Clear, Simple and Wrong
Golf’s distance debate is a complex problem, in fact it’s a collection of complex problems across multiple disciplines - physics, sports science, architecture, agronomy, environmental issues, commercial considerations and a fair bit of politics.
Why then are we possessed with such arrogance to think we can rush in with our own simple single-sentance solutions?
Grow more rough, grow less rough…
Lengthen courses, shorten courses…
Bigger ball, more dimples, smaller drivers, shorter tee pegs…
Take 10% off the ball. No take 8% off. Fools, you must take exactly 6 to 9 percent off the ball!
Simple solutions are the hottest of 280 character hot takes.
It's one form of the Single Cause Fallacy (also known as Causal Reductionism if you want to be impressive/boring at a dinner party). A concept which describes a tendency to over-simplify a complex problem that might have multiple more nuanced layers.
Oh how we yearn for one simple sound bite that makes perfect sense and cuts through all the complexity. A weaponised phrase that mows down any argument, laying waste to dissent and turning hearts and minds with a simple, solemn statement of fact followed by a sage nodding of heads.
But influential essayist Henry Louis Mencken once wrote “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”
Let’s pause - only briefly - to consider the irony that Mencken’s quote is itself a gross generalisation of a complex social phenomenon. Now put that bit of meta-analysis aside because it doesn’t serve the point of this article.
What I hope to highlight through Mencken’s observation is that all complex problems involve a lot of nuance - if you’re not across the nuance you’re not across the problem.
To those closest to understanding the distance debate, it’s one big complex, delicious, spicy meatball of nuance.
A problem this complex requires a bit of galaxy brain to take it all in. One little nudge or tweak to some aspect of the problem ripples throughout space and time to create a whole series of changes and unintended consequences. It takes a suite of tweaks and measures to bring balance to a solution of this size in order to get the right outcome.
But know this - there’s no perfect solution.
Here’s how these things evolve - you start with a bunch of pundits espousing answers that are clear, simple (and wrong). You bring in a bunch of academics who come up with an amazing solution that explores every edge case, accounts for every eventuality and is perfect in every way except it is understood by absolutely nobody.
In the end, nuances are explored, theories are tested, debates rage, compromises are reached, regulations are drafted and life… and golf… goes on.
There’s been countless tweets, articles, opinion pieces and even manifestos written about the distance problem, but there’s no denying that the USGA and R&A Distance Insights Report is the first piece of writing to comprehensively uncover much of the complexity and far-reaching implications of the issue. It’s so comprehensive it really makes everything that has come before it look a bit silly.
Does it provide any answers? Not really. And nor should it, what was needed at this point is a document that lays out a broad set of discussion points to have a sensible debate that explores all the nuance of this complex issue. It does that.