Better golf through technology

Pictured above: TaylorMade Performance Lab / Glen Abbey

A recent visit to the TaylorMade Performance Lab had me frustrated.

“232! My 96 year old aunt can hit it 232. Are you sure that thing’s working?”

There isn’t anything more discouraging than being faced with the reality that you can’t do something anymore that you used to do quite easily. In other words, getting old sucks!

All golfers subscribe to eternal optimism. They believe, no it’s stronger than that – they know they’re going to get better. This is true for elite touring professionals and low handicap amateurs. It’s true at every stage of development and every age. Even high handicappers believe it, although it’s sometimes tough to admit through all the frustration.

Part of getting better is the quest for more length. Everyone wants it. Jason Day, who is the third longest hitter on the PGA Tour and regularly bombs the ball 330 yards and more, recently found another 9-10 yards when he put TaylorMade’s new M1 driver in his bag. Asked if he really needed that extra yardage, he responded that he is more accurate with his 9-iron than his 8-iron, so if the extra distance allowed him to use the shorter club, that could help improve his score.

“Let’s try that new M1 driver. See if we can kick it up a notch.”

The M1 is the latest iteration from the rocket scientists at TaylorMade who have been helping us all cheat advancing age for years. Cameron Jacobs, who heads up their Performance Labs in Canada explained, “First there were metal heads to replace persimmon. They added 10 yards. Then the urethane covered multi-layer ball came along to give you another 10-15 yards. Titanium brought bigger club heads and faster swing speeds which added another 10 yards. Now, comes the M1, which has a composite graphite crown, which allows us to remove weight from the top of the club and reposition it so that the centre of gravity is moved lower, meaning you can hit the ball with an optimum launch angle and less spin, adding 2-3 miles per hour in ball speed. That’s another 10 yards.”

Whoa! Another ten. What’s not to like about that?

“239. Are you kidding me? Are you sure those are urethane balls?”

The small print always says “results may vary.” That apparently applies to new golf technology too. Top professionals and elite amateurs with faster swing speeds can always get better results out of technology than the rest of us. Apparently, I shouldn’t expect another 10 yards with every new gizmo. If I could have added all those 10 yard advances over the last thirty years, I should be a member of the 300 club now.

But I’m not and never will be. Never could have been in truth but there was always that belief that I could find another ten yards. Now I’m afraid my game is on a downward trend and I’m struggling to hold on to what little distance I still have. As a colleague used to say, “I’m in the twilight of a mediocre career.”

It’s pretty easy to chart the career of a PGA Tour player and pinpoint the peak of their success in terms of money won, career titles and majors as well as a variety of statistics that tell them how they’re playing from week to week and year to year. When their game starts to fade the stats are all there in black and white, while the decline is played out in living colour on television.

It’s not as readily apparent for the rest of us. In our minds, our golf game is represented by a straight line rising forever. But in reality, it’s an arc that will eventually start to decline. Despite advancing age, reduced flexibility and strength, a total lack of resolve to spend any time on the range and less desire to play as frequently as needed to stay sharp, we cling to our belief that we’ll continue to get better because we always have. And because technology has helped to delay the inevitable.

Even when you understand all that, and then you see the evidence in black and white on the monitor, it’s still really tough to face up to the fact that technology can only do so much and maybe that’s as good as it’s ever going to be.

“239 again? No way! Let’s try another one.”

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