Saturday, January 26, 2013

Get Ready for Pro Shops Filled with Non-Conforming Equipment

Some comments recently made by TaylorMade-Adidas Golf's CEO are causing a bit of a stir in golf. The comments by Mark King came in an interview with Rick Young of Score Golf, and you can boil down King's comments to this: The USGA is counterproductive to the growth of golf, someone else needs to come along and knock the USGA off its perch, and we're reaching the point where we might just start ignoring the USGA.

King is mad about the proposed ban on anchoring putters, and he's mad that TaylorMade might lose money because of that ban. Long putters and belly putters are growth items in the golf club market. No company that currently makes them wants to stop making them.

And King says TaylorMade won't stop making them, no matter what the USGA says:

“What we’re (TMaG) going to do whether there is bifurcation or not is we will continue to make long putters for golfers. If they roll the ball back we're not going to roll our ball back. We will for a tournament ball but we’re still going to sell you a ball you can play. Like I said, two sets of rules are coming. Whether they're sanctioned or not we are not going to stop making long putters and I'm not going to stop playing one. I won't.

King flat out predicts the death of the USGA as one of golf's governing bodies. Within 10 years. You can read analysis of his remarks by Geoff Shackelford, and more from About.com.

But when I read King's remarks, here's what I picture: Future pro shops stocked with major-brand equipment that is non-conforming.

Up to this point, having a golf club or golf ball ruled non-conforming by the USGA/R&A has tended to be the death knell for said club. Major brands - the TaylorMades, Pings, Titleists, Callaways, etc. - don't market non-conforming equipment. They abide by the USGA/R&A rulings.

If such a company submits a club for approval and the conclusion "non-conforming" comes back from the USGA, the company tweaks the club until it conforms.

Now, golf has always had non-conforming clubs available to golfers for purchase - 600cc drivers, balls "too hot for the USGA!" But you rarely see those items in pro shops. Generally, you have to seek out those clubs. They are made by little, niche companies, or by clone companies, and you have to search the Internet or the little display ads in backs of magazines to find them.

A major brand in the golf manufacturing business wouldn't sully its reputation by marketing a non-conforming club or ball.

But TaylorMade's King says the proposed anchoring ban will change that. Long putters won't disappear from pro shops, no matter what the USGA says.

And that's all it's going to take - one major brand continuing to market a single non-conforming golf club - to open the floodgates.

Fact is, golf companies could flood pro shops within a matter of weeks with golf balls that fly 50 yards farther, or that kill a slice or hook; and with drivers that smash through every USGA/R&A barrier against ball speed and COR and MOI and characteristic time.

The only thing stopping them from going so is their decision to grant the USGA and R&A regulatory power - and an aversion to being labeled non-conforming.

Both those walls are breaking. King's comments make that clear. The only question now is not if golf clubs companies start selling super-hot balls and clubs to weekend hackers - ignoring the USGA and R&A rulings - but when. If the USGA carries through with a ban on anchoring, one of the unintended consequences will be pro shop aisles stocked with non-conforming equipment.

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