On Wednesday, the PGA Tour announced that it would bolster the driver testing it started in 2014 with additional tests, beginning at next week’s Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, the first event of the 2019-20 season. It’s a move that’s long overdue, and we have Xander Schauffele to thank for it.
The old protocol involved the USGA randomly testing the Characteristic Time (CT) of drivers collected from tour vans at various times throughout the year, at the PGA Tour’s request. The higher a driver’s CT, the greater its trampoline effect, which in turn boosts distance. The USGA and R&A’s cap on CT is 239 milliseconds, but clubs can exceed that number because there is a manufacturing tolerance of 18 milliseconds allowed by the game’s governing bodies. So, a driver with a CT of 246 can be used in a tournament, but one with a CT over 257 is said to be non-conforming.
Counterintuitively, the only drivers that were getting tested, however, were the drivers no one was using. Clubs that players already had in their bags and intended to play were not included in those tests. That is now set to change, with random testing of players’ drivers beginning next week.
Xander Schauffele and his team are probably asking why this could not have started a year ago.
In a letter sent to players and manufacturers this week that Golfweek obtained, the tour said, “While this testing program will test the clubs in use by players on the PGA TOUR out of necessity, it is important to note that the focus of the program is not on the individual player but rather on ensuring conformity level of each club model and type throughout the season.”
That may be true, but these changes would never have taken place if the Schauffele debacle had not taken place this summer.
Unlike the PGA Tour, the R&A has been testing players’ drivers before the start of the British Open for a few years and Schauffele’s driver, which was randomly tested on the Tuesday before this year’s Open, failed the CT test.
According to Callaway’s CEO and president, Chip Brewer, it was safely within the CT limit when Schauffele got it, but the more he used it, the higher the CT rose over time. It’s a phenomenon called CT creep and when the driver was tested at Royal Portrush, it exceeded the limit plus the tolerance by a single microsecond.
The new testing protocols call for random tests to be conducted throughout the year, and it is expected that every exempt player will get tested. But as the tests are random, some players’ drivers could get tested more than once. The serial number of every driver tested will be recorded and the only people who will know the results of the tests will be a representative from the manufacturer and the golfer. If everything goes according to plan, and those two people don’t talk, the media, fans and other players should never know if a player’s driver fails a CT test.
After speaking with PGA Tour reps from a few brands, it sounds like the tour wanted this to go smoothly and was open to suggestions. For example, during a call last Friday between several companies and the PGA Tour, one rep pointed out that equipment vans rarely make the trip across the border into Mexico or Canada, so testing at the WGC-Mexico Championship and Canadian Open could be problematic. Two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue told Golfweek the tour had not considered travel outside the U.S., and brands were asked to submit a list of events where tour vans are not expected to travel. Testing is not expected to be conducted at those tournaments.
It was also pointed out that some players do not arrive at tournaments until Wednesday, when the tour vans typically leave. If a player who has been randomly selected for testing arrives on Wednesday and his brand’s truck is packing up, should that golfer’s driver be tested? If his driver fails the CT test and the company’s truck is gone, what happens?
Details like that will get worked out, but it’s about time testing like this was put in place. There have been whispers in locker rooms and parking lots that this player’s driver is too hot and this company’s drivers are dangerously close to being non-conforming. Random testing should stop the suspicion and spare players the embarrassment and humiliation that Schauffele must have felt in July.
Random driver testing is easy, quick and long overdue. Golf may be a gentlemen’s game, but even gentlemen want to know that the playing field is level.