We mortals have a tendency to lean toward the "EST" syndrome. Who is the fastEST, biggEST largEST, bEST? We tend to base our personal preference on the notable elite in any avenue of life. It is not different in the game of golf. We sit around the clubhouse and argue our point about who hits it the longest, or who has the best game of any golfer. Years ago, I formed my opinion on who was the best golfer by who won the most in any given season. Yet, some develop favorites by how they look or act. If the player has notable flaws in personality or character, no matter how well he or she plays, we may not give the player a regarded position on the proverbial pedestal. It is not my intent to judge the life of one player over another, even though we all have opinions. But, let us attempt to level the playing field. Who is better....Tiger or Jack? We will never be able to see head to head matches, but we can make a reasonable attempt in areas of the game from when Jack Nicklaus played and today during the Tiger Woods era.
Let us do the comparison from an equipment basis. Today we can purchase quite a variety in clubs and balls. Even the tees are made with performance claims. But just for starters let us first discuss the driver. Modern drivers have a lot of similarities. The length of the club is anywhere from 45 inches and longer. Heads are made from lightweight high strength titanium with spring face technology which produces rebound of the ball off the face at greater speed. This driver head is now 460 cc in size, with a wider sweet spot to forgive errant contact with the golf ball. The shaft and its technology claims are almost mind boggling. Made from high modulus graphite costing up to $300 per shaft the claims of greater distance, feel and playability is numerous. The shafts weigh in as low as 45 grams which is more than 80 grams less than the steel models played in the 1970s up to the 1990s. Even the grips can be lighter from the common 50-60 gram weight to less than 30 grams. Than, just consider modern style irons. What once was bladed muscle back types have advanced in technology to perimeter weighting to enhance forgiveness. The multiple choice on shafts is almost beyond count. Kick point and weight all to give the player a choice to adapt to his or her level of ability. Putters also, have made a large impact with modern mallet style, and aiming aids built in. Then there is the current golf ball. Space does not allow us to discuss in depth the difference between the ball Tiger plays and the one Jack played with.
Let me summarize. Tiger plays with a driver with a very expensive graphite shaft and 460 cc head size plus 45 ½ inches in length, he has a swing speed of 115 mph plus. His average distance is 305 yards. In comparison, Jack used a persimmon wood head of 190 cc size with a 125-gram weight True Temper Dynamic steel shaft and club length of 43 ½ inches. The club Tiger plays has a price of $400 or more and Jack’s was less than $75. Jack still was able to smash it out there notably more than 300 yards with this club of lesser credentials. Tiger is using irons which are the best Taylormade Golf has to offer. Jack played with MacGregor Tourney bladed irons with common steel shafts, and was capable of hitting consistently long and straight shots. Then there is the ball. Tiger uses the best ball Bridgestone Golf has to offer. It is a multi layer ball that spins very little off the driver face, but spins a lot off the iron face. It is durable, and stays round. Jack used the MacGregor Tourney ball which was a true balata cover over rubber windings and a liquid center. In hot weather, this ball would go out of round within a hole or two. In colder temperature the liquid center affected playability greatly. It had spin off the driver and irons. Still Jack had the ability to hit it close to the hole more often than not. He would putt this ball, even though it may have been out of round.
Yet, I want to express that Tiger has talent beyond most modern players. Will he break Jack’s record of wins in major tour events? I don’t know. He is not getting any younger, and the stress he has felt in his personal life has got to take its toll. But from an equipment measure, I give Jack the edge. He won with a disadvantage in comparison to modern equipment technology. If the playing field would be level, Jack might have won a lot more than 18 major events in golf.