Zokol's Take: "It was a real game of chicken"

I found former PGA Tour winner Richard Zokol’s comments on the groove battle to be fascinating. He posted it in the comments section, but I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to see it. Zokol writes:

It was a sad day and turning point for golf in 1993 when the USGA, R&A with the PGA Tour settled the Ping lawsuit out of court. We all have seen and heard how the game has evolved negatively during the out of control technology advancements in equipment over the past 10 years. Most PGA Tour members wanted the USGA, R&A and PGA Tour at arms length to fight to control the rules of the game with the PGA Tour backstopping the USGA & R&A. Everyone in golf knew this case would have a long lasting effect by means of legal precedent. Now its significance is showing up in many ways (like longer golf courses). The Ping settlements lead to the start of the manufactures having their way in the game which caused the out of control technology boom in: club grooves, golf ball development, size of drivers and CORE of driver faces, etc., the combined sum has negatively changed the direction of the game. This legal precedent left the USGA, R&A and PGA Tour in a submissive position.

At the time, it was a real game of chicken¦ to see who would blink first. The USGA, R&A, PGA Tour absolutely bailed out a week before the court date. There was huge risk for the PGA Tour given the deep pockets of Ping and the downside if a judgment went against the Tour. Leonard Decof, Pings attorney was ruthless and put huge fear on the Tour and players.

I recall Dick Farris, my playing partner at the AT&T Pro-Am, and then Chairman of the PGA Tour Policy Board was furious that the Tour didnt fight it out in court. If I recall correctly, the suit claimed damages for $100MM against the PGA Tour. If a judgment went in favour of the plaintiff (Ping) the court could award treble damages, a typical judgement for willful conduct. A judgment against the PGA Tour for $300MM would bankrupt the PGA Tour. In the early 90s as it is today, 100% of PGA Tour players pension fund sits is in general funds in the PGA Tour. It is NOT government protected and exposed to any liability.

Part of that settlement resulted in then Commissioner Dean Beaman being run off¦.Finchem then came in to run the show.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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