Joel Tadman gives his verdict on the recent string of driver test failures on tour and explains why the players almost certainly aren't to blame
In golf, distance isn’t everything. But it isn’t far off.
The promise of extra yards from a new club is what brings us mere mortals a step closer to the tour pros, who themselves know it has been proven that hitting the ball further off the tee results in lower scores.
But in the quest for longer drives, have the manufacturers gone too far on behalf of their stable? The question comes in light of Reuters reporting that the drivers of numerous PGA Tour players failed the CT test at the Safeway Open, making them non-conforming.
It’s another potential setback for the manufacturers after Xander Schauffele’s driver failed in the lead up to the start of the Open Championship earlier this year.
But whose fault is this and is it much of a fuss over nothing? You can’t blame the manufacturers for making their drivers as hot as possible. Every driver media launch I’ve been on talks about making faces thinner, more flexible, closer to legal limits etc.
Despite this constant desire to push the rules to the limit, I’d be willing to bet a hefty sum that no manufacturer, deliberately or inadvertently, lets a non-confirming driver leave the factory.
I think part of the problem does come down to what is known as creeping, where a once legal driver can become illegal through regular use. When you think about how hard a tour pro hits a ball and how often they practice, it’s only natural for the properties of the face to change very slightly over time.
Remember, we’re only talking the difference of a few milliseconds here, which is practically nothing. If a driver is one or two milliseconds over the prescribed CT limit of 257, I’d be amazed if this led to an increase in carry distance of more than a yard. So the marginal gains to be had just aren’t worth the bad PR, not that the details are revealed.
Another piece of the puzzle is the CT testing machines used by the various manufacturers, the USGA and R&A. While in theory all the same, differences in calibration can cause different readings, so what a manufacturer deemed to be a legal driver when it left the factory could be deemed illegal when tested at a tour event months later.
I do feel sorry for the players – it is not their fault. They put their faith in the manufacturers to provide them with the best equipment possible while staying within the laws of the game. The subtle variances in manufacturing tolerances means that no head is exactly the same. If their driver is deemed non-conforming, it is not as simple as changing into another ‘like-for-like’ head. It takes a lot of time and testing to fine tune the performance and be comfortable hitting drives under pressure at the highest level.
So while I’m all for greater scrutiny and welcome the greater pool of players being tested each week, I think the relationship between the governing bodies and manufacturers needs to be closer to eke out irregularities in results.