In the March 25 issue, Golfweek's assistant managing editor and business writer Martin Kaufman felt compelled to comment on colleague Jim Achenbach's original Ohio Golf Association ball story, citing this quote:
"We are leaning to one that optimizes (distance efficiency off the tee) between 100 and 105 miles per hour (driver swing speed)," said Alan Fadel, chairman of the OGA ball committee. "The ball is not going to benefit somebody at 120 (mph) the way the current ball does. We are trying to achieve a little more equality, that's all."
Kaufman appears to not understand that Fadel is referring to the impact of optimization (where properly matched players in the 115 mph-and-up range are getting excessive turbo boosts that effectively work around the USGA's Overall Distance Standard).
So there you have it: Golf's honchos officially have begun to embrace mediocrity rather than celebrating excellence. Years from now, the OGA's foolhardy decision might be remembered as a beachhead for the establishment of a welfare state for mediocre Tour players.
First, this "foolhardy decision" amounts to a 2-day, totally optional state golf association event where the ball is provided free of charge. This is not
The Players Championship THE PLAYERS.
Those of us who have followed the issue know that one of the underlying issues with recent distance increases is that of skill, and the blurring of lines between the very good player and the super-elite.
Players of supreme skill like Tiger Woods or Ernie Els would be even better in an event using a ball like the one the OGA has selected. Their games would not be brought down by such a ball. They'd be even better. Tiger has even hinted that he's well aware of this possibility, which is one reason he can't campaign too hard for a change in the ball spec that introduces more spin or one that impacts the role of optimization.
Kaufman sees it the other way, and brings up the issue of equality. He believes the governing bodies have a desire to bring everyone down to the same level.
Any effort to legislate equality, whether in sports or broader society, is inherently problematic, if not doomed to failure. It sends a perverse message that top performers will be penalized for excellence, while laggards can count on benevolent rulers to shield them from superior performers.
Players who swing the driver 120 mph and can control the ball's flight should hold an advantage over players who swing 105 mph. Swinging a golf club abnormally fast reflects superior athletic ability and training. And yes, it reflects superior skill. You remember skill, don't you. Golf used to celebrate it.
I seriously doubt any governing body wants to bring everyone together via an equipment change. (Course setup, that's another story.) Those swinging 120 m.p.h. would regain the proper edge that they deserve with a properly handled rollback.
Groups like the OGA want to eliminate the 350-yard drive born out of the optimization of launch conditions. Groups like the USGA--assuming the Joint Statement is to be believed--want to reward the player who is physically strong and who can swing the club "abnormally fast," but also reward those who are genuinely precise with their ball striking.
Modern equipment has blurred distinctions in these two areas.