May 29, 2006

Change ball to curb long hitters, says Montgomerie

By Tony Jimenez

LONDON (Reuters) - The golfing genie was again let out of
its bottle at last week's PGA 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 number six Ernie Els, who has
won a record six World Match Play titles at the famous
Wentworth estate he calls home, the West Course has been
stretched by more than 300 yards 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-times European number one Montgomerie was among
several players at the PGA Championship to applaud the changes
masterminded by Els.

But he said golf's rule-makers 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,"
said the PGA champion of 1998, 1999 and 2000. "We cannot keep
spending money using new land.

"We don't have to, we have an option. We can change the

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

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

Before last month's U.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 7,445

One player who shares Montgomerie's opinion is five-times
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 told
Reuters earlier this year.


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

Like Montgomerie, the 49-year-old Ballesteros 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 U.S.
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 317
yards and, according to the statistics, no fewer than 68
players regularly power the ball 285 yards or more from the

Montgomerie, who also won the 1999 World Match Play title
at Wentworth, is a course designer as well as a top player.

The 42-year-old Scot has around 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.