The Equipment Insider

Going the distance at Augusta National

This year’s Masters still focuses on the age-old theme of driving the ball farther

Golf, like baseball, may be a game of inches after all.

While a lot of attention is being given to the novelty of a fall Masters Tournament, there is also a lot of focus on the longer driver shafts several players will — or might — use in their respective attempts to add more length to their already prodigious tee shots.

In what may be the most discussed and argued over 3 inches in the history of golf, Bryson DeChambeau may reach the legal limit on his driver shaft (48 inches) in order to graft a few more yards onto his PGA Tour-leading driving average of 344 yards.

“Bryson was down here in Carlsbad two weeks ago where we worked with him on developing a 48-inch driver,” said Tom Olsavsky, vice president of research and development for Cobra Puma Golf, whose equipment DeChambeau plays and endorses. “But we couldn’t build one that gave him the launch conditions data he wanted, so he won’t be playing a 48-inch driver at the Masters.”

That was two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, the ever mercurial and unpredictable DeChambeau said he may have found a long-shafted driver Cobra built for him that fits his bill.

“It did work yesterday,” said DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, during his Master’s press conference on Tuesday. “If it’s an improvement in every facet of launch conditions, I don’t see why not [using it in competition].”

Ultimately, he opted out on Thursday.

While avowedly an individual sport, golf is also a copycat’s game, especially when it comes to players chasing more distance. A partial list of other players considering using a long-shafted driver at Augusta National Golf Club this week include Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. Even though  golf fans will recognize all of these stars as among the game’s longest drivers already, just an added 10 yards of carry or so will allow them and others to carry a fairway bunker or cut a dogleg. Better yet, landing a ball on one of Augusta National’s steep downhill sloping fairways could be the formula for extra distance that might magnify itself exponentially.

Bryson DeChambeau — 2020 Masters, Practice Round
Bryson DeChambeau works out his driver during Tuesday morning's practice round at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

Direction, though, matters as much as distance at Augusta National, which famously favors high-flying right-to-left shots. To better achieve this, Tiger Woods, the five-time and reigning Masters champion, has switched from an older TaylorMade M5 3-wood model to the company’s newest SIM model.

Indeed, change is in the air, and not just meteorologically.

Equipment manufacturers’ tour vans, where players routinely cycle through to have their clubs repaired, regripped, adjusted and even built for them anew, are having to make an adjustment. Parked across from the club on Washington Road, which borders the course, the van staff are having to take unprecedented precautions because of Covid-19.

Todd Chew, who runs TaylorMade’s Tour van, speaks a sentiment that is echoed among all vans when he explains that “only actual employees of TaylorMade will be allowed into our equipment van this week to bring in players’ clubs for us to work on.

“Not only are we required to sanitize every club that leaves the van, but there’s a sanitation station set up on Augusta National’s driving  range where attendants will clean and sanitized the clubs again before returning them to the players.”

For all of the machismo and mythology surrounding driving the ball, a high number of players interviewed this week at the Masters point to good wedge play and putting as the keys to their success.

To those ends, Aaron Dill, Titleist’s director of wedge promotions, said “I’ve made sure we have plenty of inventory here this week.” He is referring to the 400 to 500 wedge heads of varying degrees of loft, bounce and leading edge grinds that are in stock in the Titelist van.

Texting from Augusta, Dill typed: “Most of the changes and testing by our players have involved players working with wedges with more bounce,” meaning wider surface areas built into the soles of the clubs. Dill said that this prevents the wedges from digging excessively into the  wet and soggy greenside turf the players will most likely encounter all week.

Also, “the grass and soil this time of year here is very different than it is in the spring, because there is more of the warm season Bermudagrass remaining on the course now and that mixes in with the overseeded Ryegrass. The grass this year is therefore longer, more fluffy and grainy, than it is in April, and this will make wedges stick and dig more into the ground.”

While speaking to the media at Augusta Nation on Tuesday Tiger Woods said that because of the different green-side grass make up,  he may need to hit different types of shots around the greens than he has in previous Masters.

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