High-tech clubs OK, says USGA Manufacturers' fears of controversy put to rest

U.S. Open

June 18, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- Rumors about what the USGA would announce in regard to possible changes in equipment regulations flew like some of John Daly's drives in the month since many top manufacturers took out ads extolling the virtues of high-tech golf.

But when USGA executive director David Fay and president Buzz Taylor were finished with yesterday's much-anticipated news conference at the Olympic Club, rumors had been quieted and one thing was perfectly clear: The USGA had backed down.

In an announcement that calmed both the fears of players and manufacturers, as well as the loathing for what the USGA seemed on the brink of doing, Fay said that "virtually all" of the clubs currently on the market and being used by the world's top players met standards being proposed.

Fay said that the protocol for the tests being conducted will be released to manufacturers in the next few weeks and that the test will involve measuring the spring-like or trampoline effect of propelling a golf ball against a plate made of titanium.

"We do not believe that the spring-like effect in clubs that are presently in use have lessened the skill required to play the game at championships such as the U.S. Open or at the recreational level," said Fay. "We have a responsibility to all who are involved with the sport to set clearly defined, clearly understood standards that, at best, anticipate emerging technology and maintain the challenge of the game."

But both Fay and Taylor sent a warning to those manufacturers who may be in the process of developing thin-faced clubs that will allow the ball to travel even greater distances, such as Ping's soon-to-be released TiSI driver. At a recent demonstration, pros and celebrities tested the driver and said it added another 20 or 30 yards.

It was Taylor's remarks in the May 29 issue of Golf World that touched off the ad campaign by Callaway, Ping, Titleist and other major American manufacturers to allow technology to proceed. Pictured on the cover with the headline, "Who is this man and why does he want to take your clubs away," Taylor's words seemed to spell gloom for those who take pleasure in whacking 300-yard drives with oversized club heads.

Though Fay denied that a peace accord had been reached -- "I didn't know we were at war," he said -- many manufacturers assembled here for the 98th U.S. Open seemed pleased that the potential controversy had been thwarted. And they seemed certain that their ad campaign proved effective.

"I think it educated them and informed them," said Ely Callaway, founder of the company that makes the Big Bertha and Great Big Bertha drivers. "I think it told them that people don't want to give up the pleasure of modern golf. I think they were surprised by the reaction of the people."

While Callaway seemed satisfied with yesterday's announcement, his most celebrated client didn't think the USGA went far enough. Standing in the back of the room, Daly conducted an impromptu news conference of his own.

"Why does the USGA want to stop technology?" Daly asked. "I don't believe in stopping technology. That's what America is about -- moving ahead."

Another John Daly

One of the roads leading into the Olympic Club is John Daly Boulevard. It is named not for one of golf's longest hitters, but for a dairy farmer who moved here from Boston in 1853 and developed the land that eventually became nearby Daly City.

Though he died in 1911, the comment was made that he had about as much chance to win the Open as the player with the same name. In his eight previous attempts, Daly has missed the cut three times and has finished no higher than a tie for 27th in 1996.

98th U.S. Open

When: Today through Sunday (Monday if necessary for an 18-hole sudden-death playoff)

Where: The Olympic Club, San Francisco

Length: 6,797 yards

Par: 35-3570

Field: 156 (153 pros, 3 amateurs)

Last year: Ernie Els won at Congressional in Bethesda, closing with a 1-under 69 for a one-stroke victory over Scotland's Colin Montgomerie. Els, also the 1994 winner, had a 4-under 276 total.

Purse: $3 million

Winner's share: $535,000

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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