Frank Thomas, the man who invented the graphite shaft and who was USGA technical director for 26 years, has used a European stage to warn of the dangers of introducing a standard specification golf ball to be used in leading tournaments around the world.
Thomas was ‘on stage’ at the PGA of Europe-endorsed Golf Europe 2001 in Munich, Germany, one of the largest and most prestigious golf trade exhibitions outside of Orlando, involved in a face-to-face debate with Jaime Ortiz-Patià±o, the PGAE president, and the man who ‘invented’ Valderrama.
To open the debate entitled ‘Shorten the ball…lengthen the golf course?’ Seà±or Patià±o emphatically called for a ban on advancing technology. His concern is that golf is becoming a predictable ‘drive-wedge’ affair for the long hitters at the top of the game where the ‘trampoline effect’ of titanium drivers is allied to the prodigious distances of the latest golf balls.
“There are serious problems ahead unless something is done,” said Patià±o who is deeply concerned that famous golf course designs are becoming obsolete as longer shots render so-called ‘strategically-placed’ hazards superfluous.
To overcome the perceived problem the PGA of Europe president believes that governing bodies of the world should agree on a standardised ball for top championships while handicap players are allowed to enjoy the fun of the ball flying greater distances. He pointed out that in other sports, specifically tennis, soccer, cricket, baseball, basketball and many others, the players use the same , standardised ball. “Golf is in danger of becoming as boring as men’s tennis has become,” he said. “We MUST control distances and the spring-like effect of the club face on the ball.”
Replying in front of an audience of European club professionals and golf and trade officials, Frank Thomas, warned of ‘great danger’ in having two sets of rules. He stressed that the club player wants to play with the same equipment as the top player and that they like to see these players strike the ball longer distances.
Giving scientific responses and explanations, he said that a further 15 yards was the maximum amount that advancing technology could impart on the length of the ball, given the top clubhead speed generated by Tiger Woods of 125 mph and some 110 mph by the other big hitters.
“We have to use science to preserve the challenge of the game,” he said. “We cannot have two sets of rules. It would destroy the relationship between the ordinary golfer and those at the top. If there is a ‘problem’ it is only with 1% of players and if those players retain the same strength and fitness as today then there is potentially only another 15 yards to go.” He stressed that further distances could be obtained only if players become even stronger and fitter athletes than Tiger Woods is now.
Expressing the view that science was helping the sport rather than the reverse he pointed out that average driving distances of the PGA Tour was 255 yards in 1968 and 278.5 yards in 2001 and “this is what the public want to see”. He pointed out, however, that while from 1968 to 1995 the average drive had lengthened by one foot per year, this had escalated, with new technology, between 1995 and 2000, to 7.2 feet a year, to approach science’s optimum limit.
Jack Nicklaus had been an exception in his day similar to Tiger Woods now, he pointed out. There was general agreement that one available answer in the Majors was to set up courses with the degree of difficulty of the US Open each year and The Open at Carnoustie in 1999, whereby long-driving could be severely punished.
In controversial conclusion Seà±or Patino said that the future of the big tours across the world were in the hands of the players ‘who wanted a nice easy round with several shots under par’ on courses that were set up in not too difficult a fashion. Mr Thomas said that any changes in the rules could be ‘detrimental’ to the future of golf.
Golf Europe 2001 www.golf-europe.de
PGA of Europe www.pgae.com