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Best Ball-Strikers (Part 2): Lee Trevino and Tom Watson

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I am very fortunate to belong to Preston Trail, a golf club in Dallas noted for having professional and amateur players. Among them is Lee Trevino, and we actually have a bit of history.

I was working at The Haney Ranch as a club fitter in the early 90’s when I developed the Tight Lies fairway wood. I also did basic club repair and can confidently say the repair part was not going to be a career move. Some guys are handy, neat and efficient. None of those adjectives apply to me.

Hank had a young teacher by the name of Tony Trevino who would help me when my inefficiency got me behind any normal repair schedule. His name was Tony Lee Trevino, Lee’s son. When the Tight Lies was gaining a bit of a reputation at the ranch, unbeknownst to me, Tony shafted one up for his dad.

This led to a phone call one evening.

“Barney, this is Lee Trevino,” to which I responded, “Who the hell is this? It’s late and I’m tired.”  

After he reintroduced himself, it dawned on me that the caller was really Lee Trevino, arguably one of the greatest ball strikers in golf history. He went on to explain that he loved the Tight Lies and was preparing to show it to his sponsor at the time, Spaulding. He gave me his agent’s name and phone number so I’d have him available when negotiations started.

My net worth at the time qualified me for food stamps (literally), so suffice to say I eagerly waited for the call from Spaulding. I’m still waiting, a story Lee told the membership of Preston Trail at an evening function. Shall we say it not one of Spaulding’s great decisions. 

The idea of approaching a professional golfer for a game has always seemed intrusive to me, but years later at the club, Lee said “anytime” and I jumped at the chance. I had played with Tommy Bolt and Moe Norman. Now, the chance to add another one of the greatest ball strikers to the list was a like the kid in the proverbial candy store.

Related: Best Ball-Strikers (Part 1): Tommy Bolt and Moe Norman

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Lee Trevino won six major championships. Here he is after winning the 1972 Open Championship, his second Claret Jug.

What was it like? How do you explain golf shots executed at a level barely comprehensible? This wasn’t Lee Trevino from the PGA Tour; this was Lee Trevino who is “no longer competitive,” explaining shots as he prepared to take his backswing.

“This calls for a baby fade … I’m going to draw this one so the ball is rolling towards the pin.”

And with every explanation, a shot as described. His drives were from the fairway, as he said, “only about 260” ( I had hit several yards ago). Every shot into the green ended up pin high, unless he wanted to be short or long for a better putt. The old, washed-up guy could only shoot 65-66 and this while giving me a tutorial on shaping the golf ball.

We’ve had several conversations about the finer points of golf shots and equipment; it’s like listening to Elon Musk talk about one of his projects. I pay really, really close attention because he’s always on the verge of going over my head.

And by the way, he plays from tees where he can still hit the irons into the greens he used to hit. He thinks 99 percent of us are tripping over our respective egos by playing back tees, trying to fit hybrids between traps. To that I say, amen!

Tom Watson

Watson

Tom Watson won eight major championships. Here he is after winning the 1983 Open Championship, his fifth and final Claret Jug.

Last alphabetically, but a man I’m proud to call a friend. Tom was on the Adams staff for many years and during that time when I was CEO we had very little contact unless it was a discussion about a particular club design.

When we first signed him, I said that unless he had a specific request we really wouldn’t be seeing much of each other. My analogy was a doctor: If I had a friend who was a doc, I wouldn’t be dropping in on an operation to see how he was doing.

That’s how I viewed playing the PGA Tour. It was his office (or in his case, his operating room) and using the staff relationship to “drop in” would be intrusive. We each had jobs to do and in a sense were close, but not physically. As a result I cannot recall many actual times on the course with Tom, but three memories come to mind.

When I first talked to him about being on staff, the plan was for me to meet him in Kansas City with our new irons for him to try — basically to see if he liked our stuff. He had already used and liked the woods.  

I flew from Dallas and met him on the range at Wolf Creek. Neither Tom nor I are much for small talk. He explained to me that he was going to hit some shots with his regular irons and the same with ours. He proceeded to open a shag bag, and using 3-to-4 different clubs he hit about 25 of the most beautiful iron shots you could imagine.

I was ready to go back to Dallas on the spot. He then took our irons and repeated the process, looked to me said, ” I could play with these,” whereupon it was over. I went back to Dallas, his agent called and we established him as our spokesman — a relationship that exists to this day. My total range exposure time was maybe 45 min.

Every year, Tom would invite his sponsors to play with him at The Greenbrier, and the first two years I went before handing it off to other employees. We were teams and he joined us for three-hole stretches. What do I remember? Leaning!

Every time he hit a shot, it was straight at the flag and I had to lean to see it land. Subsequently, we have evolved into an annual fishing trip, something we both enjoy and he doesn’t have to suffer my golf. I am not including anything on his thoughts on the golf swing. He has out an instructional package and I know he devoted a serious amount of time and effort for it to be complete.

Last year, Tom came to Dallas and I was very proud to be included in his game with George Bush (43) and a dinner afterward.

I was telling my brother about the event, and he reminded me that when I came home from college I used to hire out to muck stalls at local dairy farms. His comment: “Boy have you come a long way.” I have, and the memories and the great people are one thing the game of golf has in abundance.

If it’s a bit hokey; I don’t care. It’s the core of golf and why I fight to stop the loss of players.

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Barney Adams is the founder of Adams Golf and the inventor of the iconic "Tight Lies" fairway wood. He served as Chairman of the Board for Adams until 2012, when the company was purchased by TaylorMade-Adidas. Adams is one of golf's most distinguished entrepreneurs, receiving honors such as Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 1999 and the 2010 Ernie Sabayrac Award for lifetime contribution to the golf industry by the PGA of America. His journey in the golf industry started as as a club fitter, however, and has the epoxy filled shirts as a testimony to his days as an assembler. Have an equipment question? Adams holds seven patents on club design and has conducted research on every club in the bag. He welcomes your equipment questions through email at barneyadams9@gmail.com Adams is now retired from the golf equipment industry, but his passion for the game endures through his writing. He is the author of "The WOW Factor," a book published in 2008 that offers an insider's view of the golf industry and business advice to entrepreneurs, and he continues to contribute articles to outlets like GolfWRX that offer his solutions to grow the game of golf.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Ken

    Mar 17, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    Please continue these great contributions to GOLF WRX! Thanks so much.

    A V Tech 4 player

  2. RG

    Mar 16, 2015 at 12:17 am

    Your the best and your designs revolutionized the game. Other’s may not see it but the biggest innovator’s in golf history are Karsten Solheim and Barney Adams.PERIOD:)

  3. Brian Conley

    Mar 14, 2015 at 11:18 am

    I no longer buy Titleist or Ping retail because they are so restrictive on retailers. I buy mostly Taylormade because they’re big, with Adidas. I will now start buying Adams because from this article, I’m sure I like Mr. Adams.

    • Twice

      Mar 15, 2015 at 1:49 am

      Adams is a part of TM now, actually. So you’re doing the right thing twice.

  4. Alex

    Mar 13, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    In 1998 I was lucky enough to be right across from Tom Watson while he was hitting balls at the practice tee. I’ve never seen anyone hitting it purer in my life. I’ve been playing for over 30 years and I’ve seen my pile of professional golfers play. But ol’ Tom Watson was like a robot, always same swing, same rythm, same ball flight. Really awe-inspiring.

  5. Roosterredneck

    Mar 12, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Keep going I too enjoy reading such material. A person that started out with little to nothing and Bam. Explain something, how did you start or get your club cast , molded / made. Give some tidbits on this please.

  6. Scott

    Mar 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks Barney for another great article.
    What did you mean at the end when you said “It’s the core of golf and why I fight to stop the loss of players.”

    • barney adams

      Mar 12, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Per the NGF there is a category called Avid Golfers, they play the most and pick up 71% of ALL golf related expenses. 10.2m Avids in 2000, 9.1m in 2005, and 6.4 m at the end of 2013. It is my opinion that the guardians of the game should be extensively interviewing the 4m dropouts to learn why and react with programs to ameliorate the most repeated reasons. My singular voice carries no weight on the issue.

      • RG

        Mar 16, 2015 at 12:14 am

        And we’re not replacing the Avid’s that we lose to old age/ poor health. I’ll keep saying it Barney, the new generation is in love with video gamesa. Thes game and the graphics are really incredible. You can link up and play online with people from all over the world and for $50 you can play for weeks. And the learning curve and long waits are nothing like golf.

        • Barney Adams

          Mar 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm

          And golf is HARD which is why some of us love (sometimes hate) it.

  7. Wonderful

    Mar 12, 2015 at 10:36 am

    You da man, Mr Adams! What a wonderful story!

  8. The dude

    Mar 12, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Pretty cool!….any photos of what Lees or Toms irons looked like after they were worn?…I’m sure they were “dime size worn spotted”. I know that is ball “hitting” as oppose to “striking” Thanks for sharing

  9. JHM

    Mar 11, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    thanks for the great stories!!

  10. killerbgolfer

    Mar 11, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Mr Adams I love these articles. Thank you for taking the time to share these experiences with us.

  11. John

    Mar 11, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Best of the best here, writer and subject. Kudos!

  12. Terry Harris

    Mar 11, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Another great article by a wonderful and knowledgeable writer.
    Please keep them coming! And, his book is a great read also.
    And . . . his idea of moving forward (up a tee box) has saved my love of golf!

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Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

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The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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