2002: Perspective - This prince won’t revert to .830 frog

It will never happen.

On Jan. 1, 2008, proclaims the U.S. Golf Association, all golfers will toss their “hot” .860 drivers in the closet and go back to their anemic old .830 drivers. Cinderella voluntarily will turn back into a chambermaid. The prince freely will turn back into a frog.

Don’t bet on it.

Once allowed to use these drivers with a coefficient of restitution of .860 (the five-year period begins officially on Jan. 1), golfers will never go back to .830. Members of the National Rifle Association won’t give up their guns, and golfers won’t give up their drivers. If the USGA thinks it can willy-nilly give extra yards to golfers and then take them back, it is mistaken.

Economics will rule. Market forces will rule. Golfers will demand – and will get – their .860 drivers. If the USGA resists, a revolt will follow. Everyday golfers will tell the USGA to go to hell. Chaos will reign.

The truth: Most golfers will gain no more than a few yards with an .860 driver. Still, it doesn’t matter. Allow any golfer to hit that one tape-measure drive with an .860, even if it happens once a round, and he or she will be hooked.

David Fay, executive director of the USGA, sees golfers coming together in 2008 for the good of the game.

Furthermore, Fay says, “Returning to .83 is an automatic mechanism. There is no manual override.” Call in the mechanics, I say, because the USGA could be tinkering like crazy when 2007 arrives and the 2008 rollback is right around the corner. How could the USGA, along with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, change its mind? The simplest answer lies in the Joint Statement Of Principles released May 9 by the USGA and R&A.

“The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable,” the statement reads. The key phrase here is “at the highest level,” which refers to the world’s professional tours or even the world’s most important amateur tournaments.

Beginning Jan. 1, worldwide competitors on this highest level will be using .830 drivers. Ordinary golfers will be using .860 drivers. Even though this disparity in the rules is meant to last just five years, any open-minded person should be able to envision its continuation if there is no disruption to the game.

This five-year period is best viewed as an experiment in a living laboratory. Golfers themselves are the subjects – the guinea pigs, if you will. If golf is a game for all people, and that game actually is improved with two sets of equipment rules, will the USGA and the R&A have the sense and candor to admit it? I hope so.

The history and tradition of golf are wonderful, but the game must change to accommodate the world in which it is played and the people who play it. To me, it doesn’t seem heretical that Tiger Woods must play with an .830 driver, while Wally Workaholic can use an .860. Big deal.

It is important that active tournament golfers realize one thing: They will be required to use, in most events outside the club or local level, .830 drivers and not .860 drivers.

The scenario is predictable. Although a decision has yet to be made, the USGA undoubtedly will conduct all 13 of its national championships under the “condition of competition” requiring the use of .830 drivers.

“Past history would indicate that we treat all our championships the same,” Fay says.

Once this is announced, every other important amateur event in the United States (national, regional and state) will follow this example. The same goes for college golf.

“The position of the NCAA Golf Committee is that the rules adopted by the USGA for its national amateur championships will be the ones used by the NCAA for its championship, at least in Division I,” said Mike Carter, athletic director at Oral Roberts University and the chairman of the men’s Division I NCAA Golf Committee.

Ironically, the situation may be different in Great Britain. When asked if the British Amateur would require .830 drivers, R&A secretary Peter Dawson responded, “At this time, it is not our intention to invoke this condition of competition in the amateur game, although as the five-year period winds on, that may be something that changes.”

The most intriguing date in golf is Jan. 1, 2008. Get ready for the revolution.

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