Golf Ball Research Brings Uncertainty

By Associated PressMay 31, 2005, 4:00 pm
More than 100 fans pressed against the white picket fence to watch Davis Love III go through a short practice session. He started with a few wedges and worked his way through the bag until he was launching tee shots on the range at Quail Hollow Club. This got their attention.
 
His work done, Love looked over at them when asked a question that has been making the rounds lately.
 
Is too much power ruining golf?
 
Go ask all these people if the game is ruined, if its too easy, he said.
 
Then, perhaps realizing he was in Charlotte, N.C.'the heart of NASCAR country'Love offered an analogy to show the difference between PGA Tour players and the people who only dream of being that good.
 
If you give me Jeff Gordons race car out there on the track at Charlotte, I cannot make it go as fast as he can, Love said. But he can make it go as fast as the car will possibly go. So, you give us this equipment, we can make it go as far as it possibly can go, because were better than everybody else.
 
These people, they need the help.
 
The governing bodies are more interested in elite players, such as Love, and how far they are hitting the ball. The biggest buzz yet in the debate over distance came from an e-mail the U.S. Golf Association sent to manufacturers, inviting them to take part in a research project by building a ball that goes 15 and 25 yards shorter.
 
For some, it sounded more like a warning shot across the bow.
 
There certainly was some head-scratching, Srixon vice president Mike Pai said. Every time one of these things happens its like, What are they up to now? Where are we going?
 
The e-mail from USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge was sent April 11. That was one day after Tiger Woods won his fourth Masters, and five days after Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson'who first floated the idea of a tournament ball three years ago'said he was encouraged by progress the governing bodies were making on the ball.
 
Where it leads is anyones guess.
 
We had questions about it, just like everyone else, Callaway spokesman Larry Dorman said. After consulting with them, we were comfortable with the idea they were doing research, and that they have no preconceived notion of where that research is going to go.
 
Rugge insists this is not the first step of a plan to roll back the ball. He said in his e-mail, which was first obtained by Golfweek magazine, that now is the time for companies to take part in this research and get involved in the process of changing the rule if that becomes necessary.
 
We dont think a change is necessary, Rugge said in an interview. Its human nature that people are interested if something else is behind this. But its truly a research project.
 
The ball has received the brunt of the blame for shots going farther, even though there are other variables involved.
 
  • The heads of the driver can be as large as 460cc, nearly twice as big as models 10 years ago. Nick Price says drivers used to have a sweet spot the size of a pea. These things have got a sweet spot the size of a peach, he said.
     
  • Course conditions are so pure that under dry conditions, the ball can roll some 60 yards. Bernhard Langer, 136th in driving distance last year, was among the top five in the final round at the baked-out Colonial.
     
  • More golfers resemble real athletes, and the teaching is better than ever.
     
  • Computerized launch monitors have allowed players to maximize their distance by matching their swing speed and launch angle with the best spin rate of golf balls and shafts for their clubs.
     
    But the ball has a large posse of protesters, led by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, all of whom have lucrative golf course design businesses; and Johnson, who is intent on keeping Augusta National current, even though the defense of the course was never its length.
     
    We listen to people, Rugge said. We listened to Jack, and to Hootie. It doesnt mean we better do something about this. It means we ought to be at least investigating or studying. Were doing a really conscientious work to understand the issues.
     
    Rugge said there are early signs of cooperation among manufacturers, although no one has submitted a sample. Titleist and Callaway officials say it could take anywhere from three to six months to make a prototype.
     
    Titleist chief Wally Uihlein called the research project more of an intellectual exercise than emotional and attitudinal bits and bites. But to drive home his argument that it isnt just the ball, he said Titleist would supply the USGA a ball and a club specification that would produce rollbacks.
     
    We can make the ball lighter, he said. But if youre not careful, the game will hardly be what it is today. Not only will it be more subject to crosswind and headwind, but because the spin rates change, drivers no longer are compatible.
     
    Titleist recently hosted a group from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, and he said a parade of USGA officials also have come by to bone up on what goes into making a ball.
     
    Nicklaus and others think all youve got to do is go into the kitchen and set the oven at 300 (degrees) instead of 350, Uihlein said. Its not that easy. You cant just set the accelerator so it cant go more than 55 mph.
     
    The average driving distance on the PGA Tour increased by just 1 yard last year to 287.3, and the average drive on tour through the Colonial was 284.5 yards. While driving distance is up 15.5 yards over the last 10 years, the scoring average is down only a fraction during that time, from 71.18 in 1996 to 71.13 last year.
     
    Rugge doesnt expect more big gains in distance.
     
    Were going to be in the Eisenhower years'very stable, he said.
     
    And he is adamant that the purpose of this research is simply to be prepared if scaling back the ball becomes the best option. That could be years from now, if at all.
     
    Above all, the USGA and R&A are committed to one set of rules for elite players, as well as those pressed up against the white picket fence.
     
    Thats what made Loves analogy noteworthy. Any decision on equipment ultimately affects recreational players.
     
    If you made three balls, you had two balls perfect for the marketplace and one for the tour, what do these people want to play? Love said. These people want to play what we play.
     
    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”