Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday at the AT&T Pro-Am – computer tech and antique golf

Tuesdays at a PGA Tour event are pretty quiet – practice rounds and range sessions are the norm, and everything is pretty low-key. Any kind of special event is going to be a change from the ordinary, and today at Pebble Beach they had one that really stood out.

The event was a demo of the new EA Sports Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 game for the Xbox and PS3. The new game incorporates a feature called Legends of Golf, in which they have included course simulations of the four majors going back to the first Masters at Augusta National in 1934, and player avatars of “legends” players like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Seve Ballesteros. The game includes true-to-the-era clothing on the player avatars, vintage equipment characteristics, and the 1934 Augusta National course layout – complete with reversed nines.

With the cooperation of, and in partnership with, Augusta National Golf Club, the artists and programmers at EA Sports used vintage photos and other material from the club’s archives to digitally recreate the shape and position of the bunkers, and the contours of the greens – which were much more severely contoured originally than they are nowadays – from the original course layout. The characteristics of the vintage equipment which the game simulates were approximated based on some testing of vintage reproduction equipment, and research which included interviewing golfers who had played with Golden Age equipment.

After the game demo, the event moved to the range where the assembled media watched PGA Tour pro and Ping staffer Hunter Mahan hit reproduction old-style golf balls using hickory-shafted clubs – mashies, niblicks, brassies, and drivers with a wooden head that’s smaller than a modern 5-wood, or maybe even a 4-hybrid. Callaway’s Bobby Gates was also part of the demonstration, and while he and Hunter were hitting, 2012 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson ambled up and asked, “What’re you’all doing?” before picking up a niblick (I think it was…) and getting into the act.

All three of the pros marveled at the whippy flexibility of the shafts of the reproduction clubs they were using, especially the drivers, and the wildly-variable patterns to be found on the striking faces of the irons – these clubs pre-date USGA regulations on groove dimensions by decades. Each found that with a little adjustment to the tempo of their swing they were launching the softer, square-dimpled repro golf balls straight and true (try doing that, weekend duffers – on the fly, with unfamiliar antique equipment…) They weren’t hitting the square-dimpled balls nearly as far as they are used to doing, by any means, but they were getting good height, which is tough to do with hickory clubs, and lovely arcing flight.

The pros didn’t have much trouble launching shots straight & true with the vintage-style equipment, but the same could not be said of some of the media types in attendance when we were given a shot at it. I hit a couple of shots with a niblick – a high-lofted iron like a wedge – and then with a driving iron, a club with the loft of a 2-iron and a blade that looked like a butter knife. I thought that my circa-2007 Hogan Apex Plus irons gave feedback! A mis-hit with these antique reproductions tingled your hands through the leather grips in no uncertain fashion, even with the slight vibration-absorbing quality of the wooden shafts. Even true hits (I had a couple…) stung a little. (My Hogans, on the other hand, feel like butter when you strike the ball on the quarter-sized sweet spot… thank you, modern metallurgy!)

Yes, Tuesdays at a PGA Tour event – even the AT&T Pro-Am – can be pretty quiet, but as broadcaster Ted Mills, one of the ESPN Radio “Golf Guys”, remarked during the vintage demo, “This is the most fun I’ve ever seen anyone have on a Tuesday at a Tour event.”

No comments:

Post a Comment