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July 29, 2013

Pace of play problems? The Golden Bear blames the modern golf ball

Posted at 12:57 PM by Josh Sens |

Jack-nicklaus-olympic_640
And you thought it was your buddy who plumb-bobs two-footers that's slowing play down.

Not so, says Jack Nicklaus, who sees a different cause behind those six-hour rounds you suffer.

He believes the golf ball is to blame.

“It's not just the players who cause the slow play,” Nicklaus said, weighing in this week on one of golf's hot-button issues.

He pointed instead to the modern golf ball, which flies so far, it has forced the game to stiffen its defenses. Courses have been stretched out, set-ups tightened.

The result, Nicklaus says: painstaking pace of play.

“It's the difficulty of the golf course, the length of the golf course and the distance the golf ball goes, and you're playing a lot of golf course, and it takes more time.

“The main culprit in slow play, to me, is the golf ball and the distance the golf ball goes,” Nicklaus continued. “Golf, it used to take three hours, three-and-a-half hours, British Open, you used to play the last round in three hours or less. Today they take close to five hours.”

As pace of play on Tour has ground to a near stand-still, Nicklaus said, it has brought about a bottleneck throughout the game, with amateurs plodding in the pros' sluggish footsteps.

“The more time it takes to play it, the harder it is on the public to watch and the harder it is to manage and the harder it is for pros to become role models for the young people who are going to say, I'm going to emulate a pro and copy what he does. And all of a sudden that kid takes five hours, five-and-a-half hours, and it just sort of escalates right through the game.”

One possible solution, Nicklaus says: wind back the clock, abandoning today's far-flying golf ball in favor of its more earthbound forebear. There would be many benefits, he says.

“If we went back and left equipment alone but changed the golf ball and brought it back, you played a shorter golf course, not only from the Tour standpoint would it be good, but a shorter golf course all through the game would mean less maintenance cost, less cost to play the game, quicker play, less land, less fertilizer, less everything, which would make the game more economical.”

This would increase participation, bringing more players (some of them very slow) into the game.

But you get the point: slow play is a multi-headed issue.

And for far too long, it was also the elephant in the room, impossible to miss but readily ignored.

Not so this year. Not with the USGA's campaign against it. Not with headline incidents at two of this year's majors involving slow-play penalties for golfers in contention.

Momentum has been building, and it's welcome.

Nicklaus is the latest marquee name to offer his opinion on the matter (Last week, in the run-up to the British Senior Open, Colin Montgomerie suggested that golf adopt a shot-clock), and weighty voices like his are precisely what golf needs if the game is going to change.

But while his points have merit (especially his points about lowering costs), blaming the golf ball lets players off too easy. Pair John Daly and Mark Calcavecchia in the first group of the day, and the two will be pace-setters, no matter what course -- or what ball -- they play.

Stick Kevin Na in a twosome with Ben Crane, and, well, wait for the backups on the second tee.

The fact is, good habits can be learned -- and enforced.

Even Nicklaus admits that he was no jack rabbit at the start of his career. But he learned to play more quickly.

Modern ball or not, why shouldn't today's slow-pokes be asked to do the same?

(Photo: Kohjiro Kinno/Sports Illustrated)

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