Preparation -- or a Golf Ball Limit

By Adam BarrNovember 6, 2004, 5:00 pm
You could hear a dimple drop around the golf industry Wednesday when commissioner Tim Finchem began to wrap up his state-of-the-PGA Tour talk at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Lastly, before I take your questions, I want to talk about the golf ball and equipment, Finchem said.
The Tour has been much involved in recent years in the debate about how far golf balls fly when struck by the worlds best players, and what effect that might have on the game. Those of us listening to Finchems presentation held our breath for a moment ' and what we finally heard sounded like a line being drawn.
The commissioner noted that since golf ball distance discussions began in earnest three years ago, most aspects of equipment that affect ball flight have been regulated, or existing regulations have been updated. The U.S. Golf Association and its overseas counterpart, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, have recently instituted or revised limitations on coefficient of restitution (C.O.R.) for club-face resiliency, club length, clubhead size, and the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls. Because of the new regulatory framework, Finchem said, he expects annual average distance to grow at a rate of about a yard per year, as it did between 1981 and 1996, instead of up to seven yards annually, as it did between 1996 and 1999. He urged manufacturers to devote their research and development efforts to improved playability instead of leaps-and-bounds distance gains.
Any new distance gains, Finchem said, will come from ever-increasing athleticism in golfs elite echelon. He also said that some courses on the Tour circuit have been made longer to accommodate recent distance increases, and some of those courses ' most notably Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament ' are simply out of real estate for further expansion.
So we continue to believe, Finchem continued, that its important that the USGA move forward and complete the research necessary to determine what options are available to us if we were to determine at some point in the future that it was important to make a change with the golf ball; that is to say, deaden the golf ball, bring the distance back, regulate it back.
Whoa. Do we hear an official-size-and-weight Tour ball landing? Maybe not yet; maybe not ever. But:
Im quick to point out, I dont assume anything here, Finchem said. The only assumptions we're making at this point is that athleticism will play a role in generating average increase in distance. There isn't any reason to believe that distance will increase at the highest level, but we don't know that. It is prudent for us to be active in terms of researching options as we look out into the future.
Finchem has been trying to see beyond that horizon with the help of the USGA. Twice in the last four months, Finchem has visited the testing center at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. The USGA, for its part, has acknowledged more than once that the Tour has been the most important source of elite-player data for more than two decades. The USGA also said last year that it is prepared to spend big ' up to $10 million, if necessary ' on what the organization calls the most comprehensive golf-ball research project ever undertaken by the USGA. (The project is already two years old; final results are expected in a year or so.)
David Fay, the USGAs executive director, hopes it wont cost that much. But hes willing to go the distance to support any future changes with the hardest of data.
The USGA and R&A and the PGA Tour have all agreed that no changes are called for, based on todays conditions, Fay said. The need to make any future changes will depend ' naturally ' on how the game is played in the future. But that gets us back to research. We cant sit and wait for future changes ' or cross our fingers that therell be no evolution in how the game is played. We have to be fully engaged and prepared if and when the day comes when changes ' whatever they may be ' are considered necessary.
So were still clearly in the land of possibility and potential. But read Fays comments closely, and you can see that raw distance, by itself, wont be the only factor considered in any future decision about how the ball may be regulated. The relevant words: how the game is played.
Finchems comments echoed this theme.
We measure public opinion and attitude, Finchem said. Golf course owners and organizations are looking at it, as we are, from a competitive challenge standpoint, shot values, how the golf course was designed versus how maybe it's being played now, given where the golf ball is going and what it does and how equipment performs, plus how the athleticism of the players. So all those things combine to create some questions; are you comfortable with the way the golf course is playing, is the fan as excited about the golf course playing this way versus some other way, what things would you have to do to the golf course to get it to a point where you are comfortable, and do you really want to do that?
Does that mean an overdose of driver-wedge holes could trigger thoughts of an official ball? Finchem didnt speculate, but said, There is no litmus test.
Finchem did not mention conversations with players or players on the issue, and the Tour did not return phone calls before deadline. But some manufacturers reacted.
The proposal, if indeed it is formally made, is both unnecessary and unwise, said Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf. [We] would not be in favor of such a proposal, nor would, I suspect, our fellow manufacturers. Of the top 20 Tour players in driving distance in 2003, 18 have seen their distance decline this year.
Unless the Tour mandates that players use a 'Tour' ball and provides spec options for such, we will continue with business as usual, Wood continued. However, from a business perspective, the mandate of a Tour ball could have a significant impact on the ball segment of the golf industry for manufacturers, retailers, and golf professionals. For instance, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1 alone, 18 different ball models were used on the PGA Tour. By mandating a Tour ball and requiring all players to use the same specs, essentially, you diminish the impact of the Tour player on ball sales. That would necessarily affect endorsement income for the Tour members.
Far more important than that is the issue of free choice in terms of equipment on the part of Tour player. The ball is a critical part of a player's arsenal. Each Tour player's swing and launch conditions are unique. Tour players would strongly resist this idea on the basis of that alone. The idea of one ball for all Tour players raises more questions than it answers in terms of an individual fitting the right ball to his or her game. Golf in that regard is not the same as basketball or baseball.
Callaway Golf took a different tack.
We have been consistent in saying we believe elite professional golfers are the only ones who could threaten the game of golf by hitting the ball too far, either off the tee or with their irons, said Larry Dorman, Callaways senior vice president of global public relations. We also have said that should the PGA Tour decide it needs to limit the distance the golf ball travels for players competing in its co-sponsored events, we would not be opposed to such limitations. We have the necessary technology and know-how to create such a golf ball right now, as do the other major golf ball manufacturers.
Titleist, whose balls are played by more players on the PGA Tour than any other companys, declined to answer questions about Finchems comments.
Throughout his talk and answers to press questions Wednesday, Finchem was adamant that any decisions on the future of the golf ball on the Tour will be based on hard data ' mostly provided by the Tours Shot Link system, which measures performance graphically and offers plenty of player information for a database. The USGAs Fay agrees, and both men appear to want to remove emotion and rumor from any decision process that may become necessary.
Finchem also mentioned that data from the 2003 season will probably provide the baseline for future assessment ' and that is what may have some people in the industry thinking that Finchems remarks have as much to do with line-drawing as with preparation.
Stay tuned.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.