In what was a memorable week at Kiawah Island, it wasn't only Phil Mickleson's age-defying win that will go down in the history books. The PGA of America made the call during the lead up to the tournament, to allow all players to use rangefinders during competition play. While the devices have almost become a staple in the everyday golfers' equipment line-up, this was the first time this has been allowed in PGA Tour history.
Players were only permitted to use these to give them distance, not elevation changes or any other features that they may possess. The main rationale for bringing in this change was to improve pace of play, a particularly prevalent issue in both amateur and professional golf.
In previous tournaments, players would spend a fair proportion of their practice rounds using their rangefinders, scouting out distances from various positions across the course. These numbers, accompanied with the figures from their yardage books, usually give them a fairly accurate number come the time of the tournament.
However, does this process actually make sense? Why spend the time pre-tournament to find distances, to write them down in a notepad, to then regurgitate them in-play, without the guarantee of them being accurate? This may have been another reason the PGA of America instituted this change, to effectively, 'cut out the middle man'.
Like any change however, not everyone agreed with the new protocol. Aussie Adam Scott stated pre-tournament, that he would opt not to use the new assistant during the week. Scott, a self confessed 'creature of habit', claimed that the introduction of a rangefinder into their pre-shot routine may cause more confusion than it solves, "I think if the book says one thing and the rangefinder says another thing, which one should you go with?". To further Scott's point, the fact that the rangefinders are only allowed to be used during the PGA Championship, it may be an unwelcome change for players that become settled in their pre-shot routines.
American Webb Simpson also commented about the new rule change after his second round at Kiawah Island. Originally opposed to using a rangefinder during competition play Simpson then found himself in "a lot of situations where it helps". During Friday's play for example, Simpson found himself off line on the 10th hole, leaving himself with a "funky angle" to a back left pin. After studying his yardage book, as he usually would, he wasn’t confident in the number they had come up with, he then decided to pull out the rangefinder and have a closer look, this gave him a number 6 yards different to what he found for himself. While this may not seem like a huge difference for us amateur golfers, a miss of even 6 yards for a Tour Pro could be the difference between birdie and bogey, and ultimately, thousands of dollars.
Jordan Spieth, who was looking to claim his career grand slam this week, weighed in on the debate, believing that the traditional yardage book is not a contributing factor in the pace of place for Tour Events. "We had a really hard golf course and 20 mile-an-hour winds with 156 players … it doesn't matter what you do, it's going to be really slow, rangefinders or not.".
After mixed emotions from the players, the questions still stands, was the introduction a success or not? The way we see it, it can't hurt to allow them in all PGA Tour events, if the real aim of them is to help speed up play, making this a regular rule definitely won't slow the pace of play overall. The main concern from the players was the fact it would break their pre-shot routine, which they become settled in, however, if they become a regular inclusion on Tour, more and more players will be able to adjust to the new technology.
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