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From the Lab to The Links

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The Seasons New Golf Gear is Engineered for Distance and Accuracy
All winter long you’ve been itching to get back on the golf course. Well, all winter long equipment manufacturers have been re-programming their computers and adjusting their algorithms to help you hit the ball just a little bit longer and a little bit straighter.
Farther Down the Fairway

Drivers are usually the focus of attention because everybody wants to be longer off the tee. But TaylorMade is emphasizing the next club in your bag — the fairway wood. It’s called the RocketBallz™ or “RBZ,” and yes it is a club. The unusual name came when testing engineers who first used it said the ball “rocketed” off the club.
There are two keys to RocketBallz technology. First, the center of gravity has been moved forward to provide a higher launch angle and less spin. Second is a cavity (Speed Pocket) carved into the sole. Positioned just behind the face, it’s designed to increase flexibility of both the face and the sole. Both developments increase ball speed, and more ball speed means more distance.
Here’s the geeky engineering explanation, all centered around the Coefficient of Restitution (COR). In English, that means how well object A (the golf club) transfers energy to object B (the golf ball). Traditional fairway woods have had a COR of about .777, while the RocketBallz jumps to .815.
So what does all this engineering talk mean to you? More distance. TaylorMade is advertising that the RocketBallz fairway wood will add 17 yards of distance for a typical golfer. And if the lawyers let them say that, who can argue? (Not that any lawyer actually swung the club). What it all comes down to is hitting the ball farther, says TaylorMade’s Rob Backus. “It’s all about speed and how the ball trampolines off the face of the club.”
Nike has its own technology to increase distance off the tee. Its VR_S driver has what it calls NexCOR (notice how it got “COR” into the name of the product?). This concentrates on the face of the club. A multi-thickness design makes the face of the club ultrathin at the sweet spot, which — ta-da — increases ball speed off the tee.
“The VR_S is hot,” says Nike’s Chris Coffman. “It feels fast — I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Speaking of Ball Speed
You spend a lot more money on a new club than on a golf ball, but it’s the ball that actually determines your score. Not to fear, the golf scientists have been spending plenty of time on the little white sphere.
Titleist has long dominated the ball market and they are introducing four new products. Most significant is a new version of the NXT Tour, the highly popular, non-urethane cover ball first introduced a decade ago. The new ball has a slightly smaller soft center and higher volume outer core layer engineered to increase power and (of course) distance. A soft, thin Fusablend cover features a new spherically tiled octahedral design with four axis of symmetry and 302 dimples in five sizes.
All the laboratory work and science is important, but it’s what happens on the golf course that determines whether a product succeeds and the Titleist development process is heavy on real world application. “Our ball development process always starts with golfer testing where we identify improvement that will help golfers score better,” says Bill Morgan, Senior Vice-President, Golf Ball Research and Development.
Nike is introducing what it calls a radical new core technology for its 20XI ball. The core is lighter with a low density that distributes weight to the perimeter, thus increasing ball moment of inertia (MOI). That higher ball MOI maintains spin after the apex of the shot, adding yards and minimizing travel off line.
There are also cosmetic changes to balls. Titleist is beginning to use double digit markings on its balls. Not a revolutionary change, but it’s different and something to make your ball stand out. And the new NXT Tour S is being offered in white and yellow.  Colored balls were all the rage in the 1980s, and when Jerry Pate won the TPC at Sawgrass in ’82 with an orange ball, there was some thought golf might join tennis and leave the white ball behind. That never happened and the color craze faded.  Now colored balls are making a comeback.
“There’s definitely been a resurgence in color,” says Gary Humenny of Bridgestone, which has long offered many colored variations. “They are easier to see, they are distinctive and they’ve always been popular with women.”
Belly Up to the Putter
One of the hottest products in golf is the belly putter and it has very little to do with technology. The excitement stems from a day last August when Keegan Bradley won the PGA with a belly putter. Nothing sparks interest in a new club like winning a major.  “Our sales have exploded,” says Powerbilt’s Dennis Wente. “We re-introduced belly putters in October and through February we’ve sold close to 15,000.”
You can’t just convert a 35-inch putter to a belly putter, because the putter will be too light. That’s why 50-60 grams of weight have been added to the belly versions.
Belly putters have tended to be popular with older golfers and have been a staple of the Senior Tour. As people age their hands become less steady and, because the longer putters require less wrist action, in theory that means fewer putting ‘yips.’  But now that younger players are winning tournaments with belly putters, the belly putter is being validated for all golfers.
The grip, stance and putter itself are quite different, and Wente says not to expect overnight success and to plan on working out the kinks on the practice green. “First, get the right length and lie. And give the putter some time before you take it to the course, because it will take some time getting used to.”
But then, success in golf requires plenty of practice in all phases of your game, right?
Belly Putter Fitting
Determine Length
A belly putter of the correct length will allow the sole of the putter to rest flat on the ground, and will position your eyes directly over the ball.
STEP 1: Position the butt-end 2-3 inches above your belt buckle in the center of your belly.
Another technique is moving the butt-end 2-3 inches left of center if you’re a right-handed putter, or 2-3 inches right of center if you’re a left-handed putter, to find which position feels best.
STEP 2: Hold the putter just firmly enough against your belly to keep the butt-end anchored.
STEP 3: Check to see if putter head is flat on the ground, and your eyes are positioned just inside the ball.
STEP 4: Check posture — you’ll want to assume comfortable position that allows your arms to hang freely and your shoulders and body to rotate to make a pendulum-like swing.
TOO LONG: You’ll know the putter is too long for you if:
• The toe of the putter head is raised in the air.
• Your arms and hand are extended and not hanging freely.
• Your stroke starts sharply inside and finishes sharply inside.
TOO SHORT: You’ll know the putter is too short for you if:
• Feel hunched over in an uncomfortable position.
• Your weight is constantly falling towards your toes.
• Your stroke starts outside and swings inside.
-Par Shooter
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