It’s Not the Ball, It’s You

by Tony Jacklin


The biggest change in the game today, apart from the money involved, is probably the golf ball itself. Today’s golf ball literally goes 40 to 50 yards farther than when I was in my prime back in the 1970s and ‘80s. And that’s really a problem.


Titleist is the leader in golf ball manufacture, and they’ve just perfected the ball aerodynamically. They’ve engineered the materials, the dimples, and when you marry that with the spring effect that you get off today’s thin-faced metal drivers, you get impossible drives.


What’s wrong with that? Plenty. First of all, as the game gets longer, you’re making some of the great golf courses irrelevant. Some of the great courses that might be 6,900 yards won’t play in today’s game because everybody’s 300 yards off the tee. Today’s pros can’t even play a course that’s less than 7,500 yards.


That doesn’t make the game better. If you talk to some of the greats—Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player—they’re adamant that we don’t need 8,000 yard courses. They, and I, would like to reduce the distance the golf ball goes.


I’m one of Nicklaus’ captains, and we’ve met with the USGA top brass at the Memorial to talk about the state of the game. I put my hands up three years ago and said, “Why can’t I buy a ball that goes less far?” Nobody wanted to hear it. Three or four years ago, Nicklaus brought out a Cayman ball where the dimples went out, not in. You couldn’t have hit that ball more than 250 yards no matter how strong you were. But the USGA wasn’t interested.


Another reason the ball is a problem is that it encourages bad mechanics. When you want to sell golf equipment, you have to use this “our clubs go farther” and “our ball goes farther” line, like farther is always better. It’s like a college baseball player using an aluminum bat; the tool gives you the illusion that you’re better than you are, so you get sloppy. Amateurs don’t always know where the ball’s going, so if they hit it farther, they’re just getting farther into trouble.


The last reason today’s balls are bad is because they price people out of the game. How? Well, today’s new courses might be 8,000 yards. That’s more grass to water, cut, and maintain, which means membership fees have to go up, which means fewer people playing golf. That hurts the game.


With a shorter ball, we could build courses on fewer yardage in countries like India where they don’t have vast areas of land, do everything in a sort of miniature way, and still enjoy the game. Even Tiger has come out and said the ball goes too far. We could bring the ball back by 20 percent and the game would not suffer for it.

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