Barney Adams, 83, remains an innovator at heart

Eschewing retirement, Adams continues to revolutionize golf equipment as Breakthrough Golf Technology follows up its Stability putter shafts with the cleverly designed ZNE wedge shafts

Once or twice a year, Barney Adams gets "lucky" (his words) and shoots his age, 83. From the front tees, of course.

That’s pretty good for a retiree. Except Adams, the founder of Tight Lies fairway woods that put Adams Golf on the map, is a failed retiree who just happens to play a lot of golf at home in either Palm Springs, California, or Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"I didn’t do retirement well, what can I tell you?" Adams says with a chuckle. "I’m normally grumpy and I got worse. I tried volunteering at the SPCA — I’m a real dog-lover — but golf is all I really know. That’s what I am."

BGT's ZNE Wedge Shafts
Breakthrough Golf Technology's ZNE wedge shafts have a distinct design.

So, when an idea bubbled up three years ago, he couldn’t pass up the chance to try to give every golfer the shaft — excuse the weak golf pun. Adams founded Breakthrough Golf Technology (BGT), based in Richardson, Texas, northeast of Dallas.

BGT is already into its second act. The first act was to make a better putter shaft. Now it has developed a superior wedge shaft.

What possible difference could a shaft make in those non-power clubs? Plenty, it turns out. Just as with the famed Tight Lies fairway woods, Adams and his crew of expert engineers surprised the golf industry by delving into unexplored territory.

The BGT Stability putter shaft has been a winner. BGT shaft users — myself included — noticed improved feel, better distance control and consistency on longer putts. Adams called it "technically superior" during a recent interview on "The Golf Show 2.0" podcast.

"It’s not one of these ‘20-yards-farther’ deals, but the technology works," Adams says. "Look back at the original putters. They had very small, very light heads. As putter heads got bigger and designers discovered heel-toe weighting as a presumed benefit, they added weight to the heads. That put more stress on the shaft to the point where the shaft oscillated during the stroke. That made it more difficult to bring the head back to the ball square, which is the key to putting."

Barney Adams
Barney Adams.

A stronger shaft by BGT meant less oscillation during the stroke and better results. It’s a concept that seems so obvious after the fact. Adams says BGT approached $3 million in sales last year despite no advertising and no player endorsement money. If you watch golf on TV, you’ve seen the BGT putter shaft in action quite often. Look for a putter neck that goes into a much wider black shaft a few inches above the putter head.

"We don’t advertise, we don’t play the equipment game the way it’s normally played because we can’t afford to," Adams says. "We’re a tiny company just trying to improve technology and feel."

The next move was to take the Stability shaft concept into wedge shafts, another club where shafts were an afterthought, if they were ever a thought at all.

"It was a logical progression," Adams says. "In my mind’s eye, I could see what the shaft was doing with the putter. I said, what the heck, let’s keep going through the bag and see what we can bring to the golfer."

The BGT ZNE shaft for wedges is golf’s first two-piece wedge shaft and is about 2.5 times stiffer in the key flex zone than a regular wedge shaft. Officially, BGT calls its wedge technology the ZNE Stiffness Stack, where three metals come together in an overlay that creates greater stiffness in the precise area it’s needed.

"If I were to define the stiffness stack," says BGT’s Blair Philip, vice president of research and development, "it’s where the graphite, aluminum and steel overlap. It isolates the flex point and allows us to engineer the tip of the shaft to produce more predictable results in launch, spin, distance and accuracy."

Two unbiased experts who tested the ZNE shaft are Jake Morrow of Club Champion, a leading clubfitting chain in North America, and Ian Frasar, CEO and founder of Toronto’s TXG Golf. Frasar is a golf gear guru who tests clubs on a simulator with all the launch data and posts the reviews on YouTube. He and Morrow took turns trying out the ZNE wedge shaft and reached similarly positive conclusions.

Morrow was surprised by the improved dispersion pattern, distance-wise, that he and Frasar had using the ZNE shaft on the simulator. They especially liked the consistency on less-than-full shots. Plus, Morrow had already tried out the ZNE shaft on a real golf course and been impressed with its performance.

"I saw this crazy difference outdoors," Morrow said in the video. "I noticed with the clubhead not moving as much at impact that it really, really helped out of the rough."

Normally, a right-handed golfer expects a wedge clubface to snag in rough, shut slightly and send shots left of the target. Morrow said that didn’t happen with the ZNE shaft.

"It was a weird feeling the first time I did it," he said. "I had to start training myself to go back and aim straight with my lob wedge."

Data from BGT’s website claims 92 percent of golfers showed better distance control with ZNE; 90 percent had a tighter dispersion pattern (hit it straighter); and 100 percent said it felt better than a steel-shafted wedge.

Of course, there’s a price to pay for technology. The ZNE wedge shaft sells for $179 and you’re going to want to put it in a new wedge, any brand. Most top-of-the-line wedges go for about the same price as the ZNE shaft. So gearing up with a ZNE shaft and a new wedge will set you back about $360. We’ve all suffered stick shock at the supermarket. The golf business is no different.

Adams says at least 50 pros have their hands on a ZNE wedge shaft to try out. Don’t be surprised if, like the BGT putter shaft, it starts appearing on the PGA Tour. All of BGT’s advances in the marketplace have been by word of mouth, not by the usual pay-to-play pro endorsement or ad campaign.

ZNE 130.jpg
The goal of the unique two-piece ZNE wedge shaft is to keep the clubhead square at impact.

"Golf clubs are about distance," Adams says. "That’s what sells golf clubs. If you made two 5-irons and one went five yards farther, that’s the one that will sell. That’s the nature of the industry. Most of the equipment you see is very well-engineered by the marketing department. They come up with a neat name and a nice look and a story.

"This (BGT) is the opposite. These are actual technological advancements. We try to tell the story of the ZNE wedge shaft but who cares if it’s got two pieces inside the shaft or three or nine or 17 as long as it performs the way we say it will? If we can make a shaft that helps keep the clubhead square at impact, we’re doing the golfer a favor."

What’s next for BGT? The rest of the bag, potentially. "You visualize the putter shaft bringing the putter face square to impact," Adams says, "and you say to yourself, ‘Gosh, would that work with other clubs in the bag?’ Because that’s the question we asked ourselves."

We now rejoin BGT’s search for better shaft technology already in progress. And Adams isn’t looking to retire anytime soon.

"Well, I’m just a kid," Adams jokes. "I’m only 83. I’ve got a lot of things to work on."