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Great Leaps Forward
February 28, 2000
USGA technical director Frank Thomas ranks Karsten Solheim, creator of Ping clubs, as one of the greatest innovators in the history of golf. "He rebuilt and rebuilt until he got it right, and when he got it right, he created a revolution," says Thomas. Here are what Thomas considers to be the top five breakthroughs ever in golf equipment.
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February 28, 2000

Great Leaps Forward

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Numbers

What's the secret to success on the PGA Tour? To find out, we took the last 20 season leaders in each of five statistical categories and averaged where those leaders finished on the money list.

FINISH ON MONEY LIST

Greens in regulation

22nd

Putting average

47th

Driving accuracy

67th

Sand saves

74th

Driving distance

99th

USGA technical director Frank Thomas ranks Karsten Solheim, creator of Ping clubs, as one of the greatest innovators in the history of golf. "He rebuilt and rebuilt until he got it right, and when he got it right, he created a revolution," says Thomas. Here are what Thomas considers to be the top five breakthroughs ever in golf equipment.

1. Haskell ball
In 1898 Coburn Haskell, an inventor from Cleveland, and Bertram Work, an engineer in Akron, wrapped strands of rubber thread at high tension to make a ball that flew 25 yards farther than its predecessor, the gutta-percha. "The Haskell immediately lowered scores," says Thomas.

2. Steel shaft
Popularized by True Temper around 1920, steel was lighter, stronger and less whippy than its forerunner, hickory, so good players could swing harder and still maintain control. The last player to win a major with hickory was John Fischer at the 1936 U.S. Amateur. "Steel was such a breakthrough," says Thomas, "that it brought shaft technology to a standstill for 30 years."

3. Perimeter weighting
This was Solheim's greatest contribution, first with the Ping putter (1959) and later with investment-cast irons (1969). Solheim, an engineer who took up golf at 42, was the first to distribute weight around the outside of the clubhead, which expanded the sweet spot.

4. Two-piece ball
The brainchild of Bob Molitor, a chemist at Spalding, the ball came out in 1967 and was cheaper, longer and more durable than existing models. Says Thomas, "The two-piece helped the average player immensely."

5. Metal woods
They were first seen in the 1890s but didn't reach the PGA Tour until 1979, when Taylor Made founder Gary Adams hit a home run with his Original One. More durable than wood, metals were perimeter-weighted, making them user-friendly. "Golf got much easier for everyone," Thomas says.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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