A Regulatory Miracle -- and For Now Six Extra Yards
So it was no surprise Thursday morning when I spoke with David Fay, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, and he said this:
I feel as if I should be opening a bottle of Veuve-Cliquot.
I mention this not to showcase Fays excellent taste in Champagne, but to note the departure from his usual demeanor. While never stiff, the 24-year USGA veteran is usually a bow-tied bastion of patience and reserve. Champagne in the morning? This must have been a huge deal.
It was. For 18 months, Fay fought the good fight against reporters, detractors, impatient golfers and discussion-board soapboxers whose craws were full of consternation over discrepancies in equipment rules. As the permanent chief of an organization whose volunteer presidency turns over every four years, he had to endure the embarrassment of making a regulation on equipment ' and then having the only other ruling body in the sport essentially shrug and say, Whats the harm?
Now that same organization ' the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews ' has agreed to work with the USGA to ease the world of golf into the exact restriction the USGA wants. No wonder Fay wants to bring out the bubbly.
See the full story: USGA and R&A Reach Agreement
The history is all too recent. In 1998, the USGA, concerned about spring-like effect off the thinner faces of modern drivers, announced at the U.S. Open at Olympic that it would be looking into the matter. That fall, the USGA instituted a limitation on just how springy those faces could be. The now-famous number, .83 (.822 plus a test tolerance), represents that coefficient of restitution ' the percentage of velocity an object will retain when it rebounds from being fired into a surface.
Technicalities aside, what this meant was that in the United States and Mexico, to which the USGAs jurisdiction extends, there was a ceiling. Manufacturers howled at the possibility that their innovation could be stifled.
One would think that two rulemaking bodies that cover the entire world would see eye to eye on things. But to everyones surprise, the R&A said it never perceived the spring-like threat the USGA did. North America (minus Canada) became a continent where so-called hot drivers would not be used in tournament play and could not be used to make scores for handicap purposes ' a situation perceived as a stigma by the makers of the drivers.
The solution proposed by the USGA and the R&A Thursday ' five years of hotter drivers (a maximum COR of .86, which amounts to about six yards on dead-center hits) starting next New Years Day, and pros holding where they are now ' is a near-miraculous gift for the USGA, a truly face-saving result. Before Thursday, the R&As stolid indifference to the spring-like issue made it seem as if the only way out would be for the USGA to relent and lift its restriction entirely.
(Indeed, a number of critics said the USGA should do that anyway. Let the laws of physics limit driver performance, they said, because there were only a few more yards left anyway. But the abandonment strategy wouldnt have done much for the USGAs credibility, which has for years been called into question amid accusations of bull-in-a-china-shop regulation practices.)
So what gave? Why did the R&A go from shoulder-shrugging to willingness to regulate?
Its simple: In a small world, uniformity is worth it. It may have seemed quaint, all those decades ago, when the U.K. ball was smaller than the U.S ball, and steel was O.K. over here but hickory ruled over there. But golf is now an international game, and the games best players devour distance weekly in the search for riches and glory. There must be one game, not many, is the thinking now, even if to achieve this requires the temporary irony of two sets of rules.
R&A secretary Peter Dawson confirmed this from Scotland Friday.
The issue [of spring-like effect] got so hyped up that in a sense, uniformity did become more important than regulation, Dawson said. Also, if theres no threat from spring-like effect, there is no threat from regulation on it.
Aha. Indifference is a two-edged sword, evidently. But Dawsons observation did nothing to denigrate the USGAs concerns; the R&As action should not be seen as mollification of a wailing child. The negotiations toward this settlement were long, and at times it seemed from the progress reports as if there was no progress to report. Based on the personalities of the people involved, it is reasonable to conclude that negotiation worked the way it is supposed to ' everyone gave something, and everyone came away seeing something of the others points of view.
Now that this chapter is about to close, everyone seems to be happy. But the horizon is not cloudless. The PGA Tour circulated a five-paragraph statement applauding the spring-like agreement, but used the occasion to state twice on that one page that golf balls should stop where they are. The ruling bodies can now turn their attention to that issue, and they are certain to encounter resistance from a golf ball industry that has no plans for curbing innovation.
And as for the spring-like rollback to .83 on New Years Day, 2008: Although many high-profile club companies have agreed to toe that line, there is already some private muttering among manufacturers that they may use the five-year grace period to make sure the .86 standard stays where it is.
As usual, dont touch that dial.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.
Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?
Memo to the golf gods:
If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?
Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?
It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.
With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.
It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.
We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.
We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.
Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.
Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line. Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.
We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors.
In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.
While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.
Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.
Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.
Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.
While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.
Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.
So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?
McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever
With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.
The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.
Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.
"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."
McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.
But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.
"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."
What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire
Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft
Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft
Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft
Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x