Yesterday we looked at why it might be good to limit the pros ability to hit the ball so far. The easiest way to do this appears to be to give them a ball that won’t travel as far. We just change that one thing and, voila, it’s all good again. But hold on, it might not be as easy as it sounds.
How would you restructure the rules to produce a ball that doesn’t go as far. Right now there are limits on ball weight, size, spherical symmetry, initial velocity and overall distance. Now a limit on overall distance sounds like we have a spec for that already, but it’s not as simple as that. The actual distance is 296.8 yards – someone tell John Daly he’s not conforming! Actually he does conform. The distance is measured under laboratory conditions with a machine that hits the ball consistently but only so hard. Obviously most pro male golfers (and some females) can make a ball go further. And both the USGA and the R&A are looking at increasing the test distance to 320 yards – the balls might soon be going even further. The bottom line for us is that manufacturers are free to compete to make the best ball within these guidelines. And that’s why there is a very competitive ball manufacturing market out there. And all of us ‘free market’ freaks know that competition is always good.
But, put a restriction on distance only and you get some problems. Even if you reduce only the size (assuming a smaller size will mean a shorter distance) how long would it take the manufacturers to make these small balls go just as far. And then you’re back to limiting distance. Once the restriction becomes a particular distance, every ball starts acting the same. They’ll all end up with the same spin options very quickly. No differentiation, no market! Maybe we’re already there and just don’t know it. Do I score any better with a Bridgestone than a Srixon? Me thinks not.
What drives us to use certain balls? Certainly our pocketbook, but after that we want to use the ball the best golfer uses. If Phil wins with Titleist, then that’s what I want. Or if I’m a Tiger fan, I’ll take the Nike. But in our brave new world we won’t be playing with the same ball the pros use. There will be no correlation to the Titleist I use and the one VJ uses. And no incentive for the ball manufacturers, which means the death of the market which ultimately means less sponsorship money and smaller purses and a shrinking pro sport.
Maybe I’ve painted too glum a picture, but I don’t think the free market forces will ever let us have a separate ball for the pros. The manufacturers are too strong and have too much power and it’s not in their best interests. If we want to see the pros not hit the ball so far, which in effect lessens the impact of new club technology, then we are all going to have to use balls that don’t go so far. And how bad is that? Is my problem an extra 10 or 15 yards? No, my problem is hitting the ball straight (my swing), getting out of sandtraps, hitting my wedges with half and 3/4 swings and, of course, my putting. And a change in the ball isn’t going to affect these areas at all. So maybe we need a good scientist to figure out a ball construction guideline that will shorten the distance of all balls, but still allow the manufacturers to compete for our sentiments. So all we have to do is find the guy who can write the specs. Someone call the commissioner!