Player pained

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Monday night, a few miles down I-95 at the World Golf Hall of Fame, they unveiled a Gary Player exhibit that anyone who cares about the game should have a chance to see.

"A Global Journey" captures Player's spirit, both on and off the course, whether it's winning a Masters or a British Open or opening a school in Soweto in his home country of South Africa.

Player was on hand, of course. He long has been considered the most-travelled athlete in history, having been hopping from continent to continent for more than 50 years to play tournament golf, to build golf courses or to participate in dozens of charitable causes.

"Forget about just athletes," he said. "It has been suggested I am the most-travelled person in history, considering that most businessmen wouldn't maintain this kind of pace from their 20's into their 70's. With my golf course construction, I'm travelling just as much or more now, at the age of 70, than I ever did."

That said, Player, in much the same vein as his friend and competitor for a generation, Jack Nicklaus, is saddened to see the way great golf courses are being lengthened and turned from shotmaker's layouts into places where bombers prevail.

"Where are we going?" he asked. "I said on the BBC two years ago that in 30 years time they'll be hitting the ball 400 yards. Well, I was 28 years out, because they're doing it now.

"(Stuart) Appleby hit four drives of 400 yards last year. Davis Love did it. It's a very common occurrence to see a ball go 400 yards today."

The Players Championship, which begins here tomorrow, is one of those few courses that seldom succumbs to brute force. It has all manner of subtle defence that prevents the longest hitters from dominating.

"It's not like Augusta," concedes Phil Mickelson, "where length is such a big factor. Here, both length and accuracy can be a huge asset if you put them both to good use."

Player is a fan of today's technology as long as it is in the hands of amateurs. He believes the new clubs and balls help keep less-talented people playing the game. But as far as the pros go, Player thinks there should be limits. This year's Masters will be played at 7,480 yards, almost six hundred yards longer than the course was just seven years ago.

"Think about Augusta," he said. "Eventually, there comes a time when you cannot put the tees in the streets.

"What is going to happen to the golf courses? At the professional level, they're going to have to cut the ball back 30 or 40 yards. I don't think we should have golf courses 8,000 yards long.

"Tiger Woods said the other night on television that six people can now win Augusta. Six people! Ernie Els told me personally he thought the number was 10. Is that not sad? That 10 guys can win the tournament? You might have Mike Weir have a phenomenal week and he might win. But generally, you'll see it at Augusta this year: Who finishes in the top 10. It has become strictly a long-hitter's golf course."

Mickelson disagrees.

"As a player I'm strongly against having a uniform ball. One, I don't think one golf ball will fit all different players. The other is I think it would really hurt the Tour if we did that.

"I think the game would lose some of its "Wow!" factor and I would hate to see that."

If it was ever going to happen, Augusta would have been the logical place, the Masters being an independent tournament that sets its own rules. Now that they've added nearly 700 yards in the past seven years, it's clear the idea of a shorter ball is not in play.

Player thinks that's a pity.

"This golf course at the TPC this week, everybody in the field has a chance of winning. The reason? High rough. You don't need 8,000 yards. Just make the greens firm, good pin placements, grow some rough and you can make a course of 6,800 yards a great test."

When Player talks of his Global Journey, he isn't referring to a walk around Augusta.

But this year, it might feel like it.


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