"I Can Break Par With 50-Year-Old Clubs... No Problem!"

“I Can Break Par With 50-Year-Old Clubs… No Problem!”

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

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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