Watch Dustin Johnson use Jack Nicklaus’ old 1-iron, persimmon driver

Johnson hit the 1-iron 232 yards. He hit the driver 318 yards, including 290 in the air. Nicklaus led the tour in driving distance in 1968 at 276 yards, but the comparison is not apples-to-apples, because Johnson used the modern ball, which flies farther. Nicklaus won the 1963 long-drive competition with a 341-yard blast, using the old ball!

How far would the all-time greats have hit with today’s equipment? Here is some speculation. The conclusion is that modern clubs and balls have added 35-45 yards since the era of Nicklaus.

To me the key points in the article are these:

Based on an analysis of old films, Bobby Jones had a clubhead speed of 117 mph with his driver, which is faster than the modern average. His clubhead speed would be somewhat higher with modern drivers, which are longer and lighter. The estimate in the article is that the modern club adds 7 mph to clubhead speed versus Nicklaus-era equipment, but Jones played with more primitive hickory-shafted clubs, so he would gain more than 7 MPH. Since the fastest clubhead speed on today’s tour is about 125, the assumption is that Jones could conceivably be the longest hitter on today’s tour, assuming he could time-travel forward from his prime (and turn pro, which he never did). That’s pretty damned amazing, because Jones was 5’8″, 165 pounds, but I guess it’s not that amazing because Rory McIlroy is almost exactly the same size and he’s the current PGA leader in driving distance.

On average, Freddie Couples hit the ball 29 yards farther as an old fart (age 49) with a bad back than he did when he was 22 and healthy.

PGA touring pro Chad Campbell did a 2009 demo with a persimmon driver and the old ball. He averaged 247 off the tee. His actual driving average in 2009 was 291. That’s a true apples-to-apples comparison to the Nicklaus era. If Big Jack averaged 276 then, that should be roughly equivalent to 320 now. That’s about the same as the big sluggers like Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy.

I have to say that I’m surprised to find that the differences in driving distance are almost entirely attributable to the equipment. I thought that today’s physical conditioning for strength and flexibility, plus smarter nutrition, would also increase power.

First look at The Front Runner

(Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart.)

Hart was the early front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 when his life was shattered by allegations of an affair with Donna Rice. To this day, both Hart and Rice have denied a sexual relationship.

Perhaps they are telling the truth. Conservative icon Barry Goldwater once remarked of the liberal Hart: “You can disagree with him politically, but I have never met a man who is more honest and more moral.”

Perhaps they are not. Vanity Fair revealed in a very detailed Gail Sheehy piece in September of 1987: “A political friend of Hart’s for the last ten years says, ‘Gary was compulsive about seeking out women, sometimes for a sexual relationship, sometimes not. It was a compulsion, but it was not about sex, even if the relationship was sexual. The compulsion was to defy the rules and still have it all, on his terms.'”

Curious sidebar:

For a quarter of a century nobody knew the identity of the woman who made the anonymous tips that eventually corralled Rice at Hart’s townhouse. Wikipedia recounts the story: “In late April 1987, The Miami Herald claimed that an anonymous informant contacted the paper to relate that Hart was having an affair with a friend, provided details about the affair, and told the Herald that Hart was going to meet this person at his Washington, D.C., townhouse on May 1. As a result, a team of Herald reporters followed Donna Rice on a flight from Miami to Washington, D.C., then staked out Hart’s townhouse that evening and the next Saturday, and observed a young woman and Hart together. The Herald reporters confronted Hart on Saturday evening in an alley about his relationship with Rice. Hart replied, ‘I’m not involved in any relationship.’ and alleged that he had been set up.”

In 2014, some details about the tipster finally came to light. Those details also cast some doubt on Rice’s denials of the affair. Perhaps she never actually had a sexual relationship with Hart, but it seems that she told two girlfriends that she intended to do just that.

Gary Hart is still alive and kickin’ at 81. He was active as recently as last year, as the U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland under Barack Obama.