Tiger opened his mouth a few days ago about how we need to limit the ball and suddenly everyone (me included) is arguing about whether or not we need a different set of rules and/or equipment for the professionals. In his statement, he claimed it won’t be long before we’ll need 8000 yard courses for these guys to play. Now when Tiger says it, right or wrong, people pay attention, and in one sense, it’s ironic that he’s the one bringing this issue up. A colleague of mine with considerably less of a platform, however, begged a question that no one seems to be asking, and I’ll bring up another. Why don’t we talk about how tight the fairways are mowed and how firm the conditions are at tour events? And how come no one is attributing these mammoth drives to the inherent equipment each player now possesses? Their juiced up bodies.
First the course set-up. Take a look at the image above and let me ask you a question. Is that a fairway or a green? If you answered the latter you’d be wrong. It’s a picture of an actual fairway of a course played on the PGA Tour. My colleague used an example of how he watched Sergio Garcia carry a 3-wood 240 yards (not unreasonably far for any good scratch amateur) and the ball came to rest finally at almost 320 yards! With fairways that they almost stop watering the week of an event, and mow heights that are something the rest of us would be more likely to see on the greens at your average muni course, it’s no wonder we see these guys, even the shorter hitters, regularly knocking the ball out there well over 300 yards. If the rest of us got 50, 60, 70, or sometimes as much as 80 yards of roll on our tee shots we’d all be hitting it much farther too. But we don’t, because maintaining a course like that for a week is possible, but trying to do it year round would put a lot of our superintendents on the unemployment line. It’s un-manageable.
And while the equipment is a bit better than it was a couple of decades ago, there’s another big reason PGA Tour players do hit the ball an awfully long way these days too. They’re stronger and more flexible collectively than at any time in the past. Take a look at Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and oh, of course, that guy Tiger who’s calling for the ball to be limited in flight, and tell there isn’t a huge difference in the body types of the athletes today than there was two decades ago when he came on the scene and ushered in the era of the golfer as a supreme athlete. A dozen years ago I spoke to the USGA Official in charge of equipment testing (which includes the ball) and he told me that, and I quote, “We are now only three to four yards away from what the principles of physics will allow under the current rules. If that was true, and since they haven’t changed the rules since then, it’s the players and their increased level of fitness, more than anything they’ve done to the ball that is responsible for why Tour Players hitting it farther than ever before.
Now The PGA Tour could roll back distance numbers tomorrow if they wanted to. And in the process put to rest a lot of this talk about the ball and bifurcation. They could have their host sights water the fairways every night (like most clubs do), and raise the average fairway cut to about a half inch (what you see at most country clubs). This would cut the roll-out by about half on most tee shots, and have the added bonus of reducing the amount of spin that players can put on the ball coming into the greens. Reduce the roll-out by half and players on tour will essentially be playing a course about 400 yards longer than they are now (which is typically well over 7000 yards). 400 yards averages out to almost thirty yards a hole on the fourteen non-par three holes. That’s a difference of three clubs into the average green. Put less loft in a players hand and more grass between the club and the face and the resulting decrease in a player’s ability to control their approach shots into the green would be a game-changer. Will they do it? Not likely. Distance sells, and we’re not just talking about clubs here. It puts butts in the seats at tour events and tunes in viewers on the tube. But if they’re really serious about not making the traditional courses obsolete, The PGA Tour has the ability to do it overnight, without going to the manufacturers and asking them for a reduced flight ball and being threatened by a wave of lawsuits. It’s nice to know right now that we can all play the same ball and equipment the pro’s do, even if we can only dream about hitting that same ball as far. Most of us won’t ever play Augusta National either (the fairway pictured), but we can keep dreaming, right? Let me know what you think.