Dick Rugge may not be a name known to many golfers in the UK but for more than a decade he has been instrumental in the way we play golf and the equipment we use as technical director of the USGA.
Now he’s retiring and, courtesy of Golfweek in the US, can look back on some of the decisions he has helped to make along with the fellow rule-makers at the R&A in St Andrews.
As a parting gift, the staff at the USGA, a team he has shaped and the achievement of which he is most proud, have named the mechanical ball and club-testing machine after him – the ‘Iron Rugge 2000’.
Here’s what he says about significant rules considered during his tenure…
“The goal of a ball study we carried out was to become better prepared to make a rule change based on knowledge, in case that was ever needed. The USGA is much better prepared, with much more knowledge of golf balls than when it started out. It was never about ‘should we change the rules about golf balls?’
“If we think there is a reasonable chance of making a rules change, we start publishing information to get people understanding the knowledge we’ve gained and perhaps how we may go forward.
“That’s exactly what we did with grooves. We published reams of papers. We were on track to make a rule change, and we told people that. I think that’s a model of how we’d do the ball study. As of now, there is no plan to make a rules change.”
Long hitters myth
“A lot of people believe the long hitter gets an extra benefit. We did a comprehensive study that came to a clear and strong conclusion that that was not the case. All of that is published on our website. It didn’t lead to a rule but was just some important information.
“Also there was a video going around YouTube of a golf ball getting squashed at 150mph. I can’t tell you how many emails we got asking, ‘Is this real?’ It was a soft rubber ball that looked like a golf ball. We didn’t just say no. We published a real ball hitting a plate at 150mph. The result was markedly different. We published that for a reason.”
“It gives golfers some of the same opportunities Tour players have. It gave the manufacturers something else to work on besides trying to get around our rules on distance. I think it has been successful.
“We first started talking about this in 2005. We sent a letter; it was largely ignored. When it was approved, some were opposed to it. I think it has turned out to be a positive for golfers and the industry. It is not jeopardizing the game at all. It just helps people get fitted better.”
His retirement plan
“I have an old car I want to work on - a bright orange ‘73 Saab Sonett two-seater sports car. I bought it on eBay with about 36,000 miles on it. It runs great, but it needs a clutch. That’s a huge job, especially for someone doing it for the first time.
“I’ve also got an invention to do with wine. I’m not going to tell you what that is because I don’t want to lose the patent on it, but I’m going to work on it.”
Footnote: John Spitzer, promoted from Rugge’s assistant, will oversee golf equipment testing procedures, leading a team of 18 full-time employees that tests more than 2,500 clubs and golf balls a year at USGA HQ in Far Hills, New Jersey.
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