The most storied shot in the history of professional golf was hit with a 4-wood, traveled about 235 yards and propelled the player who struck it toward a legendary win at the Masters. That Gene Sarazen's shot is still talked about 66 years later is testament to the lore of both the player himself and place where it was done - Augusta National.
It is also, by today's standards, a shot that has become ancient history.
"Sarazen's shot was a little downhill, so to these guys today, it would be a 5-iron," said Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion and a noted golf historian.
"The Shot Heard 'Round The World," as Sarazen's double-eagle 2 on the par-5 15th hole has been called, is not the only stroke of golfing genius that would have been played differently today.
What about Ben Hogan's 1-iron approach to the 18th green at Merion, near Philadelphia, in the 1950 U.S. Open? A few years ago, former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite played a similar shot of about 190 yards and reportedly used a 6-iron.
Or Jerry Pate's 5-iron from the right rough on the final hole of the 1976 U.S. Open at the Atlanta Athletic Club? Will it be a 7- or 8-iron when the PGA Championship is played there later this year?
The technological advances made in golf during the past 20 years, first with clubs and most recently with the ball itself, have forever changed the way the centuries-old game is being played. The advances have also forced designers to reconfigure modern courses and endangered more traditional ones, including many that have held major championships and were the scene of some of the game's most historic moments.
At least one of them, Augusta (Ga.) National, has tried to remake itself into a more modern layout by lengthening many of its par-4s, narrowing its fairways and growing rough. Tournament officials said at this year's tournament that the most extensive changes will occur before next year's event begins. But other tournaments might have to move lock, stock and ball washers to other venues.
The question being asked these days is simple: Is golf's new technology ruining the game and making some of its most hallowed courses obsolete?
"You've now got to go out and build 7,500-yard courses," said the legendary Jack Nicklaus, who has been a longtime critic of the technological advances made with the ball. "What you have done is that you've obsoleted every golf course that has been built in the last 100 years."
Flurry of changes
The changes came slowly at first, with the introduction of the oxymoronic metal woods in the late-1970s, then with the development and marketing of graphite shafts in the mid-1980s. Now, the changes seem to occur almost at warp speed, with improvements on the inside and outside of the ball.
The graphite shafts made clubs lighter and more flexible than their steel predecessors, making them much easier to swing. It has helped everyone from the world's best players to weekend hackers hit the ball longer. But the biggest explosion has been with the ball. With the recent development of the solid-core urethane-covered ball, players are finding the accuracy they lacked in the past without giving up the distance.
With all of the major manufacturers getting their hands into the mix - from Titleist's Pro V1 to the Nike Tour Accuracy to Callaway's Rule 35 to Spalding's Strate Tour Ultimate - there is as much competition among those developing the product as there is on the course.
"Guys are not necessarily hitting their irons better," Tiger Woods said earlier this year. "But they are driving it so much farther now. Instead of playing 4s and 5-irons into pins, they're playing 7s and 6s. That's a tremendous difference. I think guys are hitting the ball farther and straighter."
Said Phil Mickelson: "I'm playing a game that's different from any game I have ever played."
Dividing line of distance
It is easy enough to figure out when the biggest jump in distance was made. Just look at the PGA Tour's driving distance leaders.
In 1996, the year after he won the British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland, John Daly added more than 13 yards a drive, up from a formidable 288.8 to an eye-popping 302. By 1999, Daly was up to 305 for each drive measured. This despite being in the worst slump - not to mention the worst physical shape - of his mercurial career.
And the long hitters are not the only players to benefit.
Former PGA champion Jeff Sluman has become a poster boy for the new golf balls by adding nearly a dozen yards to his driving average and moving from the back of the pack to the middle (71st as of this week).
Put those same spheres of influence - golf's answer to the juiced-up baseball - at the feet of top players such as Woods, and the results are astounding. Woods won the first PGA Tour event he played with the new Nike ball developed specifically for him and proceeded to go on one of the hottest streaks in history, winning nine times last year and four times this year, and became the first player to win four straight major championships.