The USGA won't start a war over high-tech equipment
For drama, it rivaled the opening of Al Capone's vault. That was
empty, too. At a press conference before the U.S. Open, the
USGA's top officials scotched weeks of speculation about the
game's immediate future. Rather than outlawing titanium drivers,
as many had feared they would, the rule makers gave Big Bertha
Before a hushed crowd of reporters--plus a curious John
Daly--USGA executive director David Fay read a statement
promising that the association will design a test to define the
"effect at impact of a spring" prohibited by Rule 4.1(e). "Until
now, it has just been a clause, a phrase," Fay admitted, noting
that every club from Bobby Jones's driver to Daly's Biggest Big
Bertha deforms and rebounds somewhat, technically violating the
rule. In coming months the association will decide precisely how
much spring, if any, will be allowed in new clubs. Fay said the
standard, which will become part of the USGA's conformance tests
for new equipment, will be determined with help from equipment
The primary consequence of the USGA position is that it has no
consequence in the marketplace. "We do not believe that the
springlike effect in clubs presently in use has lessened the
skill required to play the game," said Fay. "We are not
uncomfortable with what we see in the market today. The concern
is what is around the corner."
That view is far milder than the recent rhetoric of USGA
president F. Morgan (Buzz) Taylor, who seemed to be an enemy of
high-tech clubs. Callaway, Karsten Manufacturing and Titleist
had taken out magazine and newspaper ads assailing the
association and threatening to sue if their clubs were outlawed.
Players including Daly and Tiger Woods, who began using a
graphite-shafted driver this month, anticipated fireworks. "I
don't see how they can ban them, because people are making so
much money off titanium drivers and graphite shafts," Woods
said. "These companies are not going to stand for it." At the
press conference Fay said the uproar had been based on
"exaggerations...a rush to judgment." Asked if he was making
peace with manufacturers, he said, "I didn't know we were at war."
Clubmakers suddenly breathed more easily. "We were scared"
before the announcement, said John Solheim, president of
Karsten, which makes Ping clubs. "We were in the dark, but the
signals we were getting had us all worried."
Did the USGA back down, fearing legal retaliation by equipment
manufacturers? Fay said no. "That doesn't influence how we go
about doing our business," he insisted. Industry types, perhaps
with one eye on the tests to be performed this fall, resisted
the urge to gloat. "What happened today is good for golf," said
lawyer Leonard Decof, who helped Karsten beat the PGA Tour in a
multimillion-dollar lawsuit over square grooves and recently
signed on with Callaway, the firm whose founder came closest to
crowing last week.
"Some members of the USGA seem to think that golf is their game,
but calmer heads and wisdom prevailed," said Ely Callaway. "We
are happy that the USGA listened, and learned."
If the association sprang forward to challenge wealthy Callaway
and other clubmakers only to fall back to the status quo last
week, at least it finished in the right place. Wednesday's
announcement was vintage USGA: methodical,
public-relations-challenged, but in the end, sensible.
In a city where everything is political, two politicos agreed on
something important last week. "The U.S. Open is wonderful,"
said Mayor Willie Brown. "It's a $150 million boon to San
Francisco. Being the center of golf worldwide for a week--that
can't hurt." Resplendent as usual in an Italian suit and
100-watt smile, Brown rapped out opinions like the balls he hits
at a Bayside double-decker driving range. "I'm a Tiger Woods
fan," he said. "Tiger has done for golf what Michael Jordan did
for basketball. Casey Martin? He should not have had to sue.
That's an archaic rule, and I'm glad he won."
Pausing for a dab of makeup atop his bald head--he had a CNBC
interview to do--Brown said he plans to bring more pro golf to
town. "We want to host an LPGA event, and to get more of the
major men's tournaments in the near future. Part of that future
may involve increased corporate sponsorship. I can imagine one
day hosting the Transamerica U.S. Open."
In a room next door, prepping for his own CNBC chat, stood
Oakland's mayor-elect, Jerry Brown. "Brown lite," the San
Francisco mayor calls him. One might expect the noted Buddhist
and anticapitalist to detest an elitist event such as the U.S.
Open, but as a former golfer for San Francisco's St. Ignatius
high school, he was fired up about the tournament. "It's a fun
thing for the people to go out and see," he said.
Should Oakland host an Open? "Yes. The weather's better."
On their way out, the two men nearly collided. They shook hands
as W. Brown said, "What is this bulls--- you've been saying
about San Francisco having a duty to help Oakland?"
"Now that you mention it," said J. Brown, "that's a good idea."
The Shag Bag
Casey's Driving: The longest drive measured at the U.S. Open, a
373-yarder at the Olympic Club's 437-yard par-4 6th hole, was by
Casey Martin (below). He ended the Open with a 291.3-yard
average, second only to John Daly's 295.6, and by finishing 23rd
made $34,043, more than half his Nike tour earnings for the
Double the Bet: Jack Nicklaus won a $15 bet with Arnold Palmer
during a practice round for the 1962 Open. In practice last week
Martin's birdie at the 18th hole beat Tiger Woods out of $30.
"And he will pay it," Martin said.
Royal Flush: Inspired, perhaps, by the million-dollar bathrooms
unveiled at this year's Masters, the USGA rolled out its own
posh privies at the Open. Air-conditioned rest rooms for guests
in the $135,000-per-tent Olympic Village featured brass
washbasins, gilt-framed Renoir prints, electric shoe-polishers,
complimentary body lotion and Rainforest Mint mouthwash.
Open Scopin': Souvenirs ranged from $2 ball markers to $275
portraits of the course, but the hottest items in the
merchandise tent were the $12 Beanie Baby-style teddy bears
stamped with the Open logo. All 1,000 were gone three days
before play began. The best-connected salesman in the tent was
Phil Mickelson Sr., 62, the golfer's dad. He was selling deluxe
$59 periscopes called Sportscopes. "One guy told me he'd use his
to watch his neighbor walk around without her clothes on," said
Rotary Club: Private jets are passe. Nick Price has joined Greg
Norman, Arnold Palmer and others who helicopter to and from
their golf outings. Price recently bought a Bell 407 chopper
from Bell Textron Inc.
Foul-Weather Friendly's: While the world watched the men in San
Francisco, the LPGA staged a wet Friendly's Classic in Agawam,
Mass., where Amy Fruhwirth scored a two-shot win over Charlotta
Sorenstam and Kim Saiki. Sorenstam revealed that a sponsor's
exemption to the 1996 Friendly's had saved her life. She was
ticketed on TWA Flight 800, which crashed off Long Island,
killing all 230 aboard, until a last-minute invitation from the
Friendly's changed her plans.
Bowing Out: Missie Berteotti and Jill Briles-Hinton are so close
that Briles-Hinton's two-year-old son, Robert, is nicknamed Bert
in tribute to Berteotti. Still, Briles-Hinton eliminated her pal
on the seventh playoff hole in qualifying for the U.S. Women's
Open last week at Blue Hill Country Club in Canton, Mass. "The
Open will be my last tournament," said Briles-Hinton, who is
leaving the LPGA tour to coach the women's team at Florida. The
job will give her more time with Bert, who suffers from epilepsy
(GOLF PLUS, June 22).
Laughing Grass: Descriptions of the rough at Olympic sounded
like a casting call for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Tom
Watson called it "clingy," Tiger Woods "clumpy," club
superintendent John Fleming "snarly" and Johnny Miller "tangly."
The stuff made everybody grumpy. "I don't think it's proper,"
said Tim Moraghan of the USGA, "when it begins to make fun of
the best players in the universe."
Eastwood, Westwood or Lewinsky?
Match the quote to the speaker at last week's U.S. Open.
1. "Gary Player said I'd benefit from losing a few pounds."
a) Ernie Els d) Fluff Cowan
b) Lee Westwood e) Oprah Winfrey
c) John Daly
2. "I am not going to name names.... They didn't go out of their
way to say hi, but they didn't sneer at me, either. I'm trying
not to get caught up in who said what, who is for me and who's
a) Monica Lewinsky d) Casey Martin
b) Ely Callaway e) F. Morgan (Buzz) Taylor
c) Lee Janzen
3. "Beware of injured golfers."
a) Casey Martin d) Davis Love III
b) Brandel Chamblee e) Ernie Els
c) Greg Norman
4. "Where do you draw the line? Do you have 510-, 515-yard
par-4s? You have to understand, not everybody hits it 320 yards.
You want the entire field to have an opportunity to win the
a) USGA official Tim Moraghan d) Corey Pavin
b) Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein e) Tiger Woods
c) PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem
5. "You can flop it up there and look like a hero, but it is all
a) Tiger Woods d) Ed Wood
b) Clint Eastwood e) Payne Stewart
c) Lee Westwood
Answers: 1-b, 2-d, 3-e, 4-a, 5-a.
Braddo vs. The Dirty Dozen
As Gregg Bradford, a 12-handicapper, pursues his quest to make
the PGA Tour before the millennium (SCORECARD, Nov. 17), he
grows more determined to prune those dozen shots from his game.
The Californian is the star of golf's Truman Show. Since
November, Bradford has allowed documentary filmmaker John
Paterson to record his every move as he gets intensive teaching
from David Leadbetter Academy swing gurus. So intent on
improvement is Braddo, as friends and fans call him, that he
resisted de-rangement during a recent sandstorm. "You couldn't
even see him from the shop," says Stephen Adamcik, an assistant
pro at Desert Willow Resort in Palm Desert, Calif. This week
Bradford hits Chicago for the opening of another Leadbetter
school--and more work on a swing that produced an 83 in a recent
Golden Gate Tour event, his first pro tournament.
The Golfer Who Whacked People
Vincent Gebhardi, alias Machine Gun Jack McGurn, played through
the coppers during the 1933 Western Open. Gebhardi, a mob hit
man who was said to have helped gun down seven of Al Capone's
enemies in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, was the
FBI's Public Enemy No. 5. He was also a golf pro. In '33 he was
arrested during play at the 7th hole of the Olympia Fields
Country Club, but Chicago police lieutenant Frank McGillen
agreed to let him finish his round. Machine Gun misfired at the
8th hole, taking an 11 that massacred his score. Still he played
on, only to be taken into custody at the end of his round. The
charges against him didn't stick, however, and Gebhardi was
released. He could celebrate his freedom but not his score--his
83-86 missed the cut by 14 strokes.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Endangered Golfers worried that the USGA might ban today's hot drivers. [Bundle of drivers]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BURGESS (2) [Casey Martin in golf cart]
What do these players have in common?
Fetchick (at age 63), Powell (61) and Crampton (61) were the
oldest to win a Senior event. Now 75, Fetchick was 77th behind
winner Brian Barnes at last week's Canada Senior Open.