Are the pros hitting the ball too far for existing courses? How many of the classic courses have been lengthened in the last 10 years. What tournament courses haven’t had fairways narrowed and greens hardened to try and keep winning scores higher. And the question that really matters to most of us, should we care? Most of us don’t play on these courses, so what’s the difference. Maybe we should let the pro game be what it is and just watch it on TV. Hey, but don’t we actually pay the money the pros make. That makes us their employer, so why shouldn’t we have the primary say?
Jack Nicklaus says the pros are hitting the ball too long and something should be done about it. If any pro has the credentials to speak his mind on this it’s Jack, the best player of our time. (Tiger you’re great, but you’ve got to keep playing at the top level for at least another 15 years.) I won’t put words into Jack’s mouth, but I believe his thinking is that too many clubs are being taken out of the pros hands. They don’t have to hit the whole bag like they used to – no 3 irons into a postage stamp par 3. Today they just hit their 300+ yard drives and at most hit 7 irons to the green. (A 320 yard drive plus a 195 yard 7 iron = 515. That’s a par 5 hole for most of us amateurs.)
And many can even let the shaft out more when they need to and knock it 340+ on the ‘long’ par 5’s. There are lots of why’s – better conditioning, better coaching, greater flexibility, digital video analysis, high tech club faces, high tech shafts and ‘juiced’ balls. More tournament courses are lengthened every year, with more yardages surpassing the 7200 mark. How often do the ‘shorter’ hitters now contend in the majors? The Corey Pavin’s of the world seem relegated to top 20 finishes at best.
I’ve heard speculation by some golf writers that the situation will only get worse as the best golfers get ‘bigger’. Maybe our new champions will be the guys that used to play B-ball, all 6’6″ + and over 240 lbs. Goodbye to the Justin Leonard’s of the world. I’ve read that this is the coming trend because in the past tall players were limited by the ability to build clubs their size that actually worked. Now with new materials, the experts say this has changed. A 6’6” guy can get a club his size with the correct swing weight. We certainly have seen more ‘big’ guys winning lots of tournaments in recent years. Just look at the likes of Faldo, Mickelson, Singh and Els. I think it would be a shame to turn golf into another sport that favors size over so many other attributes.
Back to our original idea, why should we care what the pros do. Who cares if just big guys win, or just big hitters or the pro that gets sponsored by the best equipment makers. I think we should care because that isn’t the game we love. There are many things that make golf unique among sports (or among games for you purists). For amateurs, we all seem created equal. Can you say there is any common physical characteristic among the best people in your league. In many cases the smallest player with the strangest swing is the one who scores best week to week. And of course, there’s always the ‘handicap’ – the great equalizer among honest amateurs.
And I like the idea that I get to watch the best in the world attempt the same shots I have to make. First I get to see how they do it. And I might even learn something. And I also appreciate their tremendous skill more when I see them have to hit a 3 iron out of a fairway bunker to try and get on a green in regulation.
So, is the fix that easy? We just mandate that the pros have to use a ball that doesn’t go so far and all will be right with the world. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some of the pitfalls behind this approach.