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The Great Golf Ball Debate

You can't open a magazine, you can't turn on a golf telecast, you can't sit down with your golfaholic friends without being subjected to endless stories on it or be asked weigh in with your own opinion on it. And technology. And the rules of golf. And . . . well, you get the picture.

But has anyone stopped to consider this:
Tiger would be kicking butt and taking names with a gutta percha or a featherie. Same goes for Vijay. And Retief. And Ernie. And Annika.

And, well, you get the picture.

It's not just about the ball. It's about players who have pushed themselves farther than technology has taken equipment. It's about the endless hours in the weight room, long runs and stretching. About balance in your diet. About a new generation of focus that's often hard to fathom.

Put persimmon drivers in their bags. Ask them to play with forged blades from the ?40s and '50s. Put a vintage putter and an old Wilson staff in their hands or Gene Sarazen's old cleek or mashie.

Guarantee you they'll still dominate.

These players, after all, are the best in the world. Give them enough time with whatever situation is in front of them and whatever club and ball they're using and they're going to make it happen.

Granted, there will be no gutta perchas pirouetting to a stop on a green, but they'll be in birdie range. And they may not turn drives into rocket launches, but, trust us, the longest hitters in the game will still be the longest.

It's all relative, you see. Put a Nike One or a Titleist Pro V1X in the hands of, say, Byron Nelson or Ben Hogan, and they'd still be doing incredible things ­ just at 21st century driving averages.

You can't roll back technology anymore than you can take golf's majors back to a kinder, gentler time when it was, really, all about the golf. We hear the whining about golf courses becoming obsolete because of technology, but more often it's because it now takes a small village to host a major championship. The smaller, older courses like Merion and Champions just don't have the property to be able to handle the corporate tent demands.

And as for lengthening venerable courses? Don't get us started. We're of the mind that Augusta National, for one, is one hell of a test of golf no matter how far players can drive it. It doesn't matter what's in your hand for the approach there. If you don't know those greens like Jack and Tiger and Ben Crenshaw, you can forget about it.

Honestly, does it really matter that players are averaging three football fields off the tee? Or that balls really do dance and spin?

There's nothing illegal about it. It's advancements. Technology. Congress doesn't get a vote. Not yet, anyway.

Bottom line? What's happening here all fits neatly under the Rules of Golf. What's outside the lines stays there, relegated to advertisements for those who play the gentleman's game, but don't necessarily obey the rules.

Some technology may bump up against the rules ­ testing the faces of drivers ­ but is that really all bad? What we have now is better equipment, designed for the players. You no longer have to pick from a handful of options when you buy clubs. Now they're custom fit. And that balls are designed for different swings and experience levels? That's not all bad, is it?

You can play the same ball as Tiger or Vijay, but that's where it stops. They take it to highest level because they're simply great players. They realized years ago that Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and company had the right idea. Get fit, then get fitter. Understand yourself better than you understand the golf swing. Work hard. Then take dead aim ­ on every shot.

Sure, it would be fun to see what even Norman in his prime would do with today's equipment. He was the best player in the world for 331 weeks with equipment as obsolete today as an old pre-pentium chip Compaq 286 laptop. But it would be fun, too, to see what Sammy Baugh could do on high-tech turf, in today's shoes and pads and jerseys too.

We move forward because that's what generations do. There's now ­ what? ­ a generation and a half of kids who don't know life without cell phones and laptops. They have no frame of reference, even, for the days when gas was 19 cents a gallon and airline travel meant on a DC-7 where windows had curtains and flight attendants ­ stewardesses back then ­ wore white gloves. They don't know Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer used to smoke.

They do know how much time Tiger and Annika put in at the gym and how Vijay has been known to close down more than his share of driving ranges. They watch Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington play incredible golf in the face of tremendous personal strain. They see Annika redefine women's golf.

Nike Ones. Titleist ProV1. Callaway's HX Tour. We really don't have to know which one goes farther, bites harder, flies higher or is the best, period. We can, instead, marvel over what technology has given us in the past few decades and know that, while it always pushes the limit, it doesn't cross it. And, we can drop the debate.

Why? Because after all, golf isn't all about the ball.

It's mostly about the incredible players hitting them.

Reprinted with permission from golfobserver.com

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