Tour Confidential: Will Tiger Woods’s criticism of the golf ball influence the governing bodies?

November 5, 2017 conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. We called an emergency Tour Confidential roundtable last week to talk all things Tiger following his announcement that he’ll play the Hero World Challenge at the end of this month (you can read that here), so let’s jump straight to Woods’s podcast appearance on a show hosted by UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma. One of the many topics they touched on was today’s equipment. “We need to do something about the golf ball,” Woods said. “I just think it is going too far.” Woods also said that “the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away.” Tiger’s thoughts on the ball are not an outlier (Jack Nicklaus has been singing a similar tune for years), but given his stature are his remarks likely to influence the governing bodies?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): No. The toothpaste is already out of the tube. The USGA rolling back the ball would force the blue coats to admit that, as an institution, they have royally screwed things up. They are not inclined to make such an admission. It also risks litigation from the ball manufacturers, which no one wants. To use another Tigerism, it is what it is.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Agreed that there will be no mandated roll-back for the reasons Alan cites. But maybe a growing interest in events designated for the throwback ball? A certain club in Georgia would have the power to do that. A new tradition unlike any other, anyone?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, (@Jeff_Ritter): Or, maybe a Fall Series or exhibition event could try a limited-flight ball, just to see (wait for it) how it flies. But as mentioned, the juiced ball is probably here to stay. I do like that Tiger is slowly taking on more of an advocate role as time passes. How would he fix slow play? That’s one issue where he, along with other players, could band together and create some changes.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): If Jack Nicklaus’s long and consistent pleas for a ball rollback failed to sway the USGA, Tiger’s aren’t going to, either. Golf at the highest level has gone the way tennis did 20-25 years ago. The equipment changed to the point where new swing techniques were created to adapt. Power became dominant over shot-making and less-talented players were able to compete on equal footing from time to time. It’s made both sports duller. Tiger’s right to (finally) voice his opinion, because amid all of his power he was one of the game’s best and most creative shot-makers, an advantage somewhat negated today.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Augusta will take the lead here, require (finally) a ball that maxes out at 310ish, and other events will follow suit, and the game will finally get the bifurcation it needs.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): I’ve been saying this about Augusta for years. “Gentleman, you are cordially invited to participate in the Masters Invitational for the year ____. Under a new Invitational requirement, we have forwarded our specifications for a legal golf ball for our tournament to your equipment companies. Should they like to design a ball for you under these specifications, we would be more than pleased for you to play it. If they choose not to, we will provide you with three options of a ball meeting our requirements. One will launch high, one will launch low, and one will launch in the middle of those two. We wish you the best of luck.” The long ball, for lack of a better word, is sexy…to the USGA, to the R&A, to the PGA Tour…and to be honest, it sells tickets, so they aren’t about to do anything about it. Last year, the statistics say the driving distance leader on the PGA Tour averaged 317 yards. That sounds out of control. But anyone who has spent any time at all out here knows that, weather depending, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and countless others hit their driver 330-plus every time they bring it out of the bag. That’s the truth that statistics don’t show. When Tiger was one of the longest on Tour, averaging around 300 yards per drive, he was way out front, AND he was using a 43-inch steel-shafted driver and what was known to be one of the softest and spinniest balls on Tour. So, yes, hopefully Tiger’s words now will have some impact on the future.

2. In the only official PGA Tour event Tiger Woods played in 2017, the Farmers Insurance Open, he averaged 299 yards off the tee and missed the cut. Would a younger, longer-hitting Woods have felt the same way about the modern ball?

Shipnuck: Modern equipment took away much of Tiger’s advantages; he found the sweet spot more often. Bigger, more forgiving drivers and juiced irons helps less talented swingers of the club. He could drive the old balls incredible distances, but the solid-core balls allowed others to catch up. Trackman, putting monitors and other such devices unlocked mysteries of the game that he grasped intuitively. So Tiger has known for a long time that the game is evolving from art to science, and that offends him.

Bamberger: Completely agree, Alan. Had Woods played his career with a balata ball competing against others doing the same, he might have won 100 times.

Sens: I don’t think the younger, longer-hitting Woods would have thought much about anything, other than winning. No doubt the equipment has evolved but so has the type of player who is drawn to the game. Is Tiger really offended now from a purist’s standpoint? I dunno. No doubt it rankles him that he doesn’t dominate as he used to. It would rankle anyone who once sat in his perch. But changes in equipment are only a very small part of why he doesn’t rule the game today.

Ritter: Sens nailed it—Young Tiger was wholly focused on becoming a terminator in spikes. You could make a case that golf’s biggest problem in the 90s was the lack of a superstar who could draw new viewers and generate excitement. Tiger took care of that one.

Passov: A younger Tiger would have benefitted in one way — he was one of the game’s longest hitters and was certainly straight enough when he needed it — so he would have embraced the new ball in that regard. Yet, his love of trying the creative shot, of spinning it, moving it, taking spin off it, hitting those low-trajectory stingers—that was tied to his enjoyment. So overall, no—Young Tiger wouldn’t have liked the new ball, because it would have diminished his competitive advantage and eliminated some of the fun.

Wood: A younger, longer-hitting Tiger would have beaten all of these guys with a gutta-percha. Tiger isn’t offended by the new equipment and how it’s changing the game; in my mind he is concerned about the game, and the near obsoletion of many classic courses.

3. Justin Rose won the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday to become just the third player in history (along with Tiger and Rory) to win the week after winning a WGC. The 37-year-old major champ and gold medalist now has 20 professional victories, but are Rose’s accomplishments generally under-appreciated? And if he’s not the most under-appreciated player in the game, who is?

Shipnuck: Massively under-appreciated; a few more Rose-like seasons and he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Bamberger: If he never plays another round, he’s in. Fred Couples is in, right?

Sens: No doubt. And let’s not forget how whisker-close he came to winning this year’s Masters. As for most under-appreciated, I think you’d have to look to any number of LPGA players. Inbee Park. Lydia Ko. Lexi Thompson. And on.

Ritter: Good calls all around. On the PGA Tour, I’d add Zach Johnson, who has drifted a bit after winning at St. Andrews but still has a borderline HOF resume.

Passov: Billy Casper (51 PGA Tour wins, three majors, while competing against Nicklaus, Palmer and Player) still gets the all-time under-appreciated nod from me, but among current players, no one is close to Rose. I wish he wouldn’t disappear so often, and for such long stretches.

Bamberger: All-time underrated: Billy Casper, Tiger Woods, John Daly (for pure talent), Jimmy Demaret.

Wood: Gosh, nothing to add to any of those calls above.

4. President Trump tweeted a video of his swing during a round with Shinzo Abe and Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday, which was the first swing footage of the president we have seen in quite a while. It also came just days after reports surfaced that Trump posted a score of 68 to his GHIN page. The White House denied Trump posted the score but wouldn’t comment on if the president actually recorded it. Either way, does that swing say 68 to you?

Shipnuck: It’s a funky action, to be sure, but the impact position is excellent. And everyone who plays with Trump says he’s a good putter. The 68 Trump posted came on a course with a user-friendly slope rating of 66.1 and a cupcake slope of 118, so a newspaper 68 is a possibility.

Sens: I’ve shot 67 and my swing’s a lot uglier than Trump’s, so yeah, it’s within the realm of believable. What’s that expression? Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes? Sometimes, they even get elected to the highest office in the land.

Ritter: You — yes, YOU — can shoot sub-70 with almost any action as long as you can square it up consistently and chip and putt the lights out. I’d bet Trump received some generous gimmes along the way, but that score is possible.

Passov: I can report first-hand that even with that exaggerated backswing and thrusting lunge of a follow-through, the guy can really play. He drives it long and straight and is a remarkably good putter, both lag putts and the ones that count. Sure, his status may earn him a concession or two on the greens, but it’s not impossible that he could shoot 68 on a short, gettable course.

Bamberger: Donald Trump is 71, nearly obese and never practices. He is a good mid-80s golfer and even that is with not holing everything out. When you talk about scores in the mid-70s and lower, you are talking about relentless excellence, shot for shot, start to finish. Alan and others, I am amazed at your generosity here. The scores are beyond improbable.

Wood: As one of the three self-admitted liberals having anything to do with the PGA Tour, I decline to comment. (But I agree with Bamberger above.)

5. As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Olympic Club has agreed to host the 2028 PGA Championship and 2032 Ryder Cup (a formal announcement is expected Wednesday). The Olympic Club was in consideration for the 2027 U.S. Open, but it was recently awarded to Pebble Beach instead. Good move for the Olympic Club, a five-time U.S. Open venue, to jump from the USGA rota to the PGA of America’s?

Shipnuck: This is all about the Ryder Cup, not the PGA. There hasn’t been a West Coast Ryder Cup in more than half a century, so hallelujah!

Sens: Hear, hear! Right in the ‘hood. I’m taking extra fish oil pills now with the hopes of still being around for it.

Ritter: Congrats, Left Coasters. The Ryder Cup out West will be a blast.

Passov: I’m glad you all love the idea of prime-time (West Coast) Ryder Cup golf, because the lack of risk/reward on Olympic’s Lake course will make for some sleep-inducing matches. Olympic is blanketed with tough par-4s, with fairways bracketed by demanding rough—and not a single water hazard. It’s a great, stern U.S. Open venue, but there’s no drama involved for a Ryder Cup, no matter how the PGA re-routs the course. Maybe flatten the 17th fairway a bit and shorten the 18th by 30 yards to inject some match-play excitement, but I’m not holding my breath.

Bamberger: This is a spectacular coup for the PGA of America and good for golf. Olympic is sublime.

Wood: Of course anything in Northern California will get my vote, and Olympic Club is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve always thought the idea of a Ryder Cup on the West Coast fell by the wayside because of what the viewing times would be in Europe. I’m really glad the PGA of America is willing to give it another shot. The weather on the West Coast in September and October is usually perfect, and I’m with you, Sens. Who can I pay to get a bag for that event in 15 years time?

6. Our Alan Shipnuck recounted the tale of how the viral Astros World Series SI cover of 2014 was supposed to be a Michelle Wie cover, but that got bumped last second. Turns out SI’s prediction was correct as the Astros knocked off the Dodgers in Game 7. Now it’s your turn. Give us your bold golf prediction for 2020.

Shipnuck: A bunch of top golfers skip the Tokyo Olympics, citing elevated mercury levels in the sushi.

Sens: Playing a non-rolled back ball, Justin Thomas shoots a Sunday 58 for his third consecutive green jacket.

Ritter: I’ll cheat slightly and make a prediction for 2021, when at age 50 Phil Mickelson will become the first 50-something to win a major by claiming his fourth green jacket.

Passov: Hideki Matsuyama captures gold at Kasumigaseki at the Tokyo Olympics against a depleted field (I believe in all Alan Shipnuck prognostications). He edges last-minute German entry Bernhard Langer, the 63-year-old wonder, who also managed to do the unthinkable, winning each PGA Tour Champions event held in 2020.

Bamberger: Tiger loses the Masters in a playoff to some kid from China whose name we do not now know.

Wood: NO ONE skips the Tokyo Olympics for the golf competition. Everyone who qualifies plays, and after the fourth round, a four-man playoff that will decide all three medals (as well as the odd-man out) between Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and hometown hero Hideki Matsuyama, the media and all involved are now talking about winning a gold medal counting as a major title.