Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Guess at the Impact of the Ball on Distance

The equipment editing crew at Golf Digest asked some tour players about the last time they used a persimmon wood in either practice or competition. They got several responses, but the most interesting - in my mind - was Phil Mickelson's.

Phil Mickelson says he last used persimmon during practice for the 2007 EDS Byron Nelson Championship, conducting an experiment of sorts. "It was an old Wood Brothers," said Mickelson. "Callaway did some tests three years ago with a persimmon driver and a ball from the 1990s, comparing it to an HX Tour ball and modern driver. There was a 50-yard difference. The testing said it was 25 yards driver and 25 yards ball. So I tested it, and that turned out to be about right. I couldn't believe how different the launch conditions were -- and that was a driver I used to play with."
Obviously, there is no published study to verify the Mickelson quote, but we could take it at face value. Very interesting finding. The beginning of the period attributed to the recent boom in driving distance through technology of over 20 years cited in the last 10-15 years or so almost coincides with the death of persimmon on the PGA Tour. E. Mike Johnson explains:
Calc's last use coincides with persimmon's twilight on the PGA Tour. The last significant year was 1997 when 11 players used wooden drivers in 43 events. Mac O'Grady was the last player to use persimmon in a tour event (Ben Hogan driver, 2004 B.C. Open), but the last full-time player to do so was Bob Estes (2001 WGC-Accenture Match Play in Australia) with a MacGregor 945TW that he bought for $700.
I'm not trying to draw a comparison specifically with distance increases and the death of persimmon on Tour. But, it clearly has something to do with it - as well as the ball. Don't forget the ball.

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