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Madden: Tiger's 'hot' move not too classy

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Tiger Woods is the patron saint of golf. The golden goose, too. But don't be naive enough to label his motives for demanding that tests be implemented to detect so-called "hot" drivers as anything but self-serving.

If Woods truly cared about golf, he'd play more than the occasional tournament. He wouldn't limit his participation primarily to majors and Buick-affiliated events, he'd be taking golf to the people by playing every weekend, the same as most of his PGA tour colleagues do.

No, Woods wants "hot" drivers eliminated so he can maintain the edge he enjoys off the tee, an edge which has diminished by 16 yards since 2000.

"Hot" drivers have an extremely thin club face, thus producing an exaggerated trampoline effect which makes the ball fly longer. PGA rules limit this trampoline effect.

Woods recently created a stir when he called for club testing, adding that he knows of one golfer who definitely uses a "hot" driver.

That second move was extremely low-rent. When Woods says one golfer uses a "hot" driver but refuses to identify him, he casts a dark cloud over everyone who hits long. Except himself, of course.

Testing, which begins in January, is a good thing. "Hot" drivers may be illegal, but, if there's no testing, how do you know what's illegal? Testing won't be mandatory, but golfers always have been good about policing their own ranks.

The real problem, however, is the way technology has taken over golf, not to mention tennis and a few other sports, too.

If you really want to find out who the best golfer is, make everybody use exactly the same clubs and ball. At least do it for a tournament or two.

I know that would violate everybody's sponsorship agreements, but let's all be like Tiger and think of the integrity of golf.

A golfer's equipment doesn't matter quite as much as the golfer, but the gap is closing. I don't enjoy watching equipment compete. I enjoy watching men compete.

I wouldn't mind seeing driving distances shrink. That would place more of an emphasis on shot-making.

Tennis, as mentioned, is in the same quandary. The advent of graphite rackets has resulted in overemphasis on the serve. A craftsman like John McEnroe might not have a place in the game today. If you really want to find out who the best tennis player is, give everybody a wooden racket.

The "hot" driver controversy has certainly reconfirmed how much stroke Woods has in the golf world. I wonder if the PGA would start testing for "hot" drivers if, say, Robert Allenby had made the demand. But as soon as Tiger snapped his fingers, the PGA jumped.

Never mind what the punishment will be for using a "hot" driver. I can't wait to hear the excuses.

To paraphrase Jim Litke, the delightful Associated Press columnist, the first pro golfer caught with a "hot" driver might say that he grabbed his practice driver by mistake. The poor guy had a "hot" driver in his bag because he likes to put on a show for the fans at the driving range, and he just [sob] screwed up.

Hey, it worked for Sammy Sosa. It's like he never cheated.

The vulnerability Sosa displayed in the aftermath of the corked-bat incident has seemingly made him even more popular.

Woods' call for club testing makes me wonder: Was Phil Mickelson right when he said that Tiger's Nike equipment is inferior? Is that the reason for Tiger's slump?

And make no mistake, Woods is in a slump.

I know, I know... he has won three tournaments this year. He shot his lowest round of the year two days ago at the Western Open.

But, for the first time in a long time, Woods isn't the reigning champion of a major. He wasn't a factor at the Masters or U.S. Open. Ergo, he's in a slump.

Not many golfers win three tournaments in a year, true, but Woods is the best golfer in the world, maybe the best ever. He is judged by a different standard. A higher standard.

And by that higher standard, Woods is in a slump.

But the golf media largely refuses to recognize that. Hey, no point getting Tiger mad. Let's face it, he runs golf. Not PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, not the sponsors, not anybody but Tiger.

So golf writers and broadcasters make excuse after excuse for young Eldrick.

The most believable excuses revolve around the knee surgery that kept him off the tour at the beginning of the year.

But my favorite excuse involves his drop-dead gorgeous Swedish model gal pal: "Hey, Tiger's got a serious girlfriend now! His life has changed! Give him a break!"

Pass the Pepto, and hurry!

Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show 3-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1250.

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