Resistance to Getting Twisted
O.K., perhaps thats stretching it a little. But the latest intersection between Congress and the judiciary offers a glimpse of the kind of balance of power that has developed in the golf equipment industry.
Quick junior high civics review: The president appoints federal judges, who may remain on the bench until they die. Could be a long time. To make sure the executive branch of government (of which the president is, of course, the head) doesnt have too much influence over judicial policy for decades to come, federal judges cannot don their robes until they have the Advice and Consent of the Senate. (Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 2) In other words, federal judges have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Its a classic example of checks and balances. Each branch has specific powers, while the others have related abilities to make sure no branch extends its powers too far. Lifetime judges; decades of governmental policy expressed through the courts. Confirmation power; the ability to derail nominees (and sometimes slap the appointing president over other insults ' remember Robert Bork?) or to confirm them and build up capital for later political ventures.
But the main function of governmental checks and balances is to create and maintain a tension between powerful entities so that each does its utmost to complete its mission ' while no entity completely dominates the government or the governed.
Which brings us back to golf. The U.S. Golf Association has, over the last half decade and more, worked steadily to regulate modern golf equipment. The USGA has said many times that its regulations are meant to prevent modern equipments performance in the hands of the most skilled players from changing golf in a way that the USGA believes would injure the game.
To that end, the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls has been updated. The head size and length of driving clubs, as well as the responsiveness of their faces, has been limited. The USGA has asked manufacturers for prototypes of a golf ball that would fly shorter distances than current balls when struck under the same launch conditions. Spin creation off the club face is under review. And just before Labor Day, the USGA sent a memorandum to manufacturers saying that it has determined that moment of inertia, or resistance to twisting, needs to be limited in golf club heads.
As new and updated regulations have come into force, equipment manufacturers have at times reacted with frustration ' and then often found ways to innovate within the new strictures. Still, many have expressed their concern that aggressive regulation by the USGA will cut off or severely restrict innovation, the life blood of any technology company.
Lets consider the recent moment of inertia (MOI) regulatory proposal. As mentioned, MOI is the scientific term for a bodys tendency to resist twisting. Modern clubheads, weighted as they are along their perimeters, resist twisting better than they ever have. And less twisting means less missing the target, or not missing it by as much. The advantages for golf, especially in already skilled hands, are obvious.
You could swing from your heels and not be as concerned about a poor shot, said Dick Rugge, the USGAs senior technical adviser and a former club designer, explaining the USGAs reasons for wanting to monitor how well a club keeps the ball straight. MOI in golf club heads has increased threefold in the last 15 years, Rugge said.
We should have done this 10 years ago, he said.
The scientific basis for a bodys resistance to twisting need not concern us here (although Rugge will patiently explain it to non-scientific types). The original communication about MOI came out in March, and at the time, Rugge said the existing limits on the size of driving clubs might keep them twisty enough, without the need for a regulation on MOI. But research he has conducted since then proves that a limitation is necessary, Rugge said in his memo to manufacturers. Therefore, the USGA proposes a test to make sure that a clubheads resistance to twisting around the vertical axis through its center of gravity does not exceed 4750 g-cm2. The test would take effect March 1, 2006.
At least one manufacturer had a low-MOI club ready to go when the March 2005 communication came out; he said the letter gave him pause, but the club was approved as designed. The USGA said in its August 31 memo that every club now approved would pass the proposed test.
Those responsible for looking at the big picture for their companies, though, responded with concern about the new limitation and a regulatory climate they perceive as potentially stifling.
'The history of the game is about the ongoing interface between the game (and our futile attempt to master it), the golfer, his or her skill and the technology of the game's implements, said Wally Uihlein, chief executive of The Acushnet Co., whose brands include FootJoy, Cobra, Pinnacle, and golf ball market leader Titleist. Is someone going to argue that the introduction of the steel shaft did not alter the balance between skill and technology? What about metalwoods? What about solid core construction golf balls?'
Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, was unable to respond to calls for this story, But in a story in the September 19 Golf World magazine by equipment writer E. Michael Johnson, Wood responded to the USGAs concern that clubs with elevated resistance to twisting would, as the March 2005 communication put it, reduce the challenge of the game.
I want to know exactly what that means, Wood said. For whom and by how much is it reducing the challenge? Where are the people who say the game is too easy? I mean, would it be so bad if the average handicap went down to 13? Its like theyre trying to stop time.
But you cant stop time in a technology company, not if the company is to grow. And these days, failure to grow is the first step toward business oblivion.
USGA executive director David Fay has said many times that the primary goal of the USGAs equipment regulation is not to thwart equipment innovation, but to maintain the game so that if by some miracle a 16th-century Scot were able to visit the present day, he would still recognize the activity we call golf as the same game he cherishes. He may be amazed by feats of strength or even technology, but the game, its object, its spirit, and its (relative) challenges would be largely the same. Tech director Rugge has said repeatedly that he wants to work with manufacturers to develop reasonable regulations that allow room for innovation, but that the good of the game must be his ' and the USGAs ' primary concern.
For as long as the USGAs regulatory practices have become more aggressive, many people from the professional tours to major tournament organizers to recreational players have been clamoring for a solution to the so-called equipment problem.
Well, there may be no clear, permanent, satisfactory solution. And perhaps thats the way it should be.
It may be better for the games major governors ' the USGA and its regulatory partner, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the equipment manufacturers, the pro tours, consumers with their buying behaviors ' to continue under the system of de facto checks and balances that has developed as a result of their respective powers. The USGA and R&A, for years governors of equipment by consent of the governed, can continue to regulate, informed by their point of view on the good of the game. The equipment manufacturers, who even before the aerospace industry contraction had some of the best minds in engineering and who have an even greater brain trust now, can continue to innovate, inspired by their point of view on the games best future.
If either of these branches overreaches, the other has the wherewithal to sue, with all the expense that would involve. But wise heads on either side would likely settle matters short of this nuclear option. The last great industry lawsuit episode, over the grooves in Ping in the 1980s, cost many dollars and much heartache, and no one in the industry wants that again.
The tours, whose influence as venues for the worlds best players is crucial, should continue to be involved closely in any regulation affecting the performance of its players. And consumers, if they like, can always advise and consent ' or not ' with their pocketbooks.
If you doubt the checks-and-balances theory, just look around. As Acushnets Uihlein points out each June, no one is running away with the U.S. Open or chronically overpowering any of golfs most testing courses. Pro driving distance has increased over the last decade, but short-and-accurate Fred Funk can still win The Players Championship. Stellar putters such as Brad Faxon can still hoist a trophy. Big hitters such as Hank Kuehne are not guaranteed a trip to the winners circle.
Conversely, innovation has not come to a grinding halt. Even within the 460 cc driver head size limitation, sole geometries, weighting, and optic advances have caught the attention of consumers. Golf balls can be made to spin little off a driver, but pleasingly on the green. Wide-soled irons help high handicappers make more solid contact.
When people leave the game, it is not clear they do so because equipment regulation makes the game too hard. Time, expense, and difficulty are, according to conventional wisdom, the main impediments to golfs growth, but there is no convincing evidence that recent equipment regulation plays into the difficulty component.
And as well, there is no evidence that high-C.O.R drivers, less-twisty irons, multi-tasking balls, or any other equipment advance has yet made golf unrecognizable to that fantastic Scottish time traveler.
Theres a balance. It may not always be perfect for every point of view at every moment. But its there.
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