PHOENIX, Ariz. – John Solheim, the chairman and CEO of Ping Golf, wants to rate players' clubs and balls when calculating handicaps, just like courses are rated as part of the current system.
Ping announced Wednesday that Solheim has applied for a patent for a new system that would factor in equipment ratings when determining a player's handicap. The patent application will be published and made public on Thursday.
"The tone coming from the USGA and R&A in recent years suggests another significant equipment rollback may not be far away," Solheim said in the news release. "We've already seen it with the groove rule and the proposed rule banning anchoring. We continue to hear whispers of more changes. But … many directly involved in the game favor more equipment options, not fewer."
In other words, why ban clubs and techniques when you could instead account for the variety of clubs when determining handicaps? For example, shooting 80 with a persimmon driver and Condition of Competition wedges would do more to lower your handicap than shooting the same score on the same course with a 460-cc driver and square-grooved wedges. When players entered their scores, they'd enter their equipment information in addition to the course's slope and rating.
During an exclusive phone interview, Solheim said that manufacturers could, for example, fine-tune golf clubs for slower-swing players to help them perform better and enjoy the game more. Scores shot with these easier-to-hit clubs would then be adjusted to account for the advantage they provide.
"The drivers of today are tuned much more for the tour-level player," Solheim said. "If we build golf clubs for slow swingers so they could get the maximum distance, the tour players would break them quite quickly."
Solheim pointed to baseball, where amateurs use aluminum bats and professionals use wooden ones. He also noted the different types of squash balls, one for beginners and intermediates and another for more experienced players.
What about the allure of playing the same courses and equipment as the pros? For golfers who see that as part of the game's appeal, bifurcation – adopting different rules for the game's elite players and weekend amateurs – would be going against the spirit of golf.
Solheim doesn't like to use the word "bifurcation," but his position on the topic is very clear. "I'm for one set of rules, if they can write the rules to give players more options through the handicap system," he said.
Solheim says a major goal of the patent is to help create a dialogue and get people talking about how to draw more interest in the game. He was not pleased when the USGA and the R&A recently announced the proposed ban on anchored putting methods.
"It was just sad, because I know an awful lot of people that anchor the club, and it's helped them enjoy the game more," he said on the phone. "It also means that they don't stand over a putt because they are afraid they are going to yip it. It's sad that [the USGA and R&A] would take that away from so many people."
Ping and Solheim are no strangers to being at the heart of equipment-related stories that have riled golf purists.
In December 2011, after the average driving distance ended above 290 yards for the first time in PGA Tour history, Solheim feared that the USGA and the R&A might change the rules of golf. He proposed "replacing today's single golf ball distance limit with three different 'Ball Distance Ratings.' One that is the same as today's limit, one that is shorter and one that is longer."
Ping also filed a lawsuit against the USGA to keep the Ping Eye2 irons legal; the case was settled in 1990.
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