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Opinion & Analysis

Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!

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Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.

Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?

I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.

First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.

How Does This Happen?

Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.

A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?

OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.

Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.

The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.

You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.

Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…

With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.

It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.

What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?

There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules,  technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Aug 9, 2019 at 3:16 pm

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  2. Anonymous

    Jul 29, 2019 at 2:41 pm

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  3. Backshwing King

    Jul 23, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    Thank the golf God’s it wasn’t Eldrick’s driver that was found illegal. OMG, the world would have stopped spinning and they’d be trying to strip him of his umpteen majors!!

  4. Lance

    Jul 22, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    There’s a reason they test a bunch of heads at a time. Looking for the hottest one or two

  5. jgpl001

    Jul 22, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    Come on guys, get real

    Do you think this would make ANY difference in The Open into a 25 mph headwind and/or heavy rain?

    Even on a perfect day in perfect conditions its not even 1/2 club…and thats bang out of the middle

    Non-story, move on

  6. xander

    Jul 22, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    OEM?

  7. chris

    Jul 22, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    I was curious about if or how then rules account for normal wear of a golf club potentially making said club illegal. Here’s what the rules officially say:

    (1) Conforming Clubs. In making a stroke, a player must use a club that conforms to the requirements in the Equipment Rules:

    A club used to make a stroke must conform not only when the club is new, but also when it has been deliberately or accidentally changed in any way. But if the performance characteristics of a conforming club change because of wear through normal use, it is still a conforming club.

    Seems to me that it’s very unclear. If a driver is tested and deemed legal on day one and then becomes too hot over time due to normal use…is it conforming or not?

  8. Ballstriker's R us

    Jul 22, 2019 at 12:09 am

    Wait a minute, pros are swingin’ illegal equipment?! No waaaaaaaay, it can’t be! I never thought it could even be a possibility!! Oh wait, and now you’re telling me they had NO IDEA? OMG! As good ‘ol John McEnroe would say, “You can’t possibly be serious!” These manufacturers and pros are a total crack up. We’re all being takin’ for fools!! Of course they know WTH they’re doing! The shock and awe of it all! The outrage! My innocence is now lost. Sooooo sad I am, thinking everybody was playing fair. Hahahaha!! Lol! What a crack’up

  9. gery katona

    Jul 21, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Rules are rules, but frankly the differences we’re talking here are pretty much meaningless and more about marketing. Back when COR was used as the metric to determine the trampoline effect there was a big deal about .083 COR vs .086, the old standard. It was determined that for every .001 COR, the difference in yardage was 1.5~2 yards. So, the range between .083 and .086 was 4.5~6 yards which is nothing. Now we’re are talking about even smaller ranges which frankly are meaningless in terms of benefit.

  10. Phil

    Jul 21, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    > We’re talking about .003 microseconds!

    3 microseconds = 0.003 milliseconds. hth.

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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Podcasts

TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

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.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

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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