Aug. 25, 1998 BOSTON, Mass.--Chemist Tom Kennedy is pretty much your typical weekend golfer. He carries about an 18 handicap, doesn't get much time to practice, and is always on the lookout for a ball that will give him a few extra yards. But there's one thing that sets Kennedy apart from the rest of the world's hackers: If he isn't satisfied with the ball he's using, he'll simply make another one.
Kennedy is director of research and development for Spalding Sports Worldwide, based in Chicopee, Mass. This week, he is in Boston at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, to present his latest findings in the pursuit of a golf ball that will go farther when hit by the average amateur golfer, perhaps as much as five yards farther.
Golf balls come in two primary categories: Wound (rubber windings around a small liquid or solid center) and solid-core (large rubber center with no windings). Kennedy's research involves solid-core balls that could be on the market in about three years.
Chemistry is essential to making a high performing golf ball. For example, the synthetic rubber used in today's solid core golf balls is made up of many long chains of molecules. Holding these lengthy chains together are short chains called crosslinkers, analogous to the rungs connecting the two sides of a ladder.
"For the past 30 years or so, zinc diacrylate (ZDA) has been the crosslinker of choice," says Kennedy. Other possible crosslinking agents, such as magnesium, calcium, aluminum and zirconium, also are under consideration to introduce a more reactive core and a longer flying golf ball. "So far," he says, "ZDA is still the best all around choice, but our research indicates that by combining some of the other crosslinking agents, we should be able to produce a ball that should travel about five yards longer when hit at slow swing speeds." This, he says, would be advantageous to many amateur golfers, particularly seniors and women.
It is possible to make a golf ball that goes even farther, Kennedy points out, but the United States Golf Association guidelines limit the ball's initial velocity and maximum permissible distance at a specific swing speed. Given these limits, a five yard increase is considered an impressive gain by manufacturers. Kennedy expects a new, longer ball with a modified solid core to hit the market in about three years.
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