It Isn’t the Ball

A ≠ C But A+B+Dx5 Does = C

Did I lose you already? Good. Hang in there. Ok, so I haven’t posted in 3 months and you’re wondering what has drawn me out of my cave of hibernation to do so on the biggest bar night of the year. Well, I’m sober as a church mouse so it isn’t the booze, for once. With the USGA announcing they’re looking into taking measures to roll back or limit how far the golf ball goes the interwebs are a buzz with opinions on the matter. What you see from Golf Twitter and other forums is that something has to be done because precious courses like Augusta National, St. Andrews, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach will become obsolete if we don’t roll back the ball. Slow your roll, folks. As America’s Pro – Michael Breed of the Golf Fix – points out, there are several other factors that have made golfers hit it further over the last 20+ years. The golf ball is only a small factor.

I agree with all of that, Trackman technology is another you could add to that list as it allows for precise refinement in launch conditions. I also think that agronomy is over looked too much as a variable. I see Tour pros get 65 yards of roll compared to the 2 yards I get on my home course. Can someone show me the increase in roll out yards from the tee over the last decade? The Tour courses play firm and fast and are prepped to be that way for months before a tournament. Public courses I play are over watered so they look good to the guy that just paid $80 to play on Saturday morning.

On top of what Michael has pointed out, check out this data from Golfweek’s David Dusek:

Club head speed going up is a big deal. When you look at a decade’s worth of driving distance data on Tour you can see that it has gone up, but it isn’t a huge amount within 5 to 7 year segments. It is only large over 20 years. That doesn’t scream “problem” to me. When you see the club head speed numbers going up over a decade that explains the distance gains more than companies “improving” their balls. In 2002 the numbers were about 110 mph and 161 mph for club ball speed. The trend is there. And that has nothing to do with improvements to the ball. Fitness and other equipment improving are much bigger factors which are exacerbated in the numbers produced by highly skilled pros.

In the same 15 years from 2002 to 2017 my handicap has ranged from +1 to 3 and is currently a 1. I play about 50 rounds a year down from nearly 100 in 2002. I’m still in my 30s and haven’t lost muscle mass yet. My club head speed is within 1 mph hour of what it was in 2002. Ball speed is similar. I still play the same irons from 2002. I hit my irons nearly the exact same distance that I did 15 years ago. Where’s the extra distance I’m supposed to be getting with the so-called ball that goes too far?

Image result for Pro V1 image

I’d bet dollars to donuts that if I spent money on some refined training techniques, fitness, and new irons I’d start hitting my 7 iron 185 instead of 170. Is the ball better? Yes. Is the ball the problem? No. Is there a solution? Probably not. The cat is out of the bag. The USGA limits the COR on a driver so perhaps they can come up with a similar measure on the ball to hold it in its place but it won’t go backward. There’s too much money in play for that to happen. In the meantime, tell anyone that will listen that they need to bark up a different tree and find a new argument to save St. Andrews from the nuclear bomb that is the newest Pro V1 (sarcasm). Golf will be fine, some people just need to complain and try to govern things they can’t control. Let them get it out of their system and move on.

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7 Responses to It Isn’t the Ball

  1. Bixy says:

    Agree on all points. And I would go one step further and say who cares if the pros are hitting it further and tearing courses apart? I would love to see courses remain unchanged and see the pros post ridiculously low numbers. It would only highlight the vast gap between them and the rest of us.

    I’m similar to you in that I’m +1 now and basically hover between 0 and +1, yet I don’t think for one second I could get within cooee of these guys on tour. I play at a pretty tough track (scratch rating 75, slope 145), but when our course has held state level events, these guys tear it up (Leishman held the course record with a 63 at one stage). Off the tips I am lucky if I can break par on a day out. These guys are that good, and I think we should be allowed to see just how good they are.

    The ball is not the only factor. It’s the improvements all around that you’ve mentioned that are the reason why we’re seeing them hit it further and going lower.

  2. El Pato de Muerte says:

    My sense is that the USGA is more concerned with the divergence between ams and pros than the actual raw distance; or maybe between top-level players (say better than -3) and average/weekend hackers. This divergence actually shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as basically all of those factors mentioned above disproportionately benefit the better player. Think of the newest generation of high-launch/low-spin driver shafts: Better players with solid motions can now max their total distances with basically no loss in accuracy (cf. shafts from just 5 years ago, where you sort of had to pick Redboard or Whiteboard). But give that shaft to the average weekend hacker – it’s not going to make his dogshit banana slice go any further or straighter. Same goes for the improvement in swing theory. It only helps players with enough natural talent – and practice time – to take advantage of them.

    This mostly has implications for courses. If you’re building a new course with visions of holding a Tour event, you need have a set of tees at 7200+ yards, which significantly increases the amount of property (and water, fertilizer, etc.) that you need vs. a simple 6000 yard track. And, of course, hackers are naturally drawn to the tips, thus you end up with jackwads with a driver carry of 210 playing a sequence of 475+ yard par 4s with a 250 forced carries off the tee… and a 6 hour round ensues.

  3. danrock44 says:

    Welcome back!
    Are your grooves still good after 15 years of the same irons?

  4. DinkumFlicka says:

    Good to have you back SFG, and… couldn’t agree more. This ball talk is ridiculous. Of the four majors in 2017, the players under par out of a 156 man field were (23) US open, (21) PGA, (26) The Open, and (17) Masters (approx 100 man field). Not inaccurate to say most major championship setups are still playing pretty darn tough for the average tour player. It’s not like every guy in the field is completely obliterating these courses. I also agree with Bixy above, the winning score in relation to par is irrelevant. All this talk about needing more land, and think of all the water it will take… B.S. IF a course legitimately requires more length, throw in an extra tee box 30 yards back in the weeds and you’re good to go… about 100 SF of additional maintained area. The fact is, golf is still ridiculously hard for 99.99% of the population. Better balls means your weekend hack is now slicing it 30 yards farther right instead of 20. Set the limits where they are at now, don’t dial anything back, and call it good.

  5. Marc Rettus says:

    Great article, as always. FWIW, I worked a tournament last year, and I worked on one of the holes where the drives were measured. A guy who lives about 100 feet from the landing zone told us they stopped watering that fairway about two weeks prior. The fairway was like concrete. (BTW, this guy was a heck of a nice guy, and would come out periodically to chat AND ask us if we needed anything. Not all rich guys are jerks.)

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