Golf Buzz

January 31, 2013 - 11:32pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver
Courtesy of Callaway Golf
Callaway debuted the RAZR Fit Xtreme driver in late November, billing it as the longest fully adjustable driver the company has ever measured.

Phil Mickelson came within a whisker of shooting a 59 on Thursday in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a score even more impressive because it was the first competitive round he played with a new Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver in his bag.

Mickelson carded 11 birdies to no bogeys in his 60, and hit 16 of 18 greens on the day. He shot a 7-under 29 on his first nine (the back nine at TPC Scottsdale) before cooling off a bit on the back.

''I finally gave our new RAZR Fit Xtreme a chance,'' Mickelson said after his round. ''And I tell you what, on Tuesday, when I hit it, I kept looking up and I was almost in disbelief at how easy it was, how straight it was, and the misses weren't bad. I put it into play in the pro-am yesterday and I hit it great.

''I drove it phenomenal, and felt really good with it,'' he added. ''And the thing that's so great about it is I can make the same swing with my irons as I do with my driver and the ball goes very straight and easy. … So that was the big thing. I drove the ball much better here.''

Callaway debuted the RAZR Fit Xtreme driver in late November, billing it as the longest fully adjustable driver the company has ever measured, and it is now available at retail. The Xtreme is the second adjustable driver Callaway has developed in the past year or so, following the original RAZR Fit Driver, and company officials say this one advances distance and overall performance over its predecessor.

Speed Frame Face Technology is the headliner of the technological advances in the RAZR Fit Xtreme. It combines Callaway's Variable Face Technology and Hyperbolic Face Technology to enhance the stress distribution across the club's titanium face for more efficient energy transfer from clubhead to ball. It also makes for a larger, more consistent sweet spot and increased ball speed, even on off-center contact.

The Speed Frame Face also saves weight that is then redistributed in the clubhead to improve the Center of Gravity and maximize Moment of Inertia, which leads to improved ball flight, stability and forgiveness. In addition, the face features a tighter bulge radius than the original RAZR Fit Driver for a more preferred look at address, along with more consistent sidespin and dispersion.

The driver's crown features Forged Composite – an advanced carbon fiber material that Callaway has been working with for more than four years. Using this patented, lightweight material, which weighs only 12.1 grams – and gives the RAZR Fit Xtreme the lightest crown in golf – allows Callaway engineers to precisely position saved weight to achieve the lowest Center of Gravity in any fully adjustable driver. This promotes higher ball speed and less spin off the tee for more distance.

Two OptiFit Technology elements make up the RAZR Fit Xtreme's improved adjustability: the OptiFit Hosel and OptiFit Weights. The hosel adjusts the face angle to Open, Square or Closed positions to improve accuracy and trajectory while allowing golfers to dial in their preferred look at address. The 13- and 1-gram OptiFit Weights shift the clubhead's Center of Gravity to promote noticeable Draw or Neutral ball flights. The higher lofts have more draw bias than lower lofts.

And speaking of lofts, the RAZR Fit Xtreme comes in more lofts that incorporate a greater range of face angle options, Center of Gravity bias options and CG height differences than the RAZR Fit Driver. Callaway has optimized the performance in each loft to suit the needs of the players that will use it. For example, they said, the 8.5-, 9.5- and 10.5-degree clubheads are 440cc (versus 460cc for other lofts) and feature a more open face angle.

The RAZR Fit Xtreme features two tour-grade shafts as stock offerings. The primary shaft, the Aldila Trinity, combines Aldila's three patented design technologies (RIP, S-Core, Micro Laminate) into a single shaft design. A secondary offering, the Matrix 7M3 Black Tie, is a heavier, lower launching, lower spinning option for players who generate higher head speed and higher spin.

And for golfers wanting to personalize their clubs, Callaway's udesign option has been expanded for the RAZR Fit Xtreme. Both the crown and the sole of the clubhead are now separately customizable with eight different color choices. And for the first time, custom laser engraving will also be available on the sole.

January 31, 2013 - 2:04pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Wally Uihlein
Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein believes that adopting different equipment rules for professionals and amateurs wouldn't help grow the game.

Here in the Golf Buzz the other day, I posted an item in which TaylorMade CEO Mark King was quoted as predicting that bifurcation – separate equipment rules for tour pros and amateur players – is not only inevitable, but that it's also coming fast.

A few days before King made that statement, along with several other strong ones, another of golf's most powerful voices spoke out on the other side of the bifurcation issue. In a post on the Titleist tour blog, Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, who runs both Titleist and FootJoy, doesn't argue for or against the proposed anchor ban, but very thoughtfully presents his case for why golf's equipment rules (and all rules, really) should remain unified.

''There are two fundamental forces driving this progression to unification,'' Uihlein wrote. ''The first is the essence of the game; the emotional allure that compels golfers to play and experience the same course or shot as one of the game's greats, even if just to aspire.

''The second impetus is the dysfunction and instability caused by multiple sets of rules. Prior history of multiple sets of rules created widespread confusion and prompted the need for clarification and unification,'' he added. ''The fact remains that the game's growth, and its globalisation, are inextricably linked to the idea that golfers – of all skill levels – play the same game.''

Further down in his post, Uihlein delineates the three primary arguments that some give in support of bifurcation, then presents his opposing view to each point.

The first argument for bifurcation, Uihlein says, is that today's pro game doesn't mirror today's amateur game. That, he argues, is ''more a commentary on the skill of the professional golfer than amateurs' desire to play a different game.'' The relationship between the game's elite and the rest of us has always been part of golf's fabric, he says, and notes that ''today's amateur golfers maintain the same appetite to emulate the swings of of the world's greatest players.''

The second pro-bifurcation argument he cites is that adopting different rules would help to grow the game. That's a false assumption, Uihlein believes, because ''1990 to 2000 was the most innovative decade in the game's history, yet during this period, golf participation in the U.S. and Europe flatlined.'' The game's growth, he says, is more of a demographic issue – golf is a game of the middle class, he believes, and in the Western world, today's middle class is the same size as in the early 1990s.

The final argument in favor of bifurcation is that most golfers just play for fun, and that formalizing different sets of rules is just sanctioning what is already reality. Again, Uihlein, offers a counter-argument.

''If golfers don't play by the one set of rules that exist today, why are two sets of rules required?,” he asks. “If the argument is that golfers don't play by the rules and bifurcation will help grow the game, then how will two sets of rules contribute to additional participation? The logic is flawed.''

Uihlein also offers up a lot of historical perspective that is as enlightening as it is suportive of his core belief, which is that the globalization of golf – 55 million people play golf in more than 150 different countries these days – requires that the rules and requirements remain unified. And he closes with a 1927 quote from C.B. Macdonald, an early British Open champion and leading Rules official, who said:

“Golf is a world encircling game. One of its charms is that no matter where you go, whether America, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe or Scotland, the game is the same, with only such rules as are necessary to govern the local situation.”

Bifurcation is one of the most difficult questions facing golf today. You're obviously interested if you've read this far, so I encourage you to click on over and read Uihlein's piece from start to finish. I guarantee you'll learn something.

January 31, 2013 - 10:30am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Tim Finchem
Getty Images
Will PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem take action against Vijay Singh for his use of a banned substance?

In light of what's happened this week with World Golf Hall of Famer Vijay Singh admitting to the use of a banned substance in a Sports Illustrated article, GolfChannel.com has put together a helpful, informative timeline of the PGA Tour's drug-testing policy.

Late adopters of an anti-doping/drug-testing policy, the PGA Tour on July 1, 2008, officially began its testing at the AT&T National. The European Tour followed suit that same week at the European Open (Click here for a look at the PGA Tour's anti-doping policy).

When the testing began -- two weeks after the epic U.S. Open playoff between Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines -- Mediate did an interview with ESPN.com and called the new process, "the biggest joke in the history of the world."

Well, it's clearly a joke no longer.

It's not known what action -- if any -- the PGA Tour will take against Singh. At the time of this blog post, Singh was still scheduled to tee off in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. If he does in fact play, it will be interesting to see the reception he gets on the par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale -- the rowdiest in golf.

(UPDATE: SINGH HAS WITHDRAWN FROM THE WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN CITING A BACK INJURY)

Doug Barron, a journeyman in the professional golf ranks, was the first player suspended under the PGA Tour's anti-doping policy. He was suspended for one year after a random test at the St. Jude Classic in 2009, where he tested positive for high levels of testosterone.

Shortly after, Golf.com's Cameron Morfit wrote:

Barron was diagnosed in 1987 with mitral-valve prolapse, a heart murmur that led to tightness in his chest and made him feel like he was having a heart attack. Only 18, he was put on the beta-blocker Propranolol to treat the murmur and alleviate anxiety attacks brought on by the condition. He was diagnosed with low testosterone in 2005 and began taking testosterone injections.

While players can take banned substances if they are medically necessary, the Tour never granted Barron a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) for either drug.

Barron has since been granted the therapeutic-use exemption.

Time will tell what the fate of three-time major champion and former world No. 1 Singh will be.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tj_auclair.

January 31, 2013 - 9:59am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Kyle Stanley
Getty Images
Kyle Stanley is the defending champion of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Rob Goldberg, a featured columnsist for BleacherReport.com, put together a nice primer to get you prepared for the start of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which starts today at TPC Scottsdale.

Goldberg offers up some players to watch, highlights some notable tee times and predicts the winner.

Have a look for yourself at Goldberg's piece here.

January 30, 2013 - 2:29pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Earlier this afternoon, former Masters and PGA Champion Vijay Singh released the following statement regarding a Sports Illustrated article where he admitted taking a banned substance:

In light of the recent article on sportsillustrated.com, I want to issue the following statement:

"While I have used deer antler spray, at no time was I aware that it may contain a substance that is banned under the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Policy.  In fact, when I first received the product, I reviewed the list of ingredients and did not see any prohibited substances.  I am absolutely shocked that deer antler spray may contain a banned substance and am angry that I have put myself in this position.  I have been in contact with the PGA TOUR and am cooperating fully with their review of this matter.  I will not be commenting further at this time."

It was reported on Tuesday that Singh admitted taking a banned substance. Early Wednesday, David Epstein -- one of the writers of that Sports Illustrated article -- appeared on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" and said Singh may not have been aware that the product he was using was banned.

To read Tuesday's blog post on Singh, click here.

For Wednesday's post with Epstein's explanation, click here.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tj_auclair.

January 30, 2013 - 12:43pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Vijay Singh
Getty Images
In an interview on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive," Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein said that Vijay Singh may not have realized the substance he was taking was banned.

Following up on yesterday's blog post where we brought you the news about Vijay Singh admitting to the use of a banned substance in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, one of the authors of the story was on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" this morning and explained that Singh may not have been aware that the product was banned.

GolfChannel.com's Ryan Lavner posted a blog this morning explaining what was revealed in the Morning Drive interview with SI's David Epstein:

One of the authors of the explosive Sports Illustrated article that links several athletes to banned substances, including Vijay Singh, said Wednesday on "Morning Drive" that Singh was "pretty open" about his use of deer-antler spray and that the 49-year-old Hall of Famer may not have known that the product is on the PGA Tour’s banned-substances list.

David Epstein, a senior writer and investigative reporter for Sports Illustrated, said that he talked to Singh last week during an "extensive and specific" phone interview.

In the SI story, Singh reportedly paid one of S.W.A.T.S.' owners $9,000 last November for the spray, chips, beam ray and powder additive. He uses the spray "every couple of hours... every day," and "sleeps with the beam ray on and has put chips on his ankles, waist and shoulders."

To read Lavner's complete post, click here.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tj_auclair.