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R&A and USGA change rules on "hot" drivers

In a surprising reversal Tuesday, golf's two governing bodies scrapped plans to allow recreational players in the United States to use so-called hot drivers, designed to hit the ball farther.

The modified policy means Americans cannot use the thin-faced drivers in club tournaments or to post a score for their handicap index.

The plan that was to take effect Jan. 1 would have allowed average U.S. players to use the hot drivers until 2008. The decision Tuesday does not affect players in the rest of the world, who already were told they can use the drivers until then.

While Tuesday's change was meant to avoid confusion, the new policy by the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club could lead to chaos in the equipment market, already geared up to sell the new drivers.

A large display window at the New York Golf Center in Manhattan was devoted entirely to an exhibit of Taylor Made's R500 series of thin-faced drivers.

``I just lost a customer because of the ruling,'' salesman Frank Cole said. ``I had been telling people, 'Buy the Taylor Made now. Get used to it. And in January, when you're comfortable with it, it will be legal.' Now I'm going to have guys coming in, bringing their clubs back for a refund. The next week is going to be a nightmare.''

The change also brought an angry response from Callaway Golf, the first U.S. company to promote drivers that make the ball spring off the club more quickly.

``We're not going to be able to sell our best technology to golfers that I know will help them enjoy the game,'' Callaway CEO Ron Drapeau said. ``That's sad for the 25 million golfers in the United States under this jurisdiction.''

Taylor Made declined comment until it could talk to its retailers.

The R&A makes the rules of golf for everywhere in the world except the United States and Mexico, which fall under the jurisdiction of the USGA.

The two rules makers had different equipment standards for drivers. The USGA set a limit of 0.83 coefficient of restitution (how quickly the ball springs from the clubface), while the R&A did not impose any limits.

That meant players could use the thin-faced drivers at the British Open or World Golf Championships held overseas, but not on the PGA Tour or the three American majors.

A compromise proposed in May would have allowed recreational players to use drivers with a COR of 0.86 for a five-year period, starting next year. Beginning in 2008, the worldwide limit would revert to 0.83.

It did not affect touring pros. The organizations recommended that ``highly skilled players'' use drivers that did not exceed 0.83.

Why the turnabout?

USGA officials said two months of feedback -- customary when they propose rules changes -- indicated the compromise was confusing to players and manufacturers. Drivers would be illegal until Jan. 1, legal for five years, then illegal again.

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