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

    Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

    By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

    Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

    She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

    Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

    After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

    “The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

    Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

    It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

    “I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

    Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    “The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

    Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

    It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

    “I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

    Getty Images

    Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

    CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

    The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

    ''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

    She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

    ''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

    Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

    ''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

    Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

    Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

    Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

    ''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

    She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

    ''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

    Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

    Getty Images

    DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

    AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

    Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

    “He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

    The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

    It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

    Getty Images

    Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

    BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

    Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

    ''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

    He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

    Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

    ''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

    Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

    ''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

    Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

    ''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

    Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

    Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

    Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.