Illegal drivers? Tiger wants tests
by Associated Press
Tiger Woods walks from the practice green to the first tee, picks up the official scorecard, meets the volunteers keeping score, then waits for the starter to announce his name before hitting his opening tee shot.
He wouldn't mind seeing an extra step in the routine.
Before sticking a tee in the ground, Woods believes every player should hand his driver to a PGA Tour official so it can be tested to make sure it's within the rules.
Think NASCAR, where stock cars are tested to verify that all parts - from the carburetor to the spoiler - meet racing standards before the victory is official.
"First hole, here's my driver," Woods said last week at the Buick Classic. "Make sure it's legal. Green light, red light. That kind of thing."
As his driving distance slips farther down the rankings - at 292.2 yards, a career-low 29th on tour - Woods has become increasingly suspicious that some players are using drivers with a little too much pop.
Asked if there were illegal clubs on tour, Woods replied, "You could say that."
At issue is a physics term called the "coefficient of restitution" (COR), which measures how quickly a golf ball springs off the face of a club at impact. When the face is ultra thin, it allows for more of a trampoline effect.
Golf's ruling bodies last year set the limit at 0.83 for professional tours.
One USGA official said he has no reason to believe anyone is cheating.
"We have seen no evidence that there are clubs on tour that exceed our limits," said Dick Rugge, senior technical director for the USGA.
Still, equipment companies concede some drivers might be over the limit, especially in a competitive environment where they try to get as close to the line as possible.
"There may be drivers, due to variances in the manufacturing tolerances, that exceed the COR limits," Callaway Golf spokesman Larry Dorman said. "We go as close as we can, but we always test the club before we take them to tour to make sure there's no question.
"We wouldn't want a player to be accused or embarrassed."
Woods is under contract with Nike Golf, and he started using its driver 16 months ago with mixed results. He won the Masters and U.S. Open last year, but Woods has tested about 100 varieties of the Nike driver in search of the perfect fit.
Mike Kelley of Nike Golf said some players under contract have tried other companies' drivers, then sent them to Nike for testing.
"I know there's illegal stuff out there," said Kelley, business director of golf clubs. "Most of them are in the .835 to .839 range. We found a couple of them over .84."
Nike has appealed to the USGA and the PGA Tour to step in.
"Rules are only good if you enforce them," Kelly said.
Neither Woods nor Kelly named any companies they suspect of making illegal drivers, or players who might be using them.
The real issue is whether players even know if a driver is over the limit. If so, that would introduce cheating to a sport that has been rooted in integrity for over 500 years.
But is there even a problem?
Woods relies on what he sees. He routinely used to hit his 3-wood farther than most players hit their drivers. Now, more players hit past him even when Woods uses a driver.
Rugge, on the other hand, believes COR is overrated.
"Anything over .83 adds feet to a well-struck drive, maybe inches," Rugge said. "It's not like all of a sudden it goes over this limit and becomes a super-hot club. There are two additional yards for every .01" over the limit.
Rugge said the highest COR he has tested was .86 - an additional six yards.
"That's debatable," Kelly said. "Is that a machine doing the testing, or a tour player?"
Meantime, the USGA has developed a portable test it says will give a quicker and more accurate reading of springlike effect in drivers.
It would be a big improvement over the current test, which requires drivers to be shipped to the USGA Research and Test Center, where they are taken apart and analyzed.
The portable test requires only a low-speed strike to the club by a small, metal weight on a pendulum. Rugge said it measures vibration, and how long the metal makes contact with the face of the driver.
If approved, the portable test could be stationed at PGA Tour events.
The tour considered trying the portable test during the Western Open next week, but abruptly postponed it indefinitely last month, a decision that infuriated Woods. He met privately with commissioner Tim Finchem, but says he didn't get a clear answer.
The portable test likely will be a main topic at the PGA Tour policy board meeting Monday in Chicago.
"Even though it's a fairly simple test and a quick test, we've got to make sure we're comfortable with it," Finchem said after his meeting with Woods. "We have notified manufacturers we're considering it, and probably will utilize it at some point."
Not all equipment companies have embraced the portable test.
"We're in favor of the concept," said John Steinbach of TaylorMade. "What we've found is that the portable unit does not cover all the parameters as the original test the USGA developed. It's possible to be correct on one test, and incorrect on another."
Even if the portable test is approved, Rugge said the USGA would not randomly test for souped-up drivers at any of its 13 championships, such as the U.S. Open.
And Finchem said it would not be a mandatory test on tour. Players always have been responsible for calling penalties on themselves, and this would be no different.
Still, Woods is urging the tour to take a stronger position.
"That's our biggest concern out here on tour, to make sure the CORs are correct," he said. "The PGA Tour needs to make sure we're all playing with the proper equipment."