I'm a prettysimple-minded golfer," Adam Scott said last week. "I'm a feel player,not a mechanical player. I don't play by the numbers." ¬∂ "You're solow-maintenance, it's unbelievable," agreed Steve Mata, the Titleist Tourrep. "You hardly change your equipment at all." ¬∂ Ironically, thislow-tech exchange took place on the rooftop patio of the Titleist PerformanceInstitute (TPI) in Oceanside, Calif. The institute is the stick-and-ballequivalent of the Los Alamos labs, a think-tank-cum-R&D facility wheresecretive engineers and software specialists throw themselves into theessential task of defending the world from Tiger Woods. Researchers there dowhat Scott, the world's eighth-ranked golfer, would rather not do--play by thenumbers.
The truth is,today's Tour pros--even so-called "feel players" such as Scott--arealmost umbilically connected to their equipment companies. Last week during theAccenture Match Play Championship, TaylorMade's newest endorsement signee, JohnDaly, paid his first visit to that company's Carlsbad test center. Not faraway, Callaway clubfitters crunched numbers at the Richard Helmstetter TestCenter for Phil Mickelson and Michael Campbell . Titleist, meanwhile, kept alight on for regulars such as Ben Crane and 41-year-old Davis Love III, whowowed his handlers by winning five matches in four days before losing to GeoffOgilvy in Sunday's 36-hole final.
You ask: Is thisnew? After all, in the old days a Wilson staff pro like Sam Snead would swingby Chicago to see if club designer Bob Mendralla had a prototype blade on hisworkbench. But the old pros were simply shopping for hardware. Today's Tourstars look to their equipment companies for everything from swing tips todietary guidance.
The paradigmshifted around 1990 with the invention of the launch monitor, acamera-and-strobe device that measures a host of variables connected with ballstriking, such as clubhead speed, attack angle, launch angle, swing path andspin. "Now we can look at how efficiently a player swings a club versus howmuch he looks like Tiger Woods," says TPI cofounder Greg Rose. "Thereis an ideal swing for every physical capability."
The implicationsfor equipment R&D were just as stunning. With dependable data on ball andclub performance suddenly available, manufacturers and players became partnersin a kind of arms race. Scott, for instance, tried out a prototype ProTrajectory 960-F2 three-wood two weeks ago at the Nissan Open and cashed asecond-place check for his trouble. In January the 25-year-old from Australiahad switched to Titleist's new Pro Titanium 905R driver, a 460cc behemoth. Lastsummer, at the Barclays Scottish Open, he ditched his irons of 4 1/2 years fora set of Titleist's soon-to-be-released 695MBs. Every change, Scott concedes,was made with the understanding that most other Tour players are wishing on thesame lamp and talking to the same genie.
Titleist'stechnicians are among the most reclusive in the business, so industry observerswere surprised two years ago when the Titleist Performance Institute began afantasy-camp-style program that allows a few (no more than 300 a year) ordinaryJoes to spend two days at the Oceanside facility getting the full Ernie Elstreatment. The company has also launched a subscription website, MyTPI.com,which offers a customized, interactive physical-training program based on theresearch of Rose, a chiropractor with an undergraduate engineering degree fromMaryland.
Visitors to theterrestrial TPI expect a high-tech environment, and they get just that in theground-floor 3-D room. The most surprising revelation, however, is that the TPIdevotes more floor space to physical training than it does to high-tech highjinks. The workout room is big enough to train a Special Ops platoon--assumingthat the troops can make sense of proprietary fitness machines geared to thegolf swing. Rose, looking at it from a biomechanical perspective, describes theTPI approach as an "efficiency model," as opposed to the traditional"copy the pro" method. "If you take 100 golfers and ask them ifthey'd like to swing like Tiger Woods, 100 golfers will say yes." Hesmiles. "But then you'll need 100 reconstructive back surgeries."
TPI, on the otherhand, can give each of your 100 golfers a detailed physical evaluation. Fromthat data TPI can prescribe a training program to correct deficiencies; providea teaching pro with a realistic physical profile so he won't try to teach CraigStadler's swing to someone with a Vijay Singh body type; and fit the playerwith the proper clubs.
If it sounds asif TPI has squeezed all the mystery out of golf, Scott is quick to correct thatimpression. He had issues with his ball flight toward the end of 2005."Basically, the ball went out a little flatter and hotter than I wouldlike," he said during last week's visit to the TPI. "I couldn't hitthat nice draw that starts down the right side and comes back to themiddle."
Did his driverhave the wrong shaft? Did he need to tweak the loft of his three-wood? Was hishair too short? He laughed. "I wanted it to be the equipment," he said."That's easier to change." Alas, it was the golfer. Scott was a littlelaid off at the top of his backswing, which altered his swing plane and causedthe ball to launch low and left. This season, with his swing flaw corrected,Scott finished 18th at the Sony Open and shot a final-round 64 for therunner-up spot in L.A.
Performancemodels and test data may support the modern mantra--Launch high, spin low--butnot every Tour pro goes along. "Some players like that strong, lowflight," says Mata. "Bill Haas, Lucas Glover, they're feel players. Icould probably get them more yards with an equipment change, but do they reallywant it?"
That sounds likeblasphemy, but most pros aren't as distance-crazed as you'd think. Scott claimsthat he hasn't gained much yardage from technology--maybe 10 yards over fiveyears. "But I used to have to swing much harder to hit it that far," hesays. "Now I swing under control. If you can put a smooth swing on it andit goes 300 yards, that's as far as you need."
Besides, golf canbe a zero-sum game. Last Wednesday, Scott and Glover met in the first round atthe Match Play. Scott won 2 and 1, but he had overslept, rushed through hiswarmup and played raggedly. The next day Scott got up on time and warmed upnormally, yet lost one-up to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman.
Thanks to Love,the staff at the TPI didn't have to throw out their WE'RE NO. 1 foam fingersuntil the final. The former PGA champ, who was hampered by neck and backinjuries in '05, worked out on Monday and Tuesday with his trainer, TPIadvisory board member Randy Myers. "On our 3-D stuff Davis has always hadone of the most efficient swings," said Rose. "We've always said, 'Ifhe gets healthy, he'll be great.'"
Sometimes thesehigh-tech guys sound seriously old school.
Photograph by Shelly Castellano/Icon SMI
Scott began the season with new woods and irons and--after a trip to theTitleist Performance Institute-- a revamped swing plane.
ROBERT BECK (6)
TESTING, TESTING Custom-ground (from left) Pro Titanium 905R drivers and 695MB irons were in the bags of many Titleist pros at the Match Play. Reams of data collected at the company's performance institute are used to create 3-D swing models, while launch monitors read dots on balls to gauge speed, angle and spin.