2001: Preferred - Improve drives with correct ball-club combo

The driver is the sexiest club in golf. Rare is the golfer who isn’t tempted to cuddle up to the latest, greatest driver.

What’s more, the driver arguably is the most important club in golf. “Drive for show, putt for dough” is a hackneyed old bromide that should be replaced by something more modern and penetrating, something like “My driver ate your putter for lunch.”

As the 2001 season rolls toward a conclusion, drivers are becoming even more important. A new generation of drivers is upon us – drivers that produce lower spin and, in turn, longer carry and roll.

These drivers are helping golfers of all skill levels achieve more distance. The world’s attention might be focused on the 350-yard bombs of Tiger (He Who Blocks It Into The) Woods, but it is ordinary players who are the happiest beneficiaries of modern technology. Billy Bob and Janie Sue are hitting the ball farther than ever before.

So, please, don’t use a bunch of stale and unconvincing statistics to tell me that golfers haven’t improved over the years. If handicaps have remained at the same level for half a century, it is only because courses have become considerably longer and tougher. Just look around – more and more people know how to play this game.

The ascent of the driver has been fostered by the development of new aerodynamically advanced golf balls. It is foolish to credit one without the other. In concert, new drivers and new golf balls are a combination made in golfers’ heaven.

So, looking into a crystal ball, what is the future of golf equipment? In a word, the future is longer – longer drives, longer iron shots. In a phrase, the future is custom fitting for all – custom fitting by measuring and studying a golfer’s swing and matching a driver and golf ball to it.

If Nike can make a custom driver and custom golf ball for David Duval to match his playing characteristics, there is no reason to believe this cannot be accomplished for the rest of us.

No company has done more in the area of customized fitting than Titleist. Company officials, without divulging figures, acknowledge that a sizable chunk of their driver sales are custom orders. Why is this? A primary reason is that Titleist, through its omnipresent launch monitor program, has been able to improve individual performance by prescribing a specific driver and specific golf ball.

With the development of the Titleist Pro V1 ball – and other members of the Pro V family that will follow – fitting has become both more complicated and more rewarding. Other ball manufacturers are riding the same technology train (witness the phenomenal success of the Precept MC Lady).

This combination of a new era of golf balls and a new era of drivers is mind-boggling. Fasten your seatbelts.

While the U.S. Golf Association was asleep at the switch, testing golf equipment under one unwavering set of launch conditions, golf companies were developing clubs and balls that meet USGA robotic and machine standards but do even more in the hands of real golfers.

Just look at the results

from the recent PGA Championship. On a course that was 7,213 yards long with a par of 70, the best golfers in the world ripped par to smithereens. The winner, David Toms, was 15 under par. A total of 36 players finished in red numbers.

How is this possible? One reason is that distance no longer is a deterrent to these stars. While Duval averaged 321.5 yards in driving distance, Toms posted a 298-yard average. If 300 yards used to be a destination for one and all, it now is a rest stop on a long, long journey. It is just a matter of time before a PGA Tour player hits a 400-yard drive in a tournament.

Still, such distances would not be possible for most players without the effective matching of drivers and balls. Tom Wishon, chief technical officer for Golfsmith, argues that many PGA Tour players would be 30 to 35 yards shorter off the tee without the customized fitting of their equipment.

Wishon is probably the smartest man you never heard of – golf smart, we’re talking about here. He has more drivers on the USGA’s nonconforming list than any other golf club designer, although his emphasis (and that of Golfsmith) remains on conforming clubs.

“You know how, every once in a while, you hit a drive off-center, and it goes 20 or 30 yards farther?” Wishon mused. “You wonder how you did it, but you don’t know. Well, you probably hit it a little higher on the face, and the ball almost certainly stayed in the air longer.

“The proper combination of driver and ball can achieve the same thing. It can give an extra 30 yards to many golfers. It’s just a matter of finding the right combination.”

And so most major golf companies are busy developing new fitting techniques, as well as new drivers. The two go hand-in-hand.

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