Is Nicklaus Really Closer to Getting an 80% Ball?

By | February 21, 2018

Jack Nicklaus says USGA’s Mike Davis assured him governing bodies are “getting closer” to addressing distance concerns | via Sean Zak for Golf.com

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Nicklaus said, “I assume you’re going to study for another 10 years or so, though.”

“He (Davis) says, “Oh, no, no, no. We’re not going to do that.” He says, ‘I think we’re getting closer to agreements with the R&A and be able to do some things and be able to help.”

Mr. Nicklaus has been campaigning for the creation of a limited golf ball for some time now. Currently, he is asking for a ball that would only travel 80 percent as far as the modern ball.

“If you bring it back 20 percent, that will bring it back to about what it was in about 1995 when we last played a wound golf ball.”

The issue is a complicated one, to say the least. We previously discussed the extended plan Mr. Nicklaus is proposing. A flight of golf balls, ranging from 100% of the current limit down to as low as 70%, to be required on a course-by-course basis for professionals and optionally for amateurs. I’m then assuming there would be some sort of handicap adjustment involved for non-professional players that choose to play limited golf ball.

Interestingly, Mr. Davis didn’t appear to specifically say they were looking at a new ball spec from the quotes provided in his conversation with Mr. Nicklaus. I do believe that the USGA and R&A are feeling pressure to reign in the incredible distances the top players have achieved. The problem, if you agree that there even is one, is that there is more at play here than just a juiced up ball.

Mid-iron play is seen as a dying art on Tour. Certain classic courses simply can no longer host professional tournaments as they are too easily dominated by the current batch of long hitters. Whether this is a problem or simply an evolution of the game is a matter of opinion.

What I find most interesting about Mr. Nicklaus’ efforts is that his early success on tour is normally attributed to his freakish length. Jack was the dominant long-ball player of his generation. He changed the game by often overpowering courses and thus his competition. It’s a simplification of his overall amazing talent, of course, but distance was a great weapon for a young Jack Nicklaus.

Later it would be Tiger Woods changing the game and causing a revolution in “Tiger-proofing” golf courses due to his combination of length and accuracy. Again, a gross simplification of his talent, but it was often his length that got the most attention as he dominated both courses and players alike.

But let’s think about “Tiger-proofing” for a moment. When we lengthened courses, like Augusta National, to try to maintain the course’s integrity, what did we really do? We made the course more challenging for the long-hitter to be sure, but we also made the course even more difficult to play for the average-hitter, and nearly impossible for the short-hitter. I just don’t see how changing the ball wouldn’t do the exact same thing.

Complicating the issue of length is that there are simply some amazing athletes that have risen to the top of the game in recent years. No matter what ball is put into play, these physically talented players will likely continue their dominance. You may limit Dustin Johnson down from 400-yards to 320-yards, but, you’ll also limit the 320-yard journeyman down to 256-yards if the ball performs on a straight 80% multiplier. Who really loses on that deal? It sure isn’t Johnson.

Mr. Davis must realize that they need to find a way to bring distances under more control without doing any harm to the game. Golf is just starting to claw itself out of the “Post Tiger” recession. (Current comeback attempt acknowledged.) The argument for the 80% ball is a desire to put a renewed emphasis on shot-making. It all sounds fine, except, it’s too late for many of the current crop of Tour pros. They grew up learning to play the game with the modern solid-core ball. They have developed skills to take the maximum advantage of the ball as it exists today. Mr. Nicklaus may want to see a ball that performs like the wound golf ball he played with back in the 1980’s and 90’s but very few of today’s top players have ever used such a ball. Changing the ball could cost the game some of their current shining stars. Who thinks that’s a good idea?

I sure don’t envy Mr. Davis on this one.