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GOLF / SHAV GLICK : Firms Work Toward Birdies at Christmas

If you want to give your golfing husband, wife or friend the ideal gift for Christmas, make it something that will result in 15 more yards off the tee, straighter iron shots or smoother putts.

Toward those ends, golf equipment manufacturers have been working overtime. The progression from wooden shafts to stainless steel to graphite has now moved into space age exotics such as combinations of boron and graphite--the so-called black gold shaft--and titanium-wrapped graphite.

Choosing a golf ball once was simply a choice between a balata-covered ball, which was considered easier to control with iron shots, or a two-piece ball, which was expected to go a bit farther. This year, more esoteric factors have come into play, such as the number and placement of dimples and the improved method of curing a polybutadience core.

For instance, Slazenger has a new ball with 480 dimples of four different sizes that are interlocked into triangular patterns. Bridgestone is offering one with only 372 dimples, but combining the two-piece structure with a balata cover. Ram has the new core conditioning system that it claims will give its ball a more uniform spin.

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Lee Trevino said recently that the way an average hacker could get the most out of his swing was to “use a metal wood with a graphite shaft and hit a Pinnacle two-piece ball.”

Now there is an added dimension--the cobalt driver. Tests with Iron Byron, a robot driving machine built by True Temper to test balls and clubs, indicate that a driver with a cobalt head and a graphite shaft will average 10 more yards off the tee than a conventional metal wood with the same shaft.

“The universal desire to hit it longer is inside every golfer’s psyche, so that’s what manufacturers are continually working on,” said Dave Boone, product manager of Lynx Golf of the City of Industry. “We think cobalt is the answer at the moment. It does for the average golfer what the J’s-driver does for the big hitters like Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Jumbo Ozaki.”

The J’s Professional Weapon, as it is officially known, hit the spotlight during the Masters when Nicklaus claimed he was getting 30 to 40 yards more distance off the tee. The claim, which was true when Nicklaus used the club, set off a frenzy of public buying until the realization set in that it didn’t do the same job for Mr. Average Golfer.

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Only an abnormally long, high-ball hitter such as Nicklaus, Norman or Ozaki could handle the J’s, which had a thicker club face, a lower degree of loft and an extra stiff shaft. Bridgestone, which manufactures the J’s in Japan, hopes to satisfy the normal player’s desire to play “the same club that Jack plays,” by making a modified version, but that may be little different from a conventional metal wood.

“Cobalt is 9% heavier than steel and is a much harder, more rigid material,” Boone said. “Cobalt is so hard that it is used in bullet construction, and because it is harder, it transmits more energy to the ball.” Eddie Langert and Tony Penna are the only other makers of cobalt woods.

The catch is that a cobalt club with a graphite shaft costs $300, about $90 more than a metal wood or the old favorite, the wood wood.

Another new fad is the driver with an oversized head and a longer shaft. Wilson quite correctly labels it the Whale. It has a bigger hitting area and this gives added confidence to the hitter. Because of the longer shaft, however, it is more difficult to control.

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The longer the shaft, the longer the arc and if the timing is right, the longer the drive. A normal driver’s shaft is 43 inches. The Whale’s is 44. Frank Miller, the national long-driving champion, used a 48-inch graphite shaft to win his championship. But Miller, a Los Angeles movie construction worker, is 6-feet-5 and weighs 240 pounds.

Bobby Wilson, who was runner-up to Miller, used a 44-inch cobalt driver.

Metal woods now make up more than 80% of the market, from high handicappers to top professionals, with 20% of them having graphite shafts. Tests have shown that they hit the ball straighter and can be more uniformly manufactured. Every wood-headed club is different because of the difference in the lumber, but there is still nothing like a highly polished persimmon head club for getting the ultimate “feel” from a well-hit drive.

Golf Notes

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Nick Faldo, golf’s No. 1 player after winning the Masters and British Opens, will not play in the Infinity Tournament of Champions at La Costa when the PGA Tour opens the 1991 season Jan. 3-6. . . . The Hoot Whitaker Memorial, two nine-hole scramble tournaments, will be played Dec. 10 at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena. Whitaker was professional at Eaton Canyon for 28 years until his death last September.

Amateur qualifying for the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open in San Diego will be held Saturday at the Torrey Pines South course. The two low scorers qualify for the tournament at Torrey Pines Feb. 14-17. . . . Annandale’s Pat Rielly will turn over reins as president of the PGA on Saturday to Dick Smith of Cherry Hill, N.J., at the organization’s annual meeting.

Lee Elder will hold his Watts-Willowbrook pro-am celebrity tournament Dec. 17 at California CC in Whittier. Proceeds will go to the Watts-Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club. . . . A National Golf Foundation survey found that local amateur tournaments raised about $232 million for charity last year.

Not too many years ago a tour pro had to finish in the top 60 in money winnings to retain his playing card. If such were the case this year, it would have taken $249,248 to be exempt for 1991. . . . The SoCal PGA Champion of Champions tournament is set for Wednesday at Carlton Oaks CC in Santee. . . . Brad Sherfy of Western Hills, Scott Bentley of Mt. Woodson and John Hendricks of Marbella have qualified for the PGA Championship next year at Crooked Stick GC, near Indianapolis. Bentley recently left Singing Hills for the Mt. Woodson course in Ramona, which is under construction.

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Three Ojai Valley players, Lois Rice, Roy Garner and LPGA pro Lisa Price, won trips to Spain to play in the Peugeot Open of Spain pro-am by winning the Peugeot 405 Yards tournament at Sandpiper GC in Goleta. . . . Dick Danehe wrote in to protest the announcement from the PGA that Norman had broken Sam Snead’s Vardon Trophy record of 69.23 set in 1950 with a 69.10 average this year. Danehe correctly pointed out that Norman’s stroke average was adjusted under a new format begun in 1988, and the PGA acknowledged his protest by issuing a correction. Norman’s true average was 70.30.

National amputee champion Corbin Cherry of Mill Valley will play today at Industry Hills in the 11th annual Mike Scioscia celebrity tournament, which raises money for the Casa Colina Wheelchair Sports, Recreation and Outdoor Program. Also playing in the scramble event, which starts at 10:30 a.m., will be the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela and Mickey Hatcher. . . . Larry Salk, former SoCal junior champion from Rancho Park, shot 30-33--63 for a course record at Chardonnay CC in Napa.

How good are the pros? The best of them only reach the green in regulation 70% of the time. Doug Tewell led the tour in hitting greens and his average was .709. Tom Purtzer led in driving distance with a 279.6 yard average. The players with the biggest reputation as long hitters--Greg Norman and Davis Love III--ranked fifth and eighth at 277.6 and 276.6, respectively. . . . The seniors were better at hitting the green. Lee Trevino was best with a .769 average. Jim Dent was the longest hitter with a 276.8 average.


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