Let’s forget about center of gravity, moment of inertia, weight adjustability and turbulators for a moment. I know it’s difficult, but bear with me.
The golf industry has made significant (and I mean significant) improvements in driver technology in recent decades. I started playing golf with a wood driver and quickly found my way into the metal wood family, which was replaced by titanium shortly afterward. I hardly stopped to think about buying the newest technology, but it always seemed to help.
It made me wonder, how much better are titanium drivers of today than the wood drivers we played 30 and 40 years ago? If it’s starting to sound like I’m introducing results to an experiment, that’s because I am.
For my experiment, I dug out an old “wood” from the garage, along with my current driver and then tested them on a Trackman. To test the two against each other, I hit 10-to-15 shots with each driver, doing my best to create the same swing and launch conditions for both clubs, and let the numbers tell the story. I was a little afraid of hitting hard range balls with the wood driver, so for this test I dug into the shag bag and pulled out some old tournament golf balls.
There were a couple of major differences in the two clubs that affected performance. The wood driver was 43 inches long and built with a steel shaft. The shaft felt soft and whippy, and in my estimation, it was probably something close to a True Temper Dynamic Gold R300, maybe even softer.
My modern driver, a TaylorMade R9 SuperTri, which was built with a Fujikura Motore F1 75-gram S-Flex shaft, measured 44.5 inches.
Below are my results to the experiment.
New School Driver
Illustrated in the images below, you can see both the dispersion and the averages for the group of drives I hit. My thought was to try to swing with the same speed on each shot, with the same golf balls, to identify the difference between the clubs.
New Driver Data: Avg. Launch Numbers, 10 Drives
Old School Driver
Old Driver Data: Avg. Launch Numbers, 10 Drives
The wood driver had a strong left bias which could have been the result of:
- The weak steel shaft, making the timing of the strike more difficult.
- More likely, it was the lack of bulge and roll on the face of the wood driver, making a center strike even more valuable.
You can see from the Trackman numbers of the wood driver that the face was pointed 0.2 degrees to the right of the target on average, with a swing path that was 4 degrees right. This path and face relationship should create a nice little draw, not a snap hook.
The modern driver’s average path and face numbers were only slightly different — path 2.5-degrees right and face 0.7-degrees right — yet the ball flights were markedly different. Modern drivers are built with a lot of bulge and roll to help the player in the case of an off-center hit. The point of impact on the driver face more important than any other factor, and it was even more important in the days of wood drivers!
I wasn’t overly concerned about the static loft of each driver because Trackman gives you dynamic loft, or the loft of the club at impact, which you can see was only slightly different between the two. The average dynamic loft for the wooden driver was 13.9 degrees at impact while the modern driver was 14.1 degrees. Their respective launch angles varied only slightly as well (0.5 degrees). I wanted these numbers to be as close as possible to show the difference in performance between the two clubs under similar circumstances.
Shot for Shot
I was able to get two swings with the exact same club head speed.
There’s only a few differences in the individual shots, but they clearly have a tremendous impact on the flight of the golf ball. The angle of attack with the modern driver is about 3 degrees more “up” than the wooden driver and both dynamic loft and launch angle were higher for the wooden driver, even though I was hitting up less. The most likely explanation comes from center of gravity location, gear effect and the point of impact.
With path and face angle numbers being similar, you’d expect the curve of the ball to be similar. The tilt of the axis of the golf ball should be similar with a center strike on both clubs, but Trackman tells us this likely didn’t happen for either shot. Spin Axis is the amount of tilt in the axis of the golf ball at impact: a negative number means the left side of the golf ball tilts lower by degrees causing a right-to-left ball flight, while a positive number means the right side of the golf ball tilts lower by degrees causing left-to-right flight.
You can see the glaring difference in the spin axis number between the two shots; negative 8.0 and positive 1.5. That’s almost a 10-degrees difference. With the wood driver, the strike was more than likely to the toe side of the face and without a lot of bulge and roll, the result was a severe hook. With the modern driver, the strike was more than likely lower on the face and towards the heel, causing the ball to launch a little lower (gear effect), and the technology of the face (more gear effect) caused the ball to actually fade.
Conclusion and Thoughts
The wood driver, if you can find one, could be used as a great practice tool. The importance of the center strike is really valuable and using a smaller head with a higher degree of feedback (slices and hooks) can help you improve. However, by producing 20 yards more distance with a tighter dispersion, the new driver is difficult to argue against.
It’s eye-opening how driver design technology influences not only distance but the curve of golf shots. Bulge and roll, which aids in gear effect, works to hit the ball undeniably straighter and farther. So how much better is titanium than wood? Short answer – a lot.
The guys at sports science conducted a similar experiment with Rory McIlroy as their test dummy (he’s decent at golf). Watch the video here.
Club Junkie: Titleist TSi3 hybrid and Sugar golf balls on-course review
Finally have the Titleist TSi3 hybrid out on the course and it is an anti-left club that offers tons of control. Hit any shot you want, flight the ball down, and even use it around the green. Sugar Golf is the latest in direct to consumer golf balls. They offer a urethane cover golf ball that competes with the leading tour caliber balls for a much lower price.
Ways to Win: Ham and egg – Teamwork seals the deal for Smith and Leishman
The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is a unique event on the PGA Tour as it is the only team event on the schedule where two tour players pair up for the week. The format is quite different from a typical week of stroke play on the PGA Tour. The first and third rounds are played as a Fourball, where the lowest score of the two players is counted as the team score. The second and fourth rounds are played as alternate shot, where players alternate taking shots while playing a single ball into the hole. This also allows for a unique view into how each format impacts Strokes Gained and the quality of golf. The Fourball rounds allow players to swing more freely and take on more risk as they have two chances at a low round, while alternate shot can be absolutely brutal as nerves can kick in when there is potential to leave your partner high and dry.
The format and the weather was perfect for a couple of Aussies to battle a couple of South Africans and play some spectacular golf. In the end, it took 73 holes to determine a champion as the groups traded blows into a playoff late on Sunday. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were able to secure the final par and take down Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked chart from V1 Game, the impact of the format is immediately apparent as the Total Strokes Gained seesaws between a high of gaining 8.9 strokes on the field to losing 0.3 strokes. That is a delta of over 9 strokes between a Fourball (Best Ball) round and Alternate shot. While, intuitively, it makes sense that playing two balls (Fourball) would be easier than having a single crack at it (Alt Shot), there are additional mental hurdles typically in Alt Shot. Therefore, it is interesting to see which parts of the game are most impacted by the format. What jumps off the page at a glance for the Fourball rounds is putting (+6.1) in round 1 and Short Game (+5.3) in round 3. The putting makes sense. If you know your partner has par in the bag, it makes that birdie put much more aggressive, however that mindset also downplays just how good Cam Smith was playing. Leishman said as much after the tournament that he believed Smith would have won the event easily had it been an individual stroke play event.
As a team, they made 168 feet of putts in Round 1. The PGA Tour average for a round is closer to 70 feet. The short game from round 3 is somewhat surprising as to have significant strokes gained in the short game category, you typically have to miss greens. Smith and Leishman gained 2.5 strokes on two holeouts from off the green on 3 and 16. Two different ways to shoot 63, both relying pretty heavily on the play of rising star Smith.
Shifting attention to rounds 2 and 4, which were alternate shot, all strokes gained categories suffered. Specifically, putting and approach were impacted. If you’ve ever played a round of alternate shot, this is relatable. One challenge with the format is that it is much harder to adjust to the greens. Since you are hitting half as many putts and, oftentimes, you are left cleaning up a mess from your playing partner, it is that much harder to get a feel for putting. Add the pressure of not wanting to leave your partner in a tough position and it typically leads to more tentative putting. Still, the team gained strokes putting overall despite only making 63 feet of putts in the final round. I would expect short game performance to increase in Alternate Shot rounds. Mainly because there are typically more opportunities as more greens are missed. Cameron Smith and Leishman ‘ham and egged’ this format perfectly. Picking each other up with great putts and chips at the right times to keep momentum, including a clutch chip-in from Leishman on 16 in the final round.
The team played particularly well in all categories, but they gained the most strokes with the putter. For the week, they gained more than 8.5 strokes over a typical PGA Tour field with the flat stick. How did they do it? Reviewing the Putting by Distance chart from V1 Game, they didn’t have a single three putt. Additionally, they gained strokes on the field from every distance except from 21-30 feet. They made 50 percent of their putts from 11-15 feet. The 50 percent mark is typically closer to 8 feet on the PGA Tour, meaning the duo was significantly outperforming the field with the flatstick.
Lastly, if you want to win in any week on the PGA Tour, you have to minimize mistakes and play to your potential. Referencing the V1 Game Virtual Coach, Leishman and Smith did exactly that. For starters, using the new V1 Game Handicap, the duo played to a +9.0. Incredible! They averaged only 1.1 mistakes per round consisting of a combination of penalties and two chips. A two-chip is when you miss the green from inside 75 yards. Across all four rounds, the team averaged a 67. Had they avoided all mistakes, they could have averaged 65.9 and potentially avoided the playoff. Despite making the rare mistake, they covered them up well with stellar play. The perfect example is the 16th hole on Sunday where an aggressive drive from Smith narrowly missed the green and found the water. Rather than harping on his partner for the mistake that was likely to cost the lead with just a few holes left, Leishman approached the chip with a great attitude telling his playing partner that he was going to hole the chip. He did exactly that and turned bogey into birdie.
There is something about a good attitude manifesting a good result. Leishman believed it could happen and allowed himself to take his best attempt at it. It would be so easy to get down in that moment and blame your partner for potentially costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars and a PGA Tour title. Good teammates and good friends pick you up. Ham and egg. The perfect breakfast combo and the recipe for good team golf.
If you are looking to pair up with a buddy, want to see how you stack up to the tour pros, or just want to measure your handicap trend, V1 Game can help you have fun and reach your goals with its all new Friends mode, V1 Game Handicap Tracking, and the most advanced analytics available in a golf app. Download the free app today and get ready to play your best golf.
Club fitting isn’t magic
I talk with golfers all the time about the benefits of having properly fit clubs and how they can help improve your game. But recently I have encountered some players who have actually come away from a club fitting disappointed in the final results, and it had me asking some questions, the most important being
“What were your expectations going in?”
As much as club fitting has made its way into the mainstream, the biggest misconception is that once you get a set of clubs that have been custom fit, you’ll suddenly start hitting more greens and hitting it 30 yards farther—when in reality that’s just not the case.
It’s not that those things can’t occur, but there is still a direct correlation between swing dynamics and skill level with what is possible in a club fitting because, after all, it’s physics, not magic.
It’s all about creating the potential for better
In the modern “Amazon” world, we all want things NOW! With club fitting, there is still a lot of opportunities to quickly see improvements that come from reduced dispersion and more consistent results. For a driver that means limiting a miss to one direction, while hopefully increasing distance through optimization.
Now speaking of optimization the chart below, which was developed by Ping, it’s a scientific breakdown of launch, spin, and distance optimization based on ball speed. This means that at 150 mph, the farthest you are going to hit the ball under standard conditions is around 270 yards total. To put that into perspective, to reach 150 mph ball speed you need to be just over 100 mph in clubhead speed.
If you are going into a driver fitting, and you are already seeing results within these ranges, don’t expect to magically pick up 25 yards out of thin air. Instead, you should have much more focused goals like the examples below
- Seeing much tighter downrange dispersion. On the course, this will result in hitting more fairways, which should lead to hitting more greens, ultimately resulting in better scoring.
- Reducing a big miss. A big advantage with newer drivers isn’t that they are way longer off the middle of the face—that’s just not true. It’s that away from the “sweet spot,” you will see a tighter variance in the launch and spin because of ever-improving MOI and driver adjustability. If you have one or two big driver misses in a round of golf that leads to a double bogey or worse and you can bring that number down to just one or even zero, you will see shots add up a lot slower on your scorecard.
At the end of the day, golf clubs are inanimate objects, just like a bike or even a car. Just because you have invested in making sure you have the best of the best equipment doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work on your game to see improvement.
New shoes won’t make you faster, but they can prevent injury and allow for more training—the end result you become a faster runner. Much the same way you can buy the most expensive and best-fit road bike in the world, but it’s not going to mean you are ready for the Tour de France.
Properly fit golf clubs give you the best opportunity to make better swings and the potential to be a better player—but it’s still up to you to utilize that potential.
This topic and a deeper discussion can be found in the most recent episode of the GolfWRX “On Spec” podcast with the conversation starting at 34:45
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