Distance. Golf’s golden goose. The thing that every player wants a little more of. Long players want to maintain it, shorter players want more of it. Analytics and research show a very logical correlation with distance and success on the PGA Tour. In a watered down explanation, the further you hit it past the field, the better chance you have to win.
Similar to when the premium on the home run ball surpassed pitching prowess, consistent hitting, or defense, everyone sought out a way to gain an advantage. Thus began the start of the steroid era. The ultimate scarlet letter on any player during that time was testing positive or being accused of using “performance enhancing drugs”. Former players like Jose Conseco were writing tell all books naming players who were “using”, you had Balco, you had players blaming trainers and team doctors for telling them what they were taking was above snuff. Players like Sosa, McGuire, Bonds, Roger Clemons, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmero to name a few still have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame because of their links to steroids. Corked bats even made an appearance from Mr. Sosa.
Fast forward to present day, drivers started being tested at the British Open where Xander Schauffele got popped with his Callaway Epic Flash Driver. The players were not supposed to be published but in 2019 nothing stays quiet for long. He had to get a new driver prior to the start of the tournament. There were a few other guys that had non conforming drivers that week but their names were not mentioned. The equipment company’s have come out and stated that they are making drivers within the tolerances provided by the USGA and R&A. However, over time, the more center hits a driver takes can lead to it having more of a trampoline effect than is allowed. So technically, the drivers are not being built illegal, but they are being built so close to the line that within a year, and with enough center hits, a driver can go over the line.
A couple of weeks at the Safeway, 30 drivers were tested, 5 of them were found to be non conforming. The players are allowed to find a replacement that conforms prior to the event. 1/6th of the sample size proved to be outside the allowed tolerances. Meaning in a 160 man field, there are probably close to 30 drivers that aren’t legal. So who is to blame? In my eyes, it’s obviously the equipment manufacturers but also the governing bodies. The equipment companies are making hotter clubs to keep up with the trends in the game, get in more pro’s bags, and in turn sell more to the public. I think that the USGA and R&A should require the drivers to be under the tolerance level, so they are actually built to the requirements and then after time if someone’s driver gets used a lot, they will still be within the tolerance.
I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, and if the governing bodies do not do something quickly, the integrity of the game is going to get called into question and the players are going to start getting frustrated for being painted as cheaters. This will be something to watch as the season goes on.