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We're in that special hell of rules controversies with the implementation of the new Rules of Golf. There have been some growing pains with the new rules, and that has allowed the golf media to tee off on its favorite target, the USGA. Which, to be fair, can make itself an easy target: https://www.golfdigest.com/story/despite-harsh-words-from-some-tour-pros-usga-pleased-with-roll-out-of-new-rules-of-golf. That aside, I wanted to talk about the "controversy" about the knee-height drop that the Rules now require. Rickie Fowler got a one stroke penalty for dropping from shoulder height this past weekend. Cue the complaining from him: https://golfweek.com/2019/02/22/rickie-fowler-hit-with-one-shot-penalty-for-illegal-drop-at-wgc-mexico-championship/ I can forgive him - he just had a brain fart, probably didn't gain an advantage in this situation, it cost him money. I'm always annoyed when I get a penalty, personally, and it's absolutely never my fault, okay? But cue the pearl clutching from the media: https://www.golf.com/news/2019/02/25/backstopping-pro-tours-under-policed/ I'm here to tell you that this is wrong, and knee-height drops actually make a ton of sense. One of the best things the new Rules do is simplify dropping. Now, all you have to do when dropping is land the ball in the relief area (without touching you or your equipment before hitting the ground) and ensure the ball comes to rest in the relief area. If you don't do this, you have to redrop. Pretty simple. Yes, you have to figure out what your relief area is, but that's pretty simple, too. (For a fuller explanation of this, see Rule 14 and the definitions in the Rules of Golf.) The old rules were much more complex. Specifically, if your ball rolled to one of 9 areas after you dropped it, you had to redrop. For example, if your ball rolled more than 2 club lengths away from where your ball hit the ground, you had to redrop. You had to know all of these 9 areas to know if you needed to redrop or not. So, the new way is simpler, right? Instead of learning 9 different triggers for a redrop, you only have to learn 1. Great! Why am I talking about when you have to redrop? This is why we're dropping from knee height. Generally, under the new Rules, your ball cannot go as far after hitting the ground as it used to without triggering a redrop. Dropping from knee height reduces the chance that a redrop will be necessary. It also means that a ball has less of a chance of embedding in sand when you drop it. It makes a ton of sense, really. Now, you might say, that's all fine, but why not allow dropping a ball from anywhere above knee height? I think you could easily game the rules to be able to place the ball when you really want to by simply dropping from shoulder height instead of knee height. Think about dropping on a side slope, for example. You're much more likely to have to redrop and place if you drop the ball from a higher point. Sure, this is rare, but why take the chance? We're all on the same page, right? Knee-height drops make a lot of sense. (If you want to know more about the changes to dropping, this is an excellent article that talks about this in a bit more detail: https://rulesgeeks.com/2018/12/30-days-of-2019-rules-changes-day-16-procedure-for-dropping-a-ball-in-playing-it-from-a-relief-area/) Now to the point of all of this: golf media, please take 5 minutes to understand the rule before issuing a HAWT TAKE about the rule. The USGA has a one page sheet that explains the rule: http://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/rules-hub/rules-modernization/major-changes/new-procedure-for-dropping-a-ball.html. You don't come off very well when you fail to read that. I know it's fun and easy to just mindlessly bash the USGA, but they do get things right. This is one of them. (Oh and by the way, the Rules are actually really good, as a whole. Maybe I'll talk about that in another post later.)
I first met with and talked about golf with Dean Snell when he was the main man at TaylorMade's moderately lavish TP Red/Black launch event the weekend before the 2006 Masters at Reynolds Plantation (coverage here, here, here, here, and elsewhere on the The Sand Trap .com). Dean had been snagged by TaylorMade after helping Titleist introduce the Pro V1/V1x to the golf world. A little while ago, we solicited questions from you, the members and readers of The Sand Trap .com, and what follows are Dean's responses to the first chunk of those questions. You'll notice that we jump right in to the Q&A. If you'd like to read more about Dean Snell, you can do so here. If you'd like to check out Snell's golf balls, they're right here. And of course, everything else is available at http://snellgolf.com/. One last note: Dean broke up a few of the questions so that he could more clearly answer pieces of them the way he wanted. Aside from editing for spelling/grammar, we've left these changes as is. Now, right into the Q&A… Technology Questions 1) How big of a difference is there between premium golf balls? DEAN: The biggest difference today between premium tour balls is the short game spin and control. Typically, when spin is controlled with mid and short irons, you can prevent the ballooning and problems in the wind… and when you get closer to the green, the thinner urethane covers allow for more short game spin and control. 2) Reducing SKUs seems wise but what percentage of golfers do you think you cover with only two models? Bridgestone has four B330 models but you have just one urethane ball. DEAN: I think two to three models is sufficient for entire market. The tour level players can really tell the difference in performance from one ball to another. some like more, some less spin… some firmer, some softer feel… so maybe two balls at tour level. As for the general public, I think if they choose to play a low compression, low spin ball, then the difference is so small that adding more for them is not worth it… also, when some companies talk about swing speed, I do not think this is worth having 3 SKU to fool consumers into thinking they need this in their game. 3) Bridgestone (and I think Callaway) has come out with tour caliber balls for players who swing under 105mph. Is it possible to design a tour caliber ball for a specific segment of swing speed or is this just mostly a marketing thing? DEAN: The whole swing speed story to me is one of the most over-rated stories in golf. Companies force or teach golfers to play low compression balls so their low swing speed can compress the ball. The problem with this is that low compression balls have the lowest spin in all shots, so they are pushing players to play a ball with no performance at all… and when you need that spin around the green, it's not there… 4) Since the four piece urerthane seems so hot in the ball industry right now, is there any chance that Snell will come out with a four-piece ball? DEAN: Stay tuned… I am working on several types of protos to address performance. I think when there is a performance target, then we adjust to the layers and materials to meet that target… so layers to help in meeting these targets… let it develop… ha ha… 5) How much diminishing returns are there on the number of layers? DEAN: Every time you add a layer, you add cost and some level of new performance. When I did penta (5 layers) it was to address concerns with the tour players on certain shots that they were seeing. So I always recommend that players do 100 yard and in testing, and see what they like in the ball… choose the ball from the short game testing, as this is where they are different. 6) From your perspective, will you follow the market trend and produce a soft golf ball? DEAN: The GET SUM is very low compression, very soft feeling golf ball. The issue in tour balls going too soft is you lose the feel of hitting good solid shots… players think soft means more spin at that level, so we have to balance this in design. 7) And would you describe why the market is "Hot with Soft or Softer" golf balls? DEAN: The soft golf ball market has taken off due to the lower spinning balls means players can be longer in distance. Today, softer balls means lower spinning, whereas in the past tour balls were higher spinning if softer… 8) Given what we now know about the relative importance of the full swing (driving, approach shots) and the short game and putting, does the old concept of fitting yourself for a golf ball by starting at the green and working backward still apply? DEAN: Absolutely… you should really spend a lot of time from 100 yards and in when testing different golf balls. This is where they are different, and where you would be able to see performance differences. If you test here and cannot tell, then buy the cheapest one. 9) Or should more importance be given to how the ball performs off the driver and irons, which are now understood to be the true scoring clubs? DEAN: No chance. Fitting a ball with a driver is a big mistake… you hit one drive, but you have to finish the hole, and play most of your golf around the greens, so choose a ball around the green, not off the tee. They will all go about the same difference off the tee today. 10) Is electronic technology embedded within the golf ball ever going to happen? For instance are we likely to see trackers or sensors anytime soon? I have tested this concept several years ago. Problem is that it is illegal to the rules of golf. The USGA will not allow, as you would have an advantage over someone else who did not have it. The other problem is that it was super expensive — over $4 per ball to have technology put into the ball — so it added $48 per doz, plus you had to buy the controller to find it… it does not really speed up play unless everyone on the course has it… which will be tough to implement. We look forward to bringing you the additional parts of this Q&A in the coming weeks. Thank you to Dean Snell for taking the time to answer these and the other questions still pending. Again, if you're looking to pay less AND get the best ball on the market today, https://snellgolf.com/.