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Opinion & Analysis

Imagine what drivers will look like in 30 years

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At one point in the early 1980s, Dan Pohl was the longest driver on the PGA Tour, averaging 274 yards with the Big Dog. As a teenage spectator watching from afar, I only became aware of him and his prodigious drives at the 1982 Masters. He tore up the back nine and managed to get into a playoff with Craig Stadler, the eventual winner. One thing I did pick up on was that he was using a “metal wood,” and the commentators were analyzing how much this ground-breaking new technology added to his length. I mean, a metal wood! It was the stuff of tomorrow; space-age cool!

This contradiction in terms (how can a wood be made of metal?) was offset by the results. Longer, straighter and more forgiving drives (see, the message hasn’t changed that much in nearly 35 years) resulted from this Pittsburgh Persimmon driver, as one brand so adeptly named it. The sheer audaciousness of this technological breakthrough!

It coincided with the advent of graphite shafts as well. Materials like boron and graphite were enabling club designers to make shafts lighter, stronger and longer, which in turn were delivering more distance with different ball flights. It must have been a golden time for golfing physicists and engineers. No longer were driver heads hand-carved out of blocks of persimmon. These hollow metal heads were designed on computers and cast in volume production lines with high yields and consistency. They offered strength and versatility. The marketing guys were shaping up for a field day. How could they lose?

Very quickly the golf shops filled up with these new metal woods. Persimmon had been around forever and still had its place for the purists, but once Ely Callaway got on board with his Big Bertha creation in 1991, we effectively waved goodbye to wooden-headed clubs forever.

I’d made my mind up that this was the future, so I set about as a 15-year-old aspiring golfer to acquire one. At that age it’s all about the shiny stuff, right? For the previous 12 months, I was learning the game with a Ben Hogan persimmon driver, my pride and joy. It was considered at the time “state of the art” with good quality persimmon and a fancy “speed slot.”

According to a Hogan ad, the slot was a “new and original idea to increase club head speed. This is not a theory, but a fact proven by a well-known physicist!” In terms of specs it said “1” on the sole; I had no idea what loft it was, only that it had a stiff shaft. I got it because it felt nice and I went off and learned how to hit it. The biggest modification I had was putting a new grip on it. The face of the club had four screws, and when you caught one the expression “hit it on the screws” became a very memorable feeling.

The Hogan stick was dropped quicker than a hot potato when I discovered metal. I soon managed to snag my first metal wood, a Titleist PT 9-degree driver from the second-hand bin in my local golf shop. I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for it, though; yes, it was that long ago. It had a steel shaft with a gleaming silver-and-grey color scheme. Man, that head was huge compared to my old Hogan. And from the day and hour I got the new metal driver, I never looked back to a wooden driver. I was sold. I was able to really wallop that thing, and over the next couple of years I nearly wore it out. I could even pick it off the fairway very successfully when my eye was in.

I quickly added a metal three wood — first from Titleist and then from Wilson Staff — and a metal five wood from Mizuno, which was an early predecessor to the hybrid. It had a small head and I was able to hit that thing from almost any lie. It had a gold boron shaft, too. To me, it was so high tech that it almost felt like cheating.

Over the years, I gamed the later offerings from Titleist as well as the latest clubs from TaylorMade, Callaway, Tour Edge, Cobra and Ping. I’ve tried most and make a point of keeping up to date with the latest technology. But how much more technical has it become? It’s interesting that Dan Pohl’s leading stats are now laughable compared with numbers of Tony Finau, who hits it an average of 314 yards per poke. That’s 40 yards folks!

There are now titanium heads, carbon heads, composite heads, face inserts, moveable weights, speed slots, and variable lofts and lies. Launch monitor technology has given us access to knowledge and a level of customization far beyond what we once knew. My specs from 20 years ago were “8.5 degrees with a stiff shaft.” Now I can print off a sheet that looks like it was generated by NASA highlighting my smash factor, spin rates, launch angles, ball speed and what I had for breakfast. A pro can now recommend the perfect club for me.

Over the last 10 years, the big buzz has been the spring-like effect known as Coefficient of Restitution (COR). Coupled with head size getting to space-hopper proportion, the authorities decided to step in to limit what was possible. So COR is now limited to 0.830 and the maximum club head size to 460 cubic centimeters in an attempt to “maintain the challenge of the game.”

It’s now all about materials science, manufacturing tolerances and optimizing shape for maximum speed. Scientists have access to nanomaterials that are used in aerospace construction. Callaway just co-designed their latest offering with help from Boeing! Moveable weight systems coupled with variable lofts and lies means we can tweak our drivers to our heart’s content if an effort to optimize a high-launch, low-spin, straight drive. We now also have our own custom colors and decals.

Imagine what our drivers will look like in 30 years! Oh, and then there is the “frigging golf ball”, as Jack so eloquently put it, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant!

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Wm

    Aug 27, 2016 at 10:31 am

    In the not too distant future they will be marketing customized one piece drivers where the head will be fused to the shaft. The marketers will claim more stability and better feel.

  2. RAT

    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:15 am

    They should take the gloves off and let it be NO LIMITS on balls and clubs !

  3. Tim

    Aug 26, 2016 at 12:54 am

    I would bet there are still some big changes coming the the shafts. They are going to give us shafts that flex and kick straight as the club face with tips that stay on line no matter how fast or had you hit the ball. I would bet we may even see shafts that have some kind of adjust ability for the amateur golfer to play around with…and then there will be lots of grip advancements with adjust ability in them also….lots of things to work on for the OEM’s to keep us buying the next hot new gimmick.

  4. Chuck

    Aug 25, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Others have already mentioned it; I am not so sure that the difference between a 2016 driver and a 2046 driver will be so dramatic, as the difference between a 1980 driver and a 2010 driver.

    Just think about it; for 30 years — more, actually — tournament/tour golf saw virtually NO change in drivers. In the 1970’s and 80’s, the absolute rage among tour players and elite amateurs was to find very pure MacGregor drivers designed by player/designer Toney Penna from the 1950’s. Just about every major championship in golf for four decades was won with a persimmon driver that was generally about 20 years old. Jack Nicklaus was winning majors in the 1970’s with a 3-wood from the 1950’s. Players used to say that it was harder to find a good driver than it was to find a good wife. And once they found a gamer, they played with it until it broke. Then they got it repaired. And only after a club broke about three more times would they ever give up on it.

  5. J.B.

    Aug 25, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    Materials since will dictate the future of clubs. With additive manufacturing, the face will be a graduated blend of materials to optimize the sweet spot to make the entire face respond at the edge of the rules. Clubs will stop being a head and a shaft, rather a single piece. The single piece clubs will be so well weighted and aero optimized that grandma will be showing 95+ mph swing speeds.

    • Professor smizzle

      Aug 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

      This man knows^^^^

      The future is not development of the head, but of an entire one piece club optimised for each player.

  6. mhendon

    Aug 25, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I doubt I’ll be alive 30 years from now much less still playing.

  7. Justin

    Aug 25, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Technology is allowing more players to play the game effectively. I truly believe that more golfers could have competed on tour back in the day had the technology been better. The technology helps the bombers hit it straighter and helps everyone catch up to the pure ball strikers.

    Id be happy if everything stayed the way it was. I can deal with guys like Justin Thomas carrying the ball 300+ yards in the air, but when you have 50+ guys on tour start to carry it the distance that Dustin, Bubba, and Rory do now…. that’s when we need to worry.

  8. dsd

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    just remember in the 200 years prior to the last 30 years club tech remained relatively unchanged. Similar to any industrial revolution, I don’t expect leaps and bounds of improvements over and over again.

  9. Bruce Ferguson

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I would love to see new designs which would incorporate the dispersion/distance characteristics of today’s 460cc driver in a 360-400cc head. Whatever the future has in store, please don’t let it be even larger driver heads!

  10. alfriday

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    The last thirty or so years have been a transformative period in driver tech. I doubt the next thirty will go through anything nearly as drastic. The size of drivers has been limited. The spring effect has been limited. Newer, more exotic materials are available, but most are cost prohibitive. As companies push the envelop on the set performance limits, the changes will by necessity be less drastic.

  11. The Real Swanson

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    “Imagine what clubs looked like 30 years ago.” would be a more appropriate title.

  12. Johnnylongballz

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Hopefully they don’t look that much different than today’s drivers. I hope that the USGA/R&A can limit technology’s impact on the game, maybe even roll it back a bit.

    • KJ

      Aug 25, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      C’mon now. Manufacturers are always going to be looking for something new, something different. It happens in every single industry with all products, Its called capitalism and the chase for the almighty dollar.

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Equipment

Davis Love III was still using a persimmon driver in 1997?!

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The revolution of metal drivers was happening quickly in the early-to-mid 1990’s, but Davis Love III was set on sticking with his Cleveland Classic Oil Hardened RC85 persimmon driver. He wasn’t oblivious to the emerging technology, though. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“The Cleveland has been in my bag since 1985,” Love III wrote in his 1997 book, “Every Shot I Take.” “It was given to me by a good friend, Bob Spence. I experiment with metal drivers often; I find – for me, and not necessarily for you – they go marginally longer than my wooden driver, but they don’t give me any shape. I find it more difficult to create shape to my drives off the metal face, which is important to me. …I also love the sound my ball makes as it comes off the persimmon insert of my driver.

“I’m no technophobe,” he added. “My fairway ‘woods’ have metal heads … but when it comes to my old wooden driver, I guess the only thing I can really say is that I enjoy golf more with it, and I think I play better with it…golf is somehow more pleasing to me when played with a driver made of wood.”

Although his book came out in 1997, Love III switched out his persimmon driver for a Titleist 975D titanium driver in the same year.

It was the end of an era.

During Love III’s 12-year-run with the persimmon driver, though, he piled on four wins in the year of 1992, including the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open — now known as the Wyndham Championship.

Love III, who’s captaining the 2022 Presidents Cup United States team next month at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., is playing in the 2022 Wyndham Championship in nearby Greensboro. In celebration, we took a look back in the archives to see what clubs Love III used for his win in 1992 for an article on PGATOUR.com. We discovered he was using a Cleveland Classic persimmon driver, in addition to a nostalgic equipment setup.

In our latest Two Guys Talking Golf podcast episode, equipment aficionado and co-host Brian Knudson, and myself (GolfWRX tour reporter Andrew Tursky), discuss Love III’s late switch to a metal-made driver, and why he may have stuck with a wooden persimmon driver for so long.

Check out the full podcast below in the SoundCloud embed, or listen on Apple Music here. For more information on Love III’s 1992 setup versus his 2022 WITB, click here.

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Why the 2022 AIG Women’s Open is a momentous week for the women’s game

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The 47th Women’s British Open, currently sponsored by AIG, is unquestionably historic.

Not only is the purse a record $7.3 million, but this week’s venue has a darker, less inclusive past than it would like to be remembered for.

Despite holding 16 Open Championships, the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and a Curtis Cup, in 2016, the membership controversially voted against permitting women to join the club.

Having then courted controversy and after receiving a ban from hosting The Open, they predictably reversed the decision, and three years later allowed their first ever female members.

It’s been a long time coming but, from now on, things are definitely on the up.

Tournament director Zoe Ridgway told Women & Golf that, “Along with our partners at AIG, we have a real ambition to grow the AIG Women’s Open. We are creating a world-class championship for the world’s best players and, as such, we need to provide them with the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland to compete on.”

She continued, “Muirfield is certainly one of these and it will be a historic moment when the women tee off on the famed layout for the first time. That is a moment which we hope becomes iconic for golf and encourages more women and girls into the sport.”

2009 winner, Catriona Matthew, hit the historic first tee shot yesterday, the two-time winning Solheim Cup captain symbolically teeing off alongside another home player, 22-year-old Louise Duncan.

From one stalwart and veteran of the tour to the fresh face of Scottish golf, Duncan won the 2021 Women’s Amateur Championship before becoming low amateur at the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, 12 months ago.

Duncan turned pro recently, missing her first cut at the Women’s Scottish Open last week, but bouncing back in today’s first round, a 4-under 67 leaving her in third place, just two off the lead.

There is something particularly special about links golf, and certainly when it hosts a major, but this week seems to have additional sparkle about it.

Yes, there are the practicalities. For example, this year will mark the first time the players have their own all-in-one facility, available previously to the male competitors.

Ridgway explained, “It will have dining, a gym, physio rooms, locker rooms, showers, and everything that they need to prepare for a major championship.”

This week is momentous in so many ways. It will be tough, windy and cold – links courses are – and there will be a very deserving winner by the end of the 72 holes, but the event is summed up by Visit Scotland CEO Malcolm Roughead:

“It sends the signal that the women’s game is being taken seriously.”

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: My BIG guys golf trip WITB and building a custom TaylorMade Spider GT putter

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This weekend is my big guys golf trip. We have a great group of 16 guys who play a mini Ryder Cup style tournament for a trophy and major bragging rights. Trying to put together the two full sets I will bring with me. I love custom golf clubs and the My Spider GT program from TaylorMade is awesome! I built a custom Spider GT that matches my custom Stealth Plus+ driver!

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