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|Storm signals have been flying since the R&A decided not to test the new "hot" drivers. (Courtesy photo)|
The game's movers and shakers, who have been waiting for the second shoe to drop in the rift between the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient, are pointing to two significant personnel changes as a clue to what's coming next.
The resignation of Frank Thomas, the USGA's technical director for the past 26 years, shortly after the R&A announced it would not join with the Association in banning the thin-faced driver, started immediate speculation. And when this was followed quickly by word that O. Gordon Brewer, Jr. was stepping down as chairman of the Association's Ball and Implements Committee, it tended to firm up fears that there was a rocky road ahead.
Some of the bumps in the road might include a legal test of the USGA's ban on the controversial clubs, launched by one or more of the equipment manufacturers. Or it could be an embarrassing retreat by the Association from its firm stand against the threat of the technological advancements.
Storm signals have been flying since the R&A decided not to test the so-called spring-like, or trampoline effect of the new "hot" drivers. The Brits claimed the drivers did not pose a threat to the game.
The schism stunned the Association - understandably. For years it had held hands with the R&A to amicably set the standards for the game the world over, and the sudden split was interpreted by some as an indication of the Brits' willingness to bow to the equipment makers and give technology an encouraging green light.
As for the departure of Thomas and Brewer from their key posts, some write it off as a coincidence, totally unrelated to the R&A split. Thomas decided to leave, insiders say, when the Association brought in Dick Rugge as its senior technical director last May. That made him Thomas' boss. Since Thomas had essentially created the Research and Test Center for the USGA, and had established the procedures for measuring performance of balls and clubs, including the test for spring-like effect in drivers, he took it as something less than an endorsement of his 26-year effort for the Association.
On the other hand, there's evidence that Rugge's arrival could mark a radical change in the USGA's rigid approach to the testing of equipment and ball design, and a better line of communications with the golf industry itself. Rugge, for one thing, is one of "them," an engineer who headed up Taylor Made Golf's research and development for 11 years. He is personable and good on his feet, a fine choice for bearing a peace offering to the golf industry, some predict.
Brewer's departure from the I&B committee, slated for the end of the year, is tied essentially to his ascension to the presidency of the fabled Pine Valley Club, where he has been a member for 30 years. Observers say it's nothing more than that.
The doomsayers, however, point to Brewer's rumored replacement, Walter W. Driver, Jr., as strong evidence that the USGA sees a court date in the future. Driver, the Association's former legal counsel, is the managing partner for a prominent, Atlanta-based law firm and could be a steady hand on the helm if troubled waters are encountered.
Two years ago, when the USGA was getting ready to put its test for the spring-like effect in place, "Buzz" Taylor, the Association's president at the time, rocked the equipment makers with a defiant proclamation. The USGA's very existence, he fired, was the "preserve and protect the game's honorable traditions," and he then added, "there's not a lawyer in the world who is going to get in our way of doing that."
Trey Holland, the current USGA headman, takes a softer stance than his predecessor, and there are indications that the key changes in his lineup will have a calming effect on the explosive situation. He claims that communications is the key.
"We have to prove to the world that what we are doing is the right thing," he emphasizes.
There's the scenario. Stay tuned.
With David Duval showing a remarkable return to winning form after seven weeks flat on his back, the field in the upcoming World Cup of Golf might be ready to surrender to the U.S. right now. Due for early December in Buenos Aires, Duval will team with Tiger Woods, and inasmuch as they have occupied the top spots in the world rankings for much of the past two years, who would blame the field if they asked for strokes.
Plagued by back problems in recent months, Duval returned to action to beat a standout field in the Buick Classic over the Callaway Gardens course in early October. And some say they even saw him smiling a few times.
The best-looking commentator on TV golf this year, and a superb addition to the field, is Laura Baugh. And she deserves not a loving cup, but some kind of more meaningful award for her courage. Now 45 and the mother of seven, yes, seven, the blond and still beautiful Laura had to overcome a persistent alcohol problem before she finally got her life in order. And now she's launched into a brand-new career.
The Golf Channel put her in front of the camera this year and she is a pleasant addition to its LPGA Tour coverage. Glib and personable, and, of course, totally knowledgeable on the ways of the tour player, Laura is a refreshing change from the commentators who all too often sound like instructors on the lesson tee.
The blue-eyed Floridian was the youngest to win the U.S. Women's Amateur at 16, and she then ran up a long string of other titles, as well as earning places on the U.S. Curtis Cup and the U.S. World Amateur teams the following year. She qualified for the LPGA Tour at 17, but had to wait until her next candle on the cake before she could play. And, once more, she was the youngest.
She came this close to winning her first start as a pro, finishing in a tie for second. But her picture made more newspapers than the winner's.
Incidentally, second place was the best Laura could do on the LPGA Tour, finishing there ten times. She married South African Bobby Coles, who played on the PGA Tour, and after their first child arrived, she decided she was going to be a playing mom. Thereafter, her career was interrupted by her pregnancies - another six - and other distractions, and her game never did reach the promises flashed as a youngster.
Oddly enough, at one stage of her early pro career Laura was taking more money to the bank than the girl at the top of the prize money list. Advertisers pursued her, and then there was the phenomenon in Japan.
Playing in Japan during the huge golf boom that had exploded there, Laura quickly became the darling of the Japanese. Some say her almond-shaped eyes made her especially appealing to the Orientals. And Mark McCormack, her agent, pounced on the opportunity without missing a beat. He had Laura photographed like a movie star and some say the makeup man even used his eye pencil to enhance her eyes and further delight the Japanese. McCormack's IMG people flooded Japan with them, and the sales were incredible and lasted for several years. Laura's income soared, even though she didn't reach the winner's circle on the Tour.
But she seems to be a sure winner in her new TV gig.
(c) Copyright John M. Ross
October 13, 2000
By September, 72-hole stroke play tournaments are stale, writes Brandon Tucker, who suggests a new alternative to FedEx Cup events that takes a page from the FIFA World Cup. The idea blends the drama of match play with the necessity of stroke play to hold television viewership.
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