"Golf is a power game"

t1_scorecard.jpgThe September 4 issue of SI opens with the traditional "Scorecard" piece, this time with Alan Shipnuck writing about the emergence of golf as a "power game." He then lays out the perks headaches coming with the power shift.

Golf is a power game, a point driven home by a recent confluence of events in Ohio that rocked a sport that has always been resistant to change. In Springfield on Aug. 22, the Ohio Golf Association held a tournament in which competitors were compelled to use identical balls that had been engineered to fly roughly 10% shorter than the average rock. (dead-ball golf is what headline writers at The Columbus Dispatch called the attempt to put the toothpaste back into the tube.) Then, in Akron last week, Tiger Woods took time out from winning his fourth straight tournament, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, to stump for the implementation of performance-enhancing drug testing in professional golf. It was a public rebuke to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who has staked out a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil position on steroids.
And after considering the recent events and Tiger's feelings on the matter, Shipnuck reminds us that Woods pushed for a pro-active stance on driver testing. And of course not mentioned here but equally as important to the topic at hand, Woods has advocated changing the spin rate of balls.

On the OGA event, Shipnuck writes:
It was an open-minded band of volunteers that showed up when the OGA staged its one-ball tournament, bringing to life an idea that for years has been kicked around by everyone from Jack Nicklaus to recently retired Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, who grew weary of annually having to tear up his golf course to keep pace with advances in equipment. (Augusta National has grown more than 500 yards, to 7,445, since Woods's overpowering victory in 1997.) OGA president Hugh E. Wall III said that maintaining the relevance of older, shorter courses in his jurisdiction was the primary motivation for testing the restricted-flight ball. "[We have] great courses, but many don't have the resources or the real estate to expand to 7,400 yards," Wall told GolfWorld. "[We want] our member clubs to see there may be another option ... other than bulldozers."

Thus every competitor at Windy Knoll Golf Club received a dozen balls with an OGA logo and a side stamp of CHAMPIONS 08222306 (the name of the tournament and its dates). All other details about the ball were supposed to be top secret, but by tournament's end word had leaked that it was manufactured by Volvik, an obscure Korean company. (A U.S. manufacturer examined the OGA ball for SI and reports that it was a three-piece, dual-core construction with a Surlyn cover and 446 dimples.) These instant collector's items left most players pining for their regular ball. Derek Carney of Dublin, Ohio, typified the conflicted attitude: He agreed that something has to be done to protect older courses but said that he didn't like the OGA ball "because it doesn't benefit me."

Oddly, such a selfish attitude in other sports would be laughed, but in golf, such an attitude is seen differently. Shipnuck explains:

Such grumbling merely previews the howls of protest that would accompany any efforts to roll back the ball on the PGA Tour, where players have spent years using launch monitors and computers to find optimal combinations of balls, shafts and clubheads. The irony of the OGA event is that it is PGA Tour pros who threaten to make a mockery of classic courses. Yet bifurcation is a dirty word in golf. Differing rules for pros and amateurs would destroy the business model of the $4 billion equipment industry, which is built on stars like Woods being paid handsomely to peddle their gear to weekend hackers.

Golf is still grappling with the ramifications of the boom-boom ethos that has redefined the game, but the almighty buck remains the sport's most influential force. When it comes to reigning in the power game, steroid testing will be an easier sell than dead-ball golf. Especially when Woods is the salesman.