Is Rory McIlroy the best golfer in the world?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The USGA and R&A introduced a new rule to give tournament organizers the option to limit club length to a 46-inch maximum. The Rule goes into effect Jan 1, 2022, and both the PGA Tour and LPGA said they would utilize the Rule. What’s your take on this latest move to curb driving distance? Is it necessary and if so, does it go far enough?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): If using longer shafts made that much of a difference, then wouldn’t everyone be doing it?  In my view, this is only penalizing players who’ve opted for the longer shafts, and I find that discriminatory and unfair.  You want to roll back distance?  Roll back the ball for pro tournaments.  That affects everyone.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I’m fine with this rule. Most players don’t use a shaft longer than this currently. The rule just keeps a few courses relevant for the next “x” years (and for future builds, they won’t need to be 8,000 yards plus). Technology has made several nice layouts un-hostable by todays standard for testing the best players in the world. Mind you, this really is by every account a Tour/Professional player rule, this has no impact on the average player.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I don’t think it makes any difference. The players have already experimented with longer drivers and most found there is a compromise between distance and accuracy and settled on something in the 44″ to 45″ length. Of course, Bryson will continue to try everything in his quest to hit the ball further but until he wins 7 or 8 events in a row nobody really cares. Mickelson actually makes a valid point when he says,” Golf is enjoying its biggest growth spurt in 40 years, why change anything”? One real effect will be on country club golfers who use a 45 to 48″ driver and can hit the ball a long way. They also hit the ball a long way offline which brings hundreds of windows, swimming pools, gardens, parked cars and non-golfers into danger. Maybe the shorter clubs will reduce the number of insurance claims.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Reducing driver length does very little if anything to curb the distance they are hitting the ball. Not many players would play a longer club anyway. I guess it’s one easy step to help a bit, but I don’t see it making much of a difference.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: For the past few years, Phil has made the most sense among the talking pros. As he pointed out, wielding a 48-inch (or longer) driver comes with a big cost in control and accuracy. It’s self-regulating. The length of the driver shaft ain’t the problem. Phil knows it, all the pros know it, the USGA just won’t admit it.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): All of these rule changes intended to curb distance miss the mark totally. I’m not sure how many players on all Tours combined are using a 48” driver but it’s not many. And few of those that do are having much success with it. The problem is with the ball. Until the Associations figure out how to dial that back for professional competition, everything else is immaterial.

Rickie Fowler, who has played so poorly of late that he missed the PGA Tour playoffs in August, roared back from the wilderness last week to challenge for the lead at the CJ Cup and eventually tied for third. Rickie is only 32 and presumably has many years of competitive golf left but do you see him getting back to a Top 10 in the world level and contending in majors or grinding away in the middle of the pack?

Deeks: Yes I do.  I think he’s a fine player who may have lost his golf focus temporarily.  I expect him to be a contender in years to come, with a career that will be similar to Davis Love’s.

Loughry: I hope to see Rickie back in the top 10, but I don’t like his chances. He’ll be a quality long time Tour player though, a grinder middle pf the pack guy, like Charles Howell III. A good long career, but maybe considered an under achiever.

Schurman: Rickie Fowler has three problems that will keep him from the top: he is married now; he has many millions of $$$$$$$; and he never was what was promised.

Rule: It’s so hard to say these days. Jordan Spieth seemed to be completely lost until around this time last year and now he’s back near the top of the game. Rickie is extremely talented and still young, so I think he’s going to use last week to propel him to a big year and get back into the conversation for President’s Cup or Ryder Cup teams. He just needs to sort his putting, which has been very sub-par for him the past couple of years. He was first in Strokes Gained Putting in 2015 and dropped to 126th last year. If he can figure that out, he’ll be hanging around some leaderboards this coming year.

Quinn: Was surprised to learn that he’s 32. Still goes by the childish Rickie and wears his orange hats like a snowboarder, yet still has an enormous fan base. But, to me he never seemed to be a good fit, never seemed to belong in the upper echelon. Though he acts like a 20-somethng, today’s 20-something have more talent, too much to let him back in.

Mumford: Rickie’s playing record would indicate he’s better than average but not close to Top 10 material. However, if you want to compare bank accounts or marketing impact or likeability, Rickie is all-world. We all fell for the hype, but my feeling is that he never was as good as the PR machine at Cobra / Puma.

After winning the CJ Cup on Sunday, Rory McIlroy said, “I know that when I do the things that I do well, this is what I’m capable of. I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA TOUR and being the best player in the world.” Presumably, other top-ranked players also feel that they’re capable of being the best player in the world. In this week’s fantasy bet, your house is on the line. Assuming all players are playing at their best, which player are you backing to win?

Deeks: I’d say Dustin Johnson, who doesn’t always play at his best, but when he does, he’s really hard to beat.

Loughry: As much as I’ve criticized him in the past, all things equal, I still think DJ is the most talented, and has the most all-round game. A very close second is Rahm. No disrespect to any other players, I just think these two guys have all the tools and less of a noticeable weakness in some facets of the game. Rory its putting and wedge play, Spieth is just inconsistent. Koepka, only shows once in a while, Cantley could be the real deal. The others, Schauffele, Morikawa, are too “new” to know.

Schurman: If they all are playing their best it would take six or seven 72-hole tournaments for one player to take a one-stroke lead. Johnson isn’t as good a putter as the others, and neither is DeChambeau. Thomas would be tough as would Cantlay, but the winning score would come from McIlroy and Rahm. Remember you said “playing their best” so, I’d have to go with Rory to win by one after 504 holes.

Rule: It’s hard to bet against Rory at his best because of how well he drives the ball, so he’d be right at the top of the list, with Dustin Johnson. The problem with Rory is that he’s so inconsistent with his short game and putting. But when he’s on, he’s one of the best. When he won at Congressional in 2011 it looked like he could never lose a golf tournament. If he plays like he did that week, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that can beat him.

Quinn: Having faithfully adhered to the generations-long family adage Buy High, Sell Low, betting the farm is not as intimidating as it might have been. Thing is, when the top players — and there have never been as many on the Tour — are on song, as the Aussies say, they play like they should birdie every hole and win every event. But if the current crop of incredible talents are all firing, I’d have to sign over the mortgage on Rahm for distance, precision, and his superb putting touch. Of course, it would probably be decided in an 8-man playoff.

Mumford: Playing their best doesn’t mean playing THE best. Rory’s best putting isn’t close to Jordan Spieth’s best putting and Jordan’s best driving isn’t close to Rory’s. While they all have strengths and weaknesses, I think when Rory is clicking on all cylinders, he’s the toughest to beat. Rahm and DJ are tied for second, half a shot behind.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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