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(Reuters) - Top-level professional golf is headed by an "extraordinary group of players" but the game urgently needs a bigger ball to keep it relevant for the average amateur, says former Ryder Cup player and television analyst David Feherty.
While world number one Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and others have given fans plenty to savor, both on and off the course, Feherty believes that golf's rulemakers have missed out on an obvious opportunity to improve the game for everyone.
"The first thing that I would change would be the size of the ball," Northern Irishman Feherty told Reuters in a telephone interview. "It would bring all the old golf courses back into relevance if you make the ball two-hundredths of an inch bigger.
"We've already done it once, we went from 1.62 (inches in diameter) to 1.68, so why not go to 1.70 where the ball spins a little more, it's harder to hit straight and it doesn't go as far.
"The most important thing of all is that you have to keep the game popular and comfortable and relevant for the people who drive the industry, and those are the amateur golfers."
According to Feherty, the benefits of a slightly larger ball would be huge for the average weekend player.
"A bigger ball would sit up a little more around the green, it's a little easier to chip with and that's the area that really will help the average amateur," said the 57-year-old former European Tour player who now lives in the United States.
"It's just common sense, and that's probably the reason why the R&A and USGA haven't gotten around to it yet," Feherty said of the game's governing bodies, before adding that he would like to see professional golfers making rules for professional golf.
A five-times winner on the European Tour before he embarked on a broadcasting career that has so far lasted 20 years, Feherty would also like to see a significant improvement in the pace of play -- at both professional and amateur level.
"It's a huge problem," said the Bangor native, who is renowned for his sparkling wit and an instant quip for any situation, a hallmark of his award-winning television series 'Feherty' on Golf Channel.
"The people who are considered to be the most important golfers, the touring pros, they do set an example and it hasn't been a particularly good one over the last few decades -- taking forever to play.
"You've got youngsters who are lining up putts from 18 inches and we really have got to do something about that ... we need to make the game a little brisker."
Widely respected inside and outside the ropes for his work in the U.S. as an on-course golf analyst, Feherty has nothing but admiration for the leading lights in the modern game -- Day, Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.
"And it's not just an extraordinary group of players," said the Northern Irishman. "Each of those four is a wonderful person. I can't think of any other sport where you even come close to that.
"You have to have a high opinion of yourself to perform well at anything -- whether it's in business, as a musician or an athlete -- but it's a really special person that can have that high opinion of themselves without demonstrating it outwardly."
Feherty was speaking after the official launch of Hyundai's 'Ultimate Pro-Am Experience' sweepstakes, where the eventual winner will get to play in pro-am competitions on the eve of three different PGA Tour events next year.
"You get the opportunity to scar a PGA Tour professional for life with your dreadful play," jested Feherty. "It really is something special.
"The month of January is the Tournament of Champions in Maui, playing that pro-am with one of the winners from the previous year, then two more pro-ams in California as well ... it really is pretty cool. I'm thinking of entering myself."
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue