Preparation -- or a Golf Ball Limit
Lastly, before I take your questions, I want to talk about the golf ball and equipment, Finchem said.
The Tour has been much involved in recent years in the debate about how far golf balls fly when struck by the worlds best players, and what effect that might have on the game. Those of us listening to Finchems presentation held our breath for a moment ' and what we finally heard sounded like a line being drawn.
The commissioner noted that since golf ball distance discussions began in earnest three years ago, most aspects of equipment that affect ball flight have been regulated, or existing regulations have been updated. The U.S. Golf Association and its overseas counterpart, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, have recently instituted or revised limitations on coefficient of restitution (C.O.R.) for club-face resiliency, club length, clubhead size, and the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls. Because of the new regulatory framework, Finchem said, he expects annual average distance to grow at a rate of about a yard per year, as it did between 1981 and 1996, instead of up to seven yards annually, as it did between 1996 and 1999. He urged manufacturers to devote their research and development efforts to improved playability instead of leaps-and-bounds distance gains.
Any new distance gains, Finchem said, will come from ever-increasing athleticism in golfs elite echelon. He also said that some courses on the Tour circuit have been made longer to accommodate recent distance increases, and some of those courses ' most notably Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament ' are simply out of real estate for further expansion.
So we continue to believe, Finchem continued, that its important that the USGA move forward and complete the research necessary to determine what options are available to us if we were to determine at some point in the future that it was important to make a change with the golf ball; that is to say, deaden the golf ball, bring the distance back, regulate it back.
Whoa. Do we hear an official-size-and-weight Tour ball landing? Maybe not yet; maybe not ever. But:
Im quick to point out, I dont assume anything here, Finchem said. The only assumptions we're making at this point is that athleticism will play a role in generating average increase in distance. There isn't any reason to believe that distance will increase at the highest level, but we don't know that. It is prudent for us to be active in terms of researching options as we look out into the future.
Finchem has been trying to see beyond that horizon with the help of the USGA. Twice in the last four months, Finchem has visited the testing center at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. The USGA, for its part, has acknowledged more than once that the Tour has been the most important source of elite-player data for more than two decades. The USGA also said last year that it is prepared to spend big ' up to $10 million, if necessary ' on what the organization calls the most comprehensive golf-ball research project ever undertaken by the USGA. (The project is already two years old; final results are expected in a year or so.)
David Fay, the USGAs executive director, hopes it wont cost that much. But hes willing to go the distance to support any future changes with the hardest of data.
The USGA and R&A and the PGA Tour have all agreed that no changes are called for, based on todays conditions, Fay said. The need to make any future changes will depend ' naturally ' on how the game is played in the future. But that gets us back to research. We cant sit and wait for future changes ' or cross our fingers that therell be no evolution in how the game is played. We have to be fully engaged and prepared if and when the day comes when changes ' whatever they may be ' are considered necessary.
So were still clearly in the land of possibility and potential. But read Fays comments closely, and you can see that raw distance, by itself, wont be the only factor considered in any future decision about how the ball may be regulated. The relevant words: how the game is played.
Finchems comments echoed this theme.
We measure public opinion and attitude, Finchem said. Golf course owners and organizations are looking at it, as we are, from a competitive challenge standpoint, shot values, how the golf course was designed versus how maybe it's being played now, given where the golf ball is going and what it does and how equipment performs, plus how the athleticism of the players. So all those things combine to create some questions; are you comfortable with the way the golf course is playing, is the fan as excited about the golf course playing this way versus some other way, what things would you have to do to the golf course to get it to a point where you are comfortable, and do you really want to do that?
Does that mean an overdose of driver-wedge holes could trigger thoughts of an official ball? Finchem didnt speculate, but said, There is no litmus test.
Finchem did not mention conversations with players or players on the issue, and the Tour did not return phone calls before deadline. But some manufacturers reacted.
The proposal, if indeed it is formally made, is both unnecessary and unwise, said Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf. [We] would not be in favor of such a proposal, nor would, I suspect, our fellow manufacturers. Of the top 20 Tour players in driving distance in 2003, 18 have seen their distance decline this year.
Unless the Tour mandates that players use a 'Tour' ball and provides spec options for such, we will continue with business as usual, Wood continued. However, from a business perspective, the mandate of a Tour ball could have a significant impact on the ball segment of the golf industry for manufacturers, retailers, and golf professionals. For instance, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1 alone, 18 different ball models were used on the PGA Tour. By mandating a Tour ball and requiring all players to use the same specs, essentially, you diminish the impact of the Tour player on ball sales. That would necessarily affect endorsement income for the Tour members.
Far more important than that is the issue of free choice in terms of equipment on the part of Tour player. The ball is a critical part of a player's arsenal. Each Tour player's swing and launch conditions are unique. Tour players would strongly resist this idea on the basis of that alone. The idea of one ball for all Tour players raises more questions than it answers in terms of an individual fitting the right ball to his or her game. Golf in that regard is not the same as basketball or baseball.
Callaway Golf took a different tack.
We have been consistent in saying we believe elite professional golfers are the only ones who could threaten the game of golf by hitting the ball too far, either off the tee or with their irons, said Larry Dorman, Callaways senior vice president of global public relations. We also have said that should the PGA Tour decide it needs to limit the distance the golf ball travels for players competing in its co-sponsored events, we would not be opposed to such limitations. We have the necessary technology and know-how to create such a golf ball right now, as do the other major golf ball manufacturers.
Titleist, whose balls are played by more players on the PGA Tour than any other companys, declined to answer questions about Finchems comments.
Throughout his talk and answers to press questions Wednesday, Finchem was adamant that any decisions on the future of the golf ball on the Tour will be based on hard data ' mostly provided by the Tours Shot Link system, which measures performance graphically and offers plenty of player information for a database. The USGAs Fay agrees, and both men appear to want to remove emotion and rumor from any decision process that may become necessary.
Finchem also mentioned that data from the 2003 season will probably provide the baseline for future assessment ' and that is what may have some people in the industry thinking that Finchems remarks have as much to do with line-drawing as with preparation.
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Chamblee comments on Choi's unique step-through swing
The golf world found itself enamored with a largely unknown journeyman this weekend.
Ho-sung Choi went from 554th in the world to No. 1 in the hearts of all those who swing the golf club just a little bit differently thanks to his run at the Korean Open.
The 44-year-old with the exaggerated step through impact found himself two off the pace through 54 holes and in contention for one of two available invitations to this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Choi fell out of the hunt for tournament title and the Open exemption with a final-round 74, but nonetheless left an impression with his tie for fifth.
Asked about Choi's swing Saturday night, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee offered the following:
"If Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player had a golf school, what would their first professional golfer swing like? Voila," Chamblee said.
"Both those legends had walk through finishes, but Ho Sung has taken this move to a new level with a borderline pirouette to keep from hanging back.
"In an era when professional golfers get accused of having golf swings that all look alike, I’ve never seen anyone swing quite like Ho Sung Choi.
"I can’t wait to try this on the range tomorrow."
Wallace holds off charges to win BMW International
PULHEIM, Germany - England's Matt Wallace shot a 7-under 65 to hold off a record-breaking charge from Thorbjorn Olesen and win the BMW International Open on Sunday.
Wallace finished on 10-under 278 - just ahead of Olesen, Mikko Korhonen and 2008 winner Martin Kaymer, whose chances took a blow with a bogey on the 17th hole.
''I want to keep building on this,'' Wallace said after his third European Tour win. ''Obviously this gives me a lot of confidence to go on and play well and I want to kick on and hopefully do this in the bigger events from now on.''
Olesen had played himself into contention with the lowest round in tournament history, with nine birdies and an eagle for an 11-under 61. It was the lowest round of his European Tour career and it gave the Dane a three-shot lead before the final group had even teed off.
''I was just trying today to go out there and build on my game, see if I could shoot a low score,'' Olesen said. ''Obviously as the round progressed I kept on thinking birdies and trying to make the round better. Finishing with four birdies was pretty nice.''
Wallace turned in 34 but then made five birdies in seven holes from the turn to edge a shot past Olesen. He waited as Kaymer and Korhonen went close with rounds of 68 and 67, respectively.
England's Aaron Rai and Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard finished joint-fifth with rounds of 69.
Choi, Park qualify for Carnoustie from Korean Open
Two players - Minchel Choi and Sanghyun Park - qualified for next month's Open Championship at Carnoustie via the Open Qualifying Series on Sunday.
Choi (69) held off Park (66) to win the Korean Open by two shots.
This was the Qualifying Series debut for the Korean Open, whiched awarded Open Championship exemptions to the tournament's top two finishers inside the top eight and ties who were not already qualified.
Choi, the 532nd-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, punched his ticket in his first professional win.
Park, the 146th in the world, is a six-time Korean Tour champion who has already won twice this season.
Both players will be making their first ever major starts.
“I am absolutely honored to be playing in The Open and I wanted to win this championship to give me [that] opportunity," Choi said. "I cannot believe that I have won today. I am so happy and excited."
“It is a great honor to have qualified for The Open and make my first appearance in the championship," Park added. "I’ve watched The Open on television every single year and I can’t really believe that I have qualified, it is amazing."
The Open Qualifying Series continues next week at the Open de France, where as many as three exemptions will be awarded to the three leading players inside the top 10 and ties who are not already qualified.
The 147th Open will be held at Carnoustie from July 19-22.
Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.
Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.
''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''
The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.
Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.
''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''
Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.
First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.