This week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club will see the use of rangefinders for the first time in a women’s Major, picking up where the men left off at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May. The PGA of America has permitted their use at their competitive events in 2021, and the move has sparked a debate about whether it benefits the game and whether it will even achieve its intended purpose of speeding up the pace. Some players still insisted they’d use their yardage books, and that double-checking would actually prolong play. And, as of now, no other governing bodies have made moves to legalise the devices (though the PGA Tour does allow rangefinders in Monday qualifying).
Danielle Kang, winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA Championship, is against the new development entirely, as she made clear earlier this week at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“Being honest, there’s a lot of things that I don’t agree with that the rules are changing because I’m kind of an old-school golfer,” she said of the new developments. “So I don’t even believe in greens books. I don’t even carry one. I believe that green reading is a skill.”
Her take on green-reading books is especially relevant this week, as reports about them being prohibited in the future on the PGA Tour have surfaced. But Kang didn’t stop there; rangefinders equally offend her sense of how the game should be played.
“Rangefinders, I don’t think it’s going to speed up play,” she said, “just like I don’t think putting with the pin in is speeding up play. It hasn’t. I believe that the caddies, they work hard. I mean, some caddies are veteran caddies, they know how to get cover numbers. Like being able to adjust, doing math is part of golf, adding and subtracting, sometimes making a mistake that you added instead of subtracted, that’s just part of the game. It’s part of life. If you take that out of play, I don’t know, I guess there might be [fewer] mistakes, I don’t know, but I see it as a little bit of a downside for just taking a classic game away.”
Kang is only 28 years old, but clearly has a throwback mentality when it comes to technological advances. Not all of her competitors agree.
“When I’m not sure about the lines on the greens and I can have a green book that everybody can get, I mean, I think it’s fair,” said Shanshan Feng. “If I can have a green book to help me to read it, to make it from 80 percent to 95 percent, I think it’s a good thing.”
“I feel like it will be a lot easier out there to calculate numbers and maybe a little bit more confidence because you know for sure that the number is right. Moving forward, it will be a good thing,” Brooke Henderson, the 2016 KPMG PGA winner, said of rangefinders. “And the green books, I understand why a lot of players don’t agree with them and why the PGA Tour is possibly banning it next year. At the same time, I use one, so I really like it. I feel like, yes, it is definitely an advantage, just like rangefinders are, but I feel like they’ve been in play now for a few years and it seems to be okay. So that one I hope that the LPGA doesn’t ban.”
On the other side of the debate, Sophia Popov, last year’s Women’s British Open winner, agreed with Kang’s take on green-reading books, and struck a nostalgic tone.
“To me it was a little bit sometimes that I felt like I lost the little junior player in myself, the one that got really excited about having a good read, hitting the putt where I wanted to and it going in, going, That was a perfect read,” she said. “Now I rely on green books a lot and I make mistakes because of green books because it takes away my intuition and the first thing I saw on the greens. I’m right there with a lot of players where they say, if we got rid of green books I wouldn’t be very sad about it because I think it’s a skill that every player should have.”
Inbee Park seemed to be against it, if only slightly, and spared a thought of the effect it would have on caddies.
“It’s just literally taking their job away,” she said. “So I think it’s just… like I said, neutral. We’re going to get exact yardage to the pin, that’s for sure. Sometimes with the caddies, when you do the add-ups wrong or step it slightly wrong, you get a yard or two wrong, but we’re not going to get that with the yardage guns. I think it’s more accurate for the players, but from a caddie perspective, I think they might be against it.”
The divided opinion creates a sort of philosophical battleground as the year’s third Major begins, and comes at an interesting time in the sport’s technological evolution, when some governing bodies are curbing technology and others are forging ahead. Golf may look very different in five years, and how the conflict plays out the rest of this year will play a big role in the sport’s future.
PHOTO: Jed Jacobsohn