Touring pros are drawn to the San Diego area this time of the year, but not for the sun and the surf. They come to check their swings on the sophisticated diagnostic equipment made available to them by club manufacturers. At test centers, computers, high-speed cameras and lasers—as well as the best-trained human eyes in the business—help the players determine what, if any, changes in technique and equipment might help them in the coming season.
Last January, for example, Karrie Webb changed to a crosshanded putting grip after data gathered at the Titleist center in Oceanside convinced her that she produced a truer roll by going left hand low. The result? Webb jumped to 30th from 49th in putting this season, won six tournaments and was the player of the year.
Jim Colbert had a similar experience. He won more than $1 million on the Senior tour in 1994 but was dissatisfied with his driving. A launch monitor at the Callaway test center in Carlsbad showed that the reason his tee shots tended to be short, ballooning fades with no roll was that they were starting too low and had too much backspin. Colbert switched to a driver with a softer shaft and moved the ball forward in his stance, attaining a higher launch angle and lower spin rate. With an extra 15 yards and better control in the wind, he became the tour's player of the year in '95. The players' goal is optimization, that is, identifying equipment that is best suited to them. For tee shots a typical pro looks for a clubhead, shaft and ball that, when combined with his or her swing, will produce a launch angle of about 12 degrees and a spin rate of less than 3,000 rpm. ( Tiger Woods has the most efficient driver numbers Titleist has recorded: a launch angle of 125 degrees and spin rate of 2,200 rpm, achieved with a clubhead speed of more than 120 mph.)
"All these things used to be a guessing game," says Peter Jacobsen. "Most of us used shafts that were too stiff and launched our drives too low, just like amateurs. I doubt that anyone on Tour guesses today."
Double-talk on Golf's Rules
The USGA, having limited the so-called springlike effect in golf clubs, is looking at ways to counter technological advances in golf balls, and the result could be one ball for pros and another for amateurs. In San Francisco next month the USGA, under new president Trey Holland, holds its annual meeting. At that session approval is expected for a new method of measuring the distance a ball travels, tightening the specifications for approval. Some manufacturers are already threatening legal action.
At least one equipment maker, however, is pushing for a compromise in which there would be two standards—a stricter one for the pros and no change for everyone else. "Why change the standards for everyone when new clubs and balls are making the game more enjoyable?" says Ely Callaway, a proponent of a two-tiered system.
One of the sacred tenets of golf is that everyone plays under the same rules, and one of golf's conceits is that on occasion an amateur can hit a shot as well as a pro. Nevertheless, former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman also advocates two tiers. "The idea that one set of rules is the Holy Grail has blinded a lot of people about what's best for the game," he says. In his opinion amateurs and pros already play under different rules. Beman cites the one-ball rule used by the Tour (and the USGA for top amateur events), which requires a pro to play the same brand and model of ball throughout a round. Weekend players aren't subject to this rule.
The USGA is aware of these arguments as it tries to legislate players like Tiger Woods into having to hit more club. "A two-tiered system is the ultimate fallback position," says one USGA insider. "Yes, it would bifurcate the game, but that might have to happen to save the game."