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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

On the Job: Mike Madson ’05 Th’06, Dimple Designer

Michael Madson
Photograph courtesy of Mike Madson.

As senior product development engineer for Brockton, Mass.-based Acushnet Co., Mike Madson is responsible for designing dimple patterns for Titleist golf balls. He also develops computer models for predicting trajectories and is involved in analyzing and interpreting data related to golf ball design.

How do you approach the design process?
Designs can be as simple as arranging circles on a sphere using solid modeling programs or as complicated as writing optimization algorithms that organize points in space based on a given set of constraints. We spend a lot of time developing methods for creating dimple patterns or designing the dimple shapes themselves. Those various designs and methods are at the heart of our aerodynamic patents, and I am very involved in developing new ideas and building our patent portfolio. One example of an aerodynamic improvement would be a pattern providing increased distance. However, we also strive for improvement in less-obvious areas, such as optimizing the trajectory for our target golfer or improving the aerodynamic consistency.

Explain the role of dimples.
Essentially, the dimples on the ball reduce the drag and increase the lift. This keeps the ball in the air longer and significantly increases the distance the ball can travel. Acushnet was ahead of other golf ball manufacturers when we developed the 392-dimple icosahedron pattern in the 1970s. That was a significant breakthrough and was used on our golf balls in some form through 2010. In 2011 our premium golf balls—Pro V1 and Pro V1x—changed dimple patterns because we found something better, using a spherical tiling method I helped develop. Now all Titleist golf balls use dimple patterns designed with the spherical tiling method.

What does your testing facility look like?
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities. We test every piece of the golf ball indoors and outside. We test with amateurs, tour players, and robots.

How have you developed your knowledge of aerodynamics?
Golf ball aerodynamics isn’t something you learn in the classroom. What Thayer did was instill in me a passion for engineering and a desire to solve problems and learn new things. Professor Ron Lasky’s engineering statistics course inspired me, and I went on to get a master’s in applied statistics while working for Acushnet.

How have your experiences on the golf course informed your designs?
I started playing golf my senior year and loved it. I play golf—just not very well. Playing golf is a critical piece in understanding how design changes will impact the performance of the ball. It is all part of understanding what players of various skill levels need to help their own game.        

—Theresa D’Orsi

Categories: Alumni News, On the Job

Tags: alumni, design, faculty

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