An overdue truce between ruling bodies unifies the rules--in 2008
After four years of posturing and overheated rhetoric, the great
driver debate was finally settled last week, and truth be told,
the resolution was a bit of a letdown. What was billed as the
battle for the game's soul pitted a couple of
heavyweights--tradition and technology--against each other, but
last Thursday the controversy ended not in fisticuffs, or even
litigation, but rather in a blizzard of cloying press releases.
Thanks to a historic meeting of the minds between the USGA and
the R&A, a so-called condition of competition will be enacted on
Jan. 1, 2003, freezing the maximum coefficient of restitution
(COR), or springlike effect, for drivers at .830, the legal limit
that the USGA established in 1998. This number will apply only to
"highly skilled players"--that is, those who compete at all levels
of professional golf and top amateur events, though details are
still being worked out on the latter. Between New Year's Day and
Dec. 31, 2007, recreational players will be permitted to use hot
drivers with elevated CORs of up to .860, creating a five-year
window during which, for the first time, touring pros will be
playing under a different set of rules than their fans. On Jan.
1, 2008, there will once again be uniformity for all levels of
golf, as weekend duffers go back to the future, with their
drivers limited to a max COR of .830.
Here are the winners and losers in this tortured treaty.
USGA Golf's true believers fought the good fight--and won. The
association's science is now the bedrock of the sport's rules.
Distance-hungry amateurs who were ashamed to use a nonconforming
club will be plunking down $500 for the latest atomic drivers.
With ERC IIs already rolling off the assembly line, Callaway is
well positioned to cash in, but last week TaylorMade issued a
press release boasting that it has developed a driver that
"bumps up against the new statute of .860." Let the arms race
Labeled a Benedict Arnold for supporting Callaway's
nonconforming ERC II driver, the King will finally get his
stated wish--separate rules for the pros and everybody else. It
may last only five years, but vindication is sweet.
The hawkish Augusta National chairman can park his bulldozers
for a while.
The late Ely Callaway and his people painted themselves as
renegades by becoming the only major manufacturer to flout the
old rules. Yes, they're going to sell some drivers in the short
term, but the company lost the ideological battle, and CEO Ron
Drapeau was cowed into promising that in 2008 and beyond
Callaway would not market nonconforming clubs.
The venerable ruling body didn't look so royal in its timid
refusal to stand its ground against the manufacturers, and now
the R&A has conceded the high ground on all matters of testing
to the USGA.
The Japanese tour
About three dozen regulars play drivers with CORs exceeding
.830. Next year these short knockers will have to start downing
creatine to make up for downgraded technology.
With the driver issue settled, the ball will be the lone
scapegoat if driving distance continues to rise. The Overall
Distance Standard is 26 years old, and updating it will be the
next equipment battleground. Expect more bloodshed.
If there is a conflict next year, Tiger Woods will play the Byron
Nelson Classic, not the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open. Woods reveres
Nelson and knows it would be a p.r. disaster to dis Lord Byron in
favor of a seven-figure appearance fee.
The highlight of the LPGA's Electrolux Championship was a May 7
concert featuring tournament hosts Vince Gill and Amy Grant, but
it wasn't Nancy Lopez's duet with Gill that had the tour buzzing.
After the show, commissioner Ty Votaw, who was spotted imbibing
during the evening, was backing up his rental car in the parking
lot when he tapped an automobile owned by Jack Thomas, the
tournament's chairman of marshals. "There was no damage, there
was no police report, so there's no story," Votaw tells SI. Asked
about rumors that he had been overserved during the concert,
Votaw says, "I did have a few beers, but I was O.K. to drive."
nPGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was called on the carpet at
the TD Waterhouse Championship by an angry bunch of his Senior
constituents who were clamoring for their own commish. Finchem
oversees the Senior tour, along with its chief of operations,
Jeff Monday, but with the over-50 set losing sponsors and TV
viewers, some players feel the tour needs stronger leadership.
During the contentious meeting on May 7, Finchem was presented
with two names to consider for the post--former major league
baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth and retired Gaylord
Management executive Terry London. Jim Colbert, a 20-time Senior
winner, has since made it known that he, too, is interested in
Last week's Benson & Hedges was a disastrous Ryder Cup dress
rehearsal for the European squad. Team members Thomas Bjorn,
Niclas Fasth and Paul McGinley had rounds in the 80s at the
Belfry, site of the Sept. 27-29 match, sparking criticism of the
course's narrow fairways and deep rough framing the greens. "The
setup is perfect for the Americans," said former Ryder Cupper
Eamonn Darcy. This carping was overshadowed by a spat between
teammates Colin Montgomerie and Phillip Price. Having recently
parted ways with longtime caddie Alastair McLean, Monty poached
Price's bagman, Andy Prodger, for this week's Deutsche Bank-SAP
Open. Poor Price got the news from his wife and afterward fumed,
"[Montgomerie and Prodger] could have had enough respect for me
not to let me find out that way."
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
New regulations announced by the USGA and the R&A will allow
amateurs to use hot drivers for five years starting Jan. 1, 2003.
Will you play one of them knowing that it will later be deemed
LAST WEEK: Do you think 36-hole, rain-shortened results are
--Based on 2,570 responses to our informal survey.