Nicklaus, Player expect ball changes to limit long drivers

Jim SLATER
·3-min read
Gary Player prepares to hit a ceremonial tee shot while fellow honorary starter Jack Nicklaus watches as the 84th Masters began Thursday at Augusta National
Gary Player prepares to hit a ceremonial tee shot while fellow honorary starter Jack Nicklaus watches as the 84th Masters began Thursday at Augusta National

Masters legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player predicted Thursday that golf ball changes will be made to limit driving distances of ball-bashers like Bryson DeChambeau to avoid making courses obsolete.

Nicklaus, whose record 18 major wins include six green jackets, and South Africa's Player, who took three Masters titles among nine major victories, launched ceremonial tee shots to open the 84th Masters.

DeChambeau's overpowering long-drive performance in winning the US Open in September at Winged Foot has many fearing he'll crush Augusta National this week by blasting balls to areas co-founder Bobby Jones never imagined.

"He would be turning in his grave now to see Bryson DeChambeau say 'I'm taking a 3-wood just to put it in the middle of the green on the right," Player said of Jones. "Change is the price of survival, isn't it?"

Player, 85, and Nicklaus, 80, agreed a change in golf balls was needed from governing bodies R&A and the US Golf Association.

"They have got to cut the ball back and they will cut the ball back," Player said.

Nicklaus said a special ball to limit driving distance might have debuted this year if not for the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed the Masters from April and forced a ban on spectators.

"I believe they probably would have brought (distance) back this year if it wasn't for Covid, or at least they would have got serious about bringing it back," Nicklaus said.

"Both the USGA and the R&A said they are serious about it. They have to make some changes with it, otherwise all the old golf courses, all the strategy and everything else that you've had on golf courses, is gone."

Player pointed to St. Andrews, the classic Scottish links layout in the British Open rotation.

"The guys will drive nine greens there on a calm day," Player said, saying bigger and stronger golfers could soon eclipse DeChambeau.

"We've seen things we never thought would happen," he said. "Don't be surprised if you see them hit it 500 (yards) because these guys are so big and so strong, it's frightening. And they'll be using a long driver.

"We ain't seen nothing yet."

Only rain will hinder deChambeau this week, Player warned.

"DeChambeau, if it was not this wet weather, he'd drive it on the (first) green and take a 3-wood and put it on the third green," Player said.

Nicklaus envisions one uniform ball for all golfers.

"They will change it for everybody," Nicklaus said. "They don't want to have one ball for the pro, one ball for the average golfer.

"My guess is they're developing a golf ball that the faster the club head speed, the progression is less as you go down.

"If you swing at 125 mph, you'll be limited to this. If you swing at 100 mph, you won't lose as much distance. If you go to 90, you won't lose hardly any distance at all.

"So the average golfer is not hurt but you try to rein in the longer hitters so you're not ruining every golf course that's there."

- Elder joins them in '21 -

Player and Nicklaus will be joined next year as ceremonial starters by Lee Elder, 86, who in 1975 became the first Black player in the Masters.

"To honor him now is very appropriate," Nicklaus said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Player recalled Elder playing him in South Africa in 1969 in a sporting move to combat apartheid.

"He had the courage to accept the invitation," Player said. "It was very influential. It was historic. It was something I never thought I would live to see."

Nicklaus, who supported Donald Trump in the US Presidential election, was asked what advice he would give Trump about accepting defeat after refusing to concede to Joe Biden.

"I've said enough about that," Nicklaus said. "I don't think this is the place for politics."

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