Few Players Have Drivers Tested

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Skip Kendall's reaction was typical of most players when asked if he had submitted his driver to be tested for springlike effect.
 
'I don't even know where to go do that,' he said at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
 
Through the first four tournaments of the year (including one on the Champions Tour), only about 15 percent of the players have had their driver measured by the new 'pendulum tester' that makes sure clubs are not over the USGA limit for springlike effect.
 
Just because the line to the PGA Tour rules office at every tournament is more of a trickle than a stream, don't get the idea the voluntary test is being ignored.
 
Equipment companies are going to great lengths to make sure their drivers are legal on tour.
 
Nike Golf was among the first to get blueprints of the pendulum tester, at the U.S. Open last June - about two weeks before the PGA Tour announced it was going to make the test available to players at the start of the 2004 season.
 
TaylorMade owns seven pendulum testers, some of them for its headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., the others for testing at tournaments.
 
'When you put out 5,000 to 10,000 (club) heads a year ... it's not a small challenge to measure these things,' TaylorMade spokesman John Steinbach said. 'We have five or six people doing the test.'
 
Callaway Golf and Titleist have a replica of the test, too, while Ping is borrowing one from the USGA while it decides whether to build its own.
 
The USGA has licensed 14 pendulum testers to equipment companies; the Royal & Ancient Golf Club has licensed about the same number.
 
All the companies have a similar goal: To make sure there are no surprises.
 
While players are responsible for their drivers conforming to the rules, the manufacturers have the most to lose.
 
No one wants to be labeled a cheater, and most people believe it is ultimately up to the manufacturers to make sure the clubs they make are legal.
 
'We just wanted to make sure we understood any possible way the USGA was evaluating springlike effect,' said Tom Stites, who builds clubs for Nike. 'It's like going to a doctor who doesn't have an EKG or an X-ray machine. You can't tell what's going on without the right instruments.'
 
Therein lies one of the concerns: Companies don't have the exact instrument built by the USGA and used on the PGA Tour.
 
Matt Pringle, senior research engineer for the USGA, developed the pendulum tester, which is a portable device that could fit into a large briefcase.
 
The driver is held in place by a vice, and a pendulum strikes the club face, causing a vibration. The test measures 'characteristic time,' which translates to how quickly a ball springs off the club.
 
The PGA Tour doesn't reveal numbers - 257 microseconds equates to the .83 limit for coefficient of restitution (COR) - only whether it passes or fails.
 
The USGA sold six of the pendulum testers to the PGA Tour, and licensed blueprints to the device for manufacturers to build their own.
 
Several companies went to USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., to calibrate the machines.
 
Still, there are slight variances.
 
'That may result in setting the machine up, doing the test, breaking it down, setting it up again,' said Ron Drapeau, chairman and CEO of Callaway Golf.
 
Drapeau isn't convinced the pendulum tester is entirely accurate, and he points to the Sony Open as an example.
 
Kenny Perry and John Senden had their drivers tested by TaylorMade, which told them the clubs were close to the limit. Since the TaylorMade test is not identical to the PGA Tour test, the slightest difference could be all it takes for a club to be off limits.
 
Rather than take that chance, both players used different drivers.
 
Perry, who missed the cut by one shot at the Sony, had his old driver tested by the tour at the Bob Hope Classic, and it was approved. He tied for fifth.
 
'That concerns me,' Drapeau said. 'That would say the test is not reliable and repeatable. And if it's true, it's not something you want to have out there.'
 
He also said manufacturers could design the hot spot of the driver a quarter-inch right of center, where the PGA Tour tests, and 'the pros are good enough to hit it there.'
 
Once a driver is test by the PGA Tour, the results and the model number of the club are entered into a database and it is good for the rest of the year, provided the player doesn't alter the club.
 
Most manufacturers believe pendulum testers will become fixtures, even if the majority of players never find the office where the tour conducts its confidential tests.
 
There are other factors that contribute to the long ball - the golf ball, shafts, better technique, fitness and launch monitors.
 
'But this is the most emotional,' Stites said. 'It's the easiest to understand.'
 
Tiger Woods was the staunchest supporter among players for a driver test, claiming last year there were players using clubs that exceeded the limit.
 
John Solheim, chairman and CEO of Ping, said while the test is not mandatory, it will keep everyone from wondering if there are illegal drivers on tour.
 
'The test is needed,' Solheim said. 'Not everybody plays by the rules. And when you do, it bugs you that someone doesn't.'
 
The value of the test won't be determined until later in the season, when the tour can compare the average driving distance with last year's numbers.
 
Nine players averaged more than 300 yards off the tee in 2003. The year before, John Daly was the only player who averaged more than 300 yards.
 
'What will be interesting is what happens to the average driving distance,' Solheim said. 'It's not going to be a big change, but I don't think it will be the growth we've seen in the last few years.'

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