"If regulations allowed us to do whatever we wanted I don't think it would affect the game to the detriment of the average player
Doug Wright, Wilson Golf
"People think they hit a ball 300 yards and it's a goddamned miracle. But I know I did something all the greats couldn't do. That's something to really think about."
He drove the ball with a tailwind of up to 35mph (55kmph) and was at an altitude of well above 2,000m above sea level but the thing is that Austin was using a Persimmon driver - the ones actually made from wood.
Golf is meant to have moved on since then. Clubs are lighter, more forgiving to mis-hits and are more powerful. They have gone from being made of wood then steel to titanium and this has greatly affected how far the ball is being driven.
Tradition and skill
average driving distances on the PGA Tour
jumped up by over 20 yards in the 10 years between 1990 and 2000 and nearly another 20 between 2000 and 2003. At that point there were nine players averaging drives of over 300 yards.
Dan Simmons takes a sideways glance at golfing GPS tech
At that time, when titanium technology was first being utilised, drivers twice the current limit - 460 cubic centimetres (28 cubic inches) in size - were being created and driving averages were at an all-time high.
The efficiency of club faces
was capped at 83%
and further - even more technical - regulations were placed on the balls. At the start of the 2010 season, even the amount of grooves on a club face was limited.
With these regulations,
, the biggest driver on the PGA Tour for three of the last four years, has actually seen his average drive distance drop.
At the end of the 2009 season, it stood at 312 yards per drive. While not exactly a chip shot, it represents a fall of seven yards in three years.
In fact, the PGA Tour average currently stands at 287 yards - a figure quite easily out of the reach of most amateurs, but one that has remained the same since 2003.
"Maybe we made drivers too big, too quickly," says Doug Wright, business director for Wilson Golf in Europe.
"If you look at other industries, they tend to limit their technologies, but we pretty much went up to the limit straight away."
In the 2009 season, 47 drives of 400 yards or more were
recorded on the PGA Tour
. The longest was 467 yards by Charley Hoffman, and while huge, it was still 50 yards short of what Mike Austin achieved with inferior technology and an age disadvantage.
Both golf clubs and golf fashions have come a long way in the last 100 years
"If you were a strong player you could still get some decent distance [with an old-style driver]," says Wright.
"For the normal player you would struggle to get consistency from the tee because the sweet spot was so small and, secondly, the club was quite heavy."
So are the rules getting in the way of new tech coming out to help golfers?
"I'm always guarded about people who want to stifle innovation," says Steve Burnett, coaching department manager at the English Golf Union.
"The normal golfer on the street wants to hit the ball further, he wants the latest gadgets because golf's a hard game to play. It requires a lot of time and a lot of practice so the easier we can make it the better, for the health of the game as a whole."
And he is not the only one who thinks that technology is of great use to the more casual player:
"If regulations allowed us to do whatever we wanted to the golf ball and the club, then I don't think it would affect the game to the detriment of the average player," says Wright.
"I think the professional game - which a lot of the concern is around - and the risk of courses becoming redundant, is a different argument all together. I can see both sides."
There is increasing debate about whether there should be two sets of rules, one set for amateurs and one for professionals. The argument is that purity should be kept for elite players but amateurs should be offered all the help they can get.
Older courses are being extended because of drive length increases
Despite the advances in technology, there is one fact you cannot escape - the faster you swing the club, all things being equal, the further the ball will go. Austin is rumoured to have a swing that approached 150mph. A number of top pros are now swinging the club at upwards of 120mph.
But the simple answer could be that golfers are not always trying to hit it as hard as they can as position is often more important than yardage - a prime position on the fairway is far better than careering off another 100 yards into the woods.
The manufacturers however, with annual product cycles, are trying to eke out every inch of extra distance.
"It's something we always ask them," says Jonathan Greathead, equipment editor at Today's Golfer magazine.
"A year ago, manufacturers said their driver was the greatest, longest, best ever and now, 12 months later, they're launching something even more impressive - so how does this technology work?"
The real innovations are not actually in enhancing distance but in accuracy, consistency and personalised clubs.
"Customisation is a massive part of the game now," says Greathead.
"Even a guy playing off a 20 or 21 handicap can drop maybe five or six shots in just a few weeks, which obviously is a massive difference, whereas the pros need every edge they can get."
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