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Stephen Gallacher: Change is coming but it does not have to be the golf ball

Technology debate has resurfaced following shootout at the Travelers Championship.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, chips to the green on the 14th hole during a practice around for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Rochester, N.Y. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Rory McIlroy. Image: PA

The technology debate has reared its head again in golf following Rory McIlroy’s comments at the Travelers Championship.

With 44 players finishing double digits under par it is clear the course at TPC River Highlands was not the test some had hoped it would.

After watching two rounds of 60, a 61 and five 62s being recorded Rory, who shot two rounds of 64 to finish 18 under for the tournament, had some choice words.

He argued a combination of modern technology and the soft conditions had rendered the course obsolete.

He raised the issue of whether it is time to limit the distance a golf ball can travel.

That debate has been going on for years and I can remember similar remarks being made after a Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.

I would agree we’re close to a ceiling on what we can do to help a golfer play the game at the elite level as there is only so much a golf course can do to withstand the advancing technology.

A flat calm Open is a shootout for the best players. The defence of a links course against the players has always been the conditions.

You want to see the wind blowing one way one day then shifting completely the next. That’s where the real test comes.

But flat calm is no match for the modern professional with all the tools at their disposal.

R&A are exploring all options

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

It is clear something has to change to protect the course but I’m not yet convinced it is the ball we should be changing.

I’m not sure the R&A are convinced either.

The tournament committee on the DP World Tour, of which I am a member, recently had a visit from Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, and Steve Otto, the chief technology officer.

Titleist have also made presentations to the committee too as clearly this is a hot topic and there is a wealth of opinion to be canvassed.

With everything else that’s been happening in golf in the last 12 months I expect this one to rumble on into 2024.

I would rather we keep the ball but change the driver

We should not discount what makes the sport attractive to spectators when pondering what action to take.

Let’s say we replace the balls we use today with ones which travel 8% shorter. Do fans want to see that? Will it make the game more enjoyable to spectators?

My gut tells me no it won’t.

Fans are excited by long drives and seeing golfers take on a par 4 hole in two shots and chasing birdies.

I’d argue the driver is the area we should be looking at.

Driving the ball used to be more of a skill and if we can make the driver head smaller and reduce the size of the sweet spot for connecting with the ball it would make a big difference.

But whichever way we go it is clear the knock-on effect will be seismic for all concerned.

Players and manufacturers will have to make changes to their equipment whatever happens.

Lorenzo-Vera was not happy but slow play was not an issue in Munich

If it’s not technology, it’s another age old debate – slow play.

Mike Lorenzo-Vera was so annoyed by it he took the remarkable step of tweeting mid-round from the BMW International Open in Germany.

The Frenchman was 10 over through 11 holes during his second round in Munich but his round was the least of his worries.

He was far more concerned at the time it was taking to play as he tweeted it had taken him more than three hours to rack up the five bogeys, double bogey and triple during his 11 holes on the course.

I was there and didn’t think slow play was an issue last week. I’d also argue we’re pretty pro-active in addressing it with fines and penalties on the DP World Tour.

A number of factors can affect how long it takes to play. The weather, the course set-up are two for starters.

This goes hand-in-hand with the golf technology debate for me. Given many clubs have opted to lengthen their courses to combat the technological advancement being made it stands to reason the time to play a round is going to increase.

But I think we’ve been decent in our times on tour and I’d happily put our averages up against any other tour.

However, no amount of penalties is going to alter the pace of play significantly.

We could shave 10 to 15 minutes off the average time taken to play a round.

But shaving five minutes off per hole to complete a round 90 minutes quicker?

That just isn’t going to happen.

Great to be back at the Belfry

It’s been lovely to be able to jump in the car and drive to an event this week.

I’m at the Belfy for the British Masters, hosted by Sir Nick Faldo, and it’s great to be back at one of the iconic venues in Britain.

Being here always bring back great memories from Sam Torrance’s famous 20ft birdie putt to give Europe victory in the Ryder Cup to Seve Ballesteros’ iconic shot at the 10th hole in 1978.

It is so famous Danny Willett, Pablo Larrazabal and Renato Paratore had the unenviable task of trying to emulate it for fun a couple of years ago.

The Belfry is a great course and one I’ve had a few good finishes at. I was second in the British Masters here in 2006 so it’s nice to have some good memories to draw on this week.