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By Peter Dizikes

Astronaut Alan Shepard realized his golf dream. As commander of the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, he hit two shots on the moon with a specially crafted 6-iron, then reported back to mission control that the low lunar gravity allowed his second stroke to travel “for miles and miles and miles.”

Every golfer would love to hit a ball for miles—or at least match the 300-yard drives of today’s professionals. But with the moon out of reach, other means are necessary to allow recreational players to unload long-distance shots. As it happens, in recent decades, leading-edge technology adopted from aerodynamics and materials science—the same technology once usually associated with space exploration—has transformed the sport of golf.

The time when club design was a homespun affair is a distant memory, as fuzzy as the film clips of Shepard’s moon shot. Long gone are the days when a 6-iron resembled iron, or when a 3-wood was made of wood. In the last two decades, golf’s materials of choice have moved from steel to titanium to novel composites. Today, golf is the most research-intensive sport in the world.

Matt Cackett ’82 is in the forefront of this research and design boom. Cackett, senior director of performance in the Innovation and Advanced Design research group at the Callaway Golf Company, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rensselaer in mechanical engineering, then applied his training in the aerospace business for years. In the mid-1990s, Cackett made the leap to the Carlsbad, Calif.-based golf company.

“A lot of the same technology that we were applying to aerospace is directly applicable to golf clubs as well,” says Cackett, “including the design and analysis of composites and advanced metal structures.” The club, of course, is only half of the golf-shot equation, the other part being the ball—whose quirky dimples are carefully plotted as well. “The aerodynamics of golf balls are in some regards more complex than the aerodynamics of airplane wings,” adds Cackett.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.