Mr. Titleist Speaks

An unnamed interviewer at Travel and Leisure Golf lobs softballs to Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein in their September issue. It’s interesting to see how Uihlein's message has evolved compared to two years ago. From T&L:

The paradigm shift to the power game has resulted from six contributing variables: 1) the introduction of lower-spinning high-performance golf balls; 2) the introduction of oversize, thin-face titanium drivers; 3) improved golf course conditioning and agronomy; 4) player physiology—they're bigger and stronger; 5) improved techniques and instruction; and 6) launch monitors and the customization of equipment. Five of these six variables have often been overlooked by the media and antitechnology pundits in the search for a cause to the industry's so-called "problem." To identify the golf ball as the sole contributor and "solution" is an oversimplification.

Anyone have an idea which of the six has not been overlooked by the media and "antitechnology pundits"? Oh, right, the widget he just happens to be selling, 1) the ball.

Actually, the media has overlooked #6 (launch monitors). And In April, 2003, Uihlein himself overlooked launch monitors and optimization of launch conditions. Is that because it was a more recent phenomenon that has since piled on to the already serious shifts in distance from 2000-2003?

Uihlein's 2003 message and the then variables:

Okay, but 'something' is going on... Fair enough, but 'something' has been going on to increase driving distance for a few years...Recently, professional golf has seen changes with (a) player fitness and conditioning, (b) course conditions, (c) golf clubs and (d) golf balls. In the hierarchy of contributions to improved performance on the golf course, the available evidence suggests the following sequence:

Most Influential Variable The Player.
Second Most Influential Variable The Golf Club.
Third Most Influential Variable The Golf Ball.

This hierarchy of variables has often been overlooked in the search for a 'cause' and a 'solution,' as have golf course and weather conditions which significantly impact the fluctuation in driving distance from week to week.

No mention of optimization in 2003, and of course, no acknowledgment still that the $16 billion golf course industry is bearing or passing down the costs (safety, liability, architectural, etc...) of this "paradigm" shift so that the $5 billion manufacturing industry can market Tour players using clubs that the average golfer can't even buy or get the same benefits from.

Did you notice that for Mr. Uihlein, "the ball" went from #3 of 3 in 2003 to #1 of 6 in 2005? Hmmm...

Since 2003, optimization has become commonplace and has allowed players with faster clubhead speeds to blow right by the Overall Distance Standard without the test knowing it. Minor detail, I know. That's why we have a new test that has the very same loophole, only this time Byron is using titanium instead of persimmon.

But if Uihlein wants to strengthen his legitimate argument that the ball gets blamed too much, it's a mystery why he doesn't point out the role of optimization. Unless of course, he opposed the optimization testing that was scrapped by the USGA in the late 90s?  So what's he worried about then, the USGA calling him a hypocrite? They can't because(A) they have no public relations savvy whatsoever, and (B) they're the ones who dropped the test and thus, the ball (sorry).

T&L's mystery interviewer asked about bifurcation in the 2005 interview. Uihlein answers:

We have never supported the position of bifurcation. Playing by one set of rules, playing the same game, playing the same course and playing the same equipment is what makes golf different. It is the essence of the game. Two sets of rules involving the golf ball, or the golf ball and golf clubs, would result in 1) the longer players on Tour only getting longer in comparison to those who are less long,

Sorry to interrupt here. The players who have the special (natural) talent to hit the ball a long way would regain an advantage that they've lost to players who gained distance merely by embracing technology? Sounds sort of un-free market-like to encourage parity and to complain about an advantage gained skillfully, as opposed to one gained via technology?

Anyway, Mr. Uihlein continues…

and 2) the opening of a Pandora's box with regard to the regulation of equipment at the local, state, sectional and national levels. Golf is not so cleanly a professional game and an amateur game. That is the great thing about golf. That is why our national championship is an Open Championship administered by the USGA. Bifurcation is only seriously advanced by those who think that the game is on some edge of ruination and who thus, as a result of their narrow and biased thinking, feel some form of radical surgery is required.

That biased thinking again. As opposed to financially biased thinking, which is oh so pure. I have no idea what the whole regional association thing is about since we're talking about a Tour ball. This would have been a nice chance for a follow up from T&L and whoever did the interview. Anyway, we continue in the 2005 T&L interview. Mr Uihlein: 

The line in the sand has already been drawn. However, if the regulatory bodies determine that a rollback is necessary and seek to change the controllable variables of ball and club, we strongly believe that you cannot roll back the incremental distance of the past twenty years by focusing on the ball alone or the club alone. Based upon our research, the contributions of ball and club are equally weighted. It is both unfair and impractical to focus on one without the other. The ruling bodies have always been fair and practical, and we expect them to be no different this time around.

Hey, at least Uihlein is now open to the governing bodies looking into the matter and possibly determining a necessary rollback. In 2003 Uihlein wasn’t so open:

What we do see is the delicate balance between Tradition and Technology being preserved without unnecessary intervention.

It was also nice to see that in the current T&L interview Uihlein didn’t rehash his tired and kind of embarrassing technophobic media is to blame schtick. After all, players like Tiger Woods and Ernie Els have made comments on the issue. They've indicated that they feel technology has created some issues. And we know they weren't influenced by the inkslingers of the world.