Thank you for your 'Frankly Golf' column. I really enjoyed last week's Jack vs. Tiger article. But your emphasis on equipment, though obviously understandable, didn't note the advances in hybrid grasses, green construction and course maintenance procedures over the last 40 years. Greens today are much truer and more consistent than they were when Jack played.
You also didn't mention advances in training and teaching technology. Video analysis, high-speed cameras, launch monitors, computer models, etc., didn't exist during Jack's prime. Hey, even he might have profited greatly from a visit to your putting studio!
My question is, how much do you think these improved greens contributed to Tiger's putting stats? Also, how much do you think Tiger has benefited from these better teaching and training methods?
Thanks again for making golf technology understandable.
You and hundreds of others have voted and/or e-mailed me with suggestions on how to make the comparison between Tiger and Jack more comprehensive and statistically more valid. Luckily, I have access to the 1968 pro tour stats and the properties of Jack’s equipment when he was in his prime. So I decided to use it to stir up a good debate.
It was with this information and knowledge – knowing how advances in equipment technology over the last 40-plus years have impacted performance without any significant improvement in skill – that I dared to ask who's better and even make a very general comparison.
After the first several hundred votes Jack surged to the lead with 53 to 57 percent of the vote. The final tally after several hundred more votes – nearly 800 in all before we closed the survey – was 55 percent for Jack and 45 percent for Tiger.
I am not sure that if we went into a more comprehensive statistical analysis taking all the data and peripheral information into account – the effect of which may be speculative in many cases – that the results would be significantly different. This is fodder for a good debate, which I'm sure will continue for many years to come.
There is no doubt that course conditions have changed significantly since Jack's prime. As an example, the average green speed in 1977, when I re-designed and introduced a device to measure green speeds called the Stimpmeter – was 6.5 feet. (For major competitions, I recommended 10.5 feet.) Today, on relatively flat greens, the green speeds in some majors reach 13 to 14 feet. An undulating green should not be more than 10 to 11 feet, otherwise the hole location options are limited, compromising the architect’s design which anticipated multiple hole locations on every green.
In Jack's day, the greens were significantly slower, less consistent and not as true as the greens today. Yes, the entire field had the same problems, but Jack ranked 78th in putting average (putts per round), compared to 21st for Tiger today. In putts per GIR, Jack ranked 10th while Tiger is currently tied for 16th.
Agronomic practices have improved so much that before the mid-1980s superintendents found it difficult to grow grass – now they control and manipulate its growth. At the 1998 U.S. Open, the 18th fairway at the Olympic Club was running 6.5 feet, the same as the average green speed on Tour in 1977.
Yes, things have changed, and perhaps there is no really sound way to compare these two great golfers.
I still think Jack has the edge but only time will tell.
Jim, thanks for your e-mail and to all of those Frankly Friends who have responded and joined in the fun discussion and vote. Share the fun and get your friends to register as a Frankly Friends for weekly updates and equipment information which will help them enjoy their game more– Frank
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org