John Huggan talks to Tom Watson about the state of game and in particular, the ball and equipment.
"I am very adamant that I think the ball should be brought back," he says, echoing the sentiments of many others of his generation, including Jack Nicklaus. "It goes too far. It also goes straighter and is therefore easier to control in a wind. But there are a lot of factors involved other than just pure distance. The rate at which the ball spins is important. They spin less these days and that is one reason they go farther. A higher spin rate would exaggerate misses and send the ball more off line than at present.
"The manufacturers got ahead of the USGA and the R&A. That's the bottom line. Those companies made balls that conform to rules that unfortunately allowed them to go too far. They're too easy to play. And that is true for all classes of player. Yes, they make less of a difference to the handicap golfer, but they still make a difference. Just not to the degree they do for the better leading professionals."
As you'd expect of a Stanford graduate – his fellow alumnus and close friend, Jim Vernon, is the current president of the USGA – Watson has solutions to the problem that has led to the vast majority of the current generation of players never knowing the joy that comes with perfectly shaping a shot into a stiff crosswind.
"When the ball goes as straight as it does now, you don't have to 'work' it from left-to-right or right-to-left; all you have to do is aim right at your target," continues Watson. "That takes a skill factor out of the game.
"The old guys had that skill factor, but the younger guys don't seem to have that same ability. Yes, they learn how to play that famous Tiger Woods 'stinger' – I saw a few of the kids using it at Birkdale last week – and that is a useful shot to have. But can they hit a stinger from right-to-left or left-to-right? That's what I want to see them doing, but right now I'm not.
"In defence of the young players, they have never had to learn a variety of shots. They have three wedges, for example. They have never had to add loft to their 56-degree wedge to make it play as if it has 60-degrees. I'm sure they understand how to hit the ball a little higher, but it's a lot easier to hit a high lofted shot with a 60-degree wedge than it is to hit one with only 56-degrees."