U.S. Open

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2)


Editor's Essay: 'Era of aggregate incrementalism'

October 19, 2009

MESQUITE, Nev. -- Innovation in golf today is not measured in yards. It is measured in fractions of millimeters and even something called micro-inches. (For those of you whose lives are not research studies for episodes of The Big Bang Theory, that's one-millionth of an inch.)

When your job as a Hot List judge is to evaluate innovation at the nano-level, you can't rely on press releases and web videos. You need the big brains we gather every year to sit down and decipher the concepts in play. You get inside information from manufacturers that reveal the underpinnings of their latest technologies and then you throw it out in the middle of a conference room and let a bunch of Ph.Ds bat it back and forth like sharks circling chum.

It is too easy to assume, however, that small things don't matter. For instance, let's look at something like chemical milling on titanium castings. There is little doubt that one way to improve face flex on a driver is to micro-engineer the thickness of that face. It's what's been called variable face thickness, or the idea that a face can be made selectively thicker or thinner to get the face to work like a trampoline. And it's been around in one form or another for the last decade and a half. But today, you can't do it crudely and expect the face to flex on off-center points in a better way than anybody else (maybe as good as everybody else, but certainly there's no reason to expect that doing the same thing as everybody else will make you better). That's why we're now talking about the benefits of dipping titanium in an acid bath and burning off excess material in a precise way. In short, it requires thinking about every aspect of design in a different way.

It's why reinventing the wheel isn't a bad idea when it comes to golf club engineering. Are the wheels getting faster? Look at it this way: As Callaway's Jeff Colton has said many times, "We are now in the era of aggregate incrementalism." What's that mean? It means the more small micro-improvements a company can incorporate the more potential there is for making a product that causes even a group of super smart Ph.Ds to go "Hmmm…"

-- Mike Stachura