As the U.S. Open plays out this week at storied Pebble Beach Golf Links, talk – at least some time during will week – undoubtedly will turn to equipment and the golf ball. It’s been 19 years since Tiger Woods brought Pebble to its knees with a 15-shot victory at the U.S. Open, and some 20 years since the Acushnet Co., introduced the revolutionary Titleist Pro V1 golf ball that changed the game every bit as much – if not more so – than titanium head drivers and graphite shafts.
“The ball is the biggest difference,’’ legendary golf instructor Jack Lumpkin told me recently. “Clubs are close behind because when (club companies) the learned they could have stronger materials that were lighter, it allowed them to make clubs bigger and longer that produces a bigger (swing) arc.’’
Lumpkin, senior instructor at Sea Island (Ga.) Golf Resort, which this past May opened its new 17,000 square-foot Golf Performance Center, is teacher to such PGA Tour stars as Davis Love III and Loren Roberts.
“The ball (20 years ago) didn’t go as far as today because it was a wound, balata ball,’’ Lumpkin said. “It spun a lot more and had more backspin, but it also had a lot of sidespin on missed shots.
“A player who could hit a steel-shaft, wooden head club 250 yards in 1992 could hit a modern driver – with the same loft – close to 290 yards. That’s changed the whole game. That’s why, unfortunately, some of the grand old courses are considered too short for modern golf.’’
Did the USGA miss the boat by not being more forceful in regulating golf ball distance 20 years ago?
“That’s a tough call,’’ said Lumpkin, know around Sea Island as “Mr. Jack.’’ Participation in golf has dropped. If you made the ball go shorter, would it drop more? Right now it’s hard to change.
“If they had put a lid (on distance), would it have been better for the game? I just don’t know. I know this, though. If you let somebody hit the ball 300 yards and you tell him tomorrow that he can’t hit but 250 yards, he is not going to be very happy.’’
Feature Photo: Jack Lumpkin (gsga.org)