What do Jordan Spieth and Kyle Busch have in common?
Success? Yes. Cool heads under pressure? That too. But neither of them could do their job without something else they have in common – a barrel of oil.
Now Busch is obvious, since a race car without gasoline is no race car at all.
But Spieth? Yep, Jordan isn’t powered by oil, but he couldn’t hit a golf ball without it – because there wouldn’t be any modern golf balls without oil.
In the beginning, all you needed was a tree, since both clubs and balls were wood. Then came feathers (that was the inside) in a leather cover. It’s said the featherie was a fine ball, but since even an expert could make only a handful a day, many of us would be out of balls long before we hit the back nine. That was followed by gutta percha and rubber (back to trees again, although you could make these balls and still leave the trees standing).
Finally, we get to the modern golf ball, and oil.
Of course, it isn’t oil anymore by the time Titleist or Callaway enter the picture. They are using petrochemical products at that stage, which is to say, chemical building blocks made from oil.
Making a typical ball – means mashing, stretching, chopping and molding synthetic rubber with other ingredients to form a core, and then a cover (urethane or Surlyn®) is molded around that. And those petrochemical building blocks (for the chemists among us) – most often are ethylene for the cover, and butadiene for the core of the ball.
You can tweak that mix for durability, for distance, for drop and stop on the greens. Oh, and price too. And given that by one estimate, there are 300 million golf balls lost each year, just in the United States – that’s a mighty good thing.