Golf: Change ball to curb long-hitters, says Monty

By Tony Jimenez

LONDON - The golfing genie was again let out of its bottle at last week's BMW Championship when Colin Montgomerie reopened the debate on how best to counter the game's big hitters and advancing technology.

Under the guidance of world No 6 Ernie Els, who has won a record six world matchplay titles at the famous Wentworth estate he calls home, the West Course has been stretched by more than 274m to meet the demands of the modern-day golfer.

The alterations made to the dogleg right, par-five 18th typified the thinking behind the changes made by Els in conjunction with course manager Chris Kennedy and his team.

"Traditionally this hole sets up for a fade off the tee but in recent years the long hitters could almost bomb it straight over the corner of the dogleg, which I don't imagine was how (original designer) Harry Colt pictured it (in the 1920s)," Els was quoted as saying in the European Tour's weekly newsletter.

"So we've moved the tee back 17 yards which makes it harder to cut the corner the aerial route."

Eight-time European No 1 Montgomerie was among several players at the BMW Championship to applaud the changes masterminded by Els.

But he said golf's rulemakers had to take a step back and provide more long-term solutions to thwart the continued advance in golf club technology which helps players power the ball vast distances.

"We are reaching a point where a decision has to be made," Montgomerie said.

"We cannot keep spending money using new land. We don't have to, we have an option. We can change the ball.

"I have said it for years and I'm not alone in my view."

Radical redesign

Wentworth is not the only leading course to have undergone a radical redesign in recent times.

Before last month's Masters, the year's first major, there was widespread speculation that perhaps only 10 players of sufficient length would be able to triumph after the par-72 Augusta National layout had been lengthened to a daunting 6808m.

One player who shares Montgomerie's opinion is five-time major champion Severiano Ballesteros.

"These days we talk about power, at the peak of my career I was hitting the ball about 285 yards," the Spaniard said.

"The clubs, the shafts, they are different now, and the players are more athletic than they were 20 years ago."

Like Montgomerie, Ballesteros, 49, believes it is time to even things up by changing the ball.

"Make the ball bigger is one thing they can do," he said.

"Put less dimples on the ball to make things more equal."

Ballesteros, who won three British Opens and two Masters, was a long hitter in his prime but a glance at the driving distances achieved by modern players shows how time has marched on.

South African Titch Moore, hardly a household name, leads the way on the 2006 European Tour with an average drive of 290m and, according to the statistics, no fewer than 68 players regularly power the ball 260m or more from the tee.

Montgomerie, who also won the 1999 world matchplay title at Wentworth, is a course designer as well as a top player.

The Scot, 42, has about 20 courses either in play or at various stages of design and construction, and believes golf would be taking the more acceptable "green" and cheaper option by changing the ball to curb the long hitters.

"It's environmentally more friendly and we don't have to spend as much money," he said.

- REUTERS

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