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Test question: What does a coefficient of restitution mean to you? No, it's not a legal term that defines restitution to the victim in a criminal case, or money to the aggrieved party in a divorce case. It's a mechanical principle that in golf terms refers to the spring-like effect that occurs when the face of a golf club hits a golf ball. It's also damn confusing.

It has caused no end of problems in the rarefied world of professional golf, because players competing under U.S. Golf Association rules could use a driver with a coefficient of restitution of up to 0.83. Golfers competing under Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews rules could use a driver with a COR of up to whatever. The Royal & Ancient imposed no limit.

The variations in the COR rule are about to end, though. The USGA and the Royal & Ancient agreed this week to apply the same standards to drivers. The standard will take effect from Jan. 1, 2003, through the end of 2007. The COR limit will be 0.86, which means the USGA is upping its limit, while the Royal & Ancient will be introducing one for the first time.

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Starting Jan. 1, 2008, though, the rules for both organizations -- which means around the world -- will reduce the acceptable COR to 0.83, the current USGA limit. The effect of all of this is at least that the USGA and R&A are operating together on the rule and taking a step to control how far a golf ball is going.

There's more to consider. There's such a thing as a condition of competition, which usually applies to events for top golfers. So it is that a condition of competition will be introduced from Jan. 1, 2003, through the end of 2007 that will allow a tournament committee to set the COR limit at 0.83. The British and U.S. Opens will use this limit, starting at their 2003 Opens.

The USGA and Royal & Ancient are also recommending that the major professional tours use the 0.83 limit for their tournaments. The driver that a tour pro uses won't be allowed as much spring-like effect as the club golfer's driver.

All of this is probably too little, too late. The PGA Tour should have acted long ago, but it's always relied on the USGA's rules. The PGA Tour didn't want to take action when players started hitting the ball miles with metal woods, or when the golf ball started to go so far for the tour pros in the past five years or so.

It's not being a Luddite to suggest that PGA Tour golf was more interesting when players had to hit a greater variety of shots. Nick Faldo has said that the long iron shot has all but disappeared from golf because players hit their drives so far.

Players don't have to be the shotmakers they once were required to be. Maybe the sand wedge shouldn't have been introduced years ago; yeah, yeah, a ridiculous assertion. But the sand is so consistent today in bunkers and the sand wedge so tailored to the shot that it's become routine to get up and down from a bunker.

It's not only the equipment that has made PGA Tour golf, except in harsh conditions or on severe courses, less challenging. The tour should never have allowed players to adopt the belly putters seen everywhere today. Tom Watson has often said that it's not a stroke of golf when a player is allowed to rest the grip end of the putter against his chest and employ a lever-type movement.

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Now, I know I'll get whacked by e-mail from irate readers for even suggesting that the PGA Tour has been lax in controlling equipment, or for arguing that the tour pros benefit most from technology or that limits should be placed on equipment. I use modern equipment -- for the most part. I am back to forged blades just now in my irons, though -- for the fun of it and the feel of it.

The point is that golf's biggest tour lost control of the game by not making its own equipment rules. COR is one thing, but it's not core, as in core values. A core value of the game is that the best players should have to hit as great a variety of shots as possible in the course of every round. That doesn't happen often enough any more. rube@sympatico.ca

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