Engineer and inventor Bob Zider, originator of Project Flogton, is always testing the outer limits on what is possible. His first job after graduating from the University of Virginia was in the Advanced Engines Group at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, working on the jet engines of the future.
Zider specializes in materials, and without much prompting at all he’ll show you trampoline-effect materials that have four times the spring as steel and titanium. Among the other tricks up his sleeve is a temperature compensating metal for the clubface that gets softer as temperatures lower.
Read along for Zider’s take on what’s Flogton-friendly on today’s market, and what might someday be able to help the average player. Then share your own ideas about futuristic Flogton.
Available now: Some of the nonconforming clubs offer slight improvement, but usually they are just barely nonconforming – not far off the USGA limits on COR (0.83) and size (460), probably because the designers hoped to sneak under the USGA radar.
Probably the best aid right now is a low-friction face, created by either lubricating the face of the club and ball or by applying a stick-on face to the driver. By simply reducing the face/ball friction, you can reduce slices and hooks by over 50 percent.
Project Flogton hopes to bring forward existing drivers we are not aware of today.
Flogton future: From a physics perspective, the collision of an implement and projectile are very complex. I sure don’t understand them. But others do, and that’s what the AGA hopes to tap into. For example, the USGA limits the characteristics of the shaft head and ball. But physics knows no such limits. I’ve been told that 50 percent of the wind resistance on a driver is from the shaft, not the head. Surprised? You don’t see circular wings on airplanes. No. They are “aerodynamic.” Why isn’t your shaft? And why is the driving ball a sphere? You don’t see spherical airplanes, rockets, bullets or arrows. If we allow different “balls” for driving (distance vs. accuracy), approach (one for a ball flight to stop on the green, or short distance/full swing balls) and putting (long vs. short putts), the game becomes one of true skill and more strategy.
The coefficient of restitution is most simply measured by dropping a ball from 10 feet onto different surfaces and measuring how far it bounces back. The USGA limit for driver faces and conforming balls is 0.83, or 8.3 feet. Many of the nonconforming drivers are around 0.85.
I think it could reach .92. But that’s not all there is to distance. The drive is a combination of COR, head speed and ball/face interaction – the latter two seemingly without limitation. Flogton’s objective is to increase the distance and accuracy of a drive 25 percent for normal swing speeds of 80-100 mph. That technology isn’t on the market yet, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be if we build shafts more aerodynamically and heads without restriction on size, shape and hosel.
Available now: Contrary to popular belief, golfers are surprisingly aware of real vs. advertised improvements in golf equipment. Especially irons. Karsten Solheim revolutionized the modern iron by commercializing the cavity-back iron (invented in the early 1900s), which gave away some “workability” (ability to purposefully hook or slice) of the forged blade preferred by pros, in exchange for less distance loss for off-center hits .
The forged blade loses about 10 percent for off-center hits, vs. 5 percent for a cavity back. Soon after the introduction of the Ping Eye cast irons, over 90 percent of the 25 million golfers had new irons. Yet today, less than 1.5 million sets of irons are sold to the same 25 million golfers; indicating a replacement rate of just over one set per 15 years. There simply has not been a substantial improvement in USGA approved irons since then. And the golfers know it, so they are not buying in droves. Whoever gets the next real improvement in irons is looking at maybe 20 million sets at $500 per set for a $10 BILLION opportunity.
Flogton future: Irons have been tested that improve distance, off-center performance, spin and accuracy. All are nonconforming. Plus, with Flogton players allowed to use tees on the course, designers will be able to focus more on performance and less on avoiding skulls and chunks.
Available now: The USGA recently set new groove standards that reduce spin for wedges that is much-needed for the rest of us. Some companies, including Feel, have decided to keep making the grooved wedges no longer in the USGA’s favor. But, as with drivers and irons, they do not explore what can be readily made for improved spin.
Flogton future: Flogton has test wedges that increase spin 100 percent, just by improving the grooves and adding friction-inducing surfaces. With new, soft-but-durable-skin balls, we believe we can give “the rest of us” the ability to stop a well-hit ball on the green just like the pros.
Available now: While the USGA puts a limit on the number of clubs you can carry (14), it does not prohibit carrying multiple putters. Why would you have separate clubs for 170 vs. 160 yards from the green, yet use only one putter for a 60-foot uphill putt and a 4-foot steep downhill putt? A logical golfer would have two or three putters in the bag, even under USGA rules.
One of the oddest features of putting is that the touring pro WANTS a badly performing putter. The typical putter can lose up to 10 percent of its distance for just a half-inch off-center. That’s 4 feet on a 40-footer. That means a three-putt for many of us. Yet, the pros want poor off-center performance, as it effectively adds a 15th club in their bag: a “dead” putter for the downhill, short putts by purposely hitting on the toe.
Flogton future: The engineers could improve off-center performance, develop putters that are actually more effective for longer or shorter putts, and create custom graphics for an individual stroke. Maybe croquet style putting with a croquet-stick-style putter would work for some people.
We have prototype putters that not only lose zero distance when hit off-center, but actually go farther than center hits. Why? Distance loss is a combination of off-center hit (such as jumping off center on a trampoline) as well as energy lost by clubhead twisting. So the added distance of off center being longer than center would actually compensate for both effects, making the putter impact location no longer damaging for putting distance.
Ever notice how your putting changes as the day wears on? You’ve had to adjust to changes in the putter-ball impact due to temperature changes. A cold ball loses 10 percent distance because it hardens as the temperature falls. And a polymer face on a putter, such as industry leader Odyssey, undergoes the same transformation, compounding the effect. The putter of the future could actually soften as the temperature drops.
Available now: There are some nonconforming balls on the market but they offer marginal distance improvement because they are only barely nonconforming. For accuracy, there’s the asymmetrical dimple pattern Polara to reduce hook and slice, and the option to lubricate club face and ball. Probably the best option for Flogton players using the existing product is to change balls to match the shot – one ball for the drive and fairway wood, a different ball for irons and wedges to spin to the green, and a third ball for putting.
Flogton future: Balls could be made specifically for distance, for accuracy, for spin, for putting. Putting balls could be different for long putts than for short putts. Balls could have no surface patterns, or different patterns, and could even be nonspherical. And how about “dead” balls that you’d use with a full swing from 20, 30 or 40 yards out?
These innovations are likely to come from some nontraditional sources. Are you listening out there, Dow, Dupont and Whammo?
What can you imagine or create that would help golfers perform rather than conform? Share ideas and solve problems here.