In a recent interview, Tiger Woods stirred up the discussion again about rolling back the golf ball, saying “Something needs to be done with the ball.” He claims that he’s hitting the ball as far in his short time back hitting balls as he was when he was at full strength and therefore, the ball is too long. Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and others have been leading this charge for sometime. The problem is whether or not the ball is really a problem and if it is, for whom?
It certainly isn’t a problem for me as a 2 handicap playing at 4000 feet elevation. In a lifetime pursuit of the game, I have shot in the 60s on my home course three times. Ever. I don’t find myself getting bored or wearing out my wedges. And I’m in a relatively small group of single digit handicap golfers. The majority of golfers struggle mightily with distance and accuracy especially off the tee. And they all love to hit drivers, so let’s not talk about having them hit irons or hybrids off the tee for control. It’s fun to hit the long ball!
Tiger said that the USGA is already looking into what the game would look like if the ball were rolled back 10, 15 and 20 percent. Here’s an idea of what it would look like.
On the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy led in driving distance in 2017 hitting the ball an average of 317 yards according to the PGA Tour statistics. If you limited the distance the ball could fly by 10%, Rory would average 285 yards off the tee. At 15% he would average 269 yards and at 20% 253 yards off the tee. Do you really want to see the longest hitters in professional golf “smash” it 253 yards off the tee?
Jordan Spieth is middle of the pack in driving distance with an average of 295 yards off the tee. His roll back numbers would put him at 265 yards at 10%, 250 yards at 15% and 236 yards at 20%. Really? 236 yards average off the tee? That should get people excited to start playing golf.
Here’s some general stats to consider though. In 2017, 43 PGA Tour players averaged more than 300 yards off the tee. Ten years ago just 18 players averaged over 300 yards and in 1997, there was just one, single player averaging over 300 yards and that was John Daly.
So, there are more players hitting the ball further today than ten or twenty years ago. Is that all due to advancements in the golf ball? Is it fair to say that there are better athletes playing the game today than in 1997? Is it fair to suggest that the golf course conditions are better today than 20 years ago? I think there are a myriad of factors to consider, but the biggest is the impact to the everyday player, the weekend hacker, not just the PGA Tour player.
If we learned something from MLB during the Postseason, it’s that fans love the long ball. Offense is fun to watch. The same should be said for golf. Long drives and birdie chances are more fun to watch and more fun for playing. Don’t forget those factors when considering a change to the ball.