Should They Change the Golf Ball?

Here’s a chart for you:

Here’s another:

And one more for good luck:

OK, enough of that. So what are these numbers telling us? In general, the faster you can swing the club, the further the ball goes. The further the ball goes, the closer we are to the hole. Generally, the closer we are to the hole, the easier it is to get the ball in the hole in a fewer number of strokes. If it seems simplistic, that’s because it is.

The USGA and R&A came out with their third distance report Monday, saying they are concerned with the increase in distance at the highest levels of golf.

“The 2015 and 2016 editions of the distance report presented the increases in driving distance since 2003 as a slow creep of around 0.2 yards per year,” the report’s preamble reads. “The 2017 data shows a deviation from this trend. The average distance gain across the seven worldwide tours was more than 3 yards since 2016.”

Jack Nicklaus is one of the biggest proponents for dialing back the potential distance of modern golf balls, citing concerns about course length and cost to expand courses. Also that it has become more difficult to host majors at some of the classic courses like Merion, Bethpage Black, Shinnecock Hills, etc., due to the distance professionals possess.

Now, Mr. Nicklaus has forgotten more about golf than I’ll never know, and I can certainly see where he’s coming from. He’s a prolific golf course architect, and naturally architects want to see their courses host big-time events. I understand that costs get higher with more land, and that, in turn, translates to higher green fees for players.

Here’s why I disagree. Take a look at the second chart again. The levels of distance that we’re talking about really only pertain to about 0.1% of the golfing population, that is, the best (and fastest swinging) players in the world. Also, it’s not just the golf ball. There have been huge advances in club design, fitness, nutrition, and since Tiger, pure athleticism. Sure Kiradech Aphibarnrat might be a bit of a throwback, but professional players are generally in pretty good shape.

Also, the game is hard enough as it is. The average male amateur (AMA) handicap index has rested between 14-15 since 2003. The AMA clubhead speed is 93.4, and they have an average total distance of 214 yards with the driver. Dialing back the golf ball would absolutely make the game less fun for the average amateur player, male or female. The argument here is that the tour players could play a different ball, but that opens another host of issues. People want to use (generally) the same equipment that tour players are using, and it would probably require retail outlets and pro shops to carry a “pro” as well as an “amateur” ball, increasing costs and leftover inventory. Also, most golfers tend to think the hit the ball A LOT further than they actually do, which will inevitably cause many amateurs to purchase a “pro” ball (ever see someone playing blade irons that shouldn’t be? Me too).

Here’s my solution: courses should completely dispel with the idea of a “junior’s” or “women’s” or “men’s” tee. One of the biggest culprits of slow play is people playing from the wrong teebox. If you’re constantly hitting long irons/hybrids/woods into par 4 greens, not only are you not having much fun, you’re sabotaging your score and slowing down the course. There are women who can play the “white” tees and men who should play the “red” tees and vice versa. It all really depends on how far you can hit the ball. Take a look:

That’s a lot of red, and very few shots GOING PAST the target, even at 160 yards. When we bump that back to 180, it looks even worse (I’ll save you the pain of another chart).

What I’m saying is that I don’t think dialing back golf ball distance does the average player much good, and I personally don’t believe it makes the professional game better. I, for one, like seeing Bubba and DJ and Rory rip it 350 yards. So what if they’re 20-under for a tournament? They’ve earned it. If golfers start playing the correct tees for their skill level, and worked on optimizing their driver distances (I’ll go over this in a future post, but you should definitely be hitting UP on the golf ball with your driver), pace of play would improve and we’d all have more fun. Feel free to shoot a comment with your opinion. Happy golfing!