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With better players, newer technology come big changes, Masters icons warn

April 13, 2019

AUGUSTA — For better or worse, the game of golf is ever-changing.

New competitions spring up with new prizes to claim. Courses can be reworked – reformed, depending who you ask. Modern conveniences, say cellphones, present challenges on the course that did not exist years ago.

And according to two golf luminaries, the professionals are getting bigger, stronger and better, as is their clutch of equipment.

Gary Player, whose career spans seven decades, on Thursday said change “is the price of survival,” quoting Winston Churchill, his “all-time hero.”

Player went on to say the “standard of golf” – how players play and how low scores can go – is in its “infancy.”

“I’d just like to say one thing,” Player said, “and that is we’ve got to slow this ball down …”

Player was speaking in the literal sense: Golf ball technology has exponentially improved over the years. (Contemporary ads, if that’s any sort of compass, feature Star Trek-inspired matrices, colorful performance charts and other splashy graphics diffuse in buzzwords.) But an argument could be made that he was also speaking in a metaphorical sense, too.

“There will be a man standing on the first tee one day and drive it on the front edge of the green,” Player continued. “So we’d better start thinking, they are going to hit wedges to all the par 5s, and golf courses like St. Andrews, this marvelous golf course, is completely obsolete.”

Jack Nicklaus – named one of ESPN’s 10 Greatest Athletes of the Century and a recipient of both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom – passionately agreed with Player.

“The golf ball has gotten ridiculous,” Nicklaus said. “I have so many things on that. You don’t need me on that.”

Nicklaus, nicknamed the Golden Bear, then got personal.

“Not only that, I used to be called Big Jack, and I’m 5-8 now. I was 6-foot at that time,” Nicklaus said. “The guys today are all 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, and they all are good athletes that hit it 9 miles.”

“I’ve seen guys drive it down there right now, 40, 50 yards short of the green,” he continued, “and it isn’t going to take much to get it to the green.”

Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred S. Ridley in a Wednesday interview was asked about adapting the course to the perceived surge of skill and artificial amplifiers.

Other than lengthening the course, which he said is ultimately an option, Ridley said “architectural enhancements” could be – and have been – made.

Crafting a Masters-specific golf ball, though, is not in the cards.

“One, I’ll address the ball, the ball issue. That’s been a topic for a long time,” Ridley said. “I think it’s very unlikely that we would ever produce a Masters ball. There are a whole lot of reasons for that, but I think you can be pretty assured that that’s the case.”

Ridley did, though, directly agree with one thing Player and Nicklaus said: Golfers these days hit the ball long. And that has to be dealt with, he concurred.