The USGA’s Decision To Divorce Us Occurred January 1, 2022
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to only discuss clubheads. For many years the USGA (United States Golf Association) has governed all aspects of the game of golf. For the record, this article isn’t about the USGA. It is only for a point of reference. Long Drive was part of their governance until January 1, 2022 when they decided it would no longer be considered as part of their purview. For the record, This writer was against that decision and lobbied hard to keep our sport under USGA governance.
Up until January 2022 Long Drive organizations, suppliers, and players rightfully used USGA guidelines to determine if equipment being used should be considered legal. Some (possibly most) still do. “Conforming” simply means the USGA has approved the equipment for use in the sport of golf. For a clubhead (for example) to be listed as conforming, a manufacturer had to ship a sample to the USGA and get their blessing based on a set of guidelines (rules & specifications) that had been previously established.
How Long Does A Conforming Head Remain In Spec?
It is fact that most golf heads, after various levels of use, do not remain within the spec for which they were approved. This is true even at the PGA level. The number of strikes to bring the head out of spec depends on its construction and the swing/ball speed of the player using it. Some may remain in spec for 100+ strikes…some for <10.
The Long Drive Challenge
Long Drive brought a unique set of challenges to the USGA’s governance. Long drive athletes have progressively gotten stronger and faster. Many “conforming” heads could be within spec at check-in and out of spec after one round. Testing for conformity at an event is a significant challenge. When should they be tested? Before the competition, during, or after? It is fact that many would be disqualified if tested after competition.
As of this wiring, testing clubs at an event (or anywhere other than by a manufacturer) can only “legally” be done” by the USGA…according to the USGA. How that came about is yet another story, but not part of this article. If you are at an event, and someone is allegedly “testing” clubs, and it is NOT a USGA official, it is not a legal test and most likely is being done for other reasons.
- Should long drive organizations have the USGA test clubs prior to competition? An event organizer can (as of this writing) hire them to do so, It is an expensive and complex process.
- If clubs are not being tested at events (by the USGA) how, then, should their “conformance” be governed?
- Since Long Drive is no longer governed by the USGA, does what they (the USGA) consider conforming even apply to long drive organizations, suppliers, and players? The guidelines that were written for conformance are actually based on players swinging considerably slower than most long drivers anyway.
Fact. There are hundreds of long drive (initially USGA conforming) heads being face-shaved to increase performance. There are multiple “service providers” doing of the shaving. Some of their users will argue they’re being “minimally” shaved down to the exact allowable tolerance spec. Dialing them in…so to speak. Hmmm. I’m just guessing, but I doubt that is accurate in many situations. The first question that comes to my mind…who is “legally” testing them to ensure said tolerance?
Should Any Club Be Disallowed At A Competition?
Bottom line. There seems to be no possible way to govern the conformance of long drive heads without USGA (or some form of) testing before, during, and after completion of competition. USGA testing can’t logically solve the problem since many heads will be out of spec after a round of hitting. They would have to at least test all clubs before each round creating major scheduling issues. What’s the right answer to this situation? Should any club be allowed? Should any club be disallowed? Or, should we just go on pretending to govern equipment while some of those involved in the sport are blatantly creating and using heads that would not pass testing.
Until there’s an alternative and universally accepted way to test clubheads, we’re just pretending to use USGA conforming heads. What are we achieving? Are we just creating a deterrent for some while others do what they please? It should be noted that USGA approval is a significant cost to manufacturers. Eliminating that step would save them money. Right now hitters are paying to have heads shaved…heads that break more frequently. We’re creating expense associated with a rule that (realistically) cannot be enforced. Would eliminating the USGA conforming rule from our sport end up saving everyone money? I think so.