Golf Technology: For Tour Pros Only.

This might be an odd post coming from someone who once wrote that golf was too hard, but I’m coming out in favor of a cap on golf equipment technology.  Maybe even a little roll back, but since that will never happen, I’ll settle for putting the brakes on.  Golf technology isn’t making many amateurs better players.  It’s just emptying their wallets.  New technology fuels what is probably a withering golf equipment industry, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of scores plummeting.

If you remember my ideas for making golf easier, none of them was a 750 cc driver.  I wanted a bigger hole, two flags per green, preferred lies in all bunkers, elimination of the O.B. stake, things of that nature.  That would actually help your score.  If you go buy a new set of irons today, I’m willing to bet you’ll shoot the same score as you shot last week.  The USGA is encouraging people to have more fun by playing a shorter set of tees, they haven’t partnered with Taylor Made to get a white driver in everyone’s hands.

Golf is a sport that is tied very closely to its equipment.  As opposed to something like basketball, which is all about the athletes, golf is part golfer, but also part clubs and part course.  I think one of the things that people like about golf is that they can play the courses the pros play.  They can use the ball the pros use.  Your Scotty Cameron belly putter can be almost identical to the one Adam Scott uses.  It’s something golf has going for it.  If I had the means, I could play Pebble Beach.  I can’t take batting practice at Wrigley Field, or try to kick a few field goals down at the Linc.

It’s the desire to be like the pros, though, that often gets golfers in trouble.  You might want to hit the same model of irons that Dustin Johnson has, but you couldn’t find the sweet spot with a treasure map.  You might want to play Torrey Pines from 7,500 yards, but the boxes on the scorecard aren’t big enough for that many digits.  The money from the new technology comes from the masses buying it up.  They want to buy it, because of what the pros are capable of doing with it, but the disparity between the pro game and the amateur game keeps getting more glaring.

Let’s say a stock par-4 is a driver and 7-iron.  Not too long ago on the PGA Tour this would have meant something around 400 yards with a high-end of 425.  At the same time, your run of the mill amateur might have hit those clubs 340 yards.  Now, I’d say the majority of guys on tour can hit those clubs in the 485 yard range and the high-end for a guy like Bubba Watson or J.B. Holmes might be 530 yards or more.  At the same time, your basic amateur has probably only bumped his number up to 360-375.  While the Tour pros are 40 yards longer off the tee and a club and half longer with their irons, the guy at the local muny has probably squeezed 15 yards out of his driver and not much else.

What if a whole course was made of stock par-4s?  Back in the day the total yardage for the pros would be 7,200 yards.  For the amateurs, 6,120 yards.  That sounds about right, doesn’t it?  Your standard championship tees and a nice friendly set of whites.  A course now made up of stock par-4s for the pros would measure 8,730 yards (9540 for Bubba).  The amateurs get a little bump to 6570 (365 yards per). Look at those numbers.  This is what golf technology is doing.  It’s making courses obsolete for the professionals and only marginally helping the everyday player.

We’ve gotten to the point where there are only three things that can keep scoring down in professional events, and Mother Nature is in control of two of them.  An incredibly firm golf course, a very windy day, or a tricked up venue are the only things that will keep any course in the world from being slaughtered by the guys on Tour.  The Byron Nelson event was one of the hardest of the year, because the wind blew 30 mph all week.  The U.S. Open was a pushover, because they couldn’t firm up Congressional.  Look at what happened at Aronimink.  It was playing fast and tough for two days, but heading into Saturday they either decided they wanted more birdies or the members wanted their greens to be healthy on Monday.  They watered.  The course record was broken twice in about a ½ hour.

You’d think the point of golf technology would be to make the game easier, but from a business standpoint the objective is to sell equipment under the ruse that you’ll get better.  The only players really reaping any benefit are the guys who are already elite.  Even if you happened to gain 15 yards, for an amateur that probably won’t help your score.  How many fairways do you hit a round?  Five?  So, on the other 9 occasions you are just 15 yards further into trouble.  Maybe you even blow one OB that normally would have stayed in bounds.  Maybe you hit a few iron shots to 15 feet instead of 25 feet, but guess what?  You 2-putt from both locations.

From about 1996 to 2007, I played the same set of irons. When I finally got new irons, there was no discernible change in my game.  The only real bump in distance I’ve ever gotten is from ball technology, but like I said, that extra distance never made me a better player.  I’ve never bought a golf club that has made me a better player.  That’s the bottom line.  And so if golf technology isn’t really helping people, it’s just draining your disposable income and making classic courses obsolete, what the hell are we doing?

Golf is hard, but it isn’t hard because you don’t have the right clubs.

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10 thoughts on “Golf Technology: For Tour Pros Only.

  1. Mostly agree with this, but don’t forget the blade corollary: there is some golf equipment that will make you a much worse golfer.

  2. Sure, there is a minimum tech requirement. Don’t play blades. Don’t play persimmon with a steel telephone pole in it.

    But, if you gave someone x-12s instead of x-24s, or a V-steel 3wood instead of a fricking square thing, or told them to go back to their driver from 5 years ago, they’d be the same player.

    The rest is the ball, and launch monitor trickery. There’s something else that is mostly for the pros, the launch monitor. They can tweak their driver set-up, because they are consistent. You put a 20 handicap in a launch monitor and one swing he’s got 4000 rpm of spin, the next is 6000. One launch is 18 degrees the next is 10.

    You don’t go out buying a pair of sneakers actually thinking they will make you jump higher, but the golf industry has that going for them. Scapegoating double bogeys keeps these companies in business.

  3. Yeah, I do agree with all of that. The other thing golf technology has going for it is that it is distracting. If you practice with the same clubs for several years (or hit enough balls with those clubs) it eventually will become clear to you that you are making the same mistake over and over and over again. But when you change clubs it feels different, which lets you think you are not making that same mistake when in fact you are. (Or you are overcorrecting the old mistake and thereby inventing a whole host of new problems but that’s just the other side of the same coin.) So new technology gives the illusion that it has solved your problem. A good selling point even if blatantly not true.

  4. I still think the golf ball can help your game out for a couple strokes a round.

    I finally convinced my dad to ditch the Callaway X-Hot and play the ProV1x. I played with him a couple times and he is hitting a couple shots per round that skip in there and bite instead of skipping off the green. Now he’s still two putting, but it he certainly wasn’t getting up and down when his Callaway would have rolled right off.

    When it’s all said and done the USGA is going to step in and have a tournament ball for the U.S. Open by the time it goes to Merion. It will be a limited flight ball. It will allow older venues to come back into the rotation and save the USGA from resorting to tricking up courses to prevent the scores from dipping into the teens.

  5. I was mostly talking about clubs. I’d concede the ball goes farther.

    The thing with your dad, though, is just a matter of buying a better ball.

    No one is better off with an HX hot, it’s just 25 dollars less a dozen.

  6. Oh, and no way there’s a tournament ball by merion. Thatd take years to implement. And they’d try it in a US Am or something first. I don’t see how it’s possible.

  7. The thing about a tournament ball is that it takes away from what 3PT was talking about in the original post: the “play what the pros play” effect. And I can’t see any way Titleist is letting the ProV1x become an illegal ball.

    • I hear what you’re saying. I’m just pointing out that the golf ball is something people copy from the pros and it actually makes you a better player.

      As for the tournament ball I did some reading and come across this:

      http://www.waggleroom.com/2010/8/20/1633658/the-how-and-why-of-testing-the

      Check out some of the links within the article too. It’s kind of interesting.

      Titleist and other ball manufacturers wouldn’t have an illegal ball on the Tour or for your everyday hacker. The ball just wouldn’t be allowed at the US Open.

      The USGA could make a ton of money by allowing companies to bid on the manufacturing of the ball.

    • Interesting read. And I assumed you were talking about a tournament ball for all PGA events, not just for USGA, so my mistake there.

  8. I’ve read some stuff about the testing. It sounds like they’re basically running a Titlest Professional out there.

    Obviously balls have been steadily getting better, but the only holy bleep moment I’ve ever had was the first time I played a ProV1 after using the Professional and Maxy Revolution for 4 or 5 years.

    I think it’s mostly been small refinements since then.

    If you think about it, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal if they can get the ball to fly shorter distances but react the same way. It’d be like the opposite of playing at altitude–something the pros seem to adjust to pretty quickly.

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