Jack Nicklaus and I have had our differences about the ball going too far since the mid-seventies.
This is well referenced in the Foreword he wrote to my first book, Just Hit It, which for convenience is copied below. There is a mutual respect and no matter our different positions on the distance the ball goes, as Jack says “there is a lot more we agree about than disagree.”
I can say with some degree of confidence that Jack would have won at least a couple more majors if he had played with a better ball in the mid-seventies. The distance and flight-test results of the balls I collected directly from his bag were atrocious even though they conformed.
My present concern is to make sure we tread lightly to prevent some dramatic stumble. I believe that those who are considering a roll back of the ball must come to their conclusions based on facts.
To this end, I pose a few questions which need sound, unequivocal answers based on irrefutable evidence. This information can then be made available to the governing bodies’ constituents to clearly explain the logic of the proposed solution and thus get their support – without which the governors lose their authority to govern.
Is the problem that the ball is going too far, real or perceived? If perceived, then look for solutions to solve the perception
If the problem is real, can we clearly define the problem? Without a clear definition of the problem a solution cannot be found
What is the extent of the problem? – i.e. What percentage of the golfing population are causing the problem?
If the percentage of the population causing the problem is very low, how will a universal solution to solve this problem affect the rest of the population?
What alternative solutions are there (unrelated to the ball or the club) which would not affect the major segment of the population?
Would solving the problem for only those causing the problem, but not affecting those who are not, lead to a disruption of the tenets of the game itself?
If bifurcation is an inevitable solution, and we can accept a deviation from the long-standing acceptance of The Statement of Principles, are we then prepared to find solutions to this new problem?
I present these questions — which are not complete but are general in nature — in the sincerest effort to ask for clear thinking while considering such an important subject. The facts are important.
I have a few Heroes, one of whom is Robin Hood and the other is my friend Jack who loves the game as I do.
Please help me help the game by adding to, or commenting on, my approach to a serious problem, by replying below and sharing your thoughts with other Frankly Friends.
Just Hit It
Foreword by Jack Nicklaus
Any time you are looking for a lively, well-informed conversation (or even good-spirited debate) about the game of golf, you might want to seek out Frank Thomas. Frank has been involved in so many aspects of golf — as an equipment innovator, a rules-maker and administrator, and as a passionate writer and commentator — that you’re likely to come away with some new knowledge and perspective on your long-held assumptions.
I first met Frank in the mid-1970s, when he was beginning his work as the Technical Director of the USGA. I was sitting in the locker room at Southern Hills during the U.S. Open, and he came up to me and asked me if he could have some of my golf balls. He was doing a broad spectrum of tests in those days to make sure that the balls we were competing with had the same specifications as the ones submitted to the USGA for approval. The balls I handed him passed their test, of course, but I’ll let him tell you about the other results he found — details he didn’t share with me for over twenty years.
It is ironic that our first conversation was about golf balls, because we’ve been arguing about the ball for years now. Simply put, I think today’s ball goes too far, and that it’s changed the way the game is played. If you look at who dominates the professional game today, it’s the “bombers.” A premium once placed on accuracy has now been placed on distance. It doesn’t make a difference where today’s players hit the ball, because they are getting so close to the greens, and left with such short approaches, that they can make birdie out of any rough. Thousands of golf courses and great championship venues have been rendered obsolete. I firmly believe that if something isn’t done about the ball, we’re going to have to make every golf course 8,000 or so yards in order to challenge the top players, and that’s going to cost millions of dollars in extra land and maintenance for the people who build, own, and manage the courses for tournaments. It’s absurd to spend that kind of money, when it would cost so little to rein in the ball, relatively speaking.
Frank disagrees. Frank disagrees with a lot of what’s become conventional wisdom about the game. That’s fine. He and I have had some very direct conversations about these things, and while I know what I see, Frank approaches things differently — from the perspective of the lab and the test range. He says the Overall Distance Standard, with just a little tweaking, will do enough to control the explosion of distance in the game. I don’t know about that; I don’t think it is working. When I mentioned to him in a conversation a few years ago that I was sure that today’s players were overpowering the golf course in ways we could never do during the majority of my career, he pointed out that I won a long-drive contest in 1963 by hitting the ball 341 yards, with a wound ball and a persimmon driver. (Actually, in this case, he’s wrong: I hit it 341 yards and 17 inches.)
As always, our conversation was amicable and thought-provoking. This book is the product of Frank’s many years of studying, testing, and, perhaps most important, simply thinking. Reading his book is just like engaging him in a discussion, with the words, ideas, and passion flowing freely. There are few people I know more knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the game of golf, and very few more passionate about the need for integrity and vision in all aspects of the game. Like me, Frank loves the game. He loves the experience of it, and wants to keep it healthy and strong so that it can be enjoyed by everyone for many future generations. In that respect, there is a lot more that Frank and I agree about than disagree. — Jack Nicklaus