I’ll never forget the first time I remember hearing Jack Nicklaus talk about distance in professional golf. It was at the 2016 Masters, the event Danny Willett won (and Jordan Spieth lost). It certainly wasn’t the first time he’s talked about distance and probably wasn’t the first time I’d heard him talk about distance. But it was the first time I remember hearing him talk about it. Here’s what he said.
“The simplest solution is change the frigging golf ball,” said Nicklaus. “The golf ball goes so far, Augusta National is about the only place, the only golf course in the world that financially can afford to make the changes that they have to make to keep up with the golf ball. I don’t think anybody else could ever do it.
“It’s just so impractical to continue to allow … what’s happened is the golf ball has not changed a lot since probably 2005 or 2006, I suppose. As I said, they’ve basically hit the limits to that, but the guys haven’t hit the limits. I used to be called Big Jack. I’m really huge now, about 5‑foot-8. But now the guys are all 6‑foot-3, 6‑foot-4, 6‑foot-5, big long arms, and can hit it nine miles and they just take it right over the top of the trees.”
The governing bodies in golf (the USGA and R&A) responded — not directly to Nicklaus — this week with a lengthy years-long report on where golf is headed and how the distance at which golf balls are hit could be problematic for the game as a whole.
The crux of it all from the USGA and R&A was this: We recognize there is a problem with distance, and we’re considering implementing some sort of changes. But we need to collect feedback and do more research for the next year before changing the rules.
However, there were some interesting ideas such as the following floated in their report.
Still, the USGA/R&A did announce that they’re assessing the installation of a new local rule that would allow specific courses or tournaments to use equipment that would result in shorter hitting distances. A short course, for example, could use a limited-flight golf ball in a tournament and still follow the rules.
So it seems like we’re headed toward some sort of decision from the USGA and R&A as it relates to what the future of golf looks like. That could come next year. It might not be implemented for a few more after that. But this was a “stake-in-the-ground” day at the highest level, which is why Nicklaus responded the way he did on Tuesday.
“As many know, this has been an important topic to me for years, if not decades, and I have been passionate about my position. I applaud the USGA and R&A for their comprehensive research, as well as their continued hard work and efforts,” he said in a statement. “Pleased the process has started. Now that they have clear findings obtained from century of collecting data and its impact on all levels — from golf played at highest level to recreational golf — I look forward to supporting industry’s collaborative effort to find solutions that are in best interest of game’s future.”
Translation: Now the difficult work begins.