skill and technology.
‘We did intend to publish the next stage in March, sending out to manufacturers our specific areas of interest.
‘Specific topics we wanted to evaluate before considering what equipment changes we would – or would not – put in place.
‘It’s all been put on hold because the world has a lot more to worry about. And we were conscious of the golf industry having the time to recover.
‘But we will bring that topic back – because it does need to be discussed.’
The Distance Insights Report, a joint project between the R&A and USGA, concluded the increasing gains by the longest hitters was proving ‘detrimental to the game.’
Since then, American star DeChambeau has emerged from lockdown carrying almost two stone of extra muscle – and moving straight to the top of driving charts on the PGA Tour, averaging out at almost 325 yards.
With DeChambeau having beaten the entire field to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month, Slumbers insists he isn’t denigrating the achievement of the 26-year-old, declaring: ‘Bryson, I’m fascinated by.
READ OUR MARTIN SLUMBERS INTERVIEW
Scroll down for Sportsmail’s extensive interview with R&A chief Martin Slumbers, as golf’s leading custodian reflects during a poignant week that should have seen The Open played at Royal St George’s…
‘I’m not sure I can remember another sportsman, in any sport, so fundamentally changing their physical shape.
‘I can’t think of anyone. I’m thinking of some boxers because I love boxing.
‘But what is extraordinary is that Bryson isn’t the first one to put on muscle in golf.
‘How he’s able to control the ball, with that extra power, is extraordinary. All credit to him, he’s a true athlete.
‘But I still come back to the belief that golf is a game of skill. And we believe we need to get this balance of skill and technology right.
‘Once we feel that the industry is stable again, which isn’t going to be tomorrow, because we don’t know what’s going to happen over autumn and winter, we will be coming back to that issue in great seriousness.
‘It is too simple just to say change the ball. Way too simple. You can do things with the ball.
‘But it’s the relationship between ball and club which is most important, to me.
‘The fundamental change in the golf ball since 1999-2000, with the introduction of ProV1 technology, is the ball spins less.
‘And drivers have been designed so it spins even less, which makes it go further.’
DeChambeau’s muscular frame powers away another massive drive in recent competition
DeChambeau was in the winner’s circle this month, but Slumbers wants ‘skill’ to trump power
SPORTSMAIL MEETS MARTIN SLUMBERS: THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH R&A CHIEF ON AN ‘OPEN WEEK’ LIKE NO OTHER, LOOKING FORWARD TO ROYAL ST GEORGE’S, AND TIGER V JACK V SEVE…
They made the right decision. And they’re doing their best to fill a significant gap on the sporting calendar, deploying imagination and technology to provide a taste of Open week in unprecedented circumstances.
But those ‘what if…’ moments likely to be experienced by all golf fans over the coming days?
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers gets it. He’s already feeling exactly the same twinges and pangs.
Yes, some sort of a secure, socially-distanced tournament could have been pieced together at Royal St George’s this week.
The fact that many of the world’s best players are back in action on the PGA Tour proves, some glaring concerns aside, that it can be done.
An Open Championship without galleries, however, would be a poor substitute for the real thing.
The greatest week of the golfing year isn’t meant to be played out behind shuttered turnstiles or even, as is now being suggested for the rearranged US Open, in front of just a few thousand fans.
Imagine going from last July’s emotionally-charged glory of Shane Lowry’s triumph at Portrush – an event Slumbers describes as being ‘one of the top five experiences of my life’ – to a virtually empty links in Kent. No thanks.
It has been 12 months since Shane Lowry was carried to an incredible victory by the thronging Irish crowds at an unforgettable Open Championship at Royal Portrush
Speaking with Sportsmail over Zoom, Slumbers said: ‘If I’m really honest, no, I couldn’t imagine what that would be like.
‘I’ve talked, in my time here, about trying to build the crowds, build the atmosphere, build something very special.
‘We’re very conscious of The Open’s history, of trying to put on one of the world’s greatest sporting championships. And crowds are such a key part of that.
‘Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, our championships director, spends so much of his time thinking about this.
‘Up the 18th at an Open is the greatest walk in golf. And that is about building the stands, the crowds, the way we manage that atmosphere.
‘So it would have been very, very difficult to have done it without crowds.
‘But we’re living in very strange times. And this is not behind us by any stretch of the imagination.
‘So I think, as sports fans, we’re all getting a bit used to no crowds in professional sport. But The Open would look very odd.
‘You only have to look at last year, with Shane Lowry at Portrush. He got going, as these guys can.
‘And then he was carried along on a tide of Irish euphoria. That wouldn’t have happened without the crowds being there. It makes a huge difference at the top end of professional sport.’
That was certainly the case 12 months ago, with fans from all over Ireland – north and south – creating a truly unique atmosphere on a spectacular Sunday, in particular.
As a side effect of The Open being postponed for the first time since the Second World War, incidentally, the Champion Golfer of 2019 now gets to hold onto one of the most coveted prizes in sport for another year.
This week was supposed to see The Open return to Royal St George’s for the first time since Darren Clarke’s memorable triumph in 2011, but now we have to wait another year
Slumbers said: ‘I saw Shane in Sawgrass for the Players Championship and asked him: “How is my Claret Jug?”
‘He’s been tremendous. It must have been difficult for him not to be teeing it up next week.
‘But we’ve been really privileged with the champions we’ve had – and now Shane gets to hold it for two years.
‘I’ve said to a few people that Portrush was probably one of the top five experiences of my life. Certainly my sporting life.
‘The first Open I attended was 1984 with Seve Ballesteros. We were there on Saturday when Tom Watson played an extraordinary round of golf.
‘Then on the Sunday, when Seve and Tom were going at each other, that was incredible.
‘Seve is still my favourite golfer. I admire Jack Nicklaus, I think he’s the best golfer of all time. Tiger Woods is extraordinary.
‘Watson playing links golf was extraordinary. Nick Faldo is the greatest modern golfer Britain and the UK has produced.
‘But, for me, Seve was the genius. And ’84 will always be my favourite.
‘Portrush, with all the uncertainty building up to it, a real feeling of being the start of something historical, was an experience I will never forget.
‘I left Portrush at seven o’clock the next morning to go to the Senior Open. We got on the boat at Belfast and went the long way to Liverpool.
‘It was eight hours. I think I stared at the wall for six of them…’
Once the decision was made to postpone, thoughts immediately turned to next summer.
Portrush would have been a hard act to follow in normal circumstances. But, with a year’s gap sharpening the appetite, Royal St George’s promises to be pretty special – with Slumbers confidently predicting record crowds.
Still, this week won’t be easy, as he admitted: ‘I was talking about this with someone in the team earlier. We said that it was with a very heavy heart that we cancelled it.
‘I fundamentally believe we made absolutely the right decision. For the good of The Open, players and all our officials.
‘But we should be there by this point. We always have a board meeting as the last thing before The Open.
‘And it felt really weird to finish the board meeting – and not being going to pack my suitcase.
‘So it’s going to feel a bit weird. I think I will try to act normally.
Slumbers says Seve Ballesteros is his golfing hero and the Spaniard’s victory at St Andrews in 1984 is his all-time favourite Open moment
‘Next summer? The lovely thing about all the courses is that they’re genuinely different.
‘Royal St George’s is an example. It has a lot of shots where you can’t see the ball land – and a lot of the players don’t like that. But the last six holes are as good as anything in championship golf.
‘We’re hoping this public health crisis is behind us as a society – and we will have record crowds for Royal St George’s.
‘In fact, we gave everyone who bought their ticket the ability to get a refund or to roll it over.
‘The vast majority have rolled them over and will be there next year.
‘It’s a big golf course, there’s a lot going on around it. I think it will be pretty exciting.
‘I like moving it around the country. Getting a bit of a London feel to it will be different.’
That’s something to look forward to, at least. In the meantime? Well, Open devotees will be able to sample something that sounds like a magnificent combination of age-old clubhouse arguments and the latest advances in streaming technology.
The Open for the Ages will use 50 years of archive footage to create a competition between some of the game’s all-time greats.
It’s all very complicated. But the essence of the experiment is incredibly simple.
Stick Jack and Tiger, Seve and Tom, Rory McIlroy and Sir Nick together in their prime. And take a stab at figuring out who would win.
It starts on Thursday across Open media channels, with Sunday’s virtual final round being broadcast on Sky.
While no-one will pretend that it’s a proper substitute for live sport, no more than the virtual Grand National or all those Masters highlights we watched back in April, it sounds like fun.
‘With cancelling The Open, we didn’t want to forget it,’ explained Slumbers.
‘We wanted to give our fans something special to look forward to, in the absence of The Open.
‘And it was an idea that had been sort of noodling around for a while, about could we showcase the great champions at St Andrews? Cancelling it gave us a real initiative.
‘It’s going to be very innovate, very intriguing in terms of the outcome.
‘With sports fans, particularly golf fans, there is always the big debate. Wouldn’t it be great to see Jack up against Rory?
‘Well, we’re going to show it. And we’re using technology to create the idea of them playing against each other.
‘I’ve seen quite a lot of the final footage and I think people will find it compelling.
‘Does that mean I know who wins? I’m not saying anything …’
For more information on Open for the Ages, bringing together many of golf’s greatest champions to compete against each other over the Old Course in an innovative three hour broadcast production, visit www.theopen.com.
The R&A is hosting a virtual battle between the golf’s greatest ever players this week
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Matt Wolff on the prowl with records set to tumble as American tames Winged Foot in US Open
All sort of historical records have moved into view following a stunning 65 from American Matt Wolff that earned him a two-shot lead after an exciting third round at the 120th US Open.
The 21-year-old Californian, who turned professional on the same day 15 months ago as US PGA champion Collin Morikawa, is in position to become the youngest winner of a major since Tiger Woods claimed the Masters at Augusta in 1997.
He could also be first man to win the US Open on his debut since Francis Ouimet stepped out of his caddie’s clothes and shocked the Old World stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to claim the title in Boston in 1913. Spookily, that was also the last time the event was held in September.
Matt Wolff hit a stunning 65 to earn him a three-shot lead ahead of the US Open final round
The 21-year-old is on the verge of breaking a host of records if he can secure a major win
There’s more. If Wolff were to follow in the footsteps of 23-year-old Morikawa and win, it would be the first time since Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen claimed the US Open and US PGA respectively in 1923 that two majors were won in the same year by players so young.
Naturally, there’s plenty that needs to go right in the final round on Sunday before the stats nerds have their day and the golf world shifts on its axis. Bryson DeChambeau struggled for most of the day but ended with a 70 and will start alongside Wolff in the final pairing at only two behind. It will be some slug-fest.
Sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen is like a golfer from another age, but he is only four behind after a 68, while Xander Schauffele (70), Harris English (72) and Hideki Matsuyama (70), three more players looking for their first major, are five back. Surprisingly, halfway leader Patrick Reed fell away badly with a 77.
Then there’s Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman has never received enough credit for his resilience and here was another classic example to continue the rollercoaster theme of his week.
Rory McIlroy showed resilience as he bounced back with a 68 to keep him in touch
After following his opening 67 with a 76, McIlroy bounced back into credit with a two under par 68 that left him six shots off the lead and pleased with his day’s work.
‘It was a really good round of golf,’ said the 31-year-old. ‘I executed my game plan well.
‘The idea was to hang on early over the difficult opening stretch and then make a score in the mid-dle. I feel like it’s put me right in it.’
It’s hard to imagine there will be a passage of play close to the majesty of Wolff’s incredible front nine completed in just 30 strokes.
‘Wow, that’s just amazing, I didn’t see anyone shooting close to that for the outward half,’ said an impressed McIlroy.
Last month, on his major championship debut, Wolff’s tied fourth place finish was overshadowed by the victory claimed by his friendly rival from their amateur days.
On Thursday, Wolff achieved a unique landmark, becoming the first man in major championship history to start his career with five scores in the 60s.
The 21-year-old could become the youngest player to win a major since Tiger Woods in 1997
Here Wolff, with his unique trigger motion to start his back-swing, responded to the temerity of the sequence being broken with a 74 on Friday with five birdies over the outward half.
The stats said he hit just two out of 14 fairways on the day, but that’s a travesty.
On at least a half-dozen he finished in the semi-rough, and his iron shots were quite magnificent. Adding to the sense of wonder, Wolff actually missed two putts inside 12ft on that front nine as well.
Not surprisingly, the back nine was more prosaic and there were a few nervous swings on the home stretch, but Wolff, who won his third event as a pro last year by holing a 25ft putt to defeat Morikawa, re-mains in position.
A good omen is the last four players aged 24 or younger who led the US Open after 54 holes — Ernie Els, Tiger, Rory, and Jordan Spieth — all went on to win.
There was a third amateur who turned pro on the same day as Wolff and Morikawa. Norwegian Viktor Hovland finished as the leading amateur at the US Open last year — as well as the Masters — and is tied 10th at Winged Foot following a 70.
Bryson DeChambeau struggled for most of the day but ended with a 70 and will contest Wolff
Are we on the cusp of welcoming a Big Three for the modern era?
Only three of the 13 Englishmen playing on Thursday made the halfway cut and none will begin the final round in the top 20.
Considering he’s playing his first event in America since March and is now 47 years old, Lee Westwood is turning in a commendable show.
He shot 72 to be on the same score as Paul Casey, who had a remarkable 69, recovering from being five over par after seven to post six birdies thereafter.
The par are tied 21st while Matt Wallace shot 73 and is tied 34th.
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Chelsea agree £26million deal for Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy
Chelsea have agreed the £26million signing of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Rennes after finally reaching agreement on a payment structure.
The 28-year-old had been allowed to undergo part of his medical a week ago after believing a deal was in place only to be called back when they failed to agree on a final fee.
The deal is understood to be £22m plus add-ons with Mendy signing a five year contract.
Chelsea have agreed the signing of Edouard Mendy from Rennes for £26million
Frank Lampard has been looking for a replacement for the much-maligned Kepa Arrizabalaga
Rennes had asked for players on loan in negotiations, notably defender Fikayo Tomori but he is expected to join Everton.
Mendy said his farewells to teammates on Friday after playing 34 games for the club.
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has wanted a new goalkeeper to usurp much-maligned Kepa Arrizabalaga as his No 1.
Mendy is set to become the seventh signing in an extraordinary summer of spending for Chelsea, which is set to top £250million.
Chelsea full-back Davide Zappacosta has finalised his loan to Genoa. The right-back has been at Stamford Bridge since 2017, but went on loan to Roma last season.
Chelsea have spent yet more money on their summer transfer window spending spree
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Souness praises Arsenal’s attackers but says the rest of the team were average in West Ham win
Graeme Souness praised Arsenal‘s front-line after their victory against West Ham, but warned the Gunners the rest of the team could cost them this season.
Mikel Arteta’s side worked hard to snatch a 2-1 victory thanks to a late goal from Eddie Nketiah.
However it was a tough game for the Arsenal who were outperformed by the Hammers during spells of the game.
Graeme Souness has praised Arsenal’s fire-power up front following their West Ham victory
Souness though holds concerns about the rest of the team which he feels may hold them back
Following the game, Sky Sports pundit Souness warned that Arsenal’s team behind their front-three could dampen their chances of success this season.
He said: ‘Arsenal got away with one tonight. I think it showed that Arsenal have got genuine creativity and real fire-power up front.
‘I thought the rest of the team looked average and that might cost them as the season goes on.
‘But when you’ve got special creative players and players that can finish them chances, that’s what the difference was tonight.
‘At the top end Arsenal are very good, rest of it not so sure but we’ll find that out over the next nine months.’
With their victory, Arsenal have started the season with two wins out of two and sit second in the table behind Everton on goal difference.
West Ham outplayed Arsenal despite their defeat and would feel hard done by from the loss
Arsenal have improved massively since Arteta was appointed manager.
Souness said: ‘Arsenal were in a pretty sorry state when Arteta joined, but they are playing with a bit of swagger right now and tails are up.
‘They’ll watch the game back and realise they got away with it and were lucky. West Ham were spirited tonight, Arsenal were average but they’ve got these special players up front and West Ham will be feeling hard done by.’
Souness added that Arsenal will have to improve their levels of performance if they are to take a result at Anfield against champions Liverpool next weekend.
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