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From the Morning Read inbox

Reduced-flight ball is no slam dunk

Anyone who wants to roll back the distance of today’s golf balls is missing the big picture (“Golf’s distance debate falls short on logic,” Feb. 27).

I often have thought of this in relation to basketball. Nobody ever decided to move the rim higher than 10 feet off the ground, even after it was found that many great players could jump high enough – or simply be tall enough – to jam the ball through the hoop. Dunking was banned from 1967 to 1976 in college basketball, as a result of the prowess of Lew Alcindor, who later became known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Thank goodness that rule didn’t last long.

Should Michael Phelps have been saddled with a 5- or 10-pound weight in the Olympics? That would have kept Olympic swimming consistent with years ago.

I wouldn’t have a problem if golf pros someday shoot scores in the 50s. The ultimate score for a full round of golf would be 18, so that should be the ultimate goal of golfers. Cutting back on the ball’s distance is not going to help anyone get there. Of course, no one likely will achieve that level of perfection in golf, but the point is that today’s pro golfers are not shooting scores nearly as low as they could be.

Thanks again for writing such an insightful article. I hope that Jack Nicklaus and the powers that be are reading.

Gene McKenna
Fairfield, Conn.

 

Think of golf’s image

Two golf balls or bifurcation will be a hit to the game, as Thomas Bjorn mentioned. The problem is that the ruling bodies are removed from the reality on the ground.

Those of us who coach players daily will tell you that one of the unique characteristics of golf is that amateurs can play the same equipment (albeit not well, at times) that professionals play. Just look at the implications from the anchoring ban. Club players now are “cheaters” if they continue to use a long putter. I know many who use one for health reasons.

I fear that this jump to rolling back the golf ball would be done with little insight, as COR (coefficient of restitution), square grooves, anchoring, et al., and no thought to future implications of popularity and growth of the game. Any time the word “banned” or “prohibited” is used, it saddles the game with a huge negative image. We don’t need it.

Bill Abrams
Boca Raton, Fla.

(Abrams is a golf instructor and member of the PGA of America.)

 

Tougher courses could be answer

Everyone looks to distance and scoring average without considering two factors:

1. The cost of lengthening golf courses to accommodate the modern game is cost prohibitive for most clubs when a mere tightening with tree-lined fairways or rough that restricts the width of the fairway would suffice.

2. The distance that the pros and an increasing number of amateurs now hit the ball means any wayward drive landing 320 yards can be gouged out with a wedge onto the green, with two putts for par and move on.

The premium on straight driving and shot-making has been lost to the power game. Look at how Bubba Watson won recently at Riviera to witness how being able to hit the ball straight or manuever it to access tight pins can pay dividends. 

I do not wish to see the spectacle of the athletic hitting ability of our golfers lost to a decision to reduce length. Tightening golf courses and growing rough would be enough to bring the game back under control.

Even if we did go to a specific ball, manufacturers still would have their stamp on it, just as in the pro tennis circuit. The professional golf ball would be just another addition to a line of balls made by individual companies and endorsed by pros. Revenue still would come into the game.  

It is about time that the debate is sorted or an agreement reached to control how the distance element influences the game, but it does not mean that the only solution is to change the ball. Surely when we took up the game, it was all about the skill and satisfaction in being able to hit the ball straight or recover/accept punishment from a wayward drive.

We pander too much to the 20-under brigade when courses such as Riviera or PGA National prove that the pros can be challenged and entertainment given in spades by making the course a little more difficult. 

Kevin Seymour 
Gaithersburg, Md.

 

Top players will attract fans, regardless

I found the article very informative except for this sentence: “Most amateurs would be uninterested in giving up distance, so equipment manufacturers likely would limit their TV, digital and print advertising if Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and the game’s most visible stars would be forced to play other, inferior equipment.”

The proposal of altering the ball simply would create a new product by manufacturers to be used in professional tournaments. For us fans, it would have no impact at all.

Do you think I'm no longer going to watch Spieth, Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler just because their ball goes 15 yards less than the ball I use? I didn't even read an argument on why fan interest and advertising would decrease. It won’t. We’ll still be watching these amazing professionals compete.

My interest in professional golf is not so shallow that knowing that the pros would be using “inferior equipment” would alter that interest. That isn’t my perspective. Watching the best professionals compete is my perspective.

Robin Dea
Vancouver, Wash.

 

Bigger ball would reduce distance

One of the key arguments against changing the ball is the one you identify of forcing the manufacturing of an inferior ball, or worse, having a standard ball for tournament golf that everyone has to play with no ambit for innovation and competition as between the manufacturers.

There is a solution: Make the golf ball slightly bigger.

The experience with the slightly smaller British ball that used to be used by American golfers when they played in the British Open demonstrates that a slightly bigger ball would travel shorter distances and be more subject to wind and spin. With sufficient notice, manufacturers could retool. A local rule could allow flexibility for the various tournaments and tours in deciding whether to adopt the ball. It would not be true bifurcation any more than the shorter set of tees used by the LPGA and Champions tours.

This approach has the benefit of simplicity. It also permits manufacturers to compete for the best tournament ball as well as for the best non-tournament ball.

John G. Dives 
Victoria, British Columbia

 

There’s no stopping evolution in golf

I think we need some common sense to this great debate on limiting the manufacture of golf balls. The golf ball is only one part of the equation. The ball is traveling farther because (1) the golfers today are being physically trained, (2) the equipment is better manufactured, and (3) there is a matching (or fitting) of player, club and ball through computer technology to maximize velocity and mass with lift and drag to gain maximum speed, trajectory, carry and roll. What was once achieved only by feel is now available to everyone.

The real problem is in trying to retard progress. Golf has evolved through innovation in all facets of the game. While I personally still enjoy playing with hickory clubs and a gutty ball on a 5,800-yard layout, persimmon, steel and balata at 6,400 yards, and graphite, titanium and the latest five-layer composite at any distance beyond, I find it offensive to dictate to anyone how they should experience their pleasure. The golf industry always has been tied to game improvement, which for the average Joe means more enjoyment and less frustration, breaking 100, 90 or 80 for the first time, hitting a long drive or holing a putt. Trying to buy a game always has been the advertising lure. We cannot all spend every waking hour trying to improve.

Let progress be progress, I say, and relish the fact that golfers, manufacturers and course superintendents have been able to take the game to new heights in scoring, which the average golfers will never attain and only dream about as they tee up their new ball, with the latest club technology after doing a few Gary Player crunches or eating the latest vegan energy bar. 

As far as the PGA Tour is concerned, every generation should be raising the bar. This generation gets to play with the best equipment, with the best ball and the best training. We are seeing great golf because of it, which fans absolutely love to see whether it's grinding out pars or making birdies. The older generation must accept the fact that the modern golfer, as Bobby Jones once remarked about a young Jack Nicklaus, “plays a game of which I am not familiar.”

So it is, and so it will ever be.

Ed Smilow
La Quinta, Calif.

 

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