In golf, farther is never far enough

Don’t know about you, but I certainly go to the golf course in search of a physics lesson. What could be better than to spend a sunny day in a sylvan setting pondering the transfer of kinetic energy from club head to ball?

Increasingly as equipment makers transformed their craft into a high-tech arms race, the golf community was asked to know such science, which must partially explain the success of the Georgia Tech golf team.

Ads for drivers such as the newest Rocketballz model include such rich detail as “SuperFast Matrix Ozik XCON5” shaft and “Flight Control Technology” that “allows the player to separately adjust the loft (plus-minus 1.5 degrees) and face angle (plus-minus 3 degrees).” It may be the only piece of sporting equipment that should be endorsed by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Along this journey toward a greater understanding of metals and physical law, we have met the term “trampoline effect.” That is what happens when a thinner, more flexible metallic club head compresses at impact, resulting in a spring action that propels the ball ever more forward. The USGA had to go on the offensive against this sort of thing, like a mother scolding her brood about jumping on the bed.

In 1980, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour was less than 260 yards (about what the current figure is on the LPGA Tour). By 2012, it was touching 290 yards.

Apparently the increase cannot be traced just to the fitness trailer or healthier habits or any other improvement in the human condition. Looking at the likes of Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Keegan Bradley, one could be led to believe that the modern golfer has evolved into a pastel-clad superman. We stand rightfully in awe of the moonshots that they launch.

But along comes discussion of other factors such as the trampoline effect, and we must acknowledge that these players are not that much the better of their forbears. Better than you, certainly, but not necessarily the next step up from Jack Nicklaus on the ladder of human development. For somewhere along the line they put the equipment on steroids.

This is what we have wrought in the unbridled search for length off the tee: Some doctors claim the modern metallic driver creates a potentially harmful noise at impact, akin to a miniature sonic boom.

A 2009 article in the British Medical Journal asserted that the drivers actually could produce a ping loud enough to damage the sensitive hairs of the inner ear.

But what golfer wouldn’t happily trade a small portion of hearing — so what if you miss a single bird’s chirp or a random child’s laugh — for a few extra yards?