2006: Ohio to try tournament ball

It won’t be the Masters or PGA Tour that is first to introduce its own golf ball for competition.

That honor goes to the Ohio Golf Association, which will provide designated golf balls to all players who compete in this summer’s Ohio Champions Tournament. The 36-hole event is scheduled Aug. 22-23 at Windy Knoll Golf Club in Springfield, and is open to all club champions, city champions and local association champions in Ohio.

Almost five years ago, the OGA established a golf ball committee to study the modern ball and, ultimately, to decide whether to throttle it back in some way.

Although OGA executive director Jim Popa is quick to point out that the tournament ball “is not a short ball, but rather a uniform ball,” it doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the OGA is doing.

Alan Fadel, a former PGA Tour player who has been a reinstated amateur for almost 20 years, is chairman of the OGA ball committee.

“We haven’t chosen the exact ball yet,” Fadel said, “but we are leaning to one that optimizes (distance efficiency off the tee) between 100 and 105 miles per hour (driver swing speed). The ball is not going to benefit somebody at 120 (mph) the way the current ball does. We are trying to achieve a little more equality, that’s all. The guy who swings 120 will still hit it farther than most of the other players, but not quite so far.”

Several studies have shown that golfers who achieve a driver swing speed of at least 115 to 120 miles per hour can get a distance boost from many modern balls. Aerodynamically, it is almost as if these balls shift into overdrive.

“We represent all the venues in our state,” Fadel said, “and we don’t want them to become antiquated by technology.”

The OGA declined to reveal the manufacturer of its tournament ball. The only name on the ball will be that of the OGA. Players will receive balls free of charge about two weeks before the event.

The implications could be huge.

“There are lots of people a hell of a lot more important than the Ohio Golf Association who are watching this with

great interest,” Popa said.

A grass-roots campaign, if supported by other state or regional associations, might convince the U.S. Golf Association to adopt a “condition of competition” that would allow professional or amateur tournaments to authorize the use of a specified ball.

Following longstanding policy, the USGA will not comment on the affairs of the OGA or any other golf association.

The Ohio association, known for its independent streak, has a history of butting heads with the USGA. In the 1980s, the OGA declared a local rule that allowed competitors to tap down spike marks. The USGA strenuously objected.

“They told us, ‘Don’t call us for any ruling.’ They excommunicated us,” Popa said. “Finally, after about five years, we got back together.” (The OGA eliminated its local rule and became the nation’s first golf association to endorse the use of non-metal cleats).

“We have the right to speak out regardless of what anybody thinks,” Popa said of the ball experiment. “We are not doing this in conjunction with anybody. This is our thing. It is designed as a fact-finding endeavor as much as anything else. We are very anxious to see how the players react to the ball.”

Popa said the USGA “was kind of cold” about the OGA’s initiative. “They probably were thinking we didn’t have enough horsepower to pull it off. Right now, we’re asking our players to come and play, to be part of the experiment,” he said.

“Convincing them to use a different ball could be a hard sell, but we’re committed to this.”

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