What has followed has been a classic battle of wits scenario, in which everyone has proposed ways to keep the golf men from hitting the golf ball so long. Maybe we should restrict the height of the golf tee. Or maybe we should make the drivers smaller. Wait, no, let’s make the golf balls more dead-feeling, or maybe freeze them for some reason? Until recently, this has all been a theoretical debate, the sort of thing people talked about on golf podcasts in order to stretch out an episode and get another ad read in. But earlier this month, the USGA and R&A, the two groups that basically run golf, released a 9/11 Commission Report-style report
announcing that they’d looked into the issue and that something was definitely, maybe, potentially, probably going to be done about the golf balls going so far at a point in the future that would be determined later. Sword of Damocles, etc.
The thing is, though, golfers hit the ball so far thanks in part to technological advances, but also because ever since Tiger Woods came along, more and more pro golfers have realized that being a world-class athlete helps win golf tournaments more than being a chain-smoking functioning alcoholic surviving on a diet of fast-food and room service. This could have potentially lowered the mean level of personality possessed by pro golfers, but they’ve managed to offset any potential lapses in popularity through posting better scores and/or using social media to accidentally remind us all that if you obsessively pursue perfection in one aspect of your life, you’re probably going to turn out super weird
. They also have access to the best coaches in the world, brand-new clubs that are tailored to their exact specifications, caddies who function as on-course coaches/therapists/nutritionists, and in general live a lifestyle designed around playing, practicing, and thinking about golf. They’re going to hit the ball a long way no matter what, because these non-equipment factors cannot be regulated.
If this is the case, then what is to be done? I mean, you read the subject line of this newsletter so you know what I’m going to say: you make the woods that the pros play out of actual wood. Equipment companies hate this idea because of the connection, real or perceived, between their sales and the driving distances of the players they sponsor. Which, like, fair enough. But also, the truth of the matter is that most people don’t actually hit the clubs that pros use. In 2013, Tom Wishon, a master club fitter and builder who has spent basically his entire life thinking deeply about as well as making custom golf clubs, wrote a pamphlet claiming
that any touring pro with an equipment sponsor is using clubs that are, regardless of the model name stamped on the head, wholly bespoke. Pros don’t get so skilled and so strong just so they can hit the shit out of a golf ball, they get skilled and strong so they can control the distance, trajectory, and spin of each shot with the precision of a Swiss watch. If I played a round of golf using clubs I borrowed from Tony Finau, the subtle differences in one of my swings to the next, which Tony Finau’s swing absolutely does not have, would guarantee I would send the ball all over the place. The difference between my set of clubs and those used by a player like Finau, Wishon suggests, is about as stark as the difference between a Chevy you could buy at the dealership and a Chevy they use in a NASCAR race.
In practicality, such a changeover would be sort of like a baseball thing where everybody else would still be allowed to use whatever they wanted, but for the best of the best, the ball must be struck with a piece of wood. Companies could even make persimmon versions of their drivers to sell to people, which, when you combined the innovations made by these firms’ R&D departments with a material that is of the earth, would be steampunk as hell. I assume that regardless of how steampunk it would be, golf companies would argue that the PGA players using metal drivers is actually in the consumer’s best interest because this is a thing that juices driver sales, which help provide them with big enough R&D budgets which allow them to make better clubs for cheaper, but as someone who recently-ish did a proofreading job on a book written by an economist, I can assure you that this argument is bullshit.