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Showdown at the RA Corral


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The 2001 PGA Merchandise Show is now something we're all blaming for having to dig out from under a mountain of e-mails. But some thoughts that people passed around over drinks and dinner remain, lo these 10 days later.
One subject that prompted a lot of out-loud thinking: Assuming the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews can settle their differences on so-called spring-like effect, what form would such an agreement take?
Let's recap: The USGA, concerned about the possibility that modern driving clubs might contravene the Rules of Golf, Appendix II(5)(a) ('.the face or clubhead shall not have the effect at impact of a spring.'), developed a test for spring-like effect. The test resulted in a limit on coefficient of restitution (or COR, a fancy word for spring-like effect) to a little more than 80 percent of what a total rebound off the face would be. (A simple for-instance: If a ball fired at a set speed at a still clubhead from 10 inches away came back no more than 8 inches, the clubhead would conform.)
But the R&A examined the situation and said, No thanks. Club development is reaching its natural limit, said the R&A. The game is not in danger. No test is necessary.
So clubs such as Callaway Golf's ERC II, which by design exceeds the USGA's limit, are legal everywhere but the United States and Mexico (as well as Canada, which decided to follow the USGA on this issue).
Many observers and powerful people in golf feel the need for the rift to be settled, and soon. They are not persuaded by history, in which the two bodies differed for years on shaft materials (steel or not) and ball size, all with little or no damage to the game.
But how many ways can there be to settle this? To most minds, there are three.
The R&A adopts the USGA test, or some other test, to limit the development of thin-faced drivers. Why should it? The R&A has no incentive to do an about-face so soon after counseling calm. Besides, many who know the R&A say that something of a men's club atmosphere (read: resistant to change as a child is to bedtime) still remains at the R&A, and that would prevent the R&A from reversing field.
The two organizations come to some compromise about where the coefficient of restitution limit should be. Clearly a sister-kiss. For the reasons stated above, why should the R&A even consider it? And if the USGA adjusts the limit, doesn't that call its original testing into question, or at least make it seem arbitrary?
The USGA revokes the coefficient of restitution limit. Whoa. Then it'd be off to the races for the manufacturers, and indeed, many of them have publicly called for this solution. But that involves major problems for the USGA.
The USGA, its hegemony over the American game already in danger, would find itself severely weakened if it simply caved on this issue and revoked the standard it developed only within the last two years. It would take some serious and delicate negotiating to achieve a revocation while saving face for the USGA.
But if the USGA doesn't revoke, how much hope does it have of repairing years of public relations damage done by its ivory-tower image, the kind of imperious behavior that has alienated many recreational golfers?
(To its credit, the USGA has begun to remake its image. But some say the effort comes too late.)
These are issues that go to the very question of golf's growth and future. And with Callaway planning an in-company committee to 'change attitudes' about the game (Callaway's words here), what we may have coming is a battle about bigger things than titanium clubheads.
We may have a war about the very definition of golf.

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