Gregg Hemann remembers the first time he hit a Great Big Bertha.
The current teaching professional and tournament director at The Club at Jones Creek acquired the driver when Callaway Golf introduced the club in 1995.
Hemann didn't have to wonder how the Great Big Bertha got its name. The titanium driver was huge.
"I couldn't get over how small it made the ball appear," he said.
The real key to the subsequent success of titanium drivers wasn't their radical, oversized design - the hook was how small the ball appeared after it came to rest in the fairway following a tee shot.
In short, titanium is long. So long, that the Augusta National Golf Club has added yardage on several holes for the 2002 Masters Tournament, a step designed to counter improved golf-club technology.
From the first launch of Taylor Made metal woods in 1979, through the introduction of titanium in 1995, to the massive-sized drivers of today, par has been under an ever-increasing assault.
Metal woods had been popping up periodically since the early 1900s, but persimmon wood was the material of choice until the 1980s.
If Hemann showed up at his next tournament sporting a persimmon driver, there would be a predictable reaction from his playing companions.
"Everybody would think I'm crazy," he said.
Improved metal-wood technology pushed persimmon out of the marketplace; some observers believe the integrity of golf will be the next casualty.
Critics claim that top professionals gain performance and distance benefits from metal woods which could render some of the nation's classic golf courses obsolete.
Comparative driving distance by PGA Tour players from the past two decades seem to indicate that the game is getting easier.
In 1980, the first year the tour compiled driving statistics, Dan Pohl was the long-drive champion, with an average poke of 274.3 yards. That distance would rank Pohl No. 106 in driving distance this year on the PGA Tour.
At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Brannan - in 1980, he averaged 238.7 yards off the tee, which was dead last on tour. Pete Jordan has the distinction of short knocker in 2002, with an average of 252.6.
When John Daly debuted on tour in 1991, the golf world was astounded by his prodigious distance off the tee. Daly led the tour that year with a 288.9-yard average.
The age of titanium has changed things, even for "Wild Thing." Daly is averaging 309.3 yards per drive so far this season - and easily leading the tour.
Since Daly is still in his prime, for more valid evidence that high-tech club design has changed the game, consider the case of Tom Kite.
During the 1980 tour season, Kite averaged 252.6 yards. Now the 53-year-old Senior PGA Tour star is belting the ball an average of 281.4 yards.
Kite didn't discover the fountain of youth - he's reaping the benefits of technology.
Titanium, a lightweight metal used in constructing military aircraft, also puts drives in flight. The strength of titanium allows for larger clubheads, and forging creates thin clubfaces which react explosively with current, two-piece golf balls, a phenomenon known as "spring effect."
While the world's best players will vie for a green jacket this week in Augusta, another battle is brewing.
The United States Golf Association has set Coefficient of Restitution (COR) standards for drivers. Basically, the USGA has taken the gloves off and said, "That's far enough."
COR testing measures how fast a golf ball exits the clubface at impact. Some "hot" drivers, such as the Callaway ERC II, exceed the COR standard and have been ruled non-conforming by the USGA.
The USGA also is considering additional measures to reign in advancing club and ball technology, but one question remains - will the USGA shut the barn door after the horse has bolted?
Metal Wood Milestones
1978: Using Taylor Made prototypes at the Memorial Tournament, Jim Simons becomes the first player to win a PGA Tour event with metal woods in the bag.
1979: The metal revolution begins, as Taylor Made introduces its product to the public.
1984: Lee Trevino captures the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek, marking the first major for metal.
1991: Callaway Golf debuts Big Bertha metal woods. With a 195cc (cubic centimeter) head, the driver drew stares because of its odd appearance; because of its performance, believers soon made it the best selling club in golf history.
1994: For the first time in Masters Tournament history, the winner did not use a wooden driver - champion Jose Maria Olazabel used a Taylor Made metal wood.
1995: Callaway introduces the Great Big Bertha, an oversized titanium driver with an oversized $500 retail price. The public bought it, and other golf companies began producing titanium drivers.
1996: Titanium, with some help from Steve Jones, garners its first major championship - Jones won the United States Open at Oakland Hills while using a Cobra driver.
1997: Callaway's Biggest Big Bertha cracks the 300cc barrier.
2000: The ERC II driver draws the ire of the United States Golf Association. The forged Callaway club features a spring effect and is ruled non-conforming by the USGA.
2001: In order to stop the trend toward large-headed drivers, which give players added distance, the USGA proposes a 385cc size limit. Following an outcry by manufacturers, the USGA rescinds that proposed restriction.
2002: Several golf companies offer titanium drivers measuring more than 400cc.
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