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Avoiding a whole new ball game
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T’S IRONIC that of all the problems
that need attention in today’s
game – participation levels and
affordability chiefly among them – the gun
is being aimed squarely at something just
1.68 inches in diameter.
As the world’s best players arrive at
Augusta National this month in search of
the prized green jacket, officials from the
R&A and United States Golf Association
will up the ante on finding a solution to the
distance debate that’s dividing the game.
More specifically, they’ll weigh up the
growing calls to wind back the golf ball to
ensure “the integrity of the game is upheld”.
According to the prosecution – a golf ball
lynch mob led by the great Jack Nicklaus –
that little white sphere is travelling too far,
rendering great courses of the world, on tour
at least, to mere drive-chip-putt exhibitions.
It’s a debate that has been largely
driven by golf course architects, and
understandably so. They’re seeing their
prized work become redundant from the
tee and that’s a genuine cause for concern.
Australian course architect Mike Clayton
said as much during a recent Inside the
Ropes podcast. “ There used to be an
imbalance between the difficulty of the
course and the equipment players had to
use. That balance has shifted completely
in favour of the player over the great, old
golf courses,” he said. It’s a valid point – the
game has changed. Clayton also refers to
world No.1 Dustin Johnson rarely needing
anything more than a 6-iron to hit approach
shots into par 4s, such is the American’s
brute force off the tee. Yet it’s Johnson,
known more for those booming drives than
his burgeoning brainpower, who came up
with the most factual take on the distance
debate: “I don’t understand what all the
debate is about because it doesn’t matter how
far it goes; it’s about getting it in the hole.”
While course designers will forever
argue the toss through the emotional lens
of old-school architecture, there’s little
quantifiable data to justify their point of
view, as time-honoured and cherished as it
may be. Further hampering their cause is
what data is available is telling us scoring
averages across the world’s tours are no
more impressive than they were 20 years
ago when Tiger Woods was king. So while DJ
can fly that bunker 270 metres away, it isn’t
benefiting his scorecard in the long run,
whether that’s how the hole was designed to
be played or not. Call it the evolution of golf.
In the 2017 Distance Report released
jointly by the R&A and USGA, average
distance gains across the seven worldwide
tours had risen three yards over the past
12 months. That is seen as concerning but
are the numbers really that significant
when you consider the breakthroughs in
driverface technology over the same period?
What? There’s other influential
technology in golf besides the golf ball?
Just as equipment, course agronomy and
player fitness have evolved with time, so
too has modern-day instruction. It is not
uncommon to see swing coaches and sport
psychologists following their player’s every
step on tour. Launch-monitor technology
has also allowed players to optimise both
ball and club setups. Could that wonderful
innovation called “clubfitting” actually
be getting away with murder here? Such
precision translates into ma ximising
distance potential – at all levels of the game.
Yet the poor old ball remains the easy
target because, well, it’s the one necessity in
a bag full of over-performers. It’s also a quick
fix so those feathery balls and hickory shafts
aren’t lost on a new generation.
Australian Golf Digest will tackle the
distance debate comprehensively over the
coming weeks, getting a range of opinions
from far and wide. Until then, our governing
bodies should consider the following:
• What’s more important long-term:
upholding the traditional values of the
game or looking after the people who pay
to play it? Golf has an ageing population.
Any decision based on a minority (tour
professionals) that could have a detrimental
effect on the majority (amateurs at club
level) is commercial suicide. Why would
anyone want to play a sport that’s doing its
utmost to make itself harder?
• Would winding back the golf ball 20
yards not be neutralised by the advanced
club technology through today's bag?
Let’s face facts, action should have been
taken years ago when the game first moved
away from the wound ball to the solid-core
variety. Surely that ship has sailed?
• In the event we do turn back the clock,
bifurcation is a must. As Greg Norman
says: “Never stop technology for the masses.
Let the millions of people out there who
shoot 130 and still lose six balls a round into
the water and three-putt six times feel like
they can hit the ball 30 yards farther. Give
’em that, but completely put the shackles on
us (pros) because we are the best.”
• Ask any weekend warrior when was the
last time they walked off a golf course
and thought, Geez that was too easy.
Just because we don’t always land in your
strategically placed sand doesn’t mean you
should bury your head in it.
10 australiangolfdigest.com.au | april 2018
• What’s your take on the
distance debate? E-mail
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