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  • Alistair Tait

Another Call To Curb The Golf Ball

Patrick Cantlay doesn’t look like the sort of person you’d want to sit down and have a blether with over a libation. The six-time PGA Tour winner looks nothing like business-like on the golf course, seemingly single minded in his pursuit of tournament wins.

However, underneath that steely demeanour is obviously someone who seems to understand the game on a deeper level.

Cantlay has become the latest player to join the chorus of those who say distance has got out of hand. Add his name to that of Sir Henry Cotton, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and most top players over the years who’ve been banging on about distance since par-5s became largely obsolete, and players started hitting 450 yard holes with wedge second shots – sand wedges for many instead of pitching ones.

Cantlay added his voice to those calling for a rollback of the golf ball in a conversation with Goldman Sacks Chief Executive David Solomon. Cantlay's words are worth listening to. Here are the most saliant comments on technology from that conversation:

“Theoretically, the golf ball needs to go shorter. Every golf course I go to has different tee boxes farther back than even 4-5 years ago when I visited the golf course. It’s getting to the point where the tee boxes are already to the perimeter of the property, so much so that Augusta National has been buying up all the adjacent pieces of property so they can put more tee boxes and change the holes.
“That’s not sustainable. Not only that if pace of play is one of your biggest concerns, how many golf course do I go to on Tour where the tees are 100 yards back? They can’t keep going in this direction.
“The technology isn’t only better but young guys are trying to hit it farther and farther because the stats say the farther I hit it, the better I’ll play. Something has to give.
“I think the biggest shame is that I can’t go to Cypress Point and play the course the way the designer designed the golf course to be played. The biggest problem for me is when we lose the architectural integrity of the golf course. We’re to the point where that’s where we are. Something has to give.”

Spot. On.

As reported last week, Augusta National is being lengthened for this year’s Masters, with the par-4, 11th hole playing 15 yards longer at 520 yards. Wonder if architect Dr Alister MacKenzie ever envisioned the hole playing that length when he laid it out in the 1930s?

Tiger Woods also wayed into the distance debate last week. In response to Nick Faldo’s suggestion of limiting driver heads to curtail distance, Woods replied:

“Add spin to the golf ball. That’s a way to shorten it up as well.”

Of course, the governing bodies are in the process of coming up with solutions to the distance debate. The R&A and USGA are still to report on findings from the Distance Insights Project. Covid-19 has hampered that project to some extent, but hopefully concrete proposals will soon be put in place to return skill to the professional game, rather than the bomb and pitch game that seems to dominate many professional tournaments.

Cantlay obviously wants those decisions to come sooner rather than later. He’s not alone. Those of us who want more variety at the top level await the Distance Insights Project conclusions with much anticipation. Most of us will welcome a rollback for elite professionals, as long as it doesn’t affect the vast majority of amateur golfers.

Meanwhile, aficionados of this grand old game of gowff are praying for Mother Mature to ensure the Old Course plays as a fast-running links for the 150th Open Championship over the Old Course, with constant 15-20mph winds over all four days. Or Cantlay’s warning about endangering the architectural integrity of historic layouts like the Old may come to fruition.

Many say it already has.

#JustSaying: “At the moment courses are getting too long, it takes too much time to play a round and is therefore too tiring for the majority. … Change to a lighter ball would bring thousands more courses automatically up to championship standards and cut down on the reign of the power players, for skill would count more than sheer strength.” Sir Henry Cotton from Thanks for the Game, published in 1980

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