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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 [email protected] 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

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Homa Wins! And how to avoid “paralysis by analysis”!

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This week’s episode covers a wide array of topics from the world of golf including Max Homa’s win on the PGA Tour, golf course architecture, and how to avoid “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to your golf game.

This week’s show also covers the important topic of mental health, with the catalyst for the conversation being a recent interview published by PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and his struggles.

 

 

 

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