From The Inbox

Test winner’s gear? That idea gets failing grade

From the Morning Read Inbox readers respond to recent articles surrounding testing golf gear after a tournament win

Test winner’s gear? That idea gets failing grade
I have heard many bad ideas in my day, but testing the winner's equipment for compliance after the tournament is over is one of the worst (“From the Morning Read inbox,” July 22, July 23, July 24).

Disqualify the winner, with no title, no money? That certainly would be a feel-good story, wouldn't it? How could that be good for golf? Great headline: “Lowry DQ’ed for using illegal driver. Son of Ireland shamed following greatest victory.”

Please explain how incriminating the player and not the manufacturer can possibly help the game after so much recent bad publicity over poor judgment regarding the application of trivial rules violations?

In addition, the player would be unjustly branded a cheater for (allegedly) intentionally taking unjust advantage over his competitors in order to win when he had no idea he was using illegal equipment. Corking a baseball bat or taking performance-enhancing drugs is one thing; that's on the player. Using a Callaway Epic Flash driver that might go 1 yard farther is not something that Xander Schauffele had any knowledge of going into the British Open, and then he was penalized by having to find a replacement.

As many readers who wrote into Morning Read noted, that's on Callaway, not Schauffele. So, fine Callaway or declare its driver to be illegal (sounds vaguely familiar, ERC fans), but don't brand Schauffele as a cheater.

Dick Gardner
Venice, Fla.

A new chapter for an old mystery
The news that Xander Schauffele was using a non-conforming driver at the British Open has stimulated a lot of discussion about testing and the rules related to the spring-like effect in drivers (“From the Morning Read inbox,” July 22, July 23, July 24).

A little history is in order. The 1984 rules provided that clubs should not act like a spring, but there was no objective measurement associated with the rule. In 1998, the USGA imposed a COR (coefficient of restitution) limit of .822, with a test tolerance of .008. It is important to note the test tolerance, given some of the recent comments about whether Schauffele’s driver should have been ruled non-conforming.

Having put a limit on the COR of drivers, the USGA had no way of testing the drivers in the field. The approach taken was to obtain drivers from the manufacturer and conduct the testing. If the submitted samples met the test, the driver was ruled conforming and was legal even though through manufacturing discrepancies individual clubs might significantly exceed the maximum.

In 2003, Tiger Woods brought the issue to light. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Ed Sherman reported:

"If you see a golf ball take off, one that's conforming and nonconforming, you'll see a difference in how the ball flies," Woods said. "You'll see the difference in how the guy is able to shape the golf ball. You can tell in the first 100 yards how the ball is taking off and how it's flying."

Woods allows that some players may be using illegal clubs unknowingly, noting that the manufacturers could be at fault.

"Say you hand me a driver and I hit it 20 yards farther," Woods said. "Hey, I'm happy I'm hitting it 20 yards farther. I'm not going to ask you why I'm hitting it 20 yards farther."

Apparently in response to this concern, the USGA in 2004 moved to measuring CT (characteristic time), which mirrors the effect of COR but is measurable in the field and done simply with a standardized pendulum test. The allowable limit is 239 microseconds, but there is a testing tolerance of 18 microseconds. The effect of this change was that players could have their drivers tested and no longer would have the excuse that they had no way of knowing that a particular club was non-conforming.

The PGA Tour offers testing of drivers to determine their compliance, but it is voluntary. Golf is a game of integrity, and it is assumed that players will adhere to the rules, including those relating to their equipment.

Which brings us to the controversies. Should Schauffele’s driver have been ruled non-conforming when it was “only” 1 microsecond over the allowable limit plus the testing tolerance? Should they test all drivers rather than doing random testing?

As for the first point, one might argue that since 1984, the USGA got it wrong and spring-like effect should not be restricted. Once it is going to be restricted, however, one has to have an objective and measurable limit. Schauffele’s driver was not 1 microsecond over the limit. It was 19 microseconds over the limit but exceeded the testing tolerance by 1. Given that all players have available the means of testing their drivers to make sure they are legal, it is hard to see why it is significant, whether it was 1 or 5 microseconds over the testing tolerance.

As for the random-testing issue, random testing is done in many sports and is accepted as a reasonable approach to ensuring conformity with the rules. Schauffele has no doubt had to submit on occasion to the random urine testing conducted by the PGA Tour. If he failed a urine test, would he slam the PGA Tour for not forcing all players to undergo urine tests at all events? The answer is pretty obvious.

There is, however, a legitimate argument against the manner in which the testing is done. It is done before the event rather than afterwards, such as with urine testing. By doing it before, there is no significant incentive to take the steps available to every player to see that their equipment conforms. One can simply use a driver that may or may not conform until it is randomly tested and then put a new driver in the bag. If the random testing that is being done is showing that the vast majority of drivers are legal, that’s fine, but if they start to find that a significant number are not conforming, they should start to test after the event, with disqualification being the consequence of using an illegal driver.

John Dives
Victoria, British Columbia

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