SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Gary Van Sickle convened a panel of six Champions tour players—Fred Funk, Jay Haas, Gary Koch, Tom Lehman, Steve Pate and Curtis Strange—to address these and other questions
THEN AND NOW
Van Sickle: I know it's comparing apples and armadillos, given the changes in the game, but what do you think about the talent level of today's Tour versus your heyday?
Koch: The modern high-tech equipment has lifted more players closer to the top. There's less separation. When we played in the '70s there was a big discrepancy between Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson and the rest of us. They were far superior at striking the ball.
Lehman: Play is way more one-dimensional now. There's one style of play, one launch angle, one spin rate. Everyone is trying to build swings that maximize distance versus working the ball, hitting three-quarter shots. I see fewer and fewer guys who know how to play the game, but more guys who are better athletes with the ability to really hit the ball and do amazing things with it.
Strange: The last generation, which is me, and this generation, which is now, are probably as different as any two generations of golfers ever when you talk about balls, clubs and athletes. How are you going to compare Dustin Johnson to somebody on the senior tour?
Lehman: Today's players, when they're on, are better than the group 30 years ago. But when they're off, they're not as good. That probably means there were more great players 30 years ago. There may be more good players today but not as many great ones.
Strange: If you gave today's equipment to any of the top players of my day—Hale Irwin, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman—there's no doubt they'd be just as good or better. Give persimmon woods and balata balls to today's players, they'd find a way to excel. Tiger would still have been Number 1. Would he swing at it differently? Yes, he'd have to.
Lehman: In pitching terms, we have a lot of guys today with really good fastballs, but they don't have the three other pitches you need to be a superstar.
Pate: So we have a lot of great throwers, not as many great pitchers.