When it comes to golf clubs, you can't argue with technology.
That statement was validated last week by Gregg Hemann.
The tournament director and teaching professional for The Club at Jones Creek helped conduct a test which compared three different styles of drivers - an old persimmon wood, a standard titanium, and a juiced-up model that some say renders traditional-length golf courses obsolete.
The quest on the 13th hole at Jones Creek was simple - to discover whether alleged driving distance advantages of high-tech clubs is hype or reality.
As it turned out, the contest was no contest.
Hemann hit 30 Titleist Pro VI golf balls, 10 each with three different drivers: a Tommy Armour 693 persimmon, which was manufactured by MacGregor in the 1950s; a Callaway titanium model which debuted in 1995; and a Callaway ERC II, a titanium driver which has not been approved for play by the United States Golf Association.
The wind was negligible, although roll was limited because the fairway was a bit soft following last weekend's rain.
The testing began with Hemann's current club of choice, a Callaway Great Big Bertha titanium driver, which measures 45 1/2 inches long with a loft of nine degrees. The graphite-shafted club was fitted with a regular flex Grafalloy Prolite Elite.
"It's kind of old technology really, but the shaft's brand new," Hemann said. "It's not a driver I have to be swinging my best to put into play, but I do feel if I am swinging my best, I'm as long with it as I am with anything."
Hemann quickly found the groove and hammered out 10 drives in close proximity. The longest measured 292 yards, and the shortest checked in at 275. His average driving distance with the Great Big Bertha was 284.8.
Next, Hemann pulled out his old faithful persimmon, which he hadn't used in 10 years.
On his first swing with the 43-inch, steel-shafted Tommy Armour, he made contact and exclaimed, "Boy, I haven't felt that in a long time. I'm sure it's shorter, but that felt good."
In fact, the 10 1/2 degree wooden driver was significantly shorter, with a long drive of 274 yards, and a short knock of 246. The average distance was 265.2 yards.
To put things in perspective, consider Hemann's shortest drive with the Great Big Bertha beat the longest drive with the Tommy Armour. Additionally, the comparison of short drives between the two clubs was telling - the 28-yard difference indicates titanium is much more forgiving than persimmon.
"I didn't give up any accuracy with the persimmon, but obviously I gave up quite a bit of distance," Hemann said.
Drum roll, please, for the ultimate weapon - the Callaway ERC II titanium, a club banned by the USGA because it does not conform to Coefficient of Restitution (COR) standards set by golf's governing body.
The COR value of a driver, in a nutshell, is this: the USGA uses a test which measures the exit speed of the ball coming off the clubface at impact; the ERC II exceeds the maximum speed allowed, and is not legal for USGA events or for use on the PGA Tour.
Non-conforming drivers exhibit a phenomenon known as the "spring effect." These clubs have large heads and thin, forged clubfaces, a combination which causes the ball to spring off the face.
Hemann put the ERC II (regular-flex graphite Callaway shaft) in action, and on the first swing with the 45 1/2 inch cannon, the ball exploded down the fairway. Also, a noticeably loud metallic sound accompanied impact.
"I've got to put in ear-plugs," Hemann said. "This will be interesting."
After a few more shots with the "illegal" club, there was no doubt the 10-degree ERC II was going to win long drive honors. Hemann offered, "The ball sure is staying in the air a long time."
The tale of the tape said it all: the shortest drive with the ERC II measured 277, and the longest was 308, 16 yards further than Hemann's best poke with the Great Big Bertha. His average drive with the ERC II was 287.5 yards.
On Hemann's best drives with the persimmon and the state-of-the-art titanium, the ERC II outdistanced the Tommy Armour by 34 yards, while the average drive with the titanium was 22.3 yards longer than the persimmon.
"That was pretty much what I expected," he said.
Before running out and buying an ERC II, consider this: a player using this non-conforming club cannot post scores for USGA handicapping purposes, and the driver also is prohibited in any tournament staged under USGA rules.
But is you tee it up anywhere else in the world, other than the United States, go for it - the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews sets its own standards, and the R&A says the ERC II is OK.
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