Steve DiMeglio of the USA Today got Brandt Snedeker to play a retro set of golf clubs with the help of Bridgestone and Taylor Made, presumably to tell us how lucky we are while they're in the world. Snedeker's assessments are particularly interesting in this lengthy piece.
Snedeker arrived at this approach as a test subject for USA TODAY. The 6-1, 190-pound former Vanderbilt All-American enthusiastically agreed to play a round of golf with a set of previous-generation clubs.
Obviously figuring his round would be made more difficult, Snedeker was nonetheless surprised how drastically golf had changed in just a matter of years.
"I don't know how to explain the sound" at impact with the old clubs and ball, he says. "It feels like the ball is getting stuck on the clubface. The old ball feels so soft, like a marshmallow."
His oversized metal woods, perimeter-weighted irons and state-of-the-art shafts and golf balls were pitted against woods actually made of wood; heavy, steel shafts and diminutive irons that were far less forgiving than today's advanced sets and balls last seen 20-25 years ago. Snedeker last hit a wood driver when he was 8 and then only in goofing with his dad's set.
The test came just hours after Snedeker secured his future by cashing in for $182,000 for his 12th-place tie at The Players Championship in May to earn his 2008 card.
Snedeker stepped back in time here by the Atlantic Ocean at the par-72, 6,687-yard Plantation Course where LPGA Hall of Famer Louise Suggs and PGA Tour star Davis Love III honed their games.
On a traditional course that unfolds among oak and cedar trees 300 to 500 years old and presents wide fairways and relatively flat greens, Snedeker experienced the game of golf as played by his predecessors.
Snedeker appreciated as he never did how good it feels to play with the modern ball — featuring titanium compounds, hybrid materials, softer shells and a more pressurized core — and his TaylorMade r7 driver. That club features moveable weights, inverted cone technology to promote higher ball velocity and an exotic shaft that matches the swing weight, flex point and kick point he prefers.And thankfully, it helped him score!
With his technology-driven equipment, much of it devised by those with aerospace and defense industry backgrounds, Snedeker shot 3-over 75 in 15-25 mph winds — five shots better than when he pulled out the older counterparts used by previous generations.
Only a red-hot 1988 putter kept matters so close. With the old flat stick, Snedeker made birdies from 3, 4, 25 and 30 feet and holed many par-saving putts of 4-8 feet. With his up-to-date putter he made three birdies but had two three-putts and just missed on five other putts for birdie.
The rest of the round, however, was marked by a one-club difference in length between the old and new irons.
There was a 25-30 yard difference between drivers, 40-50 yards when he mis-hit the old driver. Mis-hits with his current equipment meant off-line landings of 5-10 yards; with the old clubs, as much as 50 yards off-line.
So glad we're going to get those grooves regulated.
"I truly appreciate growing up in the generation that I did," Snedeker says, "because I don't think I would have grown up to be a pro golfer if I had to have played with the old stuff. It is so much different, so much tougher."
That's why Snedeker was so thankful the 80-year-old seaside layout he played isn't bursting with forced carries over water, 15-foot-deep bunkers and large mounds on the greens. Only seven holes bring water into play; his slightest mis-hits on three involving water resulted in two double bogeys and a bogey.
"On the toughest new courses, where you have to fly the ball 200 yards over water or unplayable areas, I might not break 90, 100 with the old equipment," he says.
"But the great equalizer is putting. That's what makes golf so great. Even if I was using 1960s equipment, if I'm putting great that day, I could still spank the best equipment in the world. If I don't make putts, I get killed."
This was nice to read:
"It makes me really appreciate the guys that came before me," Snedeker says of hitting the old clubs. "The way Bobby Jones played golf, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller. Those guys were phenomenal.
"They had to be unbelievable ball strikers to hit the ball straight and as solid as they did."
Just as shocking was the once top-of-the-line Rextar golf ball, which featured rubber-like balata-tree material that created a soft cover and yielded more spin. Conducting his own experiment, Snedeker hit one of the Rextar balls with his new sand wedge and shredded the cover of the ball.
"If we had (the new) golf ball in my day," Trevino says, "the best of us would have hit it 300 yards and Jack Nicklaus would have hit it 360."
Don't forget those workout programs Lee!
On the first nine holes using the persimmon driver and the older ball, Snedeker could find the fairway just two of nine times. Each of his drives were low-flying projectiles that snapped to the left and went 200-220 yards — into high rough and behind trees.
On the first hole, he had 188 yards to the pin after his drive with the wood ended near a tree. With his contemporary TaylorMade r7 driver, he had 128 yards from the middle of the fairway to the pin.
On the par-4, 445-yard ninth, he had 200 yards to the pin after his drive with the wood ended up in rough; he had 144 yards from the middle of the fairway after using his modern driver.
"I'm seeing parts of this golf course I've never seen before," Snedeker said on the 12th hole. "I'm trying everything to keep the old driver on this planet."
He finally ditched his normal swing with the old driver and tried something that was supposed to produce a slight fade. By the time he reached the tee on the par-4, 409-yard 13th, he was pleading to the golf gods to find a fairway. He figured he needed a slice-swing to make it go straight.
"The biggest difference is the new ball doesn't curve as much anymore," Snedeker says. "It was a more precise game back then. The ball was spinning so much more, and it was so much harder to control vs. today's golf ball. The ball wanted to curve 20, 30, 40 yards.
Damn ball! How dare it not do what you pray for it to do!
"That's why you see guys hit the ball so much farther now, because we can go at it so much harder than they were able to do so back then. Back in the '60s and '70s and '80s, you couldn't go at it full bore because you could literally hit it 30, 40 yards off line.
"Every pro on the Tour, the biggest fear is hitting a low draw or snap hook," Snedeker adds. "Now the equipment is set up today where the ball won't spin enough to hit that draw. I have no fear. I really saw that today."
The irons Snedeker used in this experiment were certainly some old fuddy-duddies.
"The old irons take a much steeper divot. Today's irons are built with so much more bounce, which allows you to sweep the ball off the ground," Snedeker says. "I was taking huge divots today with the old stuff, and when you take steep divots, it affects your speed and affects the way the club works with the ball.
"The players in the past had to have great tempo to control the ball back then. It was a lot of fun to draw the ball 30 yards into a pin or cut the ball 30 yards into a pin. It proves the old guys were so much better course managers. They had to think their way around the golf course so much more because of the way the ball moved.
"You had to know every trouble spot," he says, "because the slightest mis-hit, you were in big trouble."
But at least he knows who signs his checks...
As Snedeker signed his scorecard, he had little trouble recalling every shot. He smiled at some of the recollections.
"Technology certainly makes the game easier for everyone to play, and that's great for golf," he says. "It makes the game easier for the pros to play. But don't think it's easy out there for us. The courses are getting longer and longer, the bunkers deeper, the rough deeper, the greens faster.
"Golf has always been a great game. Today it's still a great game, too, with all the new technology. I can't wait to see what comes next."