John McPhee

Professor, Systems Design Engineering

What are the best new drivers for the 2012 golf season?

The best hybrids? Irons? Wedges? Putters? John McPhee, systems design engineering professor, can tell you.

For the sixth consecutive year he was a scientific advisor to Golf Digest for its annual ‘Hot List’ of new equipment, published in the February issue. McPhee joined five other engineers and scientists on the technology innovation panel. Two other panels advised on product popularity and club performance, including look, sound and feel. Three senior editors and a contributing writer from Golf Digest and Golf World decided the final rankings.

So, what’s hot this year?

“More recent advances include lighter drivers with an emphasis on streamlining to reduce aerodynamic drag,” explains McPhee. “One of the most interesting ideas was the inclusion of a “slot” in the top and/or bottom of a 3-wood to improve the ball speed resulting from impact.”

McPhee joined his colleagues in Phoenix, Arizona at The Wigwam resort to review and evaluate this year’s crop of golf equipment. They began by reviewing technical claims … about 464 megabytes worth of documents he estimates. Many hours of discussion followed. Then it was out to the driving range and finally the golf course to squeeze in nine holes with a bag full of assorted new clubs. The process was repeated the next day.

McPhee commented that golf club performance has improved significantly over the past five years. Design and materials have made them lighter, longer and more accurate. They improve the game of top players and help compensate for the errors of less advanced players.

But it’s not just the technology in the club that influences performance. McPhee explains that the look, sound and feel of the club hitting the ball have a significant impact on a player’s confidence.

McPhee’s interest in golf started when he was growing up in Cape Breton. A daily playing regiment led to his competing in the 1978 Canadian Junior Golf Championship. Today, when he plays regularly, he is about a seven handicap. And, like all golfers, he plans to lower that.

In 2009, McPhee and his graduate students partnered with AboutGolf and the varsity golf team to help install a golf teaching and research simulator at the university’s physical activities complex where they now use the facility for evaluating golf club and golfer performance.

McPhee’s research interests go well beyond golf. He heads up the Motion Research Group at the University of Waterloo, which includes biomechanics, sports engineering and automotive design.

Last year, he and a team of students developed a robot that replicates the human slap shot. Named the SlapShot XT (or Thor), the robot tests hockey sticks for reaction to impact, resistance to wear and tear, and failure characteristics. Based on the initial prototype, they founded Hockey Robotics, an independent testing and research and development firm dedicated to advancing hockey technology.

McPhee is also part of the WATCAR automotive research group at the University. As the NSERC/Toyota/Maplesoft Industrial Research Chair, he leads a research team that looks at areas such as multibody system dynamics, vehicle systems, robotic and mechatronic systems, mechanism and machine design, and computation and design optimization.

Busy as he is, the annual Golf Digest product review remains a priority in his calendar.

“The whole event is a highlight for me!” says McPhee. “I look forward to it all year. The Hot List summit gets me in a room (and on a course) with five other experts for two very intense days, and the discussions are lively to say the least. [Golf Digest 2012 Hot List]  [Waterloo’s Motion Research Group]