In retrospect, the writing was on the wall when Tiger Woods reduced the 18th at Augusta to a drive and a pitching wedge.
Woods' uphill drive flew some 340 yards, leaving him with a 65 yard lofted shot to the green. The great bunker, from which Sandy Lyle made history and which has put paid to the aspirations of so many lesser pretenders, was reduced to an irrelevance with one single shot.
Peter Dawson, the R&A secretary sounded ominous when he said, 'eyes have been opened,' soon after Woods' win.
It was generally held then that something would be done about governing the golf ball's characteristics. One had visions of the wise men of R&A and the USGA in a panelled room bouncing balls off the walls with men in white coats in attendance. Woods, after all, had spent the year and that before it with the singular advantage of having the 'new ball'. Now, with everyone playing the 'new ball' Woods' drives are no longer remarkable and many have surpassed him in length off the tee.
If the wise heads had a problem last year it has proliferated like poa annua on a pristine green this year.
The simple fact is that players have been driving longer and hitting it straighter with greater control of the ball as each generation has surpassed that which went before, since time immemorial.
Today, with the money on offer, the top players are younger, fitter and more talented than ever before - and they are emerging in ever-greater numbers.
Golf ball manufacturers are applying science and technology with greater fervour than ever before. The advent of the solid core ball with soft-core characteristics, imparting even greater spin, is the consequence of years of applied research across the leading edges of many scientific disciplines. This will continue and new balls with 'improved' parameters will emerge as they have always done for as long as the game has been played.
The replacement of the featherie by the gutta percha ball and that by the Haskell was the start of a process that has never stopped and will not stop. There has never been a decade in the game without the pessimists in it preaching doom and gloom, just as there has never been a decade without course adjustments being made to compensate for advances in technology.
I find it exciting that the members at Augusta have responded to the 'Tiger Factor' with a multi-million-dollar upgrade of their hallowed holes. Needless to say the 18th has come in for the most drastic renovation. It is to be extended some 60 yards and the tee moved right five yards so that the famous bunker is staring the player in the face defiantly.
Flying this bunker next April will require a carry of 320 yards or, alternatively, a fabulously controlled fade. Either way, it will make for buttock clenching stuff. But will it bring the hole back into play as Bobby Jones and Dr Mackenzie planned it 70 years ago?
It may, but for two or three years at the most.
Eight par fours have been similarly lengthened, the 10th and 11th will be 495 and 490 yards respectively. The par five 8th will require a trivial 305 yard carry to clear the fairway bunker or a little draw to go round it.
Overall, Augusta will be extended by some 300 yards and I can't wait for next April. There is a delicious irony in all of this for it is happening despite the fact that scoring has not been reduced significantly, despite the longer driving.
What is in fact happening is that the gauntlet is being thrown down to the technocrats to come up with a ball that will fly even further and you can bet that they will certainly respond to this challenge.
Instead of negating the 'Tiger Factor' they are simply augmenting it by putting the onus of play on the longer drive. And we will all have to pay more for the newer still ball that will fly yet further.
I will be first in the queue despite the fact that I know it will contribute nothing to my game.
|| 11 - SEPTEMBER 2001