USGA Pulls Zevo and Others Back from the Brink
USGA Amends its Stance on Clubhead Size
Im looking forward to a good nights sleep for the first time in weeks, said Michael Hoffee, president of Zevo Golf, within minutes of hearing the news Thursday afternoon. Zevos Compressor driver, which it plans to release at the PGA Merchandise Show, Jan. 24-27 in Orlando, Fla., has a head that displaces 410 cc.
That head would have run afoul of a regulation the USGA proposed Dec. 19, when the golf equipment industry was at its most quiet. Citing language from Appendix II(1)(a) of the Rules of Golf that requires club design to adhere generally to the traditional and customary form and make, the USGA surprised even the most wired-in industry observers by proposing that clubhead size be limited to 385 cc, and that the total length of the club be capped at 47 inches. (The Jan. 10 amendment does not change the length proposal.)
Even though the regulations were only proposed, many in the industry howled in protest. They saw the strictures as arbitrary and found the timing of the announcement suspect. The USGA offered a two-month comment period, but most manufacturers claimed they were too busy between Dec. 19 and Feb. 19 preparing for the PGA Show to adequately study the matter and comment. Zevo claimed to have lost a mass of orders that would have made it profitable.
The Jan. 10 modification pointed to the feedback the USGA had received as the reason for the change. Not only will 460 cc offer plenty of design headroom for most companies, said the USGA, but another 10 cc will be allowed as a margin for manufacturing or measuring error. The number is not arbitrary, but was chosen because the USGA has already approved some clubs that big, said Dick Rugge, USGA senior technical director. (Even if there had been no modification, previously approved clubs presumably would have been grandfathered in had the proposed regulation been adopted.)
Word from inside the USGA is that reaction ran the gamut from the aforementioned howling to calmer suggestions. But at least two companies, Zevo and Acushnet, sent letters with ultimatums and deadlines: Modify 385 or well sue. (Acushnets Cobra Golf has a 427 cc driver on the way.) The USGA says it was the totality of the response, not the threats, that led to the change.
The process shows that the USGA listens, Rugge said Jan. 11. Were not an organization that closes our ears or our minds.
That endorsement of the process pervades the USGA front office.
There are so many golf manufacturers in the universe now that if you try speaking [informally about regulation] to just a few, you run a real risk [of antitrust lawsuits], said David Fay, the USGAs executive director.
At Zevo headquarters in Temecula, Calif., Hoffee is glad to be back to business as usual. He believes hell recover all the orders lost because of retailer fear over the Dec. 19 proposal. But the experience left scars.
[The Dec. 19 announcement] did cost us, in a sort of less tangible way, by interrupting our business at a crucial launch time, Hoffee said Jan. 11. Instead of paying attention to product issues, we were busy meeting with counsel and preparing a response.
The USGA hopes the Jan. 10 modification will put the proposed club regulation issue to rest. Almost lost in all the club-related hoopla is the other Dec. 19 announcement, the one in which the USGA agreed that its proposed golf ball testing procedure, called optimization, in which the ball is launched from a machine under ideal launch conditions, wasnt the way to go. In response to manufacturer comment (and sometimes outrage), the USGA will incorporate a set of standards called Actual Launch Conditions into the process, including testing by a machine that hits the ball with a golf club.
The lack of kudos for that position may have to do with the fundamental fact that most manufacturers dont want the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls to change from its 1976 level. They say the USGA hasnt demonstrated a need.
But the USGA is unconcerned about the lack of praise.
Perhaps because of our role as a quasi-regulatory body, it goes with the territory, Fay said. People arent going to stand up and salute us.
Hoffees takeaway lesson is that manufacturers should work as a committee with the USGA, with longer lead times for proposals.
In this way, the USGA will have some forward-seeing information in evaluating rules and we as manufacturers can avoid repeating this type of exigency, Hoffee said.
Providing it could be done without antitrust problems ' who knows? Perhaps conflict will yield future concord. Or at least no need for calls from the governor.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.