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bring back wooden woods

Drew's Cool Golf Revue
bring back wooden woods
By Drew Millard • Issue #5 • View online
i mean i’m not going to use them but pro golfers should

Over the weekend, Max Homa won the Genesis Invitational in a two-hole playoff against Tony Finau, a very good golfer from Salt Lake City, Utah whose swing achieves a degree of perfection that is matched only by his inability to actually win golf tournaments. Since winning his lone PGA Tour event in 2016, Finau’s gotten second place in ten tournaments, finished in the top ten 37 times, and finished in the top five of each major at least once. He’s currently sixth in this season’s FedEx Cup standings, which ranks golfers according to a byzantine points system that I don’t fully understand but nevertheless does a good job of communicating the fact that Tony Finau is playing well this season. Another, simpler metric: This season, Finau has played in ten professional tournaments and has gotten second place in three of them. He is definitely good enough to win a tournament, probably lots of them. 
This doesn’t make me feel bad for Finau, per se. Between his endorsement deals and all those top ten finishes (he earned a little over a million dollars from his Genesis Invitational finish alone), he is definitely not wanting for money. He is very clearly among the elite of the elite, plus he has this crazy-looking putter, so he’s definitely going to win one of these days. Until that happens, though, he’s probably going to have to deal with being a meme on golf Reddit, which is probably its own kind of hell. 
Throughout the Genesis Invitational, Max Homa and Tony Finau respectively averaged 290.1 and 303.4 yards off the tee; Homa’s longest drive was 348, while Finau maxed out at 369 (nice). This year, Bryson DeChambeau is leading with average distance off the tee with 327.4 yards, and the longest single drive during competition was a 424-yarder from Cameron Champ. For comparison, when it’s not super cold out I can wring about 255 yards out of a perfectly struck drive, and my friend Charlie, who is much better than me, can hit it about 300. Bryson DeChambeau averages 255 with his four-iron, which is a club that this winter I’ve used for shots in the 180 to 190 yard range (once it becomes summer all my yardages will go up about ten to 15 yards because of how the weather affects ball flight, although sadly, it won’t help me out in my standing dollar-a-hole matches against Charlie, because he’ll get those extra yards too).
pictured: golf
pictured: golf
All this driving distance, though, has broken the brains of the people who run the PGA. When the golf men hit the golf ball very long, it makes the people watching the golf tournament on TV very happy. These happy people are more likely to buy drivers from the companies that sponsor the long-hitting golf men, and because the golf companies tend to price their latest drivers in the $450-$550 range — this is these clubs’ base price; you can also add on fancy shafts and grips for an upcharge — selling lots of drivers makes the golf companies happy, too. 
The problem is that pro golfers can hit it so long and so accurately that courses are having to severely modify their setups in order to ramp up the degree of difficulty. They make their holes longer, their fairways tighter, their rough deeper and rough-ier, and their greens faster. All of this can render a course almost unplayably difficult for anyone who isn’t a pro or on their way to becoming one. This costs a lot of money, and in turn, it makes golf courses sad. It also saddens the non-pro golfers who pay a bunch of money for a round at, or a membership to, these courses, because nobody wants to think that they’re bad at golf and it sucks to be forced to confront what you truly are when you’re not ready. The ever-increasing uptick in distance also means that older, classic courses run the risk of being turned into pitch-and-putt facilities by the likes of Bryson DeChambeau when it’s their turn to host a major, which means they might be taken out of the competition circuit and lose their luster and/or ability to charge tourists $500 to play 18 holes on a Tuesday. 
As it stands, you’ve got golf companies making money off of long-hitting golf men, courses losing money (or at least not making more of it) because of them, and average golfers stuck in the middle as they use their $550 drivers to hit the ball 276 yards while missing a 26-yard wide fairway at Bethpage. Over the past couple of years, the golf world has reached a consensus that the long-hitting golf men have started hitting the golf ball so long that we must have a Conversation about it, an arrangement must be made, and if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse. 
my round of golf with andre
my round of golf with andre
What has followed has been a classic battle of wits scenario, in which everyone has proposed ways to keep the golf men from hitting the golf ball so long. Maybe we should restrict the height of the golf tee. Or maybe we should make the drivers smaller. Wait, no, let’s make the golf balls more dead-feeling, or maybe freeze them for some reason? Until recently, this has all been a theoretical debate, the sort of thing people talked about on golf podcasts in order to stretch out an episode and get another ad read in. But earlier this month, the USGA and R&A, the two groups that basically run golf, released a 9/11 Commission Report-style report announcing that they’d looked into the issue and that something was definitely, maybe, potentially, probably going to be done about the golf balls going so far at a point in the future that would be determined later. Sword of Damocles, etc.
The thing is, though, golfers hit the ball so far thanks in part to technological advances, but also because ever since Tiger Woods came along, more and more pro golfers have realized that being a world-class athlete helps win golf tournaments more than being a chain-smoking functioning alcoholic surviving on a diet of fast-food and room service. This could have potentially lowered the mean level of personality possessed by pro golfers, but they’ve managed to offset any potential lapses in popularity through posting better scores and/or using social media to accidentally remind us all that if you obsessively pursue perfection in one aspect of your life, you’re probably going to turn out super weird. They also have access to the best coaches in the world, brand-new clubs that are tailored to their exact specifications, caddies who function as on-course coaches/therapists/nutritionists, and in general live a lifestyle designed around playing, practicing, and thinking about golf. They’re going to hit the ball a long way no matter what, because these non-equipment factors cannot be regulated. 
If this is the case, then what is to be done? I mean, you read the subject line of this newsletter so you know what I’m going to say: you make the woods that the pros play out of actual wood. Equipment companies hate this idea because of the connection, real or perceived, between their sales and the driving distances of the players they sponsor. Which, like, fair enough. But also, the truth of the matter is that most people don’t actually hit the clubs that pros use. In 2013, Tom Wishon, a master club fitter and builder who has spent basically his entire life thinking deeply about as well as making custom golf clubs, wrote a pamphlet claiming that any touring pro with an equipment sponsor is using clubs that are, regardless of the model name stamped on the head, wholly bespoke. Pros don’t get so skilled and so strong just so they can hit the shit out of a golf ball, they get skilled and strong so they can control the distance, trajectory, and spin of each shot with the precision of a Swiss watch. If I played a round of golf using clubs I borrowed from Tony Finau, the subtle differences in one of my swings to the next, which Tony Finau’s swing absolutely does not have, would guarantee I would send the ball all over the place. The difference between my set of clubs and those used by a player like Finau, Wishon suggests, is about as stark as the difference between a Chevy you could buy at the dealership and a Chevy they use in a NASCAR race. 
In practicality, such a changeover would be sort of like a baseball thing where everybody else would still be allowed to use whatever they wanted, but for the best of the best, the ball must be struck with a piece of wood. Companies could even make persimmon versions of their drivers to sell to people, which, when you combined the innovations made by these firms’ R&D departments with a material that is of the earth, would be steampunk as hell. I assume that regardless of how steampunk it would be, golf companies would argue that the PGA players using metal drivers is actually in the consumer’s best interest because this is a thing that juices driver sales, which help provide them with big enough R&D budgets which allow them to make better clubs for cheaper, but as someone who recently-ish did a proofreading job on a book written by an economist, I can assure you that this argument is bullshit.
these are the people who will be mad if pro golfers start using wooden drivers
these are the people who will be mad if pro golfers start using wooden drivers
A more valid argument against wooden woods, however, is that forests are a precious natural resource. Suddenly requiring top of the line golf equipment to be made out of said precious natural resources could hypothetically stoke the near-dormant market for wooden woods, driving up demand for certain trees in a way that could create deforestation, human displacement, erosion, or other unforeseen but undoubtedly horrific climate consequences. But, since I have spent this post accidentally turning into the golf version of Matt Yglesias, you can bet your ass I’ve got a technocratic solution for this potential issue: lab-grown wood. It’s a thing! Or at least it will be a thing soon!
So, again: Make the pros play with wooden woods. While they probably wouldn’t make a huge difference when it came to perfectly struck shots, wooden clubs are smaller and therefore more difficult to hit accurately, and the fact that they’re made out of wood as opposed to titanium, as most modern drivers are, means they’re heavier and need to have shorter shafts. While the USGA and R&A people would probably make such a call in order to force pros to rely even further on accuracy over distance, I can almost guarantee that a wooden wood world would end in even more pro golfers becoming super yoked in an attempt to push back against the constraints of their equipment. This, obviously, would be very fun to watch. 
Look, the inexorable march of progress will always be marching, and inexorably so. With golf, we can either use this progress to make a golf club which will allow Bryson DeChambeau hit a ball 500 yards using a driver made out of denuclearized weapons-grade plutonium, or we can marshal the power of innovation so that it forces him to hit a golf ball 300 yards using a driver carved out of wood that a scientist grew in a lab. At this point, someone, maybe lots of someones, out there would react to basically any drastic rules change on the PGA Tour by screaming that the Tour was cheapening the game. But given that I, for one, don’t want to spend $500 replacing my driver if I accidentally run it over with a golf cart, I would be extremely down with cheapening it.
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