PGA Tour May Set Own Equipment Standards

By Associated PressFebruary 25, 2003, 5:00 pm
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Ernie Els gets most of the blame.
It wasn't quite the ``shot heard 'round the world,'' but the Big Easy caught everyone's attention with a drive on the 15th hole at Kapalua that finally stopped rolling at the bottom of a hill, some 400 yards from where he stood.
Now U.S. Golf Association executive director David Fay is suggesting the time has come to restrict equipment used by the best players in the world.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is talking about a ``line in the sand'' for how far the ball travels, dropping hints that the tour might have to set its own equipment standards.
The golf ball is going farther than ever, and the guardians of the game are concerned.
``As the gap between the best players and the rest of us widens, there are more and more discussions about whether the game can survive with one set of rules,'' Fay said. ``I'm still hanging to the set of beliefs we can.''
He might be hanging by a thread.
Heading into the Match Play Championship, the top 10 players in driving distance are all averaging 300 yards or better, with Els topping the list (319.6 yards).
More telling than statistics are the anecdotes.
Phil Mickelson nearly drove the green on a 403-yard hole at Phoenix. Two years ago, it was Lefty's mammoth drive on No. 11 at Augusta National that served as the catalyst for chairman Hootie Johnson's decision to drastically lengthen the course.
Charles Howell III twice played the historic, 451-yard closing hole at Riviera last week with a driver and a sand wedge. A plaque on the 18th fairway honors Dave Stockton for his approach in 1974 to win the Los Angeles Open ' with a 3-wood.
``It's not just Ernie,'' Fay said. ``I'm one of those who believes the ball is going farther. Only someone who is deaf, dumb and blind would say otherwise.''
Whether this is good or bad for golf at its highest level is a matter of perspective.
No matter how far a ball travels, it eventually has to find its way into a hole that is 4 1/4 inches in diameter. Despite the extra length this year, only one tournament scoring record has been broken ' by Els at Kapalua, an odd week of virtually no wind.
Then again, more length off the tee is rendering some golf courses obsolete. The alternative is to spend millions of dollars to upgrade and expand. Torrey Pines now measures 7,670 yards from the tips, and even La Costa has added chunks of yardage for the Match Play Championship.
Scott Hoch didn't bother playing this year until he got to a course ' Riviera ' that wasn't a paradise for the big hitters. Bernhard Langer says there is no point playing on courses where he can't compete.
``There are some courses I can play as good as I possibly can, and I would probably finish 20th,'' Langer said. ``I don't know what the answer is. I'm just seeing the results. And the reality is, I'm going to have to pick certain courses and do well there.''
Who is responsible for finding the answer?
The USGA sets the guidelines for equipment, although the PGA Tour reserves the right to make its own rules.
``I don't think there's any reason the ball needs to go any farther,'' Finchem said. ``It would be appropriate to put some standards in place that more or less draws a line in the sand with regards to how far the ball goes.''
Finchem plans to meet with equipment manufacturers this week, although it does not sound as if the tour is ready to take charge.
That could change.
``If progress ' or what we believe to be adequate progress ' is not made, we might have to get involved in the equipment area,'' he said. ``That's not our preference.''
Progress is coming, no matter how long overdue.
For years, the USGA set its distance standard for golf balls by using a machine that swung a wooden club at 109 mph. The new test will use a titanium club and a significantly higher clubhead speed.
Even with a new ball test, manufacturers probably will find new ways for the golf ball to go farther, either through a higher launch or with less spin.
Clearly, equipment companies have much more at stake financially than the USGA and thus invest more money in research and development, carried out by rocket scientists.
``It's just like Formula One cars,'' Jeff Sluman said. ``The governing bodies set up rules and regulations to slow the cars down. Race car teams hire more and better engineers to get around the limits that have been set. Cars are going faster.
``Ball companies are the same,'' he said. ``Titleist is going to hire better engineers. The bottom line is the ball is going to go farther under whatever parameters they've got. How do you slow that down? Tell them they can't hire engineers?''
The buzz word in equipment these days is ``bifurcation'' ' different equipment regulations for professionals and recreational players.
One thing that makes golf appealing is that anyone can go to a pro shop and buy the same clubs and balls as tour players. People can play most of the same courses.
Separate equipment standards for the tour might not go over well with companies.
``That's how they promote ' through us,'' Tiger Woods said. ``That's the best visual, to watch us play with their products.''
Still, golf also is appealing because the masses can occasionally relate to the pros. Everyday players know the feeling of hitting a 7-iron to 3 feet, of hitting a driver down the middle.
But 400-yard drives? Hitting sand wedge for the second shot on a 451-yard hole?
Finchem fears golf could reach a point where it is not as exciting to watch, or that quantum leaps in technology will make the best players in golf so good that the average players can no longer relate.
``The difficult thing is you don't know what that point is,'' Finchem said. ``Everybody would agree that right now, our sport is at an all-time peak. It's hard to make an argument that point has arrived. You don't know until you're into it.''
Related Links:
  • Driving Distance and Other Stats
  • Full Coverage of the WGC - Accenture Match Play
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Twice winner Kizzire on missing U.S. Open: 'Fuel to my fire'

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:59 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Based on recent form, there likely wasn’t a more decorated player watching last week’s U.S. Open from home than Patton Kizzire.

    Kizzire is in the midst of a breakthrough season that has already included two wins: a maiden victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, and a marathon playoff triumph over James Hahn at the Sony Open in January. While those titles got him into the Masters and the PGA Championship, they didn’t mean an exemption to Shinnecock Hills.

    Kizzire got as high as 51st in the world rankings after his win in Honolulu, but his game started to turn shortly thereafter. A T-12 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship is his lone top-25 finish in 12 starts since his Sony victory, and he missed four straight cuts from the Masters to The Players Championship.

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    The U.S. Open grants exemptions to the top 60 in the world at two different cutoff points close to the tournament. But in the midst of a cold streak, Kizzire was 63rd and 65th at each of those deadlines. He attempted to earn a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, only to find that his score of 5 under was one shot too many.

    “I guess just adding a little fuel to my fire, adding insult to injury,” Kizzire said. “Just to have narrowly missed several different ways of qualification was disappointing. But I just tried to spin it as a positive. I got two weeks off, and I did watch those guys struggle a little bit. I wasn’t struggling at home, we’ll just say that.”

    Kizzire hopes to put the disappointment behind him this week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-53 a year ago. And while his pair of trophies didn’t get him a tee time last week – or guarantee him a berth in The Open next month – they put him in prime position to make the season-ending Tour Championship, which would mean spots in the first three majors of 2019.

    The combination of two recent wins and a ranking outside the top 60 isn’t one that comes up often on Tour, but Kizzire maintains a balanced perspective as he looks to get back to playing the kind of golf that will ensure he doesn’t miss any more majors in the near future.

    “If I would have played better in between the U.S. Open and my last win, I would have gotten in. So my play was the reason I wasn’t in,” Kizzire said. “You certainly could look at it and say, ‘This guy’s got two wins, he should be in.’ But I’m not making too much of it.”

    Getty Images

    Masters, Players and U.S. Open champs grouped at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:50 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Fresh off a second straight U.S. Open victory, Brooks Koepka is getting right back to work at the Travelers Championship.

    Koepka has stood by his commitment to tee it up at TPC River Highlands, becoming the first U.S. Open champ to play the following week on the PGA Tour since Justin Rose played the Travelers after his 2013 win at Merion. Koepka will play the first two rounds alongside Masters champ Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, who captured The Players Championship last month.

    Here’s a look at some of the other marquee, early-round groupings for a star-studded field outside Hartford (all times ET):

    7:50 a.m. Thursday, 12:50 p.m. Friday: Jason Day, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger

    Day is making his second straight Travelers appearance, having missed the cut both last year in Cromwell and last week at Shinnecock Hills. He’ll be joined by reigning Rookie of the Year Schauffele and Berger, who took home ROY honors in 2015 and last year was on the losing end of Jordan Spieth’s playoff dramatics at this event.

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    8 a.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson

    Koepka is making his third tournament appearance overall, but his first since a T-9 finish in 2016, before he had either of his two U.S. Open trophies. Reed has become a regular at this event and enters off a fourth-place showing on Long Island, while Simpson cruised to victory last month at TPC Sawgrass and tied for 10th last week.

    12:50 p.m. Thursday, 7:50 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Russell Knox

    This was the tournament that turned things around last year for Spieth, who took home the title in his debut thanks to one of the most dramatic shots of the year in a playoff against Berger. He’ll start his title defense alongside a pair of past champs, as Leishman won here for his first Tour title back in 2012 and Knox was a winner two years ago when the tournament was played in August.

    1 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. Friday: Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

    This group should get plenty of attention in the early rounds, with Thomas entering as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2 and joined a pair of players who will launch drives all across TPC River Highlands. Watson has feasted on this layout, winning in both 2010 and 2015 among five top-10 finishes, while McIlroy tied for 17th last year in his tournament debut but missed the cut last week at Shinnecock.

    Getty Images

    Travelers Championship: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 19, 2018, 5:30 pm

    There will be plenty of star power this week in Hartford as the PGA Tour moves north for the Travelers Championship. Here is the key info for this week's event.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3:30-6:30PM ET; live stream:

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3:30-6:30PM ET; live stream:

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

    Purse: $7 million

    Course: TPC River Highlands (par 70, 6,841 yards)

    Defending champion: Jordan Spieth. Defeated Daniel Berger with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

    Notables in the field

    Jordan Spieth

    • Missed last two cuts (the Memorial, U.S. Open) entering this week

    • 188th on PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting (4th in strokes gained: tee to green)

    • Only player to win Travelers Championship back-to-back: Phil Mickelson (2001-02)

    Brooks Koepka

    • Making third career start in Travelers Championship (last start: T-9 in 2016)

    • First player to play Travelers week after U.S. Open win since 2013 (Justin Rose)

    • First player to win U.S. Open back-to-back since 1988-89 (Curtis Strange)

    Justin Thomas

    • Fifth career start in this event (MC, T-3, MC last three years)

    • Second on PGA Tour this season in strokes gained: tee to green (+1.49)

    Rory McIlroy

    • Second career start in Travelers Championship (T-17 last year)

    • Missed cut last week at U.S. Open (shot 80 in opening round)

    Jason Day

    • Fourth career start in Travelers Championship (best finish: T-18 in 2014)

    • Leads PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting this season

    Patrick Reed

    • Earned second-most world ranking points of any player in 2018

    • Finished fourth at U.S. Open last week (three shots behind Koepka)

    Getty Images

    Day 'disappointed' in USGA's handling of course, Phil

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:16 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Jason Day had the weekend off following a missed cut at the U.S. Open, but that didn’t prevent the Aussie from keeping an eye on all the drama that unfolded at Shinnecock Hills.

    The former world No. 1 found it “disappointing,” – with “it” being both the deterioration of a major championship setup and the fallout from Phil Mickelson’s putter slap during the third round.

    Day is hoping to bounce back from an early exit at this week’s Travelers Championship, but before turning his attention to TPC River Highlands he shared that the brunt of his disappointment stemmed from the USGA’s inability to keep Shinnecock playable during the third round and their subsequent decision to water it down for the tournament’s conclusion.

    “It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Day said. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    But Day’s frustration also tied back to Mickelson’s head-turning decision to hit a moving ball on the 13th green during the third round, and the USGA’s subsequent ruling that the actions merited a two-shot penalty but not a disqualification.

    “It’s obviously disappointing to see what Phil did,” he said. “I think a lot of people have mixed reviews about what he did.”

    USGA officials explained over the weekend that Mickelson’s actions explicitly fell under Rule 14-5, which called for a two-shot addition and turned his score of 8 into a 10, rather than Rule 1-2 or Rule 33-7 that could have resulted in disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules.

    Day felt it was unfortunate that all of Saturday’s drama deflected attention from a world-class performance from Brooks Koepka en route to a successful title defense, but when it comes to the handling of the Mickelson controversy he believes the USGA could have made good use of a mulligan.

    “It’s just unfortunate that it happened at the USGA’s tournament, where they enforce the rules, like the R&A. And I think they may have, they probably should have enforced a different outcome for Phil,” Day said. “But it is what it is. It’s done. It’s just disappointing that that is overshadowing the winner of the whole week. I think if they had it back again, they may have chosen a different outcome.”