Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open golf tournament last week in Bethesda by blasting his drives down the fairways an average of more than 310 yards. Forty years ago, most golfers could not hit the ball as far because some golf clubs were made of wood. Now, the drivers that golfers use are made of strong, lightweight metals such as titanium. That change in technology helps golfers hit the ball farther.
It’s the same in tennis. Rackets that used to have wooden frames now have lighter graphite frames. These new rackets allow some pros, such as Andy Roddick and Ivo Karlovic, to hit serves at more than 150 miles per hour.
That might be too fast. At Wimbledon, the famous grass-court tournament being played this week in England, players hit the ball so fast that many points are over in just a shot or two.
Major League Baseball players use only wooden bats. But college baseball players, just like kids who play Little League, swing metal bats. Metal bats do not break, unlike the wooden ones. Batters also get more hits, including more home runs, with the lighter, harder metal bats.
In the past year, however, colleges changed the metal bats they use because players were hitting too many home runs. The metal bats being used in the College World Series, being played now in Omaha, act more like wooden bats.
Technology is changing other sports, too. Lacrosse sticks are easier to handle than the older, clumsier wooden sticks because they are made out of molded plastic and metal. When soccer officials wanted more scoring in the World Cup, they tried a new, livelier ball so the game would be faster and more exciting. Tighter, sleeker swimsuits help swimmers swim faster, just as better tracks help runners sprint to better times.
New clubs, rackets, balls and sticks are invented, designed and tested by sports engineers, who usually have a background in math or science.
So if you want to really change the sports world, you might want to become a scientist instead of an athlete.
Fred Bowen is the author of 16 sports books for kids, including the picture book “No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season.”