It seems the biggest issue in golf in the past couple of years has been how far the ball goes. It is a difficult issue for players like me to comment on because the vast majority of our sponsorship dollars come from the equipment manufacturers. It should be noted that it’s not the equipment manufacturers’ fault as they are just doing what they’re paid to do. To blame are the governing bodies, the R&A and USGA, who have sat on their hands while this has become out of hand. I know players on both sides of the issue, but I’m on the side that says it needs to be pulled back.
As professional golfers, we’re lucky that each week we get to play different courses but sadly we don’t get to play the best courses most of the time. This is due to many factors, including sponsor requests and venue availability, but it is also due to many of the top old courses being too short for the modern game. On many of our great courses there is no room to move tees back to make them playable and a lot of the time the only thing to defend the courses is to narrow fairways, which ruins the strategic intent. Even Royal Melbourne has changed its fairways to an inferior grass species that slows the ball down to try to make the course play longer, while Augusta National continues to buy land from surrounding properties to maintain its strategic intent.
As well as the best golf courses being undermined, the way the game is played has changed. The ball spins less, isn’t affected by the wind as much and we use drivers that you barely have to think about hitting and instead just get up and let rip. As a result, all players now hit it farther and it seems the guys that swing it faster than 118mph have an extra distance advantage. I’ve always hit the ball a bit longer than average and have been a little way behind the long guys. These days, though, I feel like I’m miles behind the longest 20 percent, which makes it difficult to compete on certain courses. For example, late last year in the Australian Open I knew that it would be a difficult week before we started. The guys who carry the ball 265 metres have a massive advantage at The Australian and there is not much trouble at all past that distance. Those who were watching would have noticed the names at the top included Cameron Davis, Jason Day and Lucas Herbert – all guys who give it a good ride.
I’m not saying the long hitters should lose all their advantage, but we need to balance things out. The driver should be an important skill but it should also be about how straight you can hit it while trying to hit it as far as you can – just like Greg Norman could do with the old persimmon drivers in the late 1980s. If Greg played today I feel his advantage would be reduced, as no one was able to hit it as long but consistently straight as he did back in the day.
So what do we do? I’m not smart enough to figure out the science, but if we made the ball spin a bit more and took the driver back to where we were in the mid-1990s that would be a good starting point. This would make all our great courses relevant again and also force players to think a bit more with a driver in their hands. It would also make the game more fun and interesting to watch, as players would have to think more as they navigate the golf course. The longest will still be the longest, but it will be a bit more of an even playing field and the best golfers would consistently find the top of the leaderboard – not just the bombers.