Dustin Johnson seems to be in favor of changing golf equipment rules for pros to both standardize the characteristics of the golf ball and, in the process, re-establish what he feels is a depleted advantage for the strongest and fastest players.
Speaking on Golf Channel on Nov. 28, Johnson, interviewed alongside Tiger Woods, was asked his thoughts on potentially bifurcating golf equipment rules and rolling back golf ball distance for professionals. Woods, who answered Todd Lewis’ question first, reiterated his support for a rollback. Johnson didn’t come out exactly the same as Woods on the topic. Rather, he wants to see a ball which gives him back some advantage for being a distance-oriented player.
Building on Woods’ analogy of baseball using the bat to delineate pros from amateurs, Johnson picked up on his point.
“I don’t mind seeing every other professional sport; they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” Johnson said. “The guys that are bigger and stronger can hit the baseball a whole lot further than smaller guys.”
Johnson mentioned the growing spin gap — the difference between driver spin and wedge spin — in modern golf balls is the main factor equalizing more players.
“The golf ball right now goes a long way,” he said. “It doesn’t spin near as much as it used to.” He added, “I think with the ball and the equipment, the gap between guys who swing really hard and guys who don’t, it’s not very much. I feel there should be some advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that’s needed. So having a ball, like that same ball that everyone plays, you’re going to have more of an advantage.”
Let’s look at the numbers.
While the PGA Tour’s official driving distance stat is not a perfect measure of actual top-end driving distance, we can at least use it as a proxy to explain distance gaps between heavy hitters and shorter pros. If we compare the leading driver on the PGA Tour against the 80th-ranked and 150th-ranked drivers on the Tour in five-year gaps going back to 1992, we see a slightly smaller percentage difference in 2017 compared to prior years (1997 seems an outlier) at the comparison between No. 1 and No. 80. The gap between No. 1 and No. 150 appears about the same in percentage terms.
However, we also have to note that longer players are hitting fewer drivers now than in other eras. We also don’t have the swing speed makeup of players on the PGA Tour in all of these eras, which would most likely inform Johnson’s point of view.
That said, for the world No. 1 to suggest the modern ball negatively affects the faster-and-stronger player seems to suggest his view that the modern ball is bad for pro golf.