The summer of 1994 was the season of the “corked bat” controversy in Major League baseball. Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians had been caught using a bat that had been hollowed out and the cavity of the bat, filled with cork. It was thought that this adjustment caused the ball to jump off the bat with greater speed than a conventional bat and was in violation of Major League Baseball rules. This controversy was a topic of conversation around the country for a period of time; certainly it was at Latrobe Country Club.
During a round of golf with Mr. Palmer and the usual suspects, AP asked no one in particular what would happen if he corked one of his wooden drivers. While guys laughed and joked, I thought it over and said, “I seriously think you need to try it.” Mr. Palmer no longer smiling replied, “Yeah, I think so too.” Nothing else was said about it and to be honest by the end of the round I was thinking more about my own play and not much about modifying a driver.
The next morning I made my usual stop at the workshop. As I walked in the office I could hear a drill running back in the shop. “What are you working on Boss?” “I am corking this driver,” was the reply. He had taken the sole plate off one of his Peerless drivers and drilled a hole at least an inch and a half in diameter and about an inch deep. He then epoxied cork in the new cavity. You might find it strange he had cork readily available, but I am witness that this was the best stocked golf shop in history. If Mr. Palmer didn’t have it, it wasn’t needed.
He left town that day for a tournament and the following Monday during our weekly practice session it became time to hit the drivers. Grabbing the “modified” driver he hit the first shot. Over the years I had worked for him I had seen him hit thousands for drivers from the same spot, in the same direction and the only comment I had after the first swing was “Whoa.” The ball flew farther out onto the range than any drive I had ever seen him hit. The look on his face was priceless. My best description would be the look of a five year old at Christmas.
Over the years I have come to understand exactly why the driver worked as well as it did. The industry has caught up by offering longer drivers with lighter heads. We are really seeing a lot of that for next season. What the industry, as well as the consumer will find, is that there is a good fit and too much of a good thing is worse in many ways than not enough. The next version of the corked driver broke because the head was weakened by drilling a hole twice as large as the original. He also found he had a difficult time on windy days using a club head lighter than the first. The original version was perfect and became his tournament driver, or gamer, until it was replaced by a titanium head a few years later. That titanium head weighed and was balanced exactly the same as the corked driver, by the way.