February was highlighted by Deane Beman's aggressive stance on the golf ball and his thoughts on the state of the USGA ("The time for equivocating has passed.") It started with a letter to USGA President Fred Ridley (his comment: "These are concerns he has raised before."). Around the same time appeared Beman's must-read Golf Digest interview with
Bill Fields Peter McCleery (sorry Peter!).
After the letter, I interviewed the former PGA Tour Commissioner. Here are some of the more interesting Beman comments from February 10, 2005:
Golf courses and golf architects are making courses harder and harder and that’s the essence of the issue. The beginner finds it impossible. We’re driving away literally millions of golfers. The next generation of players are going to hit it 330 to 360, there’s no question in my mind about it.
There’s a guy named Gerry James. Gerry James competes in these long drive contests but he’s a pretty good player. On Monday after the merchandise show in Orlando he stood on the sixth hole at Bay Hill, which is the par-5 that’s moon-shaped around the lake, and carried it on the green, 345 yards, and was putting for 2. And there’s where this is headed.
I’ve seen it coming. I’m 66 years old and I hit farther than I’ve ever hit it. I never in my whole career of playing, ever worried about a guy hitting it past me. You’ve got to accept the fact that if he’s bigger and stronger than you, and he plays better than you do, he’s going to beat you. But in my younger days a guy could hit it 30 yards past me, my personal observation was that two or three times he’s going to miss hit it and he’s going to make a bogey or double bogey and I’m going to beat him. But when you put in the hands of the modern player a ball that goes so straight and doesn’t curve, what you’ve done is change the wonderful balance that the game used to have. It’s a slugfest.
I think we ought to cooperate with the manufacturers and be part of the solution, but if they want to play hardball, the answer is that the players could make a lot more money if the Tour manufactured and sold its own golf ball, set all of the revenue aside so there’d be no profit motive in it for the Tour, and give all the money to the players. And the players would make more money.
You want a golf ball that identifies skill, not strength.
If you look at other sports they have absolutely controlled the primary instrument of play, and the primary instrument of play is the ball. If baseball allowed aluminum bats or took the ball that had the same liveliness and changed it so that it was aerodynamically more stable, you’d completely change the dynamics of baseball. The pitchers would be phenomenal. If you put a more aerodynamically stable ball in their hands, they’d do things that they can’t do now. And once it was hit, it’d clearly be out of the park. They haven’t allowed that to happen.
The problem is, it started with the square grooves. That started diminishing the value of hitting it in the fairway when square grooves came out. That’s been more than doubly augmented that goes so straight that plays into the hands of the guy who swings the fastest. That’s where we are.
Now you play a golf ball that curves and you swing it 128 mph and you use a 46 inch driver with one of these graphite shafts, the answer is, you better not miss it. You’ll find out if you don’t have a repeating golf swing or if you don’t have the high level of skill that the players used to have, then you find that all of sudden you’ll be going back and doing what Jack Nicklaus used to do, swinging a 42 1/2 inch driver. He wasn’t swinging a 46-inch driver. His was 42 1/2 inches. So a lot of the technology that allows the guy to use a 46 inch driver with lighter shafts and titanium heads are marginalized when you put spin out there.
You don’t have to give the players old wooden headed clubs. [Spin] would return enough skill and enough sanity to the distance factor that it would bring the whole game back into better balance than it is. I’m not saying turn the whole clock back. I don’t think that would be good.