ORLANDO, Fla. — Tom Watson looked like he'd stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine as he sipped coffee Friday morning at the PGA Show. That made the people at Polo Ralph Lauren, the company that outfits the eight-time major champion, very happy.
Surrounded by companies selling every kind of golf contraption imaginable, I asked Watson which technological innovation made the greatest impact on the game.
"It was the graphite shaft," he said. "I can't remember exactly where I was when I first tried them, maybe '83 at Oakmont."
Watson said the buzz back then was that graphite shafts were going to transform the game and help golfers hit the ball a lot farther.
"Being from the 'Show Me State' of Missouri, I was a little skeptical about it hitting the ball a lot farther," Watson continued. Because even the earliest graphite shafts were so much lighter than steel shafts, manufacturers were free to make the shafts longer and golfers could swing them faster.
However, it wasn't love a first swing for Watson and the earliest graphite-shafted clubs. "They didn't have enough feedback with the hit," he said. "There was a softer feel to them, but I called them 'dumb' because I couldn't feel in my hands what I'd done in the hit."
But looking back, Watson feels the creation of graphite shafts was the beginning of the process that eventually created the drivers we have now.