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Opinion & Analysis

A quiet search for more distance

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The purists may argue, but in marketing golf equipment distance is No. 1. All else follows.

When you understand that the USGA capped maximum ball speed on drivers back in 2008, this becomes a marketing challenge that essentially narrows the field to a few large, well-financed companies that can tell a story and have the credibility of Tour presence. Are they telling the truth when they promote a new line as being longer? The answer is yes. But in an absolute sense, the new driver line being touted may not be longer. Remember that clubs are sold to humans, not absolutes.

If I have a good swing path, 100 mph of swing speed and a relatively steep angle of attack, I might pick up yardage from a design that spins the ball less and offers multiple lofts to fine tune launch angle. Conversely, at a furious 85 mph, less spin produces a knuckle ball-like effect and I can lose yardage because I need spin to optimize carry distance. And, to go a step further, the average fairways you play are significant.

I can even try the variety of softer golf balls to see if there is a combination that is optimum. And, here again, this is golf. Optimum off the tee may not produce the same happy results around the greens. As I said, golf is a game of many variables.

Now I don’t have to explain to anyone that I’m well past the retirement age. It’s evident in many ways, not the least of which is my golf swing. I know there is a new data-driven world of smash factor, ball speed, spin and launch angles. In fact, when I occasionally play with a good young golfer, it’s fair to say I don’t speak their language. Sounds like a pure conflict: on the one hand, I bemoan my annual distance loss, on the other I pay little attention to the technical components defining distance.

I have one constant I look for: it’s “quiet,” and I’ll explain. A driver may have forgiveness designed into the head and the purpose is to make mishits somewhat more effective. Those same heads (and all heads) have what we call a “sweet spot,” which is more accurately described as the center of percussion. It’s that very small spot on the face where maximum energy is delivered to a golf ball.

I don’t care what your swing speed is: distance will be optimized by hitting the sweet spot and sound will be the key, or better said, an absence thereof.

Those soft, quiet hits mean that there is very little energy being lost at impact and the golf ball compression is being optimized. To say it a different way, when you feel vibration at impact, you are feeling energy created from an off-center hit and not being delivered to the ball. I realize that today’s 460cc heads are an echo chamber compared to the persimmon of old, but the sound created from a center of percussion hit isn’t robbing you of distance. Every great player I was privileged to watch hit balls had a quiet sound at impact, meaning that they consistently struck the center of percussion.

A good test is longer clubs. To get a 47-inch long driver head back to the ball you will speed up, however, that doesn’t mean all the speed will be at impact. And even if it is, the challenge of hitting the sweet spot is significantly greater. Some can handle it in today’s world of 40-gram shafts. One of the fun things in the game is the possibility that somewhere in the combination of longer, lighter shafts there is an extra 20 yards of distance. 

Back to the smash factor, ball speed lobby. Those things are important when you are constantly hitting shots on the center of percussion. It is possible that there is a combination that even allows for a degree of mishits and is still distance friendly. This is golf, you can always find the exception, but most of us are better off looking for that quiet sound that we can produce consistently (especially on Nos. 9 and 18).

In our search, I see this mistake made all the time. A few weeks ago, I watched a demo day for a while at a club where I play. One of my friends was hitting drivers and he hit maybe 10-15 balls with each of 3 to 4 variations. I know I’ve written about this before, but only the first one, maybe two, with each club counted. After that he was setting a new challenge: his ability to adjust to that club. And if one shot along the way does go farther, it’s hard to ignore. This particular guy is an industry all-star. He has the money and buys 4-5 new drivers a year, each being the “greatest.”

We all want longer, and to paraphrase a TV ad, “Go quiet my friends.”

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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.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Jay

    May 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Great read – as usual – THANKS

  2. Larry

    Apr 30, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Agree 100% with Barney, hitting sweet spot with driver is the best way to pick up or in my case (over 65) keep distance. I play very much with a single plane (Graves Academy) type swing (I power that swing almost all arms) and I can say with hitting sweet spot at my age I still drive as long as when I started at age 42…I just finished playing a 2 day scramble with a large group all over 60 and my drives were as good as anyone’s at worst 230 and most a lot farther… I spent a lot of time afterwards showing a handful of my age golfers how I can almost stand in place and hit a drive over 200 yards in play….using that dam Moe Norman funny looking swing putting the sweet spot on the ball…..

  3. Chuck

    Apr 30, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    I like all of Barney’s contributions, but a serious question here…

    I presume — and Barney hasn’t convinced me otherwise — that the Tour players I have watched hit driver all have hot-melted driver heads which lowers the sound of the strike on large titanium heads.

    And about advertised distance…

    Yes, Barney is right about “distance” being the end-all mantra in selling new equipment. Which of course means club manufacturers taking a driver with an extremely long (46″) and light (55 g) shaft to a mechanical testing lab, where that club would out-perform a shorter (43.5/44″) inch driver with a 70, 80 or 90 gram shaft. Trouble is, real golfers aren’t machines. And most golfer would probably be better off with shorter and less-ultralight drivers. Am I right, Tom Wishon?

    • Barney Adams

      May 6, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      Hot Melt aka Rat Glue. Hated working with it still have some shirts with patches. It’s used on tour for a variety of things and while it has a dampening effect that isn’t the primary reason. Roughly 20% of the tour players and 99% of the ” tinkerers”

  4. alan

    Apr 30, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    guys dont be so literal. sound is a metaphor for good ball striking. in this case quiet sound

  5. UA Golfer

    Apr 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    I know its a good shot when I barely feel the strike.

  6. RG

    Apr 30, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Another great article Barney! You keep up the good work , young man.

  7. Brett H

    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I dont know about “quiet” shots being the long ones but the shots that you don’t feel definitely are. I can definitely say that when I upgraded drivers after a few years you immediately tell the newer tech has enormous sweet spots/forgiveness. I just cant justify upgrading every year for the amount of golf I play right now or else I probably would.

  8. Ben

    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I have no idea what I just read

  9. R

    Apr 29, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Same concept applies with hitting your irons. The best shots are the ones you “don’t feel.”

  10. Andy

    Apr 29, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    LOL… I traded for a brand new custom-fit Krank driver last year, and there is nothing quiet about it, and the face hit location matters not. It is crazy load, and sounds like the aluminum bats making contact at college baseball games. I kind of like it..

  11. Greg V

    Apr 29, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Love it!

    Thanks for another great article. I have one “quiet” driver, but I am always on the lookout for another!

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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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