• Listen to Player

    Gary Player debate
    Fisher's course record sparked a debate

    In an effort to keep traditional golf courses in play, Gary Player wants the ball modified, and he’s right, writes GARY LEMKE in Compleat Golfer.

    Gary Player caught the attention of the golf fraternity when he tweeted about Ross Fisher’s course-record 61 at St Andrews, saying, ‘It’s quite sad to see the Old Course brought to her knees by today’s ball and equipment.’

    Cue hundreds of replies and discussions, online and at 19th holes everywhere. Did the 82-year-old South African legend make a fair point about the advances in equipment, or were they the thoughts of a man struggling to keep up with the times?

    For the record, the 1st hole at St Andrews is 376 yards (346m). It’s a straight par-four with a 115m-wide fairway and the green is protected by the famous ‘burn’. It’s not a difficult opening hole at the ‘Home of Golf’.

    Player’s utterances during this year’s Dunhill Links Championship are not new.

    In fact, he has been lamenting the advances in modern equipment for years, and it’s almost as if he has a recorded loop when he is quizzed on the subject.

    The last time The Open Championship was held at St Andrews was in 2015, and Player said then what he is saying today.

    ‘Members don’t believe me when I say the 1st green can be driven, but equipment and balls are taking us there. I’m 80 … can it be right that a man of 80 can average 10 shots below his age? I stand with a sand wedge, and with all its grooves and the quality of the ball, it doesn’t curve off its line. There are no more spike marks on greens, golfers wear soft spikes … we used to have 200 spike marks on every green,’ he said.

    ‘These days the pros and amateurs are playing two different games. Golf’s leaders tell me I’m talking nonsense. Well, if you think it’s the same game, go putt with Jordan Spieth or hit a drive with Tiger Woods. You’ll realise how different it is.

    ‘In tennis they use two balls – one for high altitude and one for low altitude. Golf needs similar action to cut the flight of the ball back by 50 yards.’

    Player says today what he has been saying for years. Again, in 2015, he told me: ‘Golf can’t go on spending as much as it does … $1-billion has been spent on changing golf courses in the past 20 years. Why? The world is running out of water, seriously. When I tell a Scot that, they find it hard to believe, but if I tell a South African that, they will understand.

    ‘Singapore buys its water from Malaysia. The world is running out of water, yet golf courses are getting longer and longer. That means more fertiliser, which is poison for the ground and it requires more water.’

    Remember, this was Player talking in 2015 when Capetonians still filled their swimming pools, had 10-
    minute showers and lush green lawns.

    Critics of Player reckon that ‘only’ three rounds of 59 have been shot in 2017, and Fisher’s round was the first time a golfer had shot 61 at St Andrews’ Old Course.

    However, Player speaks of a time when an ‘athlete’ like LeBron James or Michael Jordan breaks on to the golf scene. ‘You will see athletes like that driving the ball over 400 yards with all the modern equipment,’ he continues to predict.

    Player’s solution is simple: make the pros play with a ball that flies 50 yards less in the air and get the major ball brands to be locked into that. You can’t have one brand doing its bit and others not; they each have to be given the same specifications.

    And you know what? I agree with him.

    – This column first appeared in the November issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale

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