Non-conforming drivers are in the spotlight again after several more players were deemed to be using illegal equipment during the Safeway Open.
At the start of the new season, the PGA Tour informed players that 30 drivers at each tournament will be tested to ensure they are within the legal limits.
And, according to Reuters, Corey Conners, Robert Streb, Jason Dufner, Michael Thompson and Mark Hubbard were among the players whose drivers did not pass the test.
You might remember this all blew up during the Open in July, when the R&A found four non-conforming drivers during testing at Portrush – most publicly the Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero belonging to Xander Schauffele.
So what makes a driver non-conforming or, in layman’s terms, illegal?
The Rules of Golf state that if the ‘characteristic time’ value at the centre of the clubface is greater than 239 (plus 18 tolerance) then the club is non-conforming. This then becomes 257 (plus 18 tolerance) outside the impact area.
So during testing, which is carried out with a pendulum-like device calibrated by the USGA, the time the golf ball and driver face are in contact is measured in microseconds to give a characteristic time, or CT, value.
Schauffele got a lot of unwanted attention after it was revealed his driver was one of the four that failed the R&A’s testing. And it’s safe to say he wasn’t happy…
“To my best belief, I was playing a conforming driver. Our job as players is to show up to tournaments, put on a show for the R&A and for the Tour and to handle our business. It’s not to make sure our stuff is conforming.
“To make it fair they should test everybody. Other drivers failed. This matter should be private. But the R&A didn’t do their job in keeping it private. So I don’t feel like I should – I can tell you right now what happened or what I know.
“It is an unsettling topic. I’ve been called a cheater by my fellow opponents. It’s all joking, but when someone yells ‘cheater’ in front of 200 people, to me it’s not going to go down very well.”
But was he right to be so upset?
Well, of course no one wants to be accused of being a cheat, joking or otherwise, but having equipment which is conforming is a rule. If you break any other rule of our game you are penalised, fined, or even suspended. So why when it comes to equipment do players feel it is not their fault?
I’m not saying brands have no responsibility. But if you are going out on the course and compete you are responsible for adhering to the Rules of Golf, whatever aspect of the rules that is.
So to what extend should brands be responsible for their players competing with conforming equipment?
Clearly they have to provide you with equipment that is legal at the point of purchase. But also to provide some literature educating players on the fact that the legality of equipment changes over time.
Over time as a driver is used the face gets worn, reducing the thickness of the club. This makes the face spring more than it would at point of sale, increasing CT time. This leads to increased ball speed and distance which provides an unfair advantage, hence why it is non-conforming. This is something many golfers, especially amateurs aren’t aware of.
But the manufacturer don’t necessarily know how often a driver has been used once it has left the tour truck. One players practice routine may mean their driver wears out twice as quick as another. How are companies supposed to know these intricacies?
If they are providing a facility where a certain amount of times a year there are opportunities for players to test equipment, then it should be on the players themselves to ensure their kit is conforming.