Iowa players weigh in on golf’s distance debate

Are professional golfers hitting it too far? Iowa’s Charles Jahn and Alex Schaake give their thoughts.


Ben Allen Smith

Iowa sophomore Alex Schaake poses for a portrait at Hoak Family Golf Complex on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

Ever since John Daly became the first PGA TOUR player to average a 300-yard carry with his driver back in 1997, length off the tee has been a topic of conversation in the world of golf. Although driving distance hasn’t steadily increased from year-to-year, the overall trend has been skyward.

Following the 1998 season – in which Daly’s drives only averaged 299.4 yards in length – the PGA Tour’s yearly driving distance leader hasn’t averaged less than 300 yards per tee shot with driver in hand, no matter who it’s been.

Enter Bryson DeChambeau.

The SMU alumnus that describes himself as “part artist, part scientist” has made quite a name for himself on the professional stage, most notably being the only big-name player on the PGA TOUR who currently uses single-length irons.

Normally, as a club face’s loft increases, the club shaft gets shorter. In an effort to eliminate variables in the swing, DeChambeau’s irons are all the length of his 6-iron.

DeChambeau shocked the world after the PGA Tour’s four-month COVID-19-related hiatus ended.

The artistic scientist turned into a home-made bodybuilder during the layoff, working out multiple times a day and drinking roughly six protein shakes per day. DeChambeau’s efforts delivered great results. He put on about 40 pounds and increased his PGA Tour-leading average strike with the driver by 22 yards from 322 to 344.

RELATED: Iowa players find success playing as individuals

His muscle-bound experiment showed championship results in September when he won his first major championship, capturing the U.S. Open. For the Open, the U.S. Golf Association cut the rough at 7 to 8 inches long in order to prioritize accuracy and try to make it more difficult to hit driver off the tee. DeChambeau blitzed the field, pulling out the big stick whenever he could despite the USGA’s attempts to discourage hitting driver.

“My approach is to hit the ball as close to the green as I can get it, and as straight,” Dechambeau told reporters mid-way through the tournament. “But if I miss the fairway and I’m in the rough, I’m comfortable with that result.”

Some of golf’s icons have a problem with that approach to the game. Jack Nicklaus, for instance, believes that golf’s governing bodies should do something about it.

“The USGA and the R&A have got to wake up sooner or later,” Nicklaus said after being asked about the topic by CBS’ Nick Faldo. “They can’t just keep burying their heads on this. They see it, they watch television, they see where these guys hit the golf ball. It isn’t about how far they hit it. You just can’t keep making golf courses longer. You just don’t have enough land, you don’t have enough money to do it.”

Hawkeye golfers Charles Jahn and Alex Schaake – who both hit it roughly 300 yards off the tee on average – are undecided on the issue.

Schaake noted that shorter hitters very rarely win on the tour but also that the longer hitters still need to have the short game and putting to get the ball in the hole.

Jahns came to a similar conclusion.

“Even if you hit it far, you can’t do it if you can’t putt,” Jahn said. “It will always come down to putting, that’s the way it’ll always be.”