Titleist AVX – Five Things You Should Know

We took the Titleist AVX to the course and had golfers try it, giving each two sleeves so they could put it in play for several rounds. They were a mixture of handicaps, female and male, ranging from single digits to low 20s. All were first asked if they had ever tried “soft-feel” golf balls and if they liked them and then, assuming they liked the AVX, if they would be averse to its $48 per dozen price.

The AVX is the first premium category ball from Titleist since the Pro V1x in 2003 and is meant to compliment it and the Pro V1 not pirate sales from the two flagship models.

Next the AVX has a lower compression core to help achieve a softer feel contrasting with the Pro V1 and the firmer Pro V1x. The mantle has lots of flex contributing to both ball speed for distance and to control spin making it the lowest spinning of the three.

The cover is a new as well, a proprietary thermoset cast urethane elastomer of something called GRN42 formulation.

Put altogether the AVX with approximately an 80 compression goes slightly farther with both the driver and irons so even though its trajectory is lower club for club you are often will be hitting a 9-iron where before it might have been an 8-iron or even a seven. Thus, the descent angle is steep enough to mitigate the lower spin of the AVX versus the Pro V1 which has a compression of approximately 90 and certainly the Pro V1x at around 100 compression.

On course results reflected the differences in construction with favorable comments about its playability similar to: “I personally liked the way ball felt when I made solid contact off the tee. It seemed to add 5 yards or more than the Callaway SuperSoft ball I previously used. I also noticed a very soft feel to the ball when putting. Good ball with a good feel even for an 18-hcp type golfer.”

A 14-handicap female said, “Distance is no contest. Longer and will play it.”

Around the green especially the softer feel was evident and a former senior professional with a 2-handicap remarked, “The added distance from the tee is important but what I like more is the way it reacts on scoring shots and chips. It is going to replace the Pro V1x I have been playing.”

There were a few negatives. One 15-handicap male did not see any more distance and another, who plays Bridgestone, saying the AVX was a good ball but he was probably not going to change though he didn’t state a reason.

Overall and from my experience testing and playing soft-feel golf balls since they first came on the market the Titlesit AVX is a strong choice for those wanting a lower trajectory, lower spinning ball that still has a soft feel. Priced the same as the Pro V1 and Pro V1x at $48 per dozen and for those who prefer it, the cover chemistry allows Titleist to make a yellow version.

Criticism of Driving Distance is a Nonstarter

Television commentators often talk about how far players hit the golf ball and this prompted the thought that by looking the results of PGA Tour players who have the highest driver swing speeds we could gain some insight into the current criticism of ball distance. So, here are the “fast five” as of the Arnold Palmer Invitational–statistics provided by the PGA Tour:

Keith Mitchell 123.97 mph
Rory McIlroy 122.34 mph
Tiger Woods 121.90 mph
Tony Finau 121.90 mph
Gary Woodland 121.84 mph

The “elites,” touring professionals and top caliber amateurs, unquestionably hit the ball farther than in the past however that’s not the issue. We need to know if added distance is a detriment to the game.

By analyzing the results of those with the highest swing speeds we should see a correlation with driving distance, scoring and money won and taking the elite of the elites, average driving distance is:

Keith Mitchell 312.1 yards
Rory McIlroy  314.1 yards
Tiger Woods 304.2 yards
Tony Finau 322.7 yards
Gary Woodland 312.2 yards

But that’s not the whole story. Mitchell is only number 10 in driving distance, McIlroy is 6, Woods 36, Finau first and Woodland 9.

More interesting, in fact very interesting, is how swing speed translates into scoring average: Mitchell is number 143, McIlroy 16, Woods 5, Finau 13 and Woodland 29. To put this in perspective, this year’s scoring average leader is Dustin Johnson at 68.843 strokes per round and in 1999, prior to introduction of the “game-changing” Titleist Pro V1, the leader was Tiger Woods with an average of 68.432.

Statisticians would call that amount of difference over 19 years “noise.”

How about a correlation between swing speed and money won? Mitchell is number 170 in official money after 10 events, McIlroy number 19 and 5 events, Woods 32/5 events, Finau 10/10 events and Woodland 15/11 events. In money won per event played Mitchell is number 215, McIlroy 8, Woods 15, Finau 19 and Woodland 25.

Then there’s an oft voiced concern courses are being turned into “driver-wedge” layouts, but the percentage of greens hit in regulation should tell the story. Mitchell is number 113 hitting 64.93% GIR, McIlroy 182/60.78%, Woods 174/61.42%, Finau 32/69.29% and Woodland 3/72.76%. Again, comparing with 1999, David Duval was first with a 73.57% GIR while today Kevin Streelman the 2018 leader is at 72.83%…more statistical noise.

We could go on, but the conclusion is obvious, though the elites are swinging faster and hitting the ball farther it does not translate into results.

But then you knew that.

The question is why don’t the solons of rules at the USGA and the R&A?

There have been unsupported statements about several topics among them ball distance causing slow play, forcing layouts to add length and of course, the great old shibboleth, traditional classic tracks are unable to host Tour events. All these opinions are nonstarters and their proponents have yet to present facts in support.

We all know slow play has everything to do with the individual players not the distance they hit the ball. The problems and costs of maintaining all golf courses, not just the ones beefed up in the belief longer is better, have been addressed by greens superintendents already much to their credit. Finally, the old classic courses (usually spoken of in mystical terms) is that many don’t have the acreage for parking, corporate hospitality, television production and tens of thousands of fans. Ball distance has nothing to do with it, they just aren’t capable of holding a big-time event.

Those who want to either “roll back the ball” or split the rules into us-and-them, so-called bifurcation, seem bent on convincing themselves tee ball distance needs to be fixed and equally convinced to do so in the face of a mountain of contrary facts. Every the USGA’s own 2017 Driving Distance Report doesn’t make a case for the ball going too far. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America have stated there isn’t any problem as have Acushnet, makers of the Titleist Pro V1, and TaylorMade Golf whose drivers are the most played by professionals worldwide. The PGA Tour clearly understands they are in the entertainment business and knows Hank Haney has it right saying people don’t go a ballgame to see a bunch of bunt singles, they go to see homeruns.

What we are facing is not a problem of the ball going too far but the perception of a problem simply because a few respected industry members have beat the drum long enough that the USGA and R&A finally have said they agree.

That’s no way to decide any issue.

The ball distance discussion isn’t over. Not as long as Tour players are bigger, stronger, better trained elites playing clubs computer-fitted to their swing, hitting low-spin solid core balls onto firm, fast fairways.

The USGA and R&A have said there is a problem evidently so then they can justify imposing a solution and more importantly and more tragically is how they are clearly out of touch with the overwhelming majority of golfers.

New Tech in the 2018 Chrome Soft

One of the pleasures that least in part compensates for having to tread the miles of aisles at each year’s PGA Merchandise Show is the opportunity to gain some insight to pass along to reader about all the new products. This year was no exception.

The people at Callaway Golf had an important announcement the week before the Show concerning the Rogue family of clubs—metalwoods, hybrids and irons—and Show week unveiled their new Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X golf balls.

They revealed some interesting technology that you should know about.

The original Chrome Soft released in 2015 had a three-piece construction and very low compression which turned off better players with higher swing speeds; Callaway’s answer was the firmer Chrome Soft X. For 2018 they have redone both in a 4-piece construction and added something called graphene into the core.

For maximum distance in a ball such as the Chrome Soft with inner and outer cores, the inner should be larger than the outer which puts the outer under high stress when the ball is hit with a driver. If the outer isn’t strong enough it will crack which makes it worthless and that’s where graphene comes in. Graphene, long thought to be too expensive for golf balls, is an ultra-strong lattice of nanocarbon atoms 200 times stronger than steel but it stretches so when added to the outer core the potential cracking problem is solved.

This meant inner core could be made softer and the outer core stronger. As Callaway’s Dr. Alan Hocknell, Senior Vice President of Research and Development described it, a “crash helmet for the inner core.”

Hocknell also said, “If you think of this inner core as the engine of the golf ball, the inner of the new Chrome Soft is now bigger and softer because it is protected by the stronger outer core, which allows us to pump up the speed, pump up the spin-reducing characteristic of the soft core, and still retain the soft-feel benefits. The outer core is a firmer blend of polybutadiene rubber compared to the inner core and it is made much stronger as the nano-particles of graphene get in-between the long polymer chains and make them significantly stronger.”

Callaway describes the result as having kept the overall soft feel but changed it slightly. Players will hear a crisper sound from shots around the green and see added ball speed off the driver with “significantly” better distance from mid-irons and approach shots. Compared to the original Chrome Soft, driver spin is less without lowering the launch angle, so distance is increased.

Those with higher swing speeds, above 105 mph with the driver, should like the firmer Chrome Soft X while taking advantage of the softer feel of both the Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X. The increased firmness will result in a better conversion of driver speed to ball speed in the X than it will in the standard Chrome Soft.

The greatest advantage of playing a soft ball though might the “forgiveness,” a term usually associate with clubs, but which can be applied to golf balls as well. The softer the ball the greater the ball will compress with preservation of more ball speed when impact is not in the center of the clubface. Put simply a Chrome Soft ball goes farther compared with a harder ball even though the hit was not very good.

Finally, the urethane covers of both models have been made softer with the goal being increase spin on shots around the green. According to Hocknell even though it is softer it is actually more durable, a characteristic of urethane not true of Surlyn which is often used on so-called distance balls.

In a nutshell, players will be interested in the 2018 Chrome Soft if they want a softer feel with more forgiveness and less side-to-side curvature and the Chrome Soft X if looking for more workability. Both will be at retail on February 16 at a cost of $44.99 per dozen.  

Top Ten Golf Stories of 2017

Woods Comeback…Again: A WD in Dubai in February. Another back surgery in April. A DUI arrest in May with a follow-up treatment program. Tiger Woods’ came back to golf in December for an 18-man exhibition that had some in the media and some of his fans in a frenzy of expectation and speculation. The facts are Woods looked physically fit, seemed to have positive attitude and played fairly well though his short game obviously needs some work if he is to achieve his goal of besting Jack Nicklaus’ major record.

Rollback or Bifurcation: Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson say it’s true. Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis agree. The golf ball goes too far. Woods certainly never said this when his prodigious length was blowing away fields and Johnson, whose is even longer, admitted a restricted flight ball would be to his advantage. But as savvy, knowledgeable and vested in the game as these gentlemen are there’s a problem. Neither the available data nor a logical appraisal of the facts support their contention. This however hasn’t stopped them from proselytizing a rollback of ball performance or the creation of the equally objectionable alternative, separate equipment regulations for professionals, i.e., bifurcating the rules.

TMaG Sold: It took a year but Adidas AG (OTCMKTS: ADDYY) was finally able to find a buyer for TaylorMade Golf, Adams Golf and apparel-maker Ashworth. Purchaser KPS Capital Partners, a private investment group, payed $425 million, less than half of the 2016 sales figure and it could turn out to be a bargain. If KPS does as expected and applies the classic turnaround remedies–cutting costs, growing sales and refocusing management– they could recoup their investment by selling the company or taking it public in maybe as few as three years,

Lexi Thompson: Lexi Thompson, the best American player on the LPGA Tour, was penalized four strokes costing her the ANA Inspiration after a television viewer sent an email about a possible infraction the day before. There was lots of official mumbling, something about fair application of the Rules of Golf, but in December the USGA announced effective Jan. 1, no more viewer call-ins or emails about possible rules infractions will be allowed. Many think this reasonable application of common sense is long overdue. Golf now is in line with other sports where the official’s job is to officiate, and the viewer’s job is to view.

Presidents Cup Rout: The U.S. President’s Cup team captained by Steve Stricker beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals by such a lopsided margin the U.S. actually was one-half point from clinching the win before the final day singles matches. Two takeaways—first those who criticized Striker for picking Phil Mickelson were wrong…again. Lefty earned 3 ½ points and, as he has done in the past, was an inspirational leader for the team. Second and more importantly for the future of the Presidents Cup, continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.

Callaway Surges: During the past three years Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) took over TaylorMade’s dominant sales position in woods and irons with products such as the technically innovative Epic driver. Callaway’s irons have been first in sales for over two years and for the past four years they have been the fastest growing major golf ball company. Company sales for 2017 are expected to be approximately $1.035 billion up substantially from the $871 million in 2016.

PXG Success: Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) may not be a major factor in the equipment business but owner Bob Parsons has a real success story he can boast about for this new and somewhat edgy club company with really expensive equipment (the basic driver costs $700). PXG rang up $38 million in sales for 2016, its first year in business, which was great but 2017 looks spectacular. Parsons told Dave Dusek of Golfweek, PXG will have sales of $100 million for the year but more astonishing, make a profit which may be a record for an upstart club company.

PGA Tour Shake Up: Ever mindful of the futility competing for fans attention with the NFL, the PGA Tour has some big changes coming in the 2018-2019 season. The PGA Championship will be played in May rather than August and The Players Championship now in May moves to March. The shakeup includes reducing the FedExCup Playoffs from four to three events allowing the Tour to finish before the NFL season kicks off plus provides some room for schedule tweaks in Olympic years.

Major Winners: Sergio Garcia finally won a major and appropriately it was the Masters. Long-hitting Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, also his first major, doing it in fine style and Jordan Spieth had another multiple win year capped off with the Open at Royal Birkdale. Then there was Play of the Year Justin Thomas who began the year with a 59 in the Sony Open and finished with five wins including the PGA Championship. Each of these players has his own compelling story and next season it should be even more exciting with the return of Tiger Woods.

LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan had quite a year: In the Solheim Cup, the American squad beat up on Team Europe and subsequently Whan offered to aid the financially struggling Ladies European Tour. He had to cancel the Alisport Shanghai tournament from a lack of proper permits and then had to shorten the Evian Championship major to 54 holes from a lack of dry weather but caused an eruption of controversy. Hall of Famer Juli Inkster then rattled some cages with her outspoken contention corporations are unfairly depriving the LPGA of a fair share of monetary support. But when the player’s dress code was modified social media and some conventional media were exposed at their mean and bitchy worst.

Great Gifts Everyone Will Like to Receive

Callaway Golf Coronado: Callaway has a great line of golf shoes and we like the Coronado priced at $129.95. The microfiber upper is lightweight and waterproof and the midsole is their Opti-soft EVA giving natural ground feel and lots of comfort. The sock liner is especially constructed for heat management and breathability while the TPU Fusion-Lite outsole uses low profile Champ Slim-Lok spikes.

TecTecTec: Don’t purchase the VPRO500 laser rangefinder for $149.99 as a gift just because it is less expensive than many competing distance measuring devices although that’s a good reason. TecTecTec has packed it with lots of features such as it is waterproof, has an ultra-clear 6X magnification lens and is accurate out to 540 yards. It easily captures the flag, a tree next to a layup area or the top of a greenside bunker. The VPRO500 weighs under 7 ounces and fits nicely in the hand plus it has a shock resistance case. There’s even a slope model for $179.99 at tectectec.com.

Chase54 Shakespeare Jacket: For on or off the course wear, this full-zip 100% polyester tech fleece jacket looks good and provides water repellant warmth to extend the golf season. Priced at $143 more details may be found at Chase54.com.

 

 

Bridgestone Tour B – The new Tour B golf balls from Bridgestone has something for everyone. The Tour B X and XS are for low handicappers and the RX and RXS are for mid-to-low handicappers. The price is $45 per dozen and they may be found at most every golf retailer.

Just the facts, ma’am” – Sgt. Joe Friday

The golf world is all aflutter with the impending return of Tiger Woods and that’s a good thing.

Heaven knows golf needs all the interest and enthusiasm it can get if only to stimulate more participation, more rounds, more equipment sales…well, you get the idea.

What is not needed is another big star complaining how far the ball goes and Woods during a recent podcast joined Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin among others saying golf is in trouble.

Quoting Woods, “We need to do something with the golf ball. I think it’s going too far because we’re having to build golf course[s], if they want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be 7,400 to 7,800 yards long.”

As if this weren’t indictment enough he continued, “And if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away. And that’s pretty scary because we don’t have enough property to start designing these type of golf courses and it just makes it so much more complicated.”

Really? Complicated for who? Not fans nor ordinary golfers who hit 200-yard tee shots. Not when courses are closing left and right and the number of players continues to shrink.

The reason comments from Woods or Nicklaus or Player are a concern is they are among the most respected men in the game and their opinions may eventually push the USGA into “rolling back” ball performance. Rather than being a solution such a retrenchment would be a disaster for equipment makers, recreational players and golf fans.

Some say that ball performance is not a problem and isn’t supported by facts so let’s take a look.

There’s no arguing professionals and other elite players are hitting the ball farther, much farther, and as a result the courses they play have been made longer. That makes sense and similar solutions to mitigate equipment advances have been going on for at least 150 years. Scoring however has not benefited from all this added distance. In 2017 PGA Tour scoring leader Jordan Spieth averaged 68.846 strokes and in 1980 Lee Trevino led all players with 69.73, less than 0.9 stroke improvement in 37 years.

Not exactly a case for manning the barricades to repel the bad guys. Statisticians call that level of difference “noise.”

So if scoring doesn’t support these concerns does an analysis of driving distance?

In 1968 with persimmon heads, 150 gram steel shafts and balata-covered wound balls the average driving distance on Tour was 264 yards. By 1995 it was just about the same–262.7 yards. That year Callaway Golf introduced the “huge” 265cc lightweight titanium head Great Big Bertha driver and longer, lighter graphite shafts soon followed. Predictably because drivers now weighed less swing speeds went up and by 2003 average distance was 285.9 yards—a jump of 23 yards in just eight years.

At the same time the ball also was being improved and the added distance from the new low spinning, solid core balls was readily apparent. In 1996 the 3-layer urethane cover Top Flite Strata came out but the real game-changer was Titleist’s introduction of the Pro V1 in October 2000. Within weeks it became the most played ball on Tour and quickly took over the top spot in retail sales.

From 2003 through 2017 average driving distance increased to 292.5 yards equating to about 17 inches per year in part due to development of even lighter shafts and clubfaces with higher rebound across a larger area. However, a major portion of the gain can be accounted for by course agronomy allowing drier, more closely mown fairways so the ball to rolls much farther. Additionally players are taller and stronger and have intensive physical training regimens. During the same time a huge leap forward in instruction took place as coaches used launch monitors to refine players’ swings to an extent never before possible.

The real proof though is tee ball distance is a lousy predictor of success on the PGA Tour and as might be imagined the best correlation to money won is average score. Driving distance and driving accuracy have the lowest correlation.

The conclusion is plain. Since 1964 average driving distance is 30 yards greater but after 2003 distance enhancing design improvements have been incremental…not revolutionary. Nothing goes up forever.

Finally, though Woods didn’t mention it, there’s another other oft voiced complaint. Something like, “fine old courses have been made obsolete and championships can’t be held there because they don’t have the acreage to add yardage.” Not only has that not true since many of the “fine old courses” have already been lengthened but a lot of them can’t hold professional events for reasons other than the length of the holes. There may be no room for 50,000 fans to park or for the corporate hospitality tents which are a primary source of tournament revenue or perhaps the driving range is not big enough to accommodate more than a fraction of the field.

These facts are rarely mentioned by those decrying golf ball distance gains and have nothing to do with the fact Rory McIlroy and 42 others averaged over 300 yards last season.

Golf does has problems but the distance elite players are hitting the ball is not one of them. Fans want to see the long ball from Rory, Dustin and Bubba and aren’t interested seeing their 120 mph swing send the ball the same distance it went in 1995.

The whole idea of rollback is ridiculous. It’s hard to comprehend how any lessening of ball or driver performance will help sell more tournament tickets, sponsor advertising, merchandise or equipment. The PGA Tour obviously has figured that out and hasn’t joined in with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It also true recreational players are not complaining and it can be argued anything making the game more fun and even a little easier benefits participation. Those who make the assumption length equates to difficulty are also making a mistake. Course design and setup for professional tournaments requires intelligence, creativity and imagination without gimmicks. Maybe something simple such as cutting the rough and fairways higher or installing bunkers on either side of a landing area are possibilities.

Some are concerned about land and water usage which is certainly a legitimate question, not one resulting from how far the ball is being hit, but of the proper use of finite resources. Course architects and maintenance experts are already finding solutions such as drought resistant grasses, course topography and hole routing. What is needed most of all is a change in the mindset of developers who specify an over-the-top expensive “championship” course to aid residential real estate sells or for a resort to put heads in beds.

Here are a couple of simple requests for Tiger. Please come back to the Tour healthy and competitive. Secondly, because of your prominence people listen to your opinion please check out the facts and perhaps your opinion will reflect a new view point…one that is less harmful to golfers and the golf industry.

Dangerously Wrong

“Whilst delighted for all the players, it’s quite sad to see The Old Course of St Andrews brought to her knees by today’s ball & equipment,” October 8, 2017 nine time major champion, Gary Player.

Player was intense competitor, intelligent and perceptive with tremendous stature in the game but unfortunately the opinion expressed in this tweet ignores the reality of golf today. But in case your attention at the time was otherwise occupied here’s a bit of background.

Ross Fisher playing in the European Tour Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the “home of golf,” the Old Course at St. Andrews, posted a course record 61 in a vain attempt to catch winner Tyrrell Hatton. Player seems to conclude Fisher’s record and other low scores posted during the Dunhill were due to the ball and equipment. He is not only mistaken but for everyone who plays, dangerously wrong. Let me explain.

Player didn’t mention that for four days the weather was everything one could desire this time of year on Scotland’s east coast and most importantly there was little or no wind. St. Andrews has immense landing areas and greens wide open in the front which leaves the wind as its primary defense. Without wind the course is particularly vulnerable to skilled players and you can add that the course set up was not too severe since the Dunhill is a pro-am and amateurs are playing each day.

So with no wind and accessible pin locations low scores are not surprising.

At a tournament length of over 7,300 yards St. Andrews is not a pushover and though scores during the Dunhill were not what we usually see during the Open Championship, it is undeniable that over the years the course has withstood every generation’s best. Not perhaps without some lengthening. Not without reworking some of the tees, putting surfaces and bunkers but always with what my friends in Chicago call “the hawk,” the wind, being a major factor.

The tweet reflects Player’s oft expressed opinion modern clubs and balls are a problem but in truth since the gutta percha ball replaced the featherie 150 years ago someone is always opining the exact same thing after every advance in equipment technology.

The danger in Player and others beating the drum claiming such a sad state of affairs is the USGA and R&A will take it on themselves to “fix the problem.” Following the logic of “drivers are too hot,” or, “the ball goes too far,” could mean further restrictions on equipment or even creation of separate equipment standards for elite-players.

Either would be detrimental.

Both ignore how virtually all elite players follow an intense physical conditioning regimen, a rarity until Tiger Woods turned pro but exactly what Player himself has preached since the 1960s. Additionally those saying today’s equipment is a problem overlook how virtually every elite player makes extensive use of sophisticated computer imaging to dial-in their swing mechanics. Nor are the tremendous advances in agronomy taken into account allowing fairways to be so much firmer they have Stimpmeter readings on the order of greens 50 years ago.

In other words it’s not just equipment and it is overly simplistic to focus solely on the springiness of clubfaces or the improvements to the golf ball when wound balls were replaced. Yes, the ball goes farther but the contention that hurts the game is not supported by facts and is only a desire to keep things as they were, a solution to which will unduly penalize all but a few.

Put another way, do you or any of your friends think you are hitting the ball too far? Or even more simply, do you know of anyone who has given up the game because it’s too easy?

Making rules to rein in distance because it is thought a few hundred professionals and maybe a like number of the best amateurs are hitting greater distances is ignoring the reality of modern golf. It also ignores the laws of physics as pointed out by Frank Thomas (inventor of the graphite shaft and former Technical Director of the USGA) that the increase in distance due to the solid core ball and high rebound driver faces has reached its maximum.

If indeed there is a problem, and I’m not conceding there is, the Tour could solve it by simply setting up courses to be more penal though fans would immediately hate it. The fact the Tour does not do this is a tacit acknowledgement for the status quo. Fans enjoy seeing pros struggle occasionally when faced with narrow fairways, landing zone hazards and four inch rough as at a U.S. Open. But that’s once a year and the USGA not the PGA Tour runs the championship. If penal setups were the case every week it wouldn’t take toursters long to figure out it’s often best to leave the driver in the bag. Fans would lose the excitement of seeing D.J. or Jason or Bubba challenging the course with booming drives.

How much excitement is there in one plain vanilla par-4 after another calling for a three-iron tee shot then a wedge? Not much and what other entertainment business would ever propose to intentionally alienate fans?

World-class instructor Hank Haney puts it best, “Fans don’t go to a baseball game hoping to see some good bunt singles.”

And there’s another factor. If the pros had to play with a restricted equipment it would kill any OEM marketing plan that relies on “Tour validation.” Acushnet, Bridgestone, Callaway, Cobra, Ping, PXG, TaylorMade, Wilson and others spend millions for endorsements and advertising on the premise fans want to play with the same equipment as the pros.

You may argue with the premise but you can’t deny restricting the ball or drivers used by elite players would drastically change the economics of the club business…probably for the worse.

As I have written before the so-called distance problem isn’t a real problem, it’s only a conclusion drawn based on an opinion or maybe even an unacknowledged yearning for the “good old days.” The idea modern equipment hurts the “integrity” of the game is almost fatuous and certainly dangerous. It’s a triple threat with the potential to push golfers out of the game, alienate fans and jeopardize the ability of manufactures to be rewarded for their advances in equipment design.

Fuzzy Thinking

Fuzzy thinking, even by well-known and respected people is still fuzzy thinking and when the topic is the distance the golf ball goes, fuzzy thinking easily results in a call to “doing something before the game is ruined.”

Respected icons of the game such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin have said more than once the problem with golf is the ball goes too far.

Maybe by taking a look at the facts we can sweep away the fuzziness concerning golf ball distance because if we don’t, sure as heck, the fuzzy thinking will eventually prevail.

First, this controversy over technological advancement is not new. It was essentially the same in the nineteen century and rears its head with every major advancement in balls and clubs. If you have some time, look up the evolution of the feathery ball to the gutta percha and then to the rubber-core ball or the story of the Schenectady center-shafted mallet putter being outlawed after Walter Travis used one to win the British Amateur.

The cry was all the fine old courses would be made obsolete because they were too short and no longer challenging or simply improvements in equipment meant the game was becoming too easy. Sound familiar?

Today the distance the golf ball goes is due to vastly improved launch conditions. This began with the introduction of metalwoods and then the development of graphite shafts allowing an increase in size of driver club heads. When titanium heads were introduced makers were able to almost double driver clubhead size again and driver shafts could be made much longer. All of these plus an immense improvement in ball aerodynamics added significant distance with all clubs.

Professionals—the ones fuzzy thinkers believe hit the ball too far—have also benefitted from intensive computer-aided instruction, better physical training and the simple fact a large number of them are taller and bigger than in the past.

Improved equipment and better agronomy have resulted in courses, especially on Tour, playing firmer and faster. Plus we must recognize the desire of operators to have the longest, toughest layout so they can boast of the difficulty for professionals rather than the playability for recreational golfers.

The number of golf courses is steadily decreasing so overall use of the land is not an issue. It is true some “fine old courses” may not have the land to be stretched in order to accommodate the modern professionals but that’s OK. For the average player not every course needs to be like this year’s US Open venue Erin Hills and have the capability to be played to over 8,000 yards.

However, the fact is in 2017 the average driving distance on the PGA Tour is 291.20 yards, an increase of about one yard in the preceding ten years so there’s been no “distance explosion” in more than a decade.

For recreational players titanium-headed-graphite-shafted drivers and solid-core-low-spinning urethane cover balls have not produced anywhere near the gains in yardage achieved by professionals. Technology has not caused golf handicaps to plummet and the typical male golfer still isn’t hitting the ball over 200 yards–if that.

The rulers of our game don’t seem to understand the problem in terms of the average golfer who occasionally makes a par and buys a celebratory beer when he makes a birdie. Additionally the USGA continues with the idea the ball goes should be reduced while telling weekend warriors to play from a shorter tee set. That’s illogical and a nonstarter.

Of course the culprit most often cited is the Titleist Pro V1 which debuted in the fall 2000 and at once became the most played ball on Tour. Every manufacturer now makes similar balls that are low spinning with urethane covers and solid cores.

The PGA Tour is in the entertainment business and the business model should be what its customers, i.e., golf fans, want. There’s no question we want to see birdies and eagles and drivable par-4s not to mention DJ smoking one 340. In 2007 the scoring average on Tour was 71.34 and this season it is 72.00. In fact going back 20 years the average was 71.77 showing courses aren’t getting easier despite what some would like you to believe.

As Frank Thomas former technical director of the USGA and current golf industry consultant has often said, driving distance has gone as far as it can go because the physics involved are maxed out. Or put another way, you can’t argue with Mother Nature.

Finally, part of the fuzzy thinking can be laid at the doorstep of the media because it’s easy to write that a well-known player, ex-player or some administrator is decrying the state of the game. One headline trumpeted “Great Balls of Fire!” referring to today’s low-spin golf balls. This is a cheap shot displaying a lack of knowledge not to mention an abuse of journalistic standards.

The inescapable conclusion there’s no horrific problem with the distance the golf ball travels. That’s just plain old fuzzy thinking.

And the solution is easy. Do nothing.

The crisis in golf technology or golf ball distance is only in the minds of fuzzy thinkers.

Evaluating Snell’s My Tour Ball

An old friend was on the phone the other day talking about his golf game and asked if I knew anything about the Snell ball. He’s been a scratch player for many years, a loyalist of the ball played by the majority of Tour professionals and had received a sleeve of Snell Golf’s My Tour Ball as a tee gift.

In response to his question I asked if he had played the Snell ball yet and that started a discussion about the MTB in comparison with other premium performance balls, so-called Tour balls. We talked about the construction and the fact Tour balls all have at least three layers and a cast thermoset urethane cover. This type of cover provides excellent control on the shorter scoring shots but is more expensive to manufacture.

The second point we talked about was price, i.e., how much money are you willing to spend relative to the performance you want. Some may decide the out of pocket dollars are the only factor while others may feel purchasing a less expensive ball that doesn’t have the spin characteristics to help scoring is a bad idea. With Tour balls costing from $40 to $48 per dozen the idea a ball that can deliver the same or better performance for $32 is a winner.

Snell Golf’s My Tour Ball fits that description perfectly.

At the PGA Merchandise Show last January company founder Dean Snell told me one of the secrets of the ball business is from the tee all golf balls, i.e., Tour balls or distance balls, go the about the same distance. Manufacturers have figured out how with the longer clubs, specifically the driver, to get soft-cover Tour balls to launch with low spin similar to harder cover distance balls. In contrast to the cast urethane of Tour balls, distance balls have an ionomer or Surlyn cover which is much firmer and spins a lot less which originally gave them added yardage over Tour balls.

Snell also added virtually every ball is at or very close to the limits set by the USGA.

So the difference comes down to how a ball behaves on those short shots around the green. Does it fly high with low spin, hit and roll out or does it come in lower and check? In other words does it act like distance ball or a Tour ball?

We took the opportunity to do a test with a number of average golfers playing Snell’s MTB and reporting back their reactions. Here is a sampling of the unedited comments (except for length) from golfers with handicaps from 2 to 16 after playing the My Tour Ball. They weren’t told up front whether the MTB was a distance ball or Tour ball nor unless they looked it up for themselves, the price.

13 Handicap: “I really liked them they had a great feel and I thought I was hitting a little longer than usual. I am not a great striker but the feel on the club was good. I would buy these balls but again it would depend on cost. If they are a reasonable price I am all in.”

16 Handicap: “I’ve used the Snell balls the last three days. I think they are comparable to the Titleist NXT tour. It’s hard for me to tell about distance, but as for the soft feel in the short game, I thought it was equally as good. If priced right, I would buy them.”

10 Handicap: “It felt the same off the driver, fairway wood as the ball I normally play; Titleist NXT or Top Flite Gamer Tour; Distance off the tee was about the same; I notice no difference when chipping around the green; (Except sometimes I STINK!); I noticed no significant difference with my hybrids or irons.”

14 Handicap: “My observation are that I did hit the Snell ball straighter with less fade than my ball. I found that I experienced less distance with Snell and it did not give me the feeling of popping of the driver head as I am used to. On approach shots I found that Snell did hold the green better than the [Titleist] Velocity. One point of significance is when putting I found that the Snell did not spring off my putter as I am used to with the Velocity. A small point but did notice the difference.”

4 Handicap: “Play Pro V1 or Pro V1x exclusively and could see no difference with driver. Wedges stopped and were easy to control. Will be switching due to price.”

10 Handicap: “Distance seemed to be average, same as NXT Tour which I like to play although the flight path [trajectory] seemed lower. Even though the ball appeared to be solid it felt good off the club and reacted well when hitting the green. Putting, again it felt solid but was very nice to putt with and I sunk several lengthy putts.”

12 Handicap: “Off the tee the Snell was at least 10 yards longer on most drives. Longer carry but roll probably about the same as other balls. I used my GPS to check distances. With the 5 wood and 3 hybrid there was some added distance, but some of that may have been due to a better swing. I did not find any real difference with irons, or my mid length hybrids. With my game, the iron game can be very erratic. Putting would take more study to determine any difference between balls. I do not think my skill level could tell any difference.”

6 Handicap: “The Snell ball is as good as the Pro V1 or Chrome Soft I usually buy.”

2 Handicap: “Have worked through a dozen Snell’s and I’m hitting it higher, therefore longer, with all clubs. 5-10 yards longer off tee and ½ to 1 club longer with irons. It’s a keeper, at least for me.”

So how good is the MTB? Each of us has to decide but I have seen data for pitch shots showing the $32 per dozen MTB has similar spin rates and as flat a trajectory as any of the Tour balls.

Snell has worked in the ball business for almost 30 years, first for Titleist and then for TaylorMade. Snell Golf was started in 2015 as a low budget operation with Snell himself doing the design, overseeing of manufacturing and most of the administrative duties. He shared with me that many times he enlisted family and friends to spend their evenings in his kitchen putting together sample packages of balls. The company has grown exponentially since that modest beginning but it’s still not huge and sells only over the Internet at SnellGolf.com. Snell confided he is working on further refinements of both the MTB and the two-piece Surlyn cover Get Sum ball which sells for $21 per dozen.

Can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Images courtesy of Snell Golf

Another PGA Show in the Books

After covering the PGA Merchandise Show for more than 20 years the variety of products still amazes me and particularly the new items from the latest in tech gadgets to ways to more efficiently attach things to your golf bag.

The 64th industry-only Show concluded last Friday its three day run in the Orange County Convention Center located in suburban Orlando. As always it was preceded by the Demo Day to beat all demo days for PGA Professionals and the media at the Orange County National Golf Center’s immense range.

For the week the event that grabbed the most attention was the announcement by TaylorMade-adidas Golf CEO David Abeles just after Show doors opened the first day of the signing of Tiger Woods to an endorsement contract. It created a buzz overshadowing a later announcement by Callaway Golf that Michelle Wie had become a part of their staff.

Reed Expositions, who run the Show, have not released attendance yet but many old timers felt the numbers may have been down from the last couple of years. However, with 1 million square feet of exhibit space and 10 miles of aisles not counting the dozens of off floor meeting rooms, it’s hard to tell. What is for sure is the number of exhibitors remained approximately the same as the past three years—around 1,000—with 271 first time exhibitors. Reed said the number of PGA Professional in attendance increased three percent to more than 7,500.

This is the largest meeting of the golf industry or as they say, the “Major of the Golf Business” and this is certainly true though some well-known companies were absent, in a couple of cases conspicuously absent. Nike Golf of course was not exhibiting clubs since they have closed their club and ball business to concentrate on golf apparel but Nike apparel was a no show as well. Ben Hogan Golf, after an effort to reinvigorate the iconic brand was not present and this week declared bankruptcy.

Less surprising was the absence of PXG owned by Bob Parsons who has said publicly the buyers and PGA Professionals coming to Orlando are not the target market for his ultra-expensive clubs with a set listing at over $5,000. Also among the missing were Mizuno Golf, Bridgestone, True Temper and Aldila.

Among the major items attracting attention were drivers from Wilson Golf (Triton), Callaway (Great Big Bertha Epic), TaylorMade (M1 and M2), Cobra (King F7 and F7+) and Titleist (917 D2 and D3). New golf balls included the Callaway Chrome Soft X, TaylorMade TP5 and TP5x, Volvik S4 White, Srixon Z-Star/Z-Star XV and Titleist’s latest Pro V1 and Pro V1x.

There were 423 companies in the apparel category, a number that continues to grow along with the size of their displays. Services plus accessories seem to be about the same, perhaps with slight growth, which means the club company portion of the Show is declining since the total number of exhibitors remains the same. However, the club category includes companies from the largest multi-line manufacturers to grip, shaft and ferrule makers and one-of putter producers.

Besides the Woods/TMaG announcement often heard discussed on the floor, in the media center and after hours was the non-sale of TMaG which has been on the block since last May. Parent adidas hasn’t said a word and no buyers have been forthcoming though a rumor that Woods and Michael Jordan were interested was thoroughly discredited. With business a little better and a Tiger in the stable might adidas consider keeping the top metal wood maker?

Another oft heard comment there has been no superhot-must-have product introduced and there are a couple of reasons why. Club companies all use top flight technology already so the spread in club performance has narrowed plus restrictions on allowable performance by the USGA has definitely put a damper on innovation. But probably the biggest reason, and golf club designers have known this for some time, products were reaching both the USGA limits and limits imposed by the laws of physics. Change therefore is more incremental rather than a “breakthrough.”

Individual golfers still will gain the most benefit and better performance for them by using custom fitted clubs.

In the golf business orders are often written before the Show so the purchase cycle is not as dependent on face to face meetings as once was the case with possibly the exception of soft goods. The focus of the Show has changed to placing a major emphasis on the continuing education courses for PGA Professionals.

For most attendees though it is a worldwide and industrywide meet-and-greet with a sprinkling of deal making. Costs of attending are high, booth space is expensive and even large companies must figure how to get the most return from the expense. This is not a negative but something that needs to be continually acknowledged and improved by the PGA and Reed Expositions.