April 6, 2018 / 8:05 AM / 8 months ago

Player calls for ball rollback as Masters chairman voices concern

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Gary Player has called on golf’s ruling bodies to implement regulations that would reduce by 50 yards the distance players can drive the ball.

Honorary starter Jack Nicklaus of the U.S. embraces Gary Player of South Africa (L) after teeing off during the ceremonial start before first round play in the 2018 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, U.S. April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Speaking on Thursday after hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot at the U.S. Masters, Player spoke of one of his pet peeves, that, in his opinion, many classic old courses have become all but obsolete.

At the home of golf, St. Andrews, for example, leading pros can now reach the green with a good drive on several of the par-four holes.

“With professional golf, we’re going to have to cut the ball back 50 yards, at least,” said Player, 82, who is one of five players to have won the grand slam of all four modern majors.

“The ball is such a big problem.

“We’re seeing guys hitting 400 yards a lot. Dustin Johnson hit a drive 489 yards ten days ago (at Austin Country Club in the WGC-Match Play event).”

Player’s comments came a day after new Masters chairman Fred Ridley hinted that the Masters committee would not sit back and allow players to render the hallowed course obsolete.

At Augusta National, however, the club has bought land so that it at least has the option of lengthening several holes, including the famous par-five 13th.

St Andrews and some other old courses have no such option.

Talk of restricting equipment has become a hot topic recently, with the game’s ruling bodies, the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient, indicating they were concerned at how far players are hitting the ball.

However, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America have both said they do not think there is a problem, comments in line with the stance of many leading equipment makers

“We will always do what’s necessary to maintain the integrity of our golf course,” Ridley said.

“We are intent on making sure that we maintain the design philosophy the Mr. (Bobby) Jones and Alister MacKenzie devised,” Ridley said.

“There’s a great quote from Bobby Jones dealing specifically with the 13th hole, which has been lengthened over time. He said the decision to go for the green in two should be a momentous one.

“And I would have to say that our observation of these great players hitting middle and even short irons into that hole is not a momentous one.

“We think there is an issue there, not only there, but in the game generally that needs to be addressed.”

COLLECTIVE DECISION

Leading equipment maker TaylorMade, whose stable includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson, does not support any rollback on equipment.

“There already are restrictions (on equipment),” CEO David Abeles told Reuters.

“I do not believe, nor does TaylorMade, that limiting advanced performance is beneficial to the game of golf.

“I’ve never met an amateur golfer, or even a professional, who has walked off the 18th green at any golf course and said this game is just too easy, don’t help me play any better.

“We believe any type of rollback or separation of rules would create more confusion than enabling the sport to move forward.”

Abeles said he had not spoken to Augusta about the distance issue, but would be happy to do so.

“We’d love to have a seat at the table and at least voice our opinion because the spirit of our company is helping golfers enjoy the game more,” he said.

“We’re open to discussion, and to a healthy debate, and if there’s a compromise that benefits the game and brings more golfers in we’d like to understand other perspectives as to what that means.

“But at this point we are very clear, what’s most important for the game of golf, and our side in the business of golf, is to continue to bring better products to better athletes and golfers of all skill levels to help them play better.”

Ridley sounded open to input from manufacturers.

“The ultimate decision is going to be a collective one, where all the stakeholders sit down and come to some agreement,” he said.

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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