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High-Tech Golf Clubs

Can New Golf-Club Technology and Design Improve Your Game? Maybe Yes. Maybe No.
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 3)

The USGA's Thomas has been keeping track of player performance for 25 years. Of course the players he keeps track of are touring professionals, the best in the world. What he sees in their performance is an anomaly. Despite the fact that clubs and golf balls are being touted as better than ever, it can't be proved with any certainty in cold, hard statistics.

"All in all, when you look at everything together--accuracy, length--it hasn't improved much at all in 25 years," says Thomas. "The average driving distance [of a tour professional] was 262 yards in 1993. In 1967, it was 258. Greens in regulation haven't improved any."

While it would be next to impossible to accurately track the performance of your average golfer, Thomas looks at the overall average handicap of 17, which hasn't changed in a generation. There are so many factors that play a part in explaining that static figure, like the avalanche of new players in the 1980s, that it might well be meaningless. Nevertheless, high-tech golf's impact from a practical standpoint can only be measured on individual players, and most think that new clubs and new balls help their games.

"The USGA isn't concerned about players who hit the ball 180 yards with their driver," says Thomas. "We look at what elite golfers are doing. We don't want them to make golf courses obsolete and we must make sure that technology isn't helping them to a great extent."

Thomas doesn't discount high-tech golf's effect on the average player. "I think it has helped the older player," says Thomas. "With graphite shafts, you don't have to swing harder to get more distance. And the perimeter-weighted clubs mean that you don't have to hit the ball in the center of the club all the time. It helps to minimize the bad shots more than make good shots better."

He subscribes to a theory called the Placebo Effect, which he defines thusly: "You look at the new clubs with a positive view; your mind doesn't get in the way of your swing and you hit the ball well. It's confidence--pure and simple."

Confidence, as well as high-tech, could be the reason why the Odyssey putter has become such a hit on the Senior Tour this season, with players like Jim Albus using it to win tournaments. In Odyssey's Dual Force putter, the face has a cavity into which Stronomic, a thermoplastic, is inserted. Stronomic is supposed to create a softer feeling on impact, as if the ball were staying on the club face longer.

"I don't know why it works," says Albus, "but it does."

The balls coming off all these high-tech putter faces, perimeter-weighted irons and metal woods are clearly better than they were a generation ago. In fact most research and development conducted by golf companies went into ball technology, to make it fly farther and straighter and, for the average golfer, last longer. "I've said all along it's the ball," says Jack Nicklaus, himself the owner of a club- making company under his name. "The new clubs allow some poor players to get the ball airborne more often, but the balls just fly straighter now than they did back then, even off bad hits."

And now the Wilson Golf Co. has given us the 500-dimple golf-ball. Three different sizes of dimples are used in 60 repeating triangular faces on the ball. It is a design, according to Wilson, that allows initial velocity to be maintained longer while also maintaining ball stability for a more accurate flight. The same aerodynamic principles and designs featured in NASA rockets and Indy 500 cars, reads the promotional material.


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