John Solheim Wants Everyone To Have Three Balls, And Other Amazing Revelations

...or the option to play one of three golf Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson on the latest bizarro proposal from the PING folks hoping to stave off the governing bodies from distance-related regulatory moves. 

Solheim's proposal, which he has presented to manufacturers and sent to golf's ruling bodies, calls for changing from just one overall distance standard for all balls to a "ball distance rating," or BDR, system that would include three types of balls. The three balls in Solheim's proposal include one that is the same as today's current standard, a second ball that would be as much as 30 yards longer and a third ball that would produce distances 30 yards shorter than current balls. Courses, tournaments, tours and even individual players could choose their ball based on the course they're playing or the skill level of the players in the event. Solheim equated the BDR system to varying tee boxes.

Isn't this why we already have the varying sets of tees? So everyone can play the same ball?

He envisioned a system which even might allow opportunities for average golfers playing their home course to have slower swingers using the longer-distance-standard ball while faster swingers would play the shorter-distance-standard ball with both players teeing off from the same marker. To make this work from a competitive standpoint Solheim suggested the handicap system incorporate a "ball rating" element. (Read the full proposal here) 

Are you eyes still open?

Solheim believes his BDR proposal is a better alternative than some recent decisions made in response to the distance question. He writes in his proposal, "Unfortunately, over the past dozen or so years, many actions taken in response to that challenge have often been short sighted, costly and/or controversial--such as altering some of golf's most revered courses and adopting restrictive golf club rules."  

Interesting that he would list altering courses before the driving force behind the proposal: restrictive club rules. Is a manufacturer actually acknowledging the ridiculousness of changing architecture to accomodate distance advances?

Speaking of different tone, check out what Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein had to say. 

"Under the guidance of the [Joint] Statement of Principles, the regulatory bodies have taken the necessary steps to insure the ongoing balance between skill and technology," said Uihlein.

I miss the old bite, Wally! Go on...

"We continue to believe that it is the responsibility of the regulatory bodies to make and monitor the rules of golf, and the responsibility of manufacturers remains to provide input and comment upon proposed rule changes. We consider the minor increase in driving distance on the U.S. PGA Tour for 2011 part of the normal movement (up and down) of that statistical category since 2004. We would be surprised if the ruling bodies considered it significant or appropriate for action under the Statement of Principles."

Ah yes the old significant word makes its first appearance. The USGA's Dick Rugge shot down the proposal, albeit nicely.  

"While his proposed method--multiple levels of equipment rules--is contrary to the tradition of the Rules of Golf, we welcome John's sincere efforts to discuss the topic."

Here's the real meat in the story from Solheim:

"What scares me is that I think there's going to be some people who are going to try to shorten the ball, and if the average player can't keep playing the current ball, that's going to be a difficulty," he said. "I think this proposal takes care of both the elite player and the average golfer, but the people who will benefit more from it are the masses."

So (A) he's admitting that distance advancements haven't been great for the professional game and (B) seems to be suggesting he is anticipating a ball rollback by the governing bodies. 

The story contains yet another revelation. You may recall that in the past, manufacturers have suggested it was a real burden to create balls that didn't fly as far. Not anymore! 

Technologically speaking, it would not be difficult to achieve the kind of golf balls being talked about. "Making a shorter ball is not all that difficult, and it would be fairly easy to achieve another 20 to 30 yards without much trouble if there were no initial velocity restriction," said John Rae, vice president of research and development for Cleveland/Srixon.

And yet another stunning, but accurate comment from Rae:

"A slightly smaller, slightly heavier ball would be significantly better aerodynamically and go farther. That said, I don't know of anyone not entering the game or leaving the game because they're not hitting the ball far enough. From an everyday golfer standpoint this may be addressing a problem that isn't really a problem."  

Remember the good ole days when more distance was the answer to all of our prayers?

It's not a stretch to suggest that ball manufacturers might not be enthusiastic about Solheim's idea. Not only would they be forced to develop the technology for a shorter ball, but they likely would be forced to market balls on three distance levels. Finally retailers, with shelves already flooded with a sea of different ball models, would find themselves needing to stock three types of each model--something not likely welcomed. 

There's another element to Solheim's proposal (read the entire draft here) which I will address later, but because I made the mistake of upgrading to Apple's not-ready-for-primetime Lion operating system, I'll be spending the next few hours at the Genius Bar.

Ah, technology...