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Teed Off (Sep 7, 2014)

Update: September, 07/2014 - 19:59

with Robert Bicknell

At the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills GC this year, they will play the first hole from 346 yards, which is the same distance that the course played when Arnold Palmer won the 1960 US Open back. Normally, the hole plays 389 yards.

During the final round, Arnie drove the green then two-putted for birdie, which ignited a birdie run which allowed him to come from behind and win the tournament over the likes of a young Jack Nicklaus, Julius Boros and Ben Hogan.

Flash forward to today and Rory McIlroy trying to replicate the feat with a persimmon driver, of the type Arnie used back in the day and even with his length, he couldn't do it. Makes me wonder if Bubba Watson of John Daly could do it either.

There is no doubt that the equipment of today is vastly superior of what they used back then. I am old enough to have played with that gear, ie, persimmon woods, balata balls and steel shafts. Heavy steel shafts. The lightweight stuff, including reliable graphite shafts didn't really make an appearance until the mid - late 1980's and titanium heads didn't show up until early 1990's.

Back then most clubs were simply "blades" meaning there was little to none of the perimeter weighted design you see today, making the clubs easier to hit. Back then, if you missed your shot, you knew it immediately and the result wasn't pretty. Anything forward of mid-point was gonna slice and anything towards the heel was gonna hook or shank.

In those days, if you shanked (hit the ball with the hosel of the club instead of the blade), the coach would tell you it was "almost perfect". He wasn't being sarcastic, because the sweet spot on blades was less than a quarter-inch forward of the hosel.

So, as you can imagine, when "game improvement irons" with their heavier soles and perimeter weighting came out, players were happier than hell. In fact, that alone allowed more people to take up the game, which was previously considered "too difficult".

In the movie Caddyshack, Judge Smails pulls out an old putter, the "Billy Barule" (also known as "Billy Baroo") which looked like a butter-knife on a stick. Fortunately, we had better putters later in the 60's and 70's such as the Acushnet Bull's-eye and the Wilson 8802, but they were light-years removed from the precision technology we have today.

Few players will remember a "ball gauge" which was simply a thin metal plate with a hole in it. Yet, it was very much in demand because when you bought a dozen balata balls, you had to check them to make sure they were perfectly round. Some were not. Often, out of a dozen balls, only seven or eight were actually suitable for play. The rest went into the shag bag.

So, with all the changes in technology and the incredible precision measuring equipment available today, you would think that today's clubs would be identical (within the make and model), but you'd be wrong.

Driver heads, for example, can vary quite a bit in terms of face angle, COR (coefficient of restitution) and weight. Oh sure, they're "close" but out of a batch of 20 heads, only a few will come in on the mark, which is why Tour heads are inspected very carefully before being sent out to the fitters on Tour.

And, if you think the clubs you play are the same as what Tour players are using, you'd be very wrong yet again. Commercial vs Tour heads are, sometimes, not even close.

The most obvious difference was the TaylorMade R1 driver. The commercial version was 460cc at 205 grams, whereas the Tour-only edition R1-2 came in 440 (195gms) and the R1-3 was even smaller. Not only that, but Tour driver shafts are usually half an inch shorter.

And let's not even get into differences of golf balls. Suffice it to say, they're not the same, despite the marketing hype of the various manufacturers. But to be fair, if an average player tried to play with Tour equipment, they would most likely play worse than with their commercial gear.

But an interesting question is, "How would today's Tour players fare with old style equipment? How many would still be at the top of the rankings?"

That might make for a fun tournament… — VNS

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