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Morri: For the good of golf, roll back the ball

Brooks Koepka moments before unleashing a 379-yard tee shot with his 3-wood on the 72nd hole at last week's US Open.
Tiger’s rehab and Phil and Bones’ split might have dominated headlines these past two days but they’re arguably the least important stories in golf.

A far bigger issue was tackled this week by my colleague Mark Hayes, Media Manager at Golf Australia, whose impassioned plea for some common sense regarding the regulation of golf equipment will once again fall on deaf ears.

Hayes’ column followed the latest display of astonishingly long hitting at the US Open, epitomised by the final tee shot of the champion, Brooks Koepka, who unleashed a 379-yard 3-wood off the 72nd tee at Erin Hills.

Impressive as it is for Koepka to launch the second longest club in his bag a distance that equates to a medium length par-4 in club golf (379 yards is 346 metres), many are wondering if such a feat should even be possible?

(Koepka’s effort was not an outlier, by the way. Justin Thomas reached the same green the day before, playing at 676 yards or 618 metres, with a PAIR of 3-woods).

With all due respect to Hayes, much bigger and more influential names in golf have been saying the same things for years.

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Paul Azinger, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and dozens more have all made the same case over the years and yet nothing has changed.

Which begs the question: What are we to do about it?

For too long the argument has been bogged down in finger pointing at the game’s governing bodies for not acting sooner, a position that is completely correct.

The counter argument is, of course, that the R&A and USGA fear the potential litigation that will follow any attempt to roll back the ball. That, too, is completely correct.

So rather than harp on who is to blame for the current predicament, it’s time to try to find a solution and it seems the only sensible way forward will be with a united approach.

In that vein, I offer this open letter to the heads of the ‘Big Five’ of golf ball manufacturing in the hope that, for the good of the game, common sense might begin to prevail.

To:

Oliver G Brewer III, President and CEO, Callaway Golf

Ms. Mary Lou Bohn, President of Titleist Golf Balls at Acushnet Holdings Corp

Matt Yasumoto, President and CEO of Srixon/Cleveland Golf/XXIO USA

Angel Ilagan, President and CEO, Bridgestone Golf

David Abeles, President and CEO, TaylorMade Golf

 

Dear Lady and Gentleman,

The game needs your help. The golf balls goes too far and you are the only people who have the power to fix it.

We know that you will fight to protect your business should the R&A and USGA do anything you perceive to threaten profits. And that’s fair enough.

But as golfers and fans, which I assume you all are, surely you can see what’s happening to ‘the greatest game mankind has ever invented’, as Arnold Palmer so eloquently put it.

Golf is bigger than all of us and it’s more important than business. Together you, the individuals who head up the Big Five, could make one of history’s great gestures and give a gift to the game that will be applauded for centuries to come.

You, like many of us, have done well out of the game and there now exists an opportunity to give something back.

If you all came together and agreed, without the R&A and USGA having to legislate, that you would roll back the ball, the benefits would be enormous, including to your own businesses.

The ball is the only piece of equipment that you can’t play without, which means, in business terms, it is only about existing golfers.

No new golfer has ever come to the game because they heard the new Pro V1 (yes Ms Bohn, your company is the undisputed heavyweight in this arena) goes 10 yards further.

Nor will a single committed golfer walk away from the game if they hit the ball 10 yards shorter.

In terms of the number of golf balls you sell, there is really nothing to be feared.

Conversely, there is much to be gained. A shorter ball would help reduce the disconnect between the top levels of the game and the recreational player, the real golfers who put their hand in their pockets and buy golf balls.

It would help rein in the absurd length of many golf courses and the added associated costs that go with the extra yardage.

And it would bring back some of the elements of the game that used to make it much more interesting to watch and play, like shaping the ball and seeing pros hit long irons into par-4s.

But most importantly, a ball roll back would give you credibility and respect among golfers, an asset the value of which cannot be calculated.

Golf is much more than a game to most of us and it has a history and traditions that are worth protecting.

The governing bodies may have made the mistakes that have led us to this point, but it is you five who have the power to right those wrongs.

As a fellow golfer and lover of this great pastime, I implore you to do what’s right for all of us. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous Berlin wall speech, ‘Roll back this ball’.

Yours in golf,

Rod Morri

INSIDE 2017 US OPEN VENUE ERIN HILLS:

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