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Private Preview 2003: Dawg Gone

James Y. Bartlett

That giant whooshing sound you heard in August was the air being let out of the sackful of brand-new high-COR (coefficient of res- titution) drivers that were about to be launched on an American golfing public always eager to shell out $500 or more to get another five or 10 yards off the tee—until the United States Golf Association (USGA) suddenly reversed its position on COR in driver faces. Several years ago, the USGA became concerned about the so-called trampoline effect, which occurs, thanks to modern metallurgic advances, when a thin-faced titanium driver meets a hard golf ball. The USGA developed a measurement—by firing a golf ball at a stationary driver face at 100 mph and measuring the ball’s speed on the rebound—to determine the legal limit of springiness: .830 (or 83 mph).

The problem was that the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland (R&A), whose rules govern play everywhere in the world except the United States and Mexico, had no COR limitations. That august body was not convinced that the trampoline effect was an issue. In May, the USGA and the R&A proposed a plan to resolve the rule discrepancies: Beginning in January 2003, a new worldwide COR limit of .860 would go into effect for at least five years, after which the old .830 limit would be reestablished. Think of it as golf’s version of the estate tax law repeal.

However, after a public commentary period, both the USGA and the R&A determined these changes would be too confusing for golfers at every level. Instead, the USGA reaffirmed its previous COR limitation of .830, and the R&A agreed to enforce that rule, at least for all professional and major amateur competitions. (Ordinary hackers in Europe, South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia can continue to use any driver they want.)

This unexpected reversal means that 2003, which was shaping up
to become the Year of the Big Dawg, with manufacturers planning to produce a new generation of high-COR drivers, will be a little less exciting. Still, it’s not as if the USGA is forcing golfers to go back to persimmon heads and steel shafts. There will still be a number of high-power, high-tech driving clubs to choose from—and all will be perfectly legal.

Making Them Legal
TaylorMade took a big hit from the USGA ruling, because it had spent more than $1 million in advertising and even more in manufacturing to flood the market with its new R500 series of drivers, all with CORs higher than .830. At the same time, it slashed prices on the popular R300 series to clear out the inventory. The company says it will quickly conform the three varieties of R500 drivers to legal specifications. It’s worth noting that Ernie Els conquered the British Open at Muirfield in 2002 with one of the legal R500 drivers.

Big and Light Bertha
Callaway Golf started this whole controversy when it decided to sell its ERC II driver with a COR of .860 despite the USGA limitation. The company plans to offer a legal Big Bertha II driver, but the current legal headliner is the Big Bertha C4. The C4 stands for compression cured carbon composite, which means a clubhead made of virtually 100 percent graphite materials. It is super lightweight, which enables you to generate lots of speed and thus distance, and unlike all the other big-head titanium drivers, it doesn’t make that horrible clanking sound when it strikes the ball.

All the Rage
The Mizuno Blue Rage, a well-balanced driver available in 310 cc and 350 cc head sizes, is made with four chunks of light, forged titanium—in the face, the crown, the body, and even the neck. It swings like an angel.

Nike’s Forged Titanium is also known as Tiger’s Driver, because it is the club that the esteemed Mr. Woods (as well as David Duval) uses to knock awe-inspiring drives beyond the 300-yard marker with ease and without a high-COR springlike effect.

The 323 cc head of Ping’s TiSi Tec has a squarish profile—the top and sole are nearly parallel—specially milled titanium, and an unu-sual hosel attachment. Like the Nike and Mizuno models, it’s extremely light, making it easy to generate ball-crunching speed.

Titleist’s smaller (312 cc) 975J-VS and larger (350 cc) 975L-FE feature beta-titanium face inserts and the company’s traditional bulge-and-roll pear shape. Troglodytes who just switched over from persimmon won’t miss a beat with either of these.

Belly Up to the Green
It appears that belly putters have officially graduated from fad to trend. Vijay Singh has won a tournament with the gut-grabber, and everyone from Fred Couples to Colin Montgomerie to Rocco Mediate swear by them.

Putting, of course, is mostly about personal preference and whatever works best to get the ball into the hole, which is why Arnold Palmer has barrels of putters tucked away in the back room of his pro shop in Latrobe. These elongated wands may not work for everyone, but the the-ory behind them is sound. By anchoring the butt end of the putter in one’s belly, it becomes easier to create a flawless, pendulum-like stroke, which is what all the instructors preach. In addition, it seems easier to control the belly putter because both hands guide the stroke, unlike the 48- to 50-inch putters that require one hand to anchor them to the breastbone under one’s chin.

Is the belly better? One of the following versions might provide an answer.

The Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball from Callaway, a mallet-head putter, features two golf ball–size white disks that provide an alignment guide, an idea first floated by short-game guru Dave Pelz 30 years ago. The belly-length version has extra weight in the head.

The Bettinardi BB-50’s face-balanced, hand-milled head is almost a work of art. This long version of a popular model is center-shafted and heel-toe-weighted for better control.

Karsten Manufacturing, the makers of Ping equipment, first made a midsize belly putter in the 1960s for Phil Rodgers, a former tour player and short-game instructor for Jack Nicklaus. So when belly putters became hot, Karsten already had a pro-totype to work with. The Ping lil’b has a stainless steel, balanced head and a center shaft.

Dogleg Right, the maker of HOG drivers and putters, is an innovative company that also makes supercharged high-COR drivers. It is offering eight different belly putter models, ranging from flanged to mallet to traditional blade. Almost all have offset hosels.

Bettinardi, www.bettinardigolf.com
Callaway, www.callawaygolf.com
Dogleg Right, www.doglegright.com
Mizuno, www.mizuno.com
Nike, www.nike.com
Ping, www.pinggolf.com
TaylorMade, www.taylormadegolf.com
Titleist, www.titleist.com

Photo by Simon Clay/RM Auctions
Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
Photo by Bonhams
Photo by Daniel Simon