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Tiger pushing for more driver testing

As a dozen or so players hammered away Tuesday on the Westchester Country Club's practice range while preparing for the start of the Buick Classic on Thursday, the scene was a typical one.

The golf balls were almost rocketing into the sky as they flew to distances once beyond the reach of all but the mightiest drivers. Higher and longer is better in golf, and advances in equipment have allowed top professionals and amateur weekend players alike to hit the ball farther.

But are some of the pros' drivers too good, at least in the sense that they do not conform to regulations established by the U.S. Golf Association? That question will not be answered in any definitive way this week at the Buick Classic because clubs are not tested at the sites of tournaments. Many players, Tiger Woods included, say that must change.

"Everyone should be tested, period, first tee, every day," Woods said after the U.S. Open ended Sunday at Olympia Fields, Ill. "I talked to the commissioner about that. I'm a big proponent of that."

Suspicions about the use of illegal drivers could largely be put to rest if a portable testing device were available at tournaments. Testing is done by the USGA, but only at its headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., where manufacturers send their drivers to have their models cleared for tournament play.

Woods has been so adamant about the issue that he met with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in Dublin, Ohio, during the Memorial tournament in late May. It appears that his complaints have not fallen upon deaf ears.

The issue will be addressed by the PGA Tour's policy board at a two-day meeting beginning June 30. And the USGA, the national governing body for golf, has a proposal on the table to put portable testing devices in place at tournaments beginning Jan. 1, 2004. The PGA Tour competes under USGA rules.

"What is out there is a proposal to update our testing procedures," said the USGA's senior director for communication, Marty Parkes. "One criticism we have heard of our testing procedures is that it has to be done in Far Hills and it is not portable. A lot of people have said that they would like to see us come up with a quicker, easier and more portable test."

Among them is Tom Lehman, who won the British Open in 1996.

"Personally, I think there should be testing for drivers," he said. "Every player should have their driver tested, and it should be mandatory to make sure that it conforms. I don't think it's any big deal. I don't think anybody is out here purposely playing with an illegal driver, but if someone happens to have one, it ought to be known."

The portable test would be much simpler than the current one, which requires the driver to be taken apart. The proposed device would require only a low-speed strike from the club against a small weight on a pendulum.

The key criterion for whether a driver is legal under USGA guidelines is the springlike effect of the club head. A legal club must not exceed a measurement of the elasticity of the collision between club and ball, called a coefficient of restitution. Any player using a club that exceeds the guidelines is likely to be able to hit the ball farther, and gain an advantage over other players.

Manufacturers send newly issued models to the USGA's office for testing. The USGA then determines whether the club conforms to its regulations and can be used on the tour. That may seem to be a fairly safe means of preventing players from using illegal clubs, but that has not quieted skeptics who wonder how players have been able to hit balls farther and farther.

"Watching the U.S. Open last week, it was ridiculous how some guys are hitting it," Lee Janzen, a two-time Open champion, said. "There's a course that is 7,200 yards and guys were chipping on to the green on holes like the 18th, which is 462 yards. If the distance keeps growing like it has, I don't even know what golf is going to become."

Janzen said it was not necessarily a matter of players finding ways to beat the system. He said it was more likely that with manufacturers trying to provide players with clubs that come as close as possible to the limits without going over them, it was inevitable that the occasional driver would fall just outside the guidelines.

 

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