Orange = 1959 9-iron, Green = 2009 9-iron; Purple = 1959 6-iron, Yellow = 2009 6-iron; Blue = 1959 driver, Black = 2009 driver
Monday, August 03, 2009

Padraig Harrington's first golf club was a hand-me-down Wilson 8-iron. Some three decades later, the three-time major winner still plays Wilsons, which made him an ideal candidate to test how today's Tour pro would play with clubs built in 1959. Good sport that he is, Harrington accepted the challenge, hitting both his modern-day Wilsons and a more rudimentary Wilson line from 50 years ago.

How We Did It
On the practice range at the TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Fla., we asked Harrington to hit balls with his driver, 6-iron and 9-iron. We measured each shot with a TrackMan launch monitor, recorded the averages of those readings, and then repeated the exercise with the same clubs from the 1959 set.

How He Did
"They feel fine," Harrington said of the 50-year-old sticks. "The smaller sweet spots would bother me on a bad, wet day — that's when the sweet spot comes into play — but on a nice day, no problem at all." Not counting his first drive (a screaming duck hook), his shots looked good enough for tournament play. "If I had to play with these clubs, I'd adapt," Harrington said. "Could I play competitively against my fellow Tour pros with these clubs? Not if they used modern clubs. But could I break par? No problem."


Padraig says:
"Sure, we're bigger and stronger now, but the larger clubhead also allows you to swing [more aggressively] and give it a bigger hit."

TrackMan says:
You would expect the older, shorter and heavier driver to have a slower club speed, and it did — by about 7-8 mph. But it's likely Harrington also slowed down his swing to help ensure a center hit on the smaller sweet spot. Ball technology is another factor. Harrington hit shots only with modern balls (multilayer construction with a urethane cover). If he had hit the 1959 driver with a ball from that era (wound balata), he would have generated more spin and less distance. Harrington's driving distance in this test is significantly lower than his average driving distance on Tour (265 total yards vs. 282 yards) because he was hitting into a 10-15 mph headwind.

The Stats: 2009 | 1959
Club Speed: 112.8 mph | 105.4 mph
Ball Speed: 169.2 mph | 157.1 mph
Smash Factor*: 1.50 | 1.49 mph
Launch Angle: 12.1 | 11.5
Spin Rate: 2,527 rpm | 1,690 rpm
Maximum Height: 43.5 yards | 27.2 yards
Carry: 254.5 yards | 228.3 yards
Total Length: 265.3 yards | 259.4 yards


Padraig says:
"In any era, the guys who were the best would have found a way to be the best at any time. The best adapt, no question about it. I still think if Hogan were here today he'd be the longest, straightest hitter."

TrackMan says:
When Harrington says he'd adapt to any club, he means it. The '59 6-iron was playing much flatter than his gamer, which meant that Harrington had to swing flatter, or return with his hands lower, to make good contact. An elite player like Harrington can make these types of adjustments on the spot.

The Stats: 2009 | 1959
Club Speed: 88.7 mph | 84.2 mph
Ball Speed: 127.2 mph | 118 mph
Smash Factor*: 1.46 | 1.40
Launch Angle: 14.3 | 17.1
Spin Rate: 5,463 rpm | 6,654 rpm
Maximum Height: 35.8 yards | 34.1 yards
Carry: 166.1 yards | 148.1 yards
Total Length: 167.3 yards | 148.1 yards


Padraig says:
"Essentially, each of the old irons is one club loft weaker than its modern counterpart, though they seem to play about two clubs shorter. Back then, clubs didn't have cavity backs, so if your irons didn't have loft, you'd have a hard time getting them up in the air."

TrackMan says:
Harrington is right. The 1959 irons are shorter and more lofted — the '59 9-iron is 48 degrees, while Harrington's 9-iron is 44 degrees. With the older irons, this explains the lower club speed and ball speed; the higher launch angle and spin rate; and the shorter carry distance. As engineers continue to design clubs with lower centers of gravity that help launch the ball higher, they will continue to decrease loft to allow golfers to hit their irons longer than ever.

The Stats: 2009 | 1959
Club Speed: 80.3 mph | 75 mph
Ball Speed: 106 mph | 93 mph
Smash Factor*: 1.32 | 1.24
Launch Angle: 23.1 | 25.6
Spin Rate: 8,084 rpm | 8,804 rpm
Maximum Height: 34.8 yards | 29.4 yards
Carry: 122.8 yards | 106.5 yards
Total Length: 122.8 yards | 107.5 yards

* 'Smash Factor' is simply a ratio of clubhead speed to ball speed. If a player swings his driver at 100 mph and the ball leaves the face at 150 mph, the smash factor is 1.5.

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