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Morri: Big Guns Ready To Fire In Distance Debate

The big guns are amassing along the borders of golf’s ongoing distance debate.

The greatest player of all time has been enlisted on the pro-rollback side while the game’s most respected equipment executive has taken up position in the opposite trench.

18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus has long been a proponent of rolling back the ball but for four decades says his calls have been rebuffed by the game’s governing body in America.

That has apparently now changed.

Titleist is the most dominant player in the golf ball industry, and most strident opponent of any further regulation of the ball, and from 1995 until January 1 this year Wally Uihlein was its Chief Executive Officer.

These two giants of the game now find themselves on polar opposite sides of an argument that has potential repercussions for golf not only worldwide but well into the future.

Nicklaus has clearly been given the green light by the USGA to talk publicly about discussions he has been having with CEO Mike Davis about rolling back the ball.

In a press conference at this week’s Honda Classic, the Golden Bear openly quoted Davis asking if Nicklaus would help them get the rollback message across.

This on the heels of R&A chief Martin Slumbers saying last week that the distance ‘line in the sand’ had been crossed sends a clear signal the governing bodies have it in mind to announce something relating to the ball.

On the opposite side is Uihlein whose position in the golf corporate world is not dissimilar to Nicklaus’ standing in the sphere of professional golf. Both are openly admired by peers and competitors alike.

When Uihlein officially retired on January 1 this year there was a small footnote at the end of the announcement saying he would be staying on as an advisor to the Chairman.

“Acushnet will continue to benefit from his extensive knowledge and experience in areas such as strategic planning, acquisitions, player promotion and golf equipment regulatory matters,” new CEO Gene Yoon said at the time.

One gets the feeling it is the last part, ‘equipment regulatory matters’, which will be taking up the bulk of his time and energy for the foreseeable future.

As Uihlein told Rick Young from Canadian website SCORE Golf earlier this year: "I need to continue to ride point on this 'golf ball goes too far' nonsense."

Former Titleist boss Wally Uihlein (right) with his son, PGA Tour player Peter Uihlein.

So the battle lines have been drawn in what is a complex and important issue for golf and its future and it’s a development which should only be seen as a positive.

Both sides can now state their case and the myriad and complex issues tied to the potential changing of golf ball specifications can be laid out.

(In the interests of transparency I will declare publicly, as I have before, that I am firmly in the rollback camp. For confirmation and my reasons see here and here.)

Nobody knows what the outcome might be or how the process will play out. Nobody knows if that process might be a fractious and drawn out affair that will end up in court as the PING grooves case did three decades ago.

It can only be hoped that those on all sides have the best interests of the game at heart.

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