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Driver testing gets OK

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

LEMONT, Ill. Hoping to remove suspicions about cheating golfers, the PGA Tour will begin using a test in January that determines whether clubs are legal.

But in keeping with the game's age-old tradition of integrity, the test won't be mandatory, with players expected to police themselves.

''A player who has the opportunity to make sure his equipment is conforming, by and large, will take advantage of it,'' commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday. ''Players will all have the comfort level of knowing their equipment is conforming.

''This is nothing new, it's just taking the mystery out of the equation,'' Finchem added. ''The rumors are running rampant right now, and we need to get the rumors out of the game. The only way to do it is to be able to verify. This is a system that allows us to verify without having to take the clubhead apart.''

At issue is a physics term called the ''coefficient of restitution'' (COR), which measures how quickly a golf ball springs off the face of a club at impact. When the face is ultra thin, it allows for more of a trampoline effect.

Golf's ruling bodies last year set the limit at 0.83 for professional tours. Currently, the only way to test a driver's springlike effect is to send the club to the USGA Research and Test Center, where it's taken apart and analyzed. The new test uses only a small, metal weight on a pendulum. Hitting the club with the weight will measure vibration, and how long the metal weight makes contact with the face of the driver.

''The machine will be on-site at all of our tours for at least a period of time. Maybe always,'' Finchem said. ''In the first few weeks, we'll have USGA staff on site with us during the initial period when we probably have a fair amount of equipment being tested.''

The tour also supports a USGA proposal that would set a distance standard for new golf balls.

While Finchem said he doesn't believe anyone is cheating, he concedes some players could be using so-called ''hot'' drivers without knowing it. Most players get their equipment directly from manufacturers, trusting them to make sure the balls and clubs meet specifications.

Whether it's intentional or not, some players are becoming increasingly convinced there are drivers out there with a little too much pop.

Tiger Woods has been the most outspoken, saying he believes there are illegal clubs on the tour and that drivers should be tested before the start of every round.

''First hole, here's my driver,'' Woods said at the Buick Classic. ''Make sure it's legal. Green light, red light. That kind of thing.''

The tour's policy board agreed at a meeting Monday that there needs to be ''reasonable limits'' on how much technology should affect the game. And the new pendulum tester is one way to make sure golf stays within those limits.

But the tour stopped short of making the test mandatory. Golf has always been a genteel game, where honor is so prized and ingrained that players call their own penalties.

Mandatory testing no matter the reason would violate that sacred trust.

''We want to follow the rules 1,000 percent,'' said Jerry Kelly, defending champion at this week's Western Open. ''That's what we're here to do. Play by the rules and win golf tournaments within the rules. ... We don't want any kind of special edge.''

While Finchem said he thinks simply having the test available is enough, the PGA Tour plans to increase its monitoring in other areas in hopes of slowing the huge distance leaps the game has seen recently. Clubhead speeds will be measured, and club selection will be added to the existing ShotLink statistical system.

ShotLink currently measures statistics such as driving distance and number of putts taken.

''Our hope is ... that these jumps that we've seen since 1996, '97, will turn back to what we saw from 1980 to 1996, which was technological improvements to make the game more fun, but not the kind of jumps that we've seen,'' Finchem said.

''That will take the pressure off changes in the golf course. It will take pressure off those that argue the game is somehow revolutionary in its change, and give us a comfort level.''



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