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Barney Adams on changing the golf ball to reduce distance

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The subject has been bandied about for years—a shorter ball, two balls one for the tour and one for amateurs. I will unequivocally state that I’m 100 percent against either approach. 

The first reason is historical and maybe the weakest. Golf is one of the few games where amateurs can play the same equipment, same courses lacking only the skills of the professionals. It’s this relationship that has been a significant factor in driving participation of the financial backbone of amateur golf.

To cop an old phrase, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.” Further, if something is done that essentially makes courses play longer, it’s playing with fire. The game has lost thousands of its most loyal participants over the last 20 years and making courses longer and more difficult isn’t on page one of the manual to change that trend.

The second and much stronger reason is basic economics. There are companies that have invested tens if not hundreds of millions over the years to produce optimally performing golf balls within the posted rules. Their efforts are closely examined by the enforcers of the rules and not put to market without a passing grade. To say to them, “Well the game has changed; what you’ve done is no longer applicable. Here are the new rules.” Further, these rules have the effect of making ball-to-ball performance very similar so that market advantage you have so carefully cultivated will be greatly diminished. I cannot fathom this approach without foreseeing it as the basis of lawsuits for years to come. You could make the same argument if there were to be a similar approach on the club side.

The same would apply to players. I hire a trainer, spend hours working out, eating carefully, all with the same objective: to gain an advantage by being able to drive the ball well past my players. Now you want to change the ground rules and eliminate my advantage—let me introduce you to my attorney. 

So, what’s the next step? 8,500-9,000 yard tour courses—that is if they have room—strategically placed pot bunkers, essentially a one-stroke penalty, tricking up landing areas making luck too significant.

Or a subtle but very effective procedure. Back in my very early days, golf balls were balata, and I remember two things. If you looked at them funny, they responded with a smile, the kind that made them unputtable. Subsequent designs went from rocks to today’s ball—delightfully stable but still completely playable. Huge drives on Tour today are fades that straighten out hitting fairways with forward roll.

Never happened in the old days. Fades were soft, landed, and didn’t go very far. Slices were fades out of control, and while undesirable, they had a chance of being found and played. Hooks were anathema, the shot makers hit draws and got the advantage of extra roll. When draws became hooks more often than not they did not finish in a desirable area. “You can talk to fades and draws; hooks don’t listen.”

This was all relative to the high spin rate produced by the balata ball. And therein lies the path to my solution. I’m not advocating a return to balata. I’m saying today’s ball making expertise can produce a ball that loses nothing in distance but adds spin, which is a way of saying it emphasizes shotmaking. This may be as direct as changing the dimple pattern.

This change would strike directly to the heart of the long hitter who naturally produces the most spin. He (or she) could not simply depend on clubhead speed—it would have to be balanced by shotmaking skill. We aren’t changing the course, we aren’t producing a short-hitting ball, we are emphasizing shotmaking. No distance loss for amateurs, just more understanding that it’s about controlling your ball.

We retain the good things about the game without a lawsuit infested upheaval.  

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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.

39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. Brysoon McFaldough

    Dec 17, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    I have the best and simplest solution: determine the winner of every tournament based on the player with the lowest number of strokes. That way, driving the ball far isn’t the only metric, it’s an advantage only balanced by irons, wedges, short game and putting. And a course can’t be “obsolete”, because whether the ball is driven 250 or 350, whether the approach is 5 iron or SW, everyone plays the same course and can use the same equipment, the difference being their ability and effort.

    Oh, right, that’s what it already is.

    • Maximillian

      Dec 17, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      Brysoon,

      you’re a doofus. Any player who can drive it past 300 should be penalized. Who cares is that’s natural ability or hard work? Shorter hitters have a disadvantage and course designers’ egos are being damaged beyond repair. Who will protect the egos of the private club members whose courses are no longer “too tough for the pros”?

      Any player who drives it past 300 should get a 2 stroke penalty (and a $10,000 fine paid to the course architect). Any player who can’t hit it 300 should get a free drop at the 150 marker.

      Also, grow the rough to 2′ and make any grooves on wedges illegal.

      Also, ban all players over 6’2″ and body fat less than 25%.

  2. Keith

    Dec 17, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    What about having a specially made golf ball for major tournament only similar to tennis.

  3. Keith

    Dec 17, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    You say “Golf is one of the few games where amateurs can play the same equipment”. I beg to differ here because pros clubs particularly drivers are made exactly to the pros specifications. These drivers yo don’t find in the pro shop or golf store.

    • Maximillian

      Dec 19, 2020 at 1:54 am

      Amateurs CAN play the same equipment; there are plenty of clubfitters who can build you a club to tour specs. You can have a putter made to your exact specs from scratch.

      Being too cheap to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

  4. George

    Dec 17, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    The PGA is trying to ruin golf. People want to see the low scores and want to use the same equipment to see how they compare. Who cares if they shoot 40 under? Seriously? Old dudes gonna ruin the game. Rhinos.

  5. Ken Moum

    Dec 17, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Barney, as the USGA proved in 1930 when they increased the size of the ball to its current 1.68″ and dropped the weight to 1.55 oz.

    The resulting product was called the “balloon ball” and the weight was quickly put back at 1.62 oz. But those were wound balata balls.

    With today’s balls a lighter standard would do everything you’re asking for. As clubhead speeds went up, the ball would curve more.

    But the REAL benefit is that it would make it easier for Jr. golfers, women and seniors to get the ball airborne and keep it airborne. It might even increase their distance.

  6. greg

    Dec 16, 2020 at 10:53 pm

    Kyle

    You nailed it. This is only an issue in tournament golf. All others need not apply.
    For select tournaments, no drivers allowed, a two wood or other fairway wood as a tee shot option.
    Please leave the ball alone.

  7. matt

    Dec 16, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Is Barney doing ok? Just wondering if someone in his inner circle needs to have an intervention. Did he just argue (and I’m honestly asking, this is incomprehensible drivel) that we cannot change the ball, but we need to change the ball.

    • Bsrney Adams

      Dec 16, 2020 at 2:32 pm

      I now hold the record for most interventions that haven’t worked My regular golf buds dropped me. Playing as a single, early evening tee time.

  8. don

    Dec 16, 2020 at 11:17 am

    oldandgrey I would leave everything alone. when Bryson starts to win every week then maybe do something. Been playing on and off since 1961. The problem is with the average golfer trying to be something that will never happen. everything is distance. Now that my drives are mostly all under 200 yds I started to use forward tees. now golf is fun again. every oldtimer I know inflates his game must be a mental defect with the truth. every time I play younger or older I’m almost eighty, in the club they all drive it 230 to 250 or so but on the course they hit it under 200 or off to the right or off to the left. One of the biggest problems is men trying to be what will never happen. Just go out use the forward tees and have fun..

  9. Kyle EricSon

    Dec 16, 2020 at 2:25 am

    So my solution is slightly different … limit the number of clubs to only 12. I don’t think most pro’s would want to eliminate any of their short irons or wedges, so maybe they’d eliminate a couple of the longer clubs (driver, utility iron, 2 iron, etc.) and then tee off with 2 or 3 woods. Of course these guys still bomb 3 woods but it would reign in the distances somewhat. Just my two cents …

  10. happyday_j

    Dec 15, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    If the only move is by increasing spin on the golf ball, that will only make the game easier.

    Guys will just play a lower spinning driver head to get the same launch characteristics that they have now. So distance of the tee being reduced by spin get negligible.

    However now your increasing spin on all other shot, which therefore means more control, sort of like when then tried to reduce spin by changing the grooves…

    • 2over

      Dec 15, 2020 at 10:53 pm

      Brilliant. Having grown up playing balata balls I’ve long maintained this is the way. in the 80’s, early 90’s a really good player could take the spin off the long clubs and hit draws for distance. Guys who merely had clubhead speed saw a lot of up shooting spinners that went nowhere especially into the wind.

      You could make a ball that would still go far for the player who can hit up on the driver with a square face and minimize spin…

  11. Tim

    Dec 15, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    Easiest way to control distance is to limit the tee height when teeing up the ball. This is equivalent to MLB lowering the mound height to get more action from the hitters. I’ve seen some videos address tee height and there can be 15 yd difference between teeing the ball low vs high. It’s a cheap answer that doesn’t cause mass rollbacks of the club or ball.

  12. Lg

    Dec 15, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Just ignore the ball. Go back to the rule we had in the early 2000’s where am’s were playing Hi-Cor drivers and pro’s weren’t. In other words reduce the CT for the pro’s drivers, 3 woods and driving irons. They’ll still look cosmetically the same as those played by recreational golfers, but just with thicker clubfaces. There’s 20 yards straight away. Then go to a 44″ shaft limit, again it won’t affect sales because a company can still say that this pro plays this or that etc etc.
    Then for gods sake can we slow the fairways down, just do what the do at Augusta, slightly thicker fairways grown back towards the tee…and no this won’t favour the player who carries it further because all the evidence suggest that the like of Rory, Bryson get more roll after the ball has landed. Put these together and you have 20-30 yards and the game is relevant again!

  13. ben

    Dec 15, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    I think you miss the point when adressing the problem this way. If you play shorter, the game becomes even harder for the short hitters… The only way to made it fair is either to limit swing speed with radars (and give a penalty each time the radar bips) or put more obstacles and penalty areas betwin 320 and 370 yards…

  14. Peter Steward

    Dec 15, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Never understood why that problem is so difficult to solve. Just don’t cut the fairway in the driver landing zone from 300 – 330 yards two weeks in advance of a PGA tournament. Every player will avoid hitting driver on those wholes. Problem solved. Cut the grass monday morning after the tournament and members and guests can play on as usual. Shorter balls are not the way to go. Ever hit balls on a range that had these 20% or 30% length reduced balls because the range is too short in size? Been on a range in Dublin that had 50% reduced length balls. Total crap, everybody hates that. For a reason, it is just no fun.

  15. USGA would-be

    Dec 15, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    This is stupid. Just mandate a condition of competition that you must play with a 60-compression ball. This goes away immediately.

    • matt

      Dec 16, 2020 at 1:19 pm

      yup… long hitter would still be long – although the gap would narrow… we could play faster, find stray shots quicker, reduce course size, reduce maintenance costs. If you’re the longest hitter in your group you’ll retain your status – people would adjust in about 2 weeks. Don’t get why people shudder at the idea. Really short hitters wouldn’t even lose distance, a lower compression ball is what they need anyhow.

  16. Kevin Ricciardelli

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    Another way to reduce distance among the fastest swingers is to limit the size of the clubheads. I don’t think that Bryson would want to swing that hard with a 275 or 300 cc driver head. Far less MOI means less control.

  17. Jon

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Make the cup smaller for the pros.

  18. gordy3279

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    here’s a pretty simple fix. Keep the ball the same but require pros to play smaller heads and steel shafts in all their clubs. Like baseball between college and the pros. College baseball players play aluminum bats and pros play wooded. The ball is the same. I guarantee if the pros played smaller heads with steel shafts swing speeds would go down. No way you get 130+ swing speed with a 275cc head and a steel shaft.

  19. Statmagic

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Which golf ball manufacturer is going to the be the first to say “our ball doesn’t go as far”?

    What exactly is the total available market for those who purchase that ball? I’m going to venture a guess and say there is no market for that ball.

  20. Ben

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:57 am

    Making the ball balata again won’t do much. About 15 years ago, my friend found some Tour Balata 90s in his dad’s garage so we took them out. This was peak Pro V1 years, which hasn’t changed if you’ve seen videos online. The ball did spin more but the distance wasn’t all that different. With the driver maybe 10 yards, irons were about 5. But the short game was so much easier because you can spin the heck out of it. I don’t see how rolling back the ball or putting limits on the dimples will do anything. A dimpleless golf ball flies really straight. So now you’re giving the big hitters even more advantage by limiting the dimple pattern. Just let golf be golf. People are playing like crazy, even in a pandemic and people are watching it on tv too. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  21. Statmagic

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Barney poking that snake with a stick.

    I guess everyone is just bored these days and need to rehash the same old stuff.

  22. Scott Shields

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:47 am

    The solution is easy:

    Grow out the rough ….

    Soften fairways …

    Harden greens ….

    Make bunkers actually hard to hit from by either not racking them or making them waste bunkers….

    You won’t need to change the length of any course when missing fairways actually becomes punitive.

    As far as the ball goes, what’s done is done, just restrict further increases to what’s already out there, you certainly can’t take away from what exists.

  23. TonyK

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:35 am

    Dimple (aero) regulation is the easiest.

    It is possible to not affect pretty much any club but the driver only with higher swing speed 110+.

  24. WRXFan

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Please stop giving this guy credibility. he had one good golf invention 25 years ago, and that was it.

    • gwelfgulfer

      Dec 15, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      This… The hypocrisy is awesome when a former owner of an equipment company that tried to push boundaries and create equipment that would make the ball go further, crying about the ball going further… Barney failed and was taken over/bought out, yet here wrx still gives him a voice…

  25. Karl Furno

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Great article! The charm of the game is that we play the same rules that the pros play. Period. Duh, we know pros have tour heads and custom shafts but that’s not what separates them from us. DJ and Rory don’t hit it 50yds pst us because of a tour model, it’s because of talent, mechanics, and conditioning.

  26. Paulo

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:34 am

    There is no distance problem in golf. People pushing limits is what sport is all about.

  27. Henny Bogan

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:32 am

    1. The average player does not play the same equipment that tour players do and does not play on the same courses under the same conditions as tour players do. If they did, the number of people who would leave the game would be astronomical, it would simply be too hard for too many. The game self-bifurcated years ago, even if we don’t want to admit it. There is not harm or shame in publicly acknowledging that.

    2. Your argument that changing the rules put on golf ball manufactures would cost them too much money and lead to lawsuits, but then you proposed a ball that spins more? How would you enforce a higher spinning ball unless you changed the rules put on golf ball manufactures? The golf ball is the most logical place to impact the game because golf balls are a disposable commodity. Players go through them at high rates and changing the golf ball formula would not impact the players spending habit. They’re going to buy new balls in the near future anyway. This is the cheapest avenue to invoke change and will impact the OEM the least.

    3. There is nothing stopping golf ball manufactures from making golf balls that do not meet the specs of the USGA or R&A. They choose to build to those specs because that is what golfers want. This is exactly what the courts would say to them if they try to sue the USGA. Illegal balls and clubs are sold today, nothing is there to stop them from being sold and used on a golf course.

  28. Matt

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:03 am

    If you add spin to the ball, especially off the driver, you are naturally going to reduce distance given how optimized drivers and driver swings are today. This is impossible

  29. John Ward

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:02 am

    Haha so your reasons are history and economics……….you sir, are the problem.
    Money and tradition over the betterment of the game and its participants. This sounds awfully familiar! Where’s your blonde wig?

    Also I noticed you are “100 percent against” a shorter ball, yet your grand solution was to create a spinnier ball aka a shorter ball. What do you think spin does?

    You want to preserve the “tens if not hundreds of millions” of R&D dollars put forth by ball companies, yet you want to change the construction of the ball? Isn’t that a paradox?

    You’re yelling at the clouds man. Your kids are sitting there saying “Ok dad, sounds good dad” and waiting for you to pick up the bill

  30. A. Commoner

    Dec 15, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Right on, Barney! I truly miss the way golf used to be.

  31. Travis

    Dec 15, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Does it matter at this point? Either do it, or don’t do it, but stop just talking about it. This stupid discussion has been going on for years with zero resolution one way or another. Take action and be done with it.

    • A. Commoner

      Dec 15, 2020 at 9:43 am

      Whom are you addressing?

    • Statmagic

      Dec 15, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Exactly right. Does years of discussing the same thing actually do anything?

      Money is the only thing that would prompt change. What golf ball manufacturer is going to the be the first to say “our ball doesn’t go as far”?

      Answer: none of them will.

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Keep your golf body moving at home

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Over the past few months, I’m willing to bet that a lack of golf, limited access to gyms and spending more time at home in sitting positions will likely be having a negative effect on our posture.

This means certain muscles (pecs, abs, hip flexors) getting tight and short, thereby hunching us over, rounding our shoulders forward and tightening our hips. This combination can wreak havoc on our golf swings, particularly our ability to rotate efficiently.

This simple sequence of exercises, performed daily, will help maintain posture and mobility in the key areas that facilitate rotation in our golf swings. You can find these exercises and much more on the Golf Fit Pro app for iOS.

 

1 – Mid Back Massage – 1 x 90 seconds

Using a foam roller or tightly rolled up towel, aim to apply firm pressure through the mid and upper back whilst gently pushing out the rib cage and arching back. Move up and down the roller or towel to target different areas of your spine.

 

2 – Upper Back Extension – 1 x 30 seconds

Using a bench, box or chair, push the chest down toward the floor whilst keeping your abs / core engaged. You should feel this in your mid and upper back.

 

3 – Straight Arm Chest Stretch – 1 x 30 seconds each side

 

Find a wall, post or doorway, place your hand flat with elbow pointing to the floor and arm straight. Gently turn away from your hand until your feel a stretch in your chest and front of your shoulder.

 

4 – Step Up and Turn – 1 x 5 reps each side 

 

In a push up position, move your foot to the outside of your hand (or as close as possible) then rotate your upper torso with arm straight, aiming to point your hand straight up to the ceiling.

 

5 – Back Swing and Follow Through – 1 x 10 reps

Using a piece of rubber tubing or as pictured, the GravityFit TPro, get into your golf set up position pushing out against the tubing. From there turn into your backswing and then into your follow through. Aim to do the majority of the rotation with your torso, keeping your hands in front of your body.

 

You can check out more of Nick’s articles and services here:

Articles
Golf Fit Pro App
Online Training

 

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The Gear Dive: Talking new Callaway Gear with Dave Neville

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On this episode of TGD, Johnny chats all things new Callaway gear with Sr. Director Brand and Product Management Dave Neville. They go deep into Epic Speed, the new Cally irons, and basically everything else.

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The Wedge Guy: From “secret” to 5 basics for a better wedge game

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First of all, thanks to all of you who read and gave last week’s post such high marks. And for all of you who have sent me an email asking for me to address so many topics. Keep those coming and I’ll never run out of things to write about.

In response to so many of those who asked for more on the basics, I want to start a series of articles this week to address some of what I consider the basics as you move your wedge game from greenside chipping, back to “full” wedge distances.

While I certainly do not want to try to replace the skills and contributions of a good instructor, what I hope to accomplish over the next few posts is to give you some of what I consider the most sound and basic of fundamentals as you approach shots from the green back to 100-130 yards, or what you consider “full” swing pitching wedge distance.

So, to get this series kicked off, let’s take the most basic of greenside chips, where the ball lies in a reasonably decent lie 3-10 feet from the edge of the green. I know there are many theories and approaches to chipping the ball, from a “putt-stroke” to hitting them all with a lob wedge, but I’m going to focus on what I consider the most simple and basic of approaches to chipping, so here we go:

Club selection. For golfers who are not highly skilled in this shot and who do not yet want to try to exhibit tons of creativity, my theory is that it is much easier to master one basic technique, then choose the right club to deliver the appropriate carry/roll combination. Once you have done a little practice and experimenting, you should really understand that relationship for two to four different clubs, say your sand wedge, gap wedge and pitching wedge.

Geometry. By that I mean to “build” the shot technique around the club and ball relationship to your body, as those are static. Start with your club soled properly, so that it is not standing up on the toe or rocked back on the heel. With the ball centered in the face, the shaft should be leaning very slightly forward toward the hole. Then move into your stance position, so that your lead arm is hanging straight down from your shoulders and your upper hand can grasp the grip with about 1-2” of “grip down” (I hate the term “choke up”). I’m a firm believer that the lead arm should not angle back toward the body, or out toward the ball, as either compromises the geometry of the club. The stance should be rather narrow and a bit open, weight 70% on your lead foot, and the ball positioned just forward of your trailing foot.

Relax. This is a touch shot, so it needs a very light grip on the club. Tension in the hands and forearms is a killer on these. I like to do a “pressure check” just before taking the club back, just to make sure I have not let the shot tighten me up.

The body core is key. This is not a “handsy” shot, but much more like a putt in that the shoulders turn away from the shot and back through, with the arms and hands pretty quiet. Because of the light grip, there will, by necessity, be some “loading” as you make the transition at the end of the backswing, but you want to “hold” that making sure your lead shoulder/forearm stay ahead of the clubhead through the entire through-stroke. This insures – like I pointed out last week – that the club stays in front of your body through the entire mini-swing.

Control speed with core speed. I think a longer stroke/swing makes for a smoother tempo on these shots. Don’t be afraid to take the club back a bit further than you might otherwise think, and just make the through-stroke as s-m-o-0-t-h as possible. Avoid any quickness or “jab-iness” in the stroke at all. Once you experiment a bit, you can learn how to control your body core rotation speed much easier than you can control hand speed. And it is nearly impossible to get too quick if you do that.

Again, I am certainly not here to replace or substitute for good instruction, and I know there are a number of approaches to chipping. This is just the one that I have found easier to learn and master in relation to the time you have to spend on your short game practice.

Next week, we’ll move back to those shorter pitches up to about 30 yards.

And keep those emails coming, OK? [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

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