Player & Nicklaus agree on rolling back the golf ball

John Shortt

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

John Shortt

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It’s been spoken about at length and divided opinion but today, golfing legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player both came out in support of placing a limit on the golf ball.

Player, who was ridiculed for comments he made many years ago, is being proved correct as golf courses continue to go to great lengths, literally, to combat technological advancements within the sport.

“I was ridiculed when I said it in front of British TV, the BBC 20 years ago, players will hit the ball 400 yards,” he recalled. “This is happening regularly. There will be a man standing on the first tee one day and he’ll drive it on the front edge of the green.

“I’d just like to say one thing, and that is we’ve got to slow this ball down. So, we’d better start thinking; they are going to hit wedges to all the par 5s, and golf courses like St. Andrews and this marvellous golf course [Augusta] will be completely obsolete. They can drive probably six greens. I don’t know where we’re going.”

Player did temper his comments by saying that he doesn’t think the same rules should apply to amateur players, however the worry remains that the professional game is beginning to get out of hand.

“Let the amateurs have anything they like,” continued Player. “We need them to enjoy it.  We need more rounds but we have got to stop this; otherwise, it’s going to be a joke, in my opinion.”

Meanwhile, Player was backed in his comments by 18-time Major winner, Jack Nicklaus at their joint press conference following the ceremonial first tee shots at this year’s Masters.

“I do agree with you on the golf ball,” said Nicklaus, who was no slouch in his day. “The golf ball has gotten ridiculous. I have so many things on that. You don’t need me on that.

“The golf ball from 1930 to about ’95 gained about six yards. From 1995 to 2005, [it gained] about 50 yards, and that’s a big difference. Probably the organisations won’t tell you that, but that’s exactly about what’s happened.

“Not only that, I used to be called Big Jack, and I’m 5‑8 now. I was 6‑foot at that time. The guys today are all 6‑3, 6‑4, 6‑5, and they all are good athletes that hit it nine miles. Gary’s right. Somebody is going to stand on the first tee and knock it on the first green here. I don’t think there’s any question about it.

“I’ve seen guys drive it down there right now, 40, 50 yards short of the green, and it isn’t going to take much to get it to the green.”

The powers that be at Augusta certainly aren’t shy of making changes so who knows what could be on the horizon. In recent years they have really embraced this philosophy with the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship and the recently introduced Augusta National Women’s Amateur that took the world by storm last week. They’ve also added length to their ‘Cathedral in the Pines’ by extending the par-4 fifth by 40 yards this year and for Player, their new-found ability to change their stripes is comfort enough that the future of Augusta National remains in safe hands.

“First of all, I’d just like to say there have been some chairmen in the past that were absolutely reluctant to change,” said Player. “I know I was quite severely criticised when Tiger and I were two of the players that said they should have a few women as members. I’ve seen the change that’s taken place. Having played in this event 52 times and been here 62 times, I was so thrilled to see that you have a junior tournament, just things that promote the game.

“Now, the tournament is a massive supporter for golf, and (millions of) people watch this tournament. I know I was in China after this tournament one year, and I went to the gym three days in a row, and they were showing the Masters for three straight days.

“But to see the change they made, and Winston Churchill, my all‑time hero, said, ‘Change is the price of survival.’ And to see that they have now followed suit and to have this great junior tournament here and now these ladies playing here; a few guys would turn in their grave because a lot of them stood up in front of these guys and said, ‘I will never allow a woman to be a member’. So they will be watching that, from wherever they are.”

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