In Their Own Words Bridgestone GolfGolf Balls

By Casey BiererJune 29, 2006, 4:00 pm
Editors note: Founded in 1931 by Shojiro Ishibashi, Bridgestone has always been guided by the founders philosophy Serve Society with Superior Quality. Over the years, the pursuit of superior quality has resulted in Bridgestone becoming a global market leader in the rubber industry and in polymer science technologies.
 
Today Bridgestone shares the same passion for the game of golf as their founder. Mr. Ishibashi converted his golf passion into a commercial success when Bridgestone first produced golf balls in 1935. Along with technical developments in tire technology, breakthroughs in golf ball technology have led Bridgestone to be the number one golf ball producer in Japan.
 
Brandon Sowell is the Marketing Manager for Golf Balls for Bridgestone Golf. Prior to Bridgestone, Brandon worked for Dunlop and Maxfli for five years working his way up through the company in various capacities. His first job out of college, Bandon started in customer service and moved to a marketing position in the racket sports division, eventually moving over to the golf ball side of the company.

 
A Conversation with Brandon Sowell, marketing manager for golf balls for Bridgestone Golf.
 
Casey/Q:
Brandon, explain the move from the focus on the Precept brand to the focus on the Bridgestone brand.
 
Brandon/A:
It was just over 18 months ago when the Bridgestone brand of golf balls launched. Precept had been around for quite a long time. Precept was a major player in the golf ball market but we really wanted to put more emphasis on a path to success and we wanted to become much more dominant than we were. To take on such an initiative requires an enormous investment. We are a division of the Bridgestone Corporation and globally, thats a 22 billion dollar companyso its quite a big company. As our parent company, Bridgestone is quite happy to help us and support us but, if they were going to make the kind of investment necessary to promote this new ball initiative they wanted it to be something that would really benefit the company globally. Thats where Bridgestone Golf originated. A vertical integration of the Bridgestone brand instead of a segmented brand with a different name.
 
Casey/Q:
As you say, Bridgestone is a huge, global company with tremendous existing brand recognition from tires and other rubber based products. So, it must benefit you coming out of the gate with a new golf ball line.
 
Brandon/A:
Absolutely. It works both ways. Being able to use the Bridgestone name has certainly benefited us with the brand recognition that Bridgestone Tire has. Its obviously a very significant brand in its own right and the synergies we have between the two entities enables us to do cross promotions and dual marketing efforts which has been very successful for us.
 
Casey/Q:
You dont get golf balls in play on the PGA Tour unless those golf balls perform. Whats it like to compete in that environment?
 
Brandon/A:
Its definitely a unique environment. Those players are looking to optimize their games to the best of their ability, week in and week out; being able to perform certain shots and knowing how the ball is going to react in certain situations. Working with the players is very in depth and intense. There are a lot of great golf balls out there. And these guys are going to play what works. But, we try to get down to the specifics of and individuals needs and then apply technologies that we have that maybe some of the competition doesnt have.
 
Casey/Q:
Give us a for instance.
 
Brandon/A:
Well, seamless cover technology which eliminates the seam that you see on traditional golf balls is a good example. The seamless cover technology gives you great consistency with the dimple pattern which in turn gives you very consistent ball flight. That 100% dimple coverage is going to give you the most consistent flight, trajectory and performance characteristics on all your shots. From drives to iron approach shots to play around the greens.
 
Casey/Q:
So, what do you do as a new player in this arena? You go to Stuart Appleby and say, hey, try this new ballits great?
 
Brandon/A:
Pretty much. Thats how things get started. Were convinced we have a superior product and so when we started to approach players we felt like we would get good feedback right from the start. Being able to get in front of a tour player, show them our technology and how that technology can benefit their games, is a positive for us. Our R&D folks work with them directly out on the tour. The tour players also come to our R&D facility, and, well even go out to their home course and work with them there. So theres a tremendous amount of development time that goes in to working directly with the players in helping them optimize their game.
 
Casey/Q:
Are the tour players the ultimate test?
 
Brandon/A:
They are the ultimate test for where we want to be with Bridgestones high performance golf balls. Working with those guys is a huge benefit to us in terms of the feedback they are able to provide us. Considering how new the Bridgestone Golf brand launch is, weve had a lot of tour buzz out there. Players see the success of Stuart Appleby. You know, last year, Stuart had three four hundred yard drives. Other tour players pick up on that and want to know how hes doing that, they want to know what is going on. As a result weve had a lot of tour players approaching us wanting to know about the technology, wanting to try the balls, basically wanting to know what the heck is going on. This all translates in to a huge plus for us.
 
Casey/Q:
Lets start with your tour, or, low handicap line of balls. First, whats the difference between the B330 and the B330s?
 
Brandon/A:
The B330s has a little bit softer of a urethane cover and it also has a little bit softer core as well. So, that softer core and cover combination is going to give it a little bit of a softer feel and its going to have a little bit more spin and check around the greens. The two balls come down to a preference choice for players. For instance, Fred Couples uses the B330. He prefers the firmer feel and the extra distance he gets off that ball. This is the flip side of Stuart Appleby. Both balls are a multi-layer three piece golf balls with a urethane cover. They are extremely high performance and technology driver golf balls.
 
Casey/Q:
What are the overall technologies at work in these balls?
 
Brandon/A:
Starting with the inside and working towards the outside, both the B330 and B330s have a speed elasticity core which is a gradational compression technology. With that, the core creates varying degrees of firmness. The core itself gets softer as you move towards the middle. This benefits the player by generating optimum compression, reduced driver spin and optimum rebound characteristics for a higher initial velocity off the tee. Looking at the mid-layer after the cover, this mantle is going to give it a much nicer feel around the greens. And, the urethane cover is going to help generate that tour caliber spin that low handicap golfers and tour players are looking for. In addition to that, both golf balls have the 330 dimple pattern and a seamless dimple design.
 
Casey/Q:
What do you see as the advantages to the seamless dimple design?
 
Brandon/A:
The seamless dimple design gives the ball ideal aerodynamics so the ball has a more consistent flight and longer flight. The 330 dimple design has been engineered to give the ball a more shallow descent after it hits its peak trajectory. So, as opposed to dropping straight down after its peak, its going to descend at a more shallow angle thereby maintaining a boring trajectory for a longer period of time. Also, because of the more shallow descent, when it does hit the ground it is going to tend to roll more than if it dropped down at a steeper angle like more traditional dimple designs do.
 
Casey/Q:
Now, Stuart Appleby is one of those sneaky long players, isnt he? He must be a good guy for you to have on this ball.
 
Brandon/A:
Stuart is a sneaky long player. Very sneaky long. He doesnt register in most peoples minds as being one of the longest hitters on tour, but, he was the only person on tour last year to hit multiple 400 yard plus drives and hes already nailed two so far this year. Hes a great guy for us to have out there. And then you look at Fred Couples who is, even at the age of 47, able to keep up with the young guns. Prior to the U.S. Open he was ranked 9th in overall driving distance. Thats extremely good. Most of the guys in that category are the younger guys. So, Fred is able to keep up and thats pretty darn good. In addition, last year we had Scott Hend on the PGA Tour and he actually led the driving distance stat. So all of this, I think, is really wonderful product validation for the technology and practical playing characteristics and performance characteristics.
 
Casey/Q:
Can you help us understand how spin works and how it impacts the flight of a ball, both negatively and to the positive?
 
Brandon/A:
Spin is a huge factor in determining distance off a driver face. Spin is actually what helps get the ball up in the air and keep it up in the air. Thats how the aerodynamics of a golf ball works, not unlike an airplane wing. The absence of air above a wing is what creates lift. The spin of a golf ball works in a similar fashion. Finding the appropriate level of spin for an individual player is critical in terms of helping to optimize trajectory and distance, especially off the driver. This depends on variables like launch angle, swing speed, club head speed, initial ball velocity, things like that. You dont want to have too much spin because that will cause an up-shoot at initial launch which in turn will mean too steep of a descent when the ball loses its velocity. On the other hand, you dont want to have too little spin because the ball wont fly high enough off the ground to get out there. It will come up well short of where you want to be off the tee. So, youre looking for an appropriate level of spin off the tee to optimize carry and trajectory and get the most distance you can for your swing.
 
Casey/Q:
And this is a very individualistic thing for players, isnt it? There really isnt any one ball fits all anymore, is there?
 
Brandon/A:
I think youre right about that. It varies a good deal for each player depending on swing characteristics and, of course, the equipment theyre using. Thats why there are so many good ball choices out there now. The technology exists to really personalize spin characteristics for individual players. A good rule of thumb about spin, though, is in the low 2,000 rpm off the tee. With launch monitors being so prevalent and accessible now, its pretty easy to find out how close you are to optimizing your spin rate. Most of the major retailers now have launch monitors. You can go in and work with a fitter to see what kind of spin you are getting from your current driver and golf ball combination. If you find out youre getting 1,500 rpm or 4,000 rpm off the driver, well, youve got a problem there. You may be using the wrong golf ball or you may find out you need to change to a more lofted driver or a less lofted driver.
 
Casey/Q:
And shafts, too, right?
 
Brandon/A:
Shafts, most definitely. Shafts have a lot to do with optimizing ball flight. Overall, there is no doubt that spin, the proper amount of spin, has a huge impact on how a golf ball flies and how far it goes. And there a bunch of factors that come in to play when figuring out what is ideal. What ball you are using is a great place to start, though.
 
Casey/Q:
It seems to me the perception now is that low spin equates to more distance. This may be true at the PGA Tour level of play where club head speeds are so high, but, it might not be true at the amateur level where club head speeds are considerably more nominal.
 
Brandon/A:
Tour level golf balls are, no doubt, designed for players who generate tremendous club head speed and who need to control their spin rate to very exacting standards. Recreational players should be, and usually are, more concerned with hitting down the middle of the fairway than what type of spin they are going to exert on the golf ball. However, amateurs, even higher handicap players, will benefit from understanding their own particulars when it comes to spin and how much spin they are generating. If you arent generating enough spinif youre playing with a ball that requires more club head speed than you are able to create, the ball isnt going to spin enough so its not going to work properly. It wont stay in the air as long as it should. I think people do get wrapped up in playing what is being used out on tour, and lets face it, those guys are on tour for a reason and they are few and far between. Most of us just cant generate that kind of club head speed.
 
Casey/Q:
That is a good segue to your e series of ballsballs designed for more the mid-handicap player.
 
Brandon/A:
The e5 and the e6 are designed for two types of players because we dont feel one type of ball at this level of play can fit every player. By having a choice of balls in this category you have a better chance of optimizing a golf ball to fit your particular swing. The e5 is a two-piece urethane cover golf ball which has the distance of a two-piece with the feel and control of urethane like you get in tour oriented golf balls. The urethane cover is going to produce a higher spin rate which will tend to get the ball in the air faster and higher with more carry and distance. This ball has been designed for someone who has more trouble getting the ball airborne. They dont, perhaps, generate enough spin off the tee. Theyre hitting the ball too low, not getting the carry in the air they need. The e5 has been designed to help this type of player get more overall distance by promoting a better trajectory for them.
 
Casey/ Q:
And the e6?
 
Brandon/A:
The e6 is a three-piece surlyn cover golf ball. This golf ball is designed to reduce spin. Its an extremely soft golf ball and in combination with the surlyn cover and mantle layer its going to help reduce spin off the driver. This reduction of spin rate is going to help the player that tends to hit the ball too high ' more in a ballooning fashion ' which is not an ideal trajectory either. The reduced spin also helps players to hit the ball straighter. With less spin the ball tends to not move as severely right or left because there isnt as much side-spin. This is very helpful in counteracting hooks and slices. If you hit it straighter, generally, you are also hitting it farther.
 
Casey/Q:
How would you describe Bridgestone relative to your efforts in golf balls?
 
Brandon/A:
Bridgestone Golf is most definitely a technology driven company. Coming from another golf company to Bridgestone, I can see the extreme nature of Bridgestones quest for improved technologies. And when I say extreme I mean that in a good way. Its quite amazing really. Bridgestone is a Japan-based company and there is a significant amount of the R&D done in Japan. We also have an R&D facility here in the United States which is right next door to our main offices here in Covington, Georgia.
 
Casey/Q:
Do the two R&D departments work together?
 
Brandon/A:
There is a lot of collaboration between the two R&D centers and both of these entities also work very closely with the tour ' our tour reps and our tour staff ' to add to the development mix. The beginning of this year, we opened up a ten million dollar R&D facility in Chichibu, Japan close to our Japan golf headquarters. Its a brand new facility for us and obviously, a tremendous investment that Bridgestone made making it truly state-of-the-art with all the hardware and software and staff. Youll find the latest in computer tracking equipment there. Its quite impressive and it is going to allow us to take our analysis of golf ball performance to a new level.
 
Casey/Q:
The emphasis on science and technology comes from Bridgestones roots as a rubber product company?
 
Brandon/A:
There is no question about that. A lot of science goes in to making tires. There is a very heavy dose of scientific application at work at Bridgestone Golf in Japan and here in the U.S. It carries from our parent companys interests as a global leader in tires to golf. You can imagine the investment that is made and the technology that goes in to developing Formula One racing tires and how that technology makes its way to consumer tires. That same frame of mind translates for us in golf from the tour to the average golfer. We are constantly out on the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour, the Nationwide Tour, and the European Tour, working with our players and getting real world feedback that is so important as we strive to continue to make the best golf balls in the world.
 
Casey/Q:
What design applications are most prevalent at Bridgestone?
 
Brandon/A:
There are many scientific research and design applications and platforms that are used as we explore and develop dimple patterns, core materials and structures, the mantle layer, the cover materials, etc. Its a very involved process, its intensethe testing, understanding all the data and what that data means in terms of how a golf ball flies. Trying to make sense of it allits something Im glad I dont have to do to be quite honest with you. We have some of the best science and engineering minds in the world at work on this on a daily basis. Its very intense.
 
Casey/Q:
How long has Bridgestone been in the golf ball manufacturing business?
 
Brandon/A:
It dates back all the way to 1935at it for just over seventy years now. With the technologies that we have in rubber and being a world leader in producing tires there is synergy there considering the core of a golf ball is a derivative of rubber. We see that as a huge benefit for us because not only do we have an R&D team that is focused on golf ball development but we have an R&D team for our parent Bridgestone that is focused on rubber technology development. We benefit hugely from the development work that goes on at Bridgestone from a corporate standpoint. I mean, when you think about it, Bridgestone corporate is playing in the serious big leagues when it comes to rubber R&D for tires and other rubber related products. Bridgestones golf division is the happy beneficiary of much of that key rubber science and I dont think a lot of other golf ball manufacturers can point to a comparable resource.
 
Casey/Q:
Can you put a value on that, say if you had to start from scratch on that level, or, if you sourced out access to the type of R&D youre talking about?
 
Brandon/A:
I dont know quite how you put a value on what we have access to ' the resources our parent Bridgestone give us access to ' all for the express purpose of making the best golf balls in the world. Not only do our own engineers constantly strive to find new technologies and applications for advancements in rubber, but, because we are one of the worlds largest users of rubber the supplier companies are always coming to us with new compounds and ideas for manipulating rubber so we can make better performing products Were really on the cutting edge of being able to work with the latest and greatest materials, well ahead of most other companies, because of that larger corporate parent resource we have.
 
Casey/Q:
You guys look to be pretty conservative with your SKUs.
 
Brandon/A:
We feel that weve got a pretty solid line-up in the Bridgestone golf ball family of golf balls with the B330 series being targeted for the better player and the E series targeting more of the recreational player. We feel these four models cover the needs of most players out there. And we dont want to confuse people. We see many of the companies out there with so many models of golf ballsand dont get me wrong, theyre good golf ballsbut, with so many models of balls it is easy for the consumer to get confused. We like to keep things a little more streamlined. Also, the Bridgestone brand is relatively new, so giving a line as much trial opportunity as possible is important. We use the two-ball trial packs a lot which has been a big benefit to us in terms of getting golfers familiar with Bridgestone product. The research that we have indicates that once we can get people to try Bridgestone golf balls they are extremely satisfied and impressed with the performance characteristics and they think that it is really a top-notch product.
 
Casey/Q:
Lets talk about Precept. Its not like you guys are trying to keep Precept a secret, is it?
 
Brandon/A:
Absolutely not. Bridgestone Golf is targeted more towards the better playertour, low handicap and mid-handicap player. Its more of a premium level product. Precept is still a premium product, a technology driven producttheres just as much technology built in to a Precept ball as a Bridgestone ball. But, weve positioned Precept more for the mid to high-handicap player where the brand has ultimately succeeded the best over the past several years. The MC Lady, for example, is the single most successful golf ball weve ever made. And Precept isnt going anywhere. It is still a huge focus for us. The launch of the Bridgestone brand allows us to market to all golfers at all ability levels in large part because we have Precept to tell a different story with.
 
Casey/Q:
Can you explain the success Precept realized with the Lady?
 
Brandon/A:
We caught lightning in a bottle with the original Lady. That ball crossed all marketing lines because it just went fartherplain and simple, the ball went forever. But, it got its foothold with women and it is still the most popular womens golf ball. Darrell Survey numbers indicate that the Precept Lady is the number one ball sold to women golfers by more than twice as much over the next nearest competitors golf ball. The Precept Lady is designed for slower club head speeds. It works. It is a very important product to us in a very important product categorywomens golf. The Precept womens side of the equation is something that we work hard at every day trying to grow. Weve gotten more fashion conscious and stylized in our offerings on the Precept side, not only in golf balls but in accessories, too. The response from the trade and at the consumer level has been tremendous.
 
Casey/Q:
Paula Creamer is playing the ball, isnt she?
 
Brandon/A:
She is. To have Paula has been a tremendous asset to us this year. She is the must-see player on the LPGA Tour coming off her rookie-of-the-year season last year. Weve got her in to a pink Tour S III golf ball and she has attracted a lot of attention there. One of the other things were most happy about is that weve been able to help Paula increase her average driving distance by going to this new ball. This year, so far, shes increased her average driving distance by 13.7 yards. We think that is a testament to our productnot only the performance of our product, but also, understanding the needs of a player and helping put that player together with the product that fits best. What Paula has done with distance increase is a great validation for us. When we get the right product in to the hands of the best players in the world, and fit properly, that product is performing and allowing the players to perform at their best as well.
 
Casey/Q:
Theres an important charitable connection with Paula and the pink S III, isnt there?
 
Brandon/A:
She uses the Precept Tour S III during all competitive rounds. On the final round of an event, she switches from a traditional white ball to a pink colored ball. Its her special thing. Thats a lot of fun. Shes known as the Pink Panther now and its fun and fashionable. Weve partnered with the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf Association to add a charity element to Paulas use of the pink ball. For every birdie that Paula makes we donate $500 worth of equipment to the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf Association. This has been very well received and we are thrilled to be able to support this particular organization in their efforts to help grow the game. As we all know, growth of golf is sorely needed and particularly with girls. So, its an honor for us to be able to help and Paula makes it fun for us to do that.
 
Casey/Q:
You know, she makes a lot of birdies. This is going to cost you guys.
 
Brandon/A:
(Laughs) The more the merrier. Were happy to help and its a great way to do it.
 
Casey/Q:
How has the technology changed from what we know as the original Precept Lady to the S III?
 
Brandon/A:
Were on our third generation of Lady. Its become a much softer feeling ball than it used to be. Its actually the softest two-piece golf ball on the market. Its been optimized for that slower swing speed player. The R&D work on this ball was specifically geared towards slower swingers who need help with carry distance. Weve spent a lot of time on driving ranges across the country with players in real life environments testing the balls to see what works best. Its a lot like what we do on tour in terms of real world testing and feedback. However, with this product, we went right to the people who would actually be using this ball.
 
Casey/Q:
And by soft, do you mean soft core, soft cover, or both?
 
Brandon/A:
The very soft core in combination with the soft surlyn cover gives it that soft feel and helps reduce the perception of vibration that can come from off-center hits at impact. Its going to feel better to your hands on balls that are miss-hit. That soft core and cover combination will also help to launch the ball quite high which helps with carry and therefore distance. The ball utilizes the same seamless 330 dimple pattern found on our other balls and this helps in carry and roll as well. Its really about designing and marketing the right ball for the player so they can get everything out of their game that they can. You want to be playing a golf ball that fits your needs, that helps you play the best golf youre capable of playing, regardless of what the ball is called.
 
Casey/Q:
Is the ball still popular in terms of crossing over to the mens market?
 
Brandon/A:
The Precept Lady S III remains very popular with men as well because it is an easy ball to get extra yardage with. Most recreational players, men and women, simply do not generate the kind of club head speed that is required to compress tour type golf balls. The more players are willing to be open minded about using products that make the game easier, the better they are going to play and the more fun they are going to have. A product can be a market leader and not necessarily be the best product for the people who are using it. Im not sure all the people who are using tour inspired product are doing themselves any favors. That goes for our golf balls as well. Stewart Appleby and Fred Couples generate tremendous club head speed. Scratch golferslow handicap players can develop quite a bit of club head speed as well. Or, at least, very efficiently applied club head speed. These types of players should be using higher compression golf balls. But, why would a high handicap golfer swinging at 70 MPH want to use the same golf ball designed for a tour player who swings at 120 MPH? It doesnt make sense. Play the products that help you get the most out of your game. Look at Paula Creamer, for example. She matches the club head speed she has with the best product for those parameters and in doing so has picked up a lot of distance off the tee.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats the future look like for Bridgestone?
 
Brandon/A:
We are constantly working on new design and development platforms, constantly looking at new technologies whether thats new materials or new processes. It is a never ending cycle of continually trying to find new and improved applications for the core, the mantle layer, the cover materials and optimizing the dimple pattern. In terms of what we have thats new coming down the pike, new technologies that we believe will be highly beneficial to golfers? R&D being what it is ' for us, anyway, a real science of discovery ' there is no time table on it per se. It could be later this year or even in to next year before we have the kind of breakthrough that will warrant the release of new products. You never really know quite when that will be. Whether its Bridgestone Golf or Precept were always going to be focused on working to optimize performance for all levels of playfrom recreational all the way up to the PGA Tour.
 
Casey/Q:
Most people will never make the trip to see Bridgestones U.S. based R&D facility. Whats it like? What would people see if they did visit?
 
Brandon/A:
Our R&D lab is right next to our offices and also right next to one of our golf ball manufacturing facilities. Its a great asset for us to have here. There is a top-notch design team in place with all the bells and whistles. This includes the Patriot ballistic camera on the range and sophisticated computer software and hardware.
 
Casey/Q:
Are the folks who work there all in white lab coats with masks and caps?
 
Brandon/A:
Well, theyre not exactly wearing white lab coats in the traditional sense, but, you would certainly recognize a science and computer based feel to the place. The computer animation is very intense and you would see a lot of impact-based imagery on the monitorsseeing exactly how a golf ball responds to impact. It can be a little overwhelming actually if youre not used to seeing that type of environment. There is, of course, an Iron Byron robot hitting machine. Its surrounded by cameras that capture images from many different angles and send that information to computer software that then interpolates the data and helps segment it for analysis. There is a camera, for example, that it extremely close to the actual impact point itself. There are large monitors that are showing all the data in real time as the robot is hitting balls out on to the range. Launch monitors are collecting information in addition to the high-speed cameras. One of the most amazing aspects of the test center is the Patriot Missile camera system. These cameras are lined down the sides of the range. You can watch those images in phase sequence track the golf ball as it leaves the driver face after being stuck by the robot. You can follow the balls flight off the driver face all the way through landing and roll-out until it comes to a stop. Its pretty impressive, really.
 
Casey/Q:
What comes first at Bridgestone? The marketing chicken or the R&D egg?
 
Brandon/A:
It goes both ways. It is, certainly, heavily driven by our R&D team. The benefit they have is that they know the latest and greatest technologies and materials that are in play and how they can utilize those to help create a new design benefitthings that we might not be aware of yet on the marketing side. From their side of it, they are constantly looking for ways to improve the performance of products. From our side of it, we are able to get important feedback on the models we have out in play and on prototypes that they give us to have tested by the tour and by different consumer market groups. We take playing characteristic type information that we get out in the field back to our R&D folks and they look at that info and it becomes data that adds to their ability to access design and performance characteristics. It gets down to the nitty gritty: how much should a ball spin, how hard or soft should it feel, how should it fly in different weather and climate conditions, etc. But I would say, to be honest about it, most of the new stuff comes to us from the R&D department. They are proactively looking for new ways to make products perform better ' new core configurations, new materials, new cover and mantle characteristics ' and this is where the exciting new technology and new product breakthroughs generally come from.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats the prototype part of the equation like?
 
Brandon/A:
Its a lot of fun getting these prototypes from the R&D department because much of the time they are handing us things that have never been done before and theyre saying, hey, go out and try this, give it to the tour, give it to consumers and get the feedback and tell us what people think. A lot of the time, we have no idea what the new technology or material is. They keep that secret because its proprietary. Well take stuff out on tour and the guys will ask us what the deal is and well have to tell them we dont know. Just try it and tell us what you think. It can really be quite a bit of fun when a guy like Stewart Appleby hits a new prototype ball and launches it off the world and he looks back with a wry grin on his face and says, hey, what the hell is this ball? And we cant tell him because we really dont know.
 
Casey/Q:
Lets face it; there are only a handful of Stuart Applebys in the world. Trust me, I cant remember anyone ever coming up to me and saying, Casey, youre hitting the golf ball too far. We better dial this baby back. If the limitations and rules on golf ball design went away, how much more could you realistically optimize distance for average club head speed golfers? Could you design a ball that I could hit 300 plus yards with a 100 mph club head speed? Or maybe even 400 yards, like Appleby?
 
Brandon/A:
There is no question that if the gloves were off in terms of ball design, we could offer a ball to consumers that would travel just as far as the pros hit it. And with only average club head speed. If you took the controls off Id have to say the possibilities are almost limitless. If you took the current restrictions away, no pun intended, it would be a whole new ballgame. Its not something we have spent a lot of time looking at because the USGA and R&A rules are so firmly defined and in place and it doesnt look like those rules are going to change anytime soon. But, Im with you. Id like to hit it as far as Stuart Appleby and the technology could be applied with relative ease to make that happen. But, I dont think its going to happen in the near future.
 
Casey/Q:
Well, I think we should work on that. I just want to beat the snot out of my friends in my weekend golf game.
 
Brandon/A:
There you go. Well get right on that. Well call it the Casey Special ball.
 
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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.