Johnny Deep asks, ‘Why is everyone talking about rolling back the ball recently?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

I have a friend who has said, "Roll the ball back" for years — every time he misses a crucial putt.

This is an old story. Pundits have often predicted that new equipment will ruin golf. Old Tom Morris had a falling out with an assistant superintendent who developed a new, longer golf ball more than 100 years ago, and it is a recurring theme.

The distance advances in the last five years among the top 0.000001 of golfers — those top 25 touring pros who can regularly hit it 325 yards — have revived the call to reduce tee-shot distance of our top players. Some comes from unusual sources, like Jack Nicklaus, who once had everyone complaining about him and perhaps has a desire to see his tournament records stay intact.

I predict that these efforts will fail, as they always have. And, no one has yet convinced me that "this time it's different." I grant that recent distance increases have been staggering, but the best we can hope for now is leveling off.

Basically, we all want more length, but have certain puritanical reservations about others having it! What we really want is for us to have more distance, while restricting opponents.

Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" program told kids to avoid drugs and sex. Her program didn't work. Prohibition in the 1930s didn't work. And limiting technology won't work because it takes away something everyone wants. So, who is the USGA to tell golfers, "You can't have sex, booze, or long drives"? They will say no such thing. And I guarantee you on the first two items!

There are other reasons that reducing technology won't happen:

o Who wants to see John Daly hit one a whopping 183 yards? Or a car race with Model T cars?

o Who wants to drive a '74 Ford Pinto, because today's cars are just too fast?

o Who volunteers to fly on a DC-3 for their next flight, because today's jets navigate the winds too well?

You get my point. Human history equals progress. Golf is part of human history. Golf equals (and needs) more progress to be as satisfying as it can be.

I also grant you that there are some problems with more length, as American Society of Golf Course Architects points out. More length means more width, increasing golf course acreage at a time when it may be forced to go down for environmental reasons. Longer courses generally slow play when golf dearly needs to speed up.

So what is to blame? At a recent seminar, an expert placed blame at:

o 40 percent new golf balls. Pros have switched to solid-core balls with an inner layer and softer covers, allowing better feel and performance. Average players switched years ago. Fewer, smaller, dimples reduce spin and add distance when the inner layer is compressed.

o 30 percent new clubs. Longer shafts, lower lofts, and higher C.O.R. values allow more distance. Some distance increase is because a modern 5-iron is equal to an old 3.5-iron. Scientific matching of clubs and balls also increases distance results.

o 15 percent course conditions. Fairways are now mowed shorter than greens used to be, adding roll. Roughs aren't as penal, encouraging "swinging for the fences."

o 15 percent player conditioning. Tour pros are now better athletes and focused more on conditioning since purses became larger.

Some predict that there will be more homeowner lawsuits against golf courses for balls in the backyard. Well, this may be a biased perspective, but I say, "Don't sue the architect!" How could I predict the ball would go so much further? Have the ball makers, club makers and superintendents, along with the individual golfer himself, pay in proportion to the percentages above.

If only lawyers would see it my way!