Nicklaus: "If the USGA is unable to make an effort to move the ball back, then we need to do something on our own"

The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Baptist pens an extensive story on the Ohio Golf Assocation ball that is being used today and tomorrow at Springfield's Windy Knoll. Thanks to reader Tom for the head's up.

Plenty of interesting quotes here, starting with Jim Popa of the OGA:

"The PGA Tour stats will tell you that in the last 25 years, (average) driving distance has increased 30-some yards," Popa said. "The (United States Golf Association) says new equipment has only added 20 yards. They say there’s only 5 yards’ difference between (drives produced by swings speeds of) 110 and 125.

"We know that’s not true. The faster you swing at the new balls, the farther they will fly, and it’s not 5 or 10 yards (farther), it’s 100 yards, 125 yards. That’s what we’re battling. That’s what we think is ruining the game, or going to ruin the game."

Love this line from Baptist, which of course, the USGA will love.

The two most influential governors of tournament golf in the United States, the USGA and PGA Tour, have historically declined to hold the line on technological advances in equipment for fear of being sued by manufacturers. Instead, they have lengthened many of the courses on which their tournaments are played.

And now for Jack's lastest comments:

"I am happy to see that someone is taking the bull by the horns and is saying, ‘Hey, our golf courses cannot handle this golf ball,’ " Nicklaus said in an e-mail interview. "If the USGA is unable to make an effort to move the ball back, then we need to do something on our own."

Alan Fadel, chair of the OGA's ball committee:

If distance is not reined in, Fadel envisions dire consequences for the game: everhigher costs to build bigger courses or expand existing ones, and a lack of incentive to play for youngsters who aren’t as big and don’t hit the ball as far as others their age.

"I feel for the kid who’s 15 playing high school golf who hasn’t had his growth spurt yet," Fadel said. "A couple of them were (Tom) Watson and (Ben) Crenshaw, two of the best players who ever played the game. That guy is not going to have the opportunity in the future."

One of those kids was Mark Brooks, who was one of the top players on the PGA Tour in the late 1980s and early ’90s despite standing only 5 feet 10 and weighing 150 pounds. He won the 1996 PGA Championship and lost a playoff to Retief Goosen in the 2001 U.S. Open.

Brooks says the distance specifications of modern balls could remain the same if only manufacturers were forced to return the balls’ spin rates to what they were 10 or 12 years ago. If that were the case, the harder and higher a ball was mis-hit, the farther off line it would hook or slice, Brooks said, and "I think the guys would self-throttle" to protect against that happening.

"If direction and trajectory aren’t brought back in as highly integral parts of playing this game, then (the game) changes. And for the better? No," Brooks said.

"You end up with a very stereotypical type of golfer who will be big, tall and have a 120 mphplus club-head speed. Or, if he’s little, he’ll be a freak, someone like an Ian Woosnam, who is small but can pound it."

Looks like Mark Brooks will be added to The List.

Popa and Fadel said the OGA’s experiment is being watched with interest by not only other amateur golf associations but the very bodies that have resisted action to this point. Popa said he has discussed it with representatives of the USGA and Augusta National.

"Most changes in golf come from the amateur sector, and most from the grass roots. They don’t come from the PGA Tour; they’ve got a product they have to sell," Popa said.

He recalled the criticism of the OGA in 1994 when the Ohio Amateur was the first tournament in golf to require all participants to wear turf-friendly, non-metal spikes. Ten years later, 99 percent of courses in the United States had banned metal spikes and only 30 percent of tour pros were wearing them, according to a 2004 article in Golf World magazine.

"We stuck by our guns on that and it turned out pretty good," Popa said.

"I have the same feeling for this. I think it’s time a tournament ball be identified. It’s probably going to be best for the game in the long run to have a standard ball.

"What we hope to show is that we’ve given everybody the same ball and they’ve all been able to play the ball successfully and they come off (the course) and say, ‘I can do everything with this ball I can do with my own ball.’ "