Nicklaus, Player and Watson support proposal to roll back the golf ball

Ronan MacNamara

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus at the First Tee ceremony at the Masters. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson have backed the USGA and R&A’s proposal to implement a distance reducing golf ball by 2026.

The trio were speaking after they fulfilled their duties as honorary starters for this year’s Masters Tournament and they were quizzed on their thoughts about the recent proposal from golf’s governing bodies which has drawn mixed reactions from the sport’s leading players.

The distance the golf ball travels is going a lot further than the MacGregor days of yesteryear and the three heroes of Augusta were all in favour of reducing the distance the modern golf ball goes.


“I think what the USGA and the R&A have done is a good start, whether it’s bifurcation or — I think bifurcation is fine to start with, and they thought so the last time. That’s why — the ball. Let’s see what happens,” said six-time Masters winner, Nicklaus who is concerned with how much land courses are using to extend holes.

“Guys, there’s not many places you can go out and buy another golf course to put a tee. We’re going to run out of land, run out of water. Plus the fact that you realize, the longer the golf ball goes, the more time it takes to play the game of golf. And the biggest problem we’ve got, one of the biggest problems is it takes too long to play the game. Anything we can do to shorten up the time to play and make it more sensible and easier, I think we’ve got to do it.”

Three-time green jacket wearer Player is in favour of dialling the ball back up to forty yards but insists the amateurs must be spared from this proposal.

“I’m really delighted to see them making an effort. There’s been a lot of talk about it.” said the 87-year-old whose son was slapped with a lifetime ban from the Masters last year.

“I know Tom, Jack and I, and a lot of players have spoken about it for years and years and years. 20 yards is not enough. If you look into the future, you have to cut it back for pros. Leave it for the amateurs as it is. But for the players, you have to cut it back 40 yards.

“This young boy from South Africa, you think DeChambeau is long, this young boy who is an amateur playing in this tournament hits it probably 20 yards further than he does. He’s hitting 8-irons into some of these par 5s.

“So where we are going? That’s a big thought, and it’s a really big responsibility for the leaders of the game.”

Player also emphasised that he thinks someone will win a major championship aged 60.

Tom Watson was desperately unlucky not to win the 2009 Open Championship aged 59 and the two-time Masters champion hopes to see a professional ball and a normal golf ball for amateurs in the future.

“There are legitimate reasons to move the ball back. And I concur. I think listening to Jack for all these years when he started being very public about saying we have to reduce how far the ball goes. That’s the major factor. Yes, the clubs themselves help you hit the ball a little bit longer, but the ball was the biggest factor. In 2001 when the Pro V1 came out, it put a huge boost to the distance you could hit the ball, and then all the other ball manufacturers went that route,” said the 2014 USA Ryder Cup captain.

“I think it’s a very good thing that the USGA and R&A are starting to move forward and say, all right, we have to create a golf ball that goes less.

“Now, do we bifurcate? The great term, “bifurcate.” I was against that until recently when I said, you know, I think it’s best to have a pro ball to play with and then let everybody else play with a longer ball. That’s the way I look at it.

“Then, you know, it begs the question, okay, what do you do with the elite amateur competitions or the elite junior competitions where these kids carry it 270, 280 in the air? You can make a local rule that says that you have to play with the pro ball, but then what does that do for how people prepare for the tournaments and play the game normally, the elite amateurs? Do you play with the shorter ball or the longer ball? That’s the crux of the issue there if you bifurcate.

“The other thing about bifurcation is that if you just went with one ball, what would happen in 2026 to the hundreds of millions of golf balls that were produced to be the long ball and all of a sudden by 2026, you say, you can’t play with those balls anymore, the whole public. That’s a billion dollars of losses.

“So these are the issues that the R&A and the USGA are struggling with, and I’m coming down, I think we ought to play with a pro ball. That’s what I think we ought to do.”

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