If they don’t scale back the golf ball, we’re going to run out of earth!” - Jack Nicklaus
In May, the American tour visit an old haunt in the Memorial Tournament. Hosted by a man who needs no introductions, scribes in particular look forward to interacting with Jack Nicklaus early in the week on Tuesday.
The Golden Bear may well be past his prime, but his opinions - especially on the modern game are revered like no others.
Among other comments about the current state of our beloved game, his last one stood out as he walked out of the press room - “If they don’t scale back the golf ball, we’re going to run out of earth!”
Jack’s words weren’t new. He grew up playing the game during a different era, one where there was greater emphasis on shaping the golf ball. Sweet spots were the size of small coins as accuracy trumped distance.
It was a treat to watch Seve Ballesteros set up on the extreme left of the 13th tee at Augusta National in preparation to hit a big slinging hook into the fairway.
In 2014, Bubba Watson set up on the extreme right, and pummeled his driver shaping a huge cut. Initial skepticism turned to wonderment as the left handed golfer had nothing but a wedge left on one of the most challenging holes in all of golf. The charm of the reachable par-5 was getting ruined.
The club did what it does best, and bought the land behind the tee box extending it further back - but for how long do you keep doing that asks Big Jack?
The multilayered golf ball changed the game. Of course, other reasons include better agronomy, equipment, and stronger athletes led by Tiger Woods. While this debate has raged on for the past 100 years, manufacturers aren’t too worried.
Governing bodies have merely taken note of what they call ‘concerns on the rising distance of the golf ball’. Any changes to the ball means that production with require changes running costs into billions of dollars. Bottomline is : It isn’t happening anytime soon.
All that is pro talk. What about the average amateur? The game hasn’t gotten any easy for any of us 15-handicappers.
If the equipment and ball were scaled back for the professionals, imagine what hacks will have to go through? No easy to hit hybrids and huge left to right slider drivers!
This doesn’t even take into consideration the distance gained by the everyday golfer! The debate continues to rage - How about different rules for the amateurs and pros? Or just learn to accept things the way they are, and live with some golf courses becoming obsolete? Is it already too late to roll back equipment?
About 20 years ago, former tour player Gary McCord predicted that the modern player would carry a driver, eight wedges and a putter as they slash their way around layouts across the world. That already almost sounds like how golf is played today, a sport markedly different from what early pioneers intended it to be.
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The writer is a sports journalist and aspiring academic. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org