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The Sound Of The Golf Swing

Manufacturers work to perfect the sound drivers make when the ball is hit just right. Scott Simon talks with Tom Mase, who teaches mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University.

(CHEERING)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some the world’s best golfers are at the PGA Championship this weekend. And with golf, there’s one distinctive sound that stands above all others.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF CLUB HITTING GOLF BALL)

SIMON: That satisfying thwack of a driver smacking a dimpled ball into the distance. That sound’s the product of a lot of research and a lot of money. Tom Mase would know. He’s a professor of mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University. Professor, thanks for being with us.

TOM MASE: Scott, it’s a pleasure.

SIMON: So why do golfers care about what their drive sounds like if they can smack it 300 yards?

MASE: I think they care because that’s part of the sound of golf and knowing that they hit it really well. They want it to go the 300 yards. That’s the most important thing. But it’s important to hear that sound, and it’s also important from manufacturers’ point of view at a point of sale.

SIMON: Now, manufacturers work at getting that sound, don’t they?

MASE: Absolutely. You know, back in 1979, Gary Adams came up with the Pittsburgh Persimmon Metal driver, and they tried to make it sound like wood for most of the ’80s. And then there was a transition where they said, hey, let’s not put in this urethane foam. Let’s make it sound – instead of the thwack, let’s make it a bing.

SIMON: And how did people like that?

MASE: I think the people liked it and enjoyed it more and more until the point that drivers got bigger and bigger and eventually they hit a sound that was not good. And so they put a lot of work into finite element analysis, for stress analysis but also for sound. So they’re looking to get certain frequencies of the vibration. And actually some manufacturers can reproduce the sound before a product is even made.

SIMON: Sounds like a tuning fork.

MASE: It is a bit of a tuning fork.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the Nike Sumo.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF CLUB HITTING GOLF BALL)

SIMON: Now, I gather that’s a driver that really gets the job done, but a lot of people didn’t like the sound.

MASE: Yeah. That was in the stages where the drivers were getting bigger and bigger and the natural frequencies of that were just a little too low. I heard it characterized as the sound of hitting the golf ball with a coffee can, and that’s not a good thing for the sport.

SIMON: Oh, coffee can, no, you don’t want that. Our producer, James Delahoussaye, went to a driving range in Washington, D.C. He met a golfer named Allan Soobert (ph) who was smacking balls downrange with his Ping G20. He said he has a newer driver, but he left it in the car.

ALLAN SOOBERT: This one has a cank (ph) to it. I like the metallic sound to it. I’ll hit it for you if you want.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF CLUB HITTING GOLF BALL)

SOOBERT: It just – I don’t know. It just – to me, it sounds better, and it gives me more confidence. And so – it’s like a lot of psychological issues going on with golf.

SIMON: Dr. Mase, help him with those psychological issues, can you?

MASE: I’m afraid I’m an engineer. It’s not psychology, but I think that his products are going to be good – the different sounds, drivers will sound a little bit different. There’s different internal gussets and ribs. The player needs to just find one that they like and they have confidence in, and between the ears is an important part of this game.

SIMON: Tom Mase, mechanical engineering professor at California Polytechnic State University, thanks so much for being with us.

MASE: Scott, the pleasure was mine.

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