For all his ideas about what can be done at Augusta National for it to remain a great test, Jack Nicklaus prefers that the course not be touched. He wants to change the golf ball.
A growing number of insiders believe the game is facing a crisis, and a revised ball is the simplest way to combat the effects of stronger athletes playing with superior equipment on better conditioned courses. "It does appear that the gap between the distance superstars and the average player hit the ball is widening," concedes Frank Thomas, technical director of the USGA, who in the past had maintained that existing restrictions on the ball were sufficient. "There is certainly a perceived problem, and it might be a real one."
Golf's elders are still opposed to Nicklaus's remedy—the establishment of a tournament ball used only by pros. The USGA doesn't like that idea because golf has never had different equipment regulations for different classes of players. Among other reasons, manufacturers don't like the idea because consumers have shown a desire to play what the pros play.
There is, however, a simpler solution: make all balls slightly lighter. For a Tour player, a ball that weighs less than the regulation 1.62 ounces doesn't carry as far on full shots, would roll less and would be harder to control in the wind. In 1931 the USGA first regulated ball weight, settling on 1.55 ounces. The pros, who had grown accustomed to playing heavier balls, found the new one difficult to play and dubbed it the Floater. The weight was adjusted to 1.62 ounces the following year.
There's more. According to Thomas, for an average player whose drives are in the 185- to 200-yard range, the lighter ball might even go farther. "The lighter ball might be a very tidy way of increasing the demands on professionals and not hurting the other 99 percent of golfers," says Thomas.
That might appease manufacturers. "It's a very intriguing idea," says Wally Uihlein, CEO of Titleist. If Augusta National gets massacred again next week, a lighter ball might also be an idea whose time has come.