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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: Consistent setup is key to success

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In follow up to last week’s post, Top 4 reasons golfers don’t improve, I want to dive into what I believe to be the most common problem affecting mid- to high-handicap players. This is a big topic that will help nearly every golfer, regardless of your skill level, so it’s going to take two articles to cover it.

Here’s part 1.

We all tend to play golf in a constant cycle of swing-and-correction, swing-and-correction, but my observation is that most of the time our bad swings are caused by improper, or inconsistent setup.

I’m a firm believer that once you have played golf for a while, you have probably developed the ability to have a reasonably repeating and effective swing path and method. Even though it might not be textbook, it’s yours and has your fingerprints all over it. And the fact that you occasionally strike really good shots proves that your swing has the capability of producing results that are gratifying.

I certainly don’t suggest you shouldn’t work to improve your swing technique – the better the mechanics, the better and more consistent the results you are going to get. But my point is that your swing has produced good shots before, and it can do so more often if you just “fix” one thing – your starting position.

The single issue that troubles golfers of all skill levels, from tour player to 100-shooter, is the ability to be consistent. And I’m a firm believer that many – if not most – bad shots are the result of a bad starting position. Think of it this way: no matter how good your swing might be, if you start each shot with the ball in a different position in relation to your body core’s rotation axis, you simply cannot get the clubhead back on the ball consistently.

The ball is 1.68” in diameter, and the effective striking surface of an iron or fairway wood is only an inch or so across. That puts pretty tight demands on your ability to get the club behind your head and back on the ball with consistency.

Let’s compare golf to a baseball hitter. He’s standing in the box and the pitch can be anywhere in the strike zone. He’s got to have good technique, but is heavily reliant on his eye/hand coordination to get the bat on the ball. Darn difficult task, which is why the very best hitters only average .350 or so, shank off lots of fouls and completely whiff the ball at least 20% of the time! If you translated that to golf, no one would ever break 150!

The single thing that makes this game remotely playable . . . is that we get to start with the ball in the exact spot where we want it – every time.

I have a friend in the custom club business that did some research measuring the setup consistency of hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. What he found is simple, but revealing. His methodology was to have golfers address and hit a series of 6-iron shots, stepping away and taking a fresh setup for each one. He found that good players with low single-digit handicaps showed the ability to put themselves in almost the exact same position in relation to the ball every time. Measuring from the back of their heels to the ball showed an average deviation from shot to shot of less than 1/4 inch.

But he saw that the higher the handicap, the more shot-to-shot error in setup consistency the golfer exhibited – 20-plus handicap golfers exhibited an average shot-to-shot deviation in distance from the ball of up to two inches or even more! That’s the entire width of the clubhead! It’s a wonder they ever hit it at all!

This variance is a major reason why we can get “in the groove” on the practice range, but have difficulty taking it to the course.

So, think about that for a few days, and next week, I will share how you can quickly build a solid and repeating setup, so that you can give yourself the best chances of hitting good shots more often.

If there is any true “secret” to improving your ball-striking, shotmaking, and scoring, this is certainly it.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: High octane ball compression and artistic touch around the greens

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From the Olympics to taking out the glancing blows in your irons and chipping it close. Wisdom in Golf has your back.

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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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