Nick Price looked amazingly fit at the Verizon Byron Nelson last week. Admittedly, he isnt a Charles Howell with a 32-inch waist, but then, not many players in their 20s look like Howell, either. Price is 45 now, but he is wonderfully athletic. His 6-foot frame distributes his 190 pounds quite nicely. There is just no way he is the proverbial 90-pound weakling.
The PGA Tour rankings show that as late as 1995, Price was fifth in driving length. Today, he stands at No. 143. What in the name of Walter Hagen has happened? Has the rigors of age affected him THAT much?
Well, it hasnt. But modern technology has. Clubs are becoming so much easier to hit on a straight line. A metal head has such a wide array of features built into it that it resembles the old persimmon woods in shape only. And the over-40 set learned the game with persimmon drivers. The 20- and 30-year-olds learned on metal woods.
I feel quite passionate about it, because if you look back 10 years ago, Greg Norman and myself and guys like (Jeff) Sluman, we were among the best drivers in the game, said Price. Now, were very average. And OK, I am 45, but give me one of those old small-headed drivers and I will take on anyone.
And how do those who learned the game on the large heads have an advantage over those who learned on the small heads? Plenty, says Price.
The big difference when we grew up playing wooden drivers ' there was a point where, if you mis-hit that wooden driver, it would snap-hook and miss the adjacent fairway. Lets say you swung at it 85 percent. I can always swing at it 98 percent, but I knew there was a point that if I went to that driver too hard and miscued it, Id (knock it out-of-bounds), he said.
It would snap-hook so bad, so we learned to swing the club at one speed, at like 85 percent of our strength.
Look at the younger generation. They dont have to worry about the snap-hook nearly as much as players who grew up and in the 60s and 70s. Consequently, they routinely bash the ball 290 yards.
The margin of error is greater, Price said. The shots are a lot more consistent, the clubheads are more consistent, more stable, and the ball flies straighter off it. These guys are learning to swing at 95 and 96 percent.
Price mentioned great players over the past 100 years who played their golf with wood ' Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus ' and all swung at 85 percent. Could they swing all-out if they used todays driver? Certainly they could. And they probably would get an extra 20 or 30 yards if they used metal.
Why all of a sudden in 10 years can you go from swinging at it 85 percent, to swinging 95 percent? asked Price. The guys (who grew up in the 80s and 90s) hit it harder. The equipment makes for a much smaller margin of error. Thats the big difference.
Of course, a few of the older fellas have re-learned the swing. Tom Kite hits the ball 20 or 30 yards longer today than he did with his wooden driver 10 years ago, and hes 52 years old. But he is the exception, not the norm. Simply said, it took more skill to hit the old persimmons, and you simply couldnt swing the same was as you do with modern equipment.
Unfortunately, the new technology also is making many of the old courses relics of another era. Merion is the starkest example ' formerly a U.S. Open venue, it hasnt been used for that championship in years. And unless something is done to restrict length, some of the other Open courses will surely follow it.
I dont care what it is, whether we draw the line in the sand right now, saying this is it, or whether we go retroactive and start pulling some of the clubs that are out there ' but I dont know how you go backwards, said Price.
Unfortunately, he was born just a little too early ' or too late, depending on how you look at it. He is a player born on the cusp, starting in the era of the wooden driver, ending now in the era of composites. He knows the percentages ' be it 85 percent or 95 percent ' are against him.