Here are the Quick Facts, in case you don’t already know: Tiger Woods, in 2000, played a new solid core ball that gave him a distance/accuracy advantage over all the other Tour pros. During this period of time, he won six golf tournaments, including three majors. He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by an astonishing 15 strokes. That win was part of the “Tiger Slam,” as were the other two majors that summer. The media described this period of Woods’s career — and continue to do so — as the most dominant run in the history of golf.
This past Tuesday, Frank Nobilo upset the apple cart by disclosing that Tiger Woods was using this new ball during that dominant period which gave him a distance boost over his fellow competitors.
The new type ball offered such an advantage that every Tour pro converted to it in less than two years time; Tiger Woods was using that ball in competition a full six months before anyone else did.
It’s important to point out that no one is claiming Woods was cheating; he wasn’t. I would not even claim using the new ball was immoral; I don’t believe it was, although I can definitely see the other side of that argument. Here’s the critical point: Woods’s so-called dominant period was ball-aided. The feat is not as impressive when you know he was using a “golfball on steroids,” a ball the other players did not have in their bags.
So, don’t anyone try to tell me Woods’s U.S. Open was some heroic and historic feat when I now know he was using a jacked-up ball. I could outrun Usain Bolt if you gave me a big enough lead, but it wouldn’t impress anyone.
Nobilo’s remarks are already being pushed into the background, which should surprise no one who has watched the golf media in action during the past fifteen years. When it comes to Tiger Woods, the number one rule is See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. At one point, as you probably recall, the golf media attempted to change the terminology of the Thanksgiving 2009 “sex scandal” to “automobile accident.” The resultant public mockery shamed even the shameless golf media. They quickly abandoned that attempt at opinion-shaping.
As I mulled over the matter of the super ball, a question arose. How could this information have escaped detection for so long? People like me who don’t follow golf equipment trends, who make our livings in other areas of the economy quite apart from golf, well, sure, we couldn’t be expected to notice. But there are guys who make their livings observing and remarking upon trends in golf equipment. There are guys make their livings selling golf equipment. There are guys writing about golf full-time, who receive paychecks, 401K contributions, paid vacations, and health insurance. Is it asking too much for them to notice such a thing and bring it to the public’s attention?
I raised this question in a comment to a piece I wrote a couple of days ago, and a reader left a comment saying the issue actually had been covered, in a book, Tiger vs. Jack: Golf’s Greatest Rivalry by Philip Capelle.
Unfortunately, the book is out of print; a used copy will set you back 80 dollars. Fortunately, the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon is available.
Excerpt: In 2000 Nike brought in a ball making wizard named Rock Ishii: “My job is to make balls for Tiger, not talk about him,” Ishii told Sports Illustrated.
Excerpt: It didn’t take long for Ishii’s work to have an impact. Woods won the Memorial and the U.S. Open within two weeks after switching to Ishii’s first Nike ball in 2000.
Excerpt: Nike providing Woods with his own golf ball scientist is the most outlandish manifestation of the Star System to date in the game’s long and storied history.
Excerpt: Besides the evidence in the table, Nicklaus supporters can counter that those wins in 2000 were ball aided, and that he [Woods] played on a tour that was packed with easier-to-win small field events (see chapter 17).
In a section called “X Factor,” the author speculates that Woods could falter in his final years (this book was written in 2010) due to injury or “perhaps he used PEDs and the story will surface” and disrupt or end his quest.
There is a chart in the book labeled “Golf Balls on Steroids,” which shows there was a one-year increase in average driving distance of 6.2 yards when the pros all switched to the same type ball as Woods. But, for that summer of 2000, Woods had the ball to himself.
After reading these things, my jaw dropped. How could this information have eluded me for so long?
This is a big deal. Imagine if it came out that Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters by using a new golf ball that no other player had at the time? That would have been front page news everywhere and would have taken the luster off Jack’s amazing victory.
In the case of Woods, however, it has been kept quiet. I repeat an earlier point: I don’t follow golf for a living, but some people do, and those people read books and talk to each other. They had to know about this advantage Woods enjoyed. Was this entire “golf ball on steroids” matter covered up as part of the Only Tiger Matters narrative the golf media has been pushing for so long? If so — and it appears certain it was — why is Nobilo now giving away the secret?
Already I’ve heard things such as, “Tiger was so much better than everyone back then, he would have won using a feathery.” Of course, that’s like saying, “Lance Armstrong was so much better than everyone else, he would have won without doping.” Good luck with that.
The book is out of print, but Capelle also has a website. (Thanks again to the reader who provided the information.) Here’s a link to a great table comparing Nicklaus and Woods.
It will be interesting to see if in the future golf announcers will mention the ball-aided aspect of Woods’s success at Pebble Beach and the other events that summer of 2000.