Tuesday of Open Championship week at Royal Portrush, the R&A randomly selected 30 drivers from players’ bags to test for conformity. One driver of the bunch was deemed nonconforming, or illegal. That driver was a Callaway Epic Flash, and that driver belonged to Xander Schauffele.
C.O.R. stands for Coefficient of Restitution. The new term is C.T., or characteristic time. Both relate to the name of the process in which drivers and other clubs are tested for conformity. The test is done by swinging a small steel ball on a pendulum apparatus into the clubface and measuring how many microseconds the ball remains in contact with the clubface.255 ct is the legal limit for all drivers in play at USGA, R&A, and PGA sanctioned events. Xander’s driver tested at 258ct, however Callaway claims it was at 255 when they tested it before it entered his bag some months ago.
How does this happen, who’s at fault, and what would a club like that do for the average player? The first question has a few answers. Every time a brand designs a new club it is submitted for testing before it can be released or launched to the market for sale, or before it can find its way into the best players’ bags. A sample number of clubs is tested, and if deemed within the legal limits, it is now up to the manufacturer to mass produce the club under the same parameters. So, when you walk into Golf Headquarters and see a rack of 30 Callaway drivers, know that probably none of them have been tested, but trusted that they are all on the legal spectrum.
The claim with these ultra-hot, thin-faced, titanium drivers that after a few years and a lot of balls and rounds played, they would lose their pop or become dead. Now players and manufacturers alike are saying the faces become even thinner and hotter over time, and the C.T. reading can change. Brandt Snedeker claims that his driver was tested back in January and it has increased by 8 points since then. That’s certainly not his fault, nor was this occurrence at the Open Xander’s fault. He wasn’t trying to cheat. How much of a difference would it make being at 258 instead of 255 anyways? For the world’s best players with 115 mph club head speed, 170 mph ball speed, and who hit it in the center every time? That could be 10 yards or more. For the average player who swings in the mid 90’s and doesn’t have a consistent strike? The difference would probably be unnoticeable.
In the early 2000’s Callaway actually introduced a nonconforming club to the market, on purpose. The ERC II was the illegal counterpart to the VFT, Callaway’s first driver boasting variable face thickness. This was 2001 when the testing format was COR. Legal COR was .830. The ERC tested at .860. Arnold Palmer took a lot of heat for promoting such a club for the masses and every day amateurs. But it ultimately didn’t rate nor test that much farther when it came to distance, so it’s time on the consumer rack was short-lived.
With all this being said, it comes down to Callaway being at fault for allowing one of their flagship staff players to enter a major with such a club, and take all the heat that came with it. Callaway did take full responsibility and vowed to test their player’s clubs at every tour stop; and why not? It doesn’t take very long and the tour trailer is at every event. When Xander first tested the driver months ago there is a very good chance he hit it farther and straighter than his current model. That is expected when we try the latest and greatest clubs from each brand, and we aren’t really to think “hey, this club might be illegal.” We trust the manufacturer to be honest and not let a club sneak under the radar and onto a truck headed to your local pro shop. But it happens, and if you get to wield that illegal beast in your league or at your member-guest, by all means give it hell. But I just don’t think you’ll see 20 yards of difference between a conforming and nonconforming model. What will get you 20 more yards is getting fit and dialing in the right combination of loft, spin, and the proper shaft.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Written by Seth Zipay
Published by Craig Walton