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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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The 19th Hole (Ep. 165): One-on-one with Shane Bacon

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Host Michael Williams talks with the co-host of the Golf Channel’s Golf Today about the Open Championship and Collin Morikawa’s place in the history books.

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What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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