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Opinion & Analysis

A round to remember? An old man’s story

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By D.C. Fasciglione

GolfWRX Staff Writer

The old man had been thinking about his luck that day. Rather, he had been thinking about his lack there of.

He was already 4-over and the first nine had yet to be played. The new fangled golf shoes with the so-called high tech soles were burning a hole in his Achilles heel. His daughter wasn’t talking to him on account of the fact he had spent her mom’s birthday money on these damnable shoes and a box of Top-Flite Gamers. And to top things off he got stuck with this guy.

He figured that despite the fact he had to get up twice a night to go pee, he couldn’t find his glasses half the time and he had to sit down to carefully don his socks in the morning, at least he could still count. He also figured his playing partner could, too. Or maybe not. By his recollection good ‘ol Ray should be 6 over.

Ray was a regular at the course. He had played with him once or twice before, but as he was partnered with two others he hadn’t given much thought to the man’s game, let alone his scoring of it. Ray was one of those fellows who thought he might be able to play the Champion’s Tour, with just a bit more practice and some luck. The old man had entertained that thought as well, in between his well-trodden hallway excursions to the head each night he sometimes caught himself drifting into dreamland.

Shiny green fairways and sugar sand bunkers. Tall oaks casting light and shadows in the lush, dewy rough. And there he would find himself, middle of the fairway, 200 yards from the pin, 7- iron in hand…

“Wait a minute. 7-iron my backside.”

New fangled hybrid in his hand.

He imagined, he dreamed, of a supple swing, a towering 200-yard strike to the heart of the green. The tree branch had somehow reached him in the subtle breeze. In his dream he could see the ball, as clear as day, within the leather.

“That’s about right,” he smiled. Damnable tree branch was starting to annoy him. He distractedly fended it off with his free hand, and strode proudly down the fairway, chest out, reaching for his hat. He could just make out the on-course reporters jostling for position to get his interview.

“Honey?”

“What’s that? No, no. I’m taken. My, that’s a nice tan, ahem, ‘hem.?”

“Honey, you’re snoring.”?The old man stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, the shadowy green remnants of his dream scattering into the four corners of his darkened room. The back of his wife’s hand was tapping upon his forehead.

Oh well. Can’t hit that confounded hybrid worth a lick, anyway. The very thought of ever making it to the Tour brought a chuckle to him. As he got up to relieve himself he thought it over.

“Let’s see; Perry, Boom Boom, Calc, Lehman, Haas. The list goes on. Before long we’ll see Vijay, Love…” Back to reality.

Reality that day had the old man sputtering between tee box to green, huffing and puffing up the sharp incline of the third fairway of his favorite public track. By the time he had reached the postage stamp of a green at the top of that incline his patience had just about given out, just like his legs.

“Ray, you aren’t 2-over; you’re 6-over, the old man wheezed. And there’s no way in Sam Hill you’re ever going to make it to the Champion’s Tour so quit plumb bobbing and take your third putt.”

He figured it was a good time to have a seat at the next tee and find the moleskin at the bottom of his golf bag. He was irritable. There were few things these days that didn’t irritate him, but cheating took the cake. Ray would just have to deal with it.

“Who does he think he’s kidding? Me? I just don’t get it,” he thought as he heard Ray’s feet shuffle up the crushed stone cart path.

“Made that putt,” Ray mouthed, almost as if to himself. “Ouch. That looks like it hurts,” looking down at the old man’s sockless foot.

“You should see the other one,” he replied. The old man’s feet appeared older than even he. Their weathered, calloused pads had traversed decades of fairways, rough, and cart paths. As a younger man his pocket couldn’t afford riding in a golf cart. As an older man his heart couldn’t afford it and his pride wouldn’t allow it. He would continue to walk.

Ray fished in his own golf bag a moment and took out a small package containing some adhesive shoe padding. He was wearing an untucked red shirt and white sneaker-like golf shoes. His curly, silver hair was thinning. He needed a shave, his whiskers gray over an olive complexion.

“Here ya go. Give these a try.”

The old man took the pads, managed a “Thanks” under his breath, and worked them into the counter of the offending shoe. Surprisingly, they seemed to help. Maybe Ray wasn’t so bad after all, he thought.

By the twelfth hole things were looking up for the old man. He had managed to birdie the 10th, which was a surprise given the fact that at the turn he had downed a hot dog with the consistency of a bicycle seat. He was still belching as his ball found the bottom of the cup.

“Pardon, Ray.” Belch. “That would be a three, by the way.” Belch. “I believe I have the honors.” Belch.

Ray chuckled. “I had 3, too!”

The old man’s smile turned to frown. He was just about to say, “Yeah, three putts,” when the thought occurred to him that maybe something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t make sense. In fact, as he thought back over the last several holes the old man recalled more than one occurrence in which Ray had seemed confused. Between the sixth green and the seventh tee box, Ray had seemed unsure as to which direction he was to walk. A couple holes back the old man became impatient when Ray had apparently become confused with his scorecard. He recalled Ray’s furrowed brow, the tip of his tongue showing, and the short golf pencil poised above the tiny boxes.

“Trying to shave strokes,” the old man had thought. But now he wasn’t so sure anymore. Finally, there was no way anyone would believe he had scored a three on that last hole.

The old man felt a sudden chill.

As the day progressed the early autumn air cooled and the shadows grew longer and darker. The leaves had already begun to fall, and the old man thought about how easy it was to lose one’s ball this time of year, even in the middle of the fairway. Before long it would be cold and he would feel his age in each and every swing.

“Is it getting chilly out here, Ray, or is it just me?” the old man asked of his playing partner. Ray smiled as he pushed his tee into the turf.

“You can’t be a fair weather golfer,” he replied. The old man nodded. Ray was right, of course. You take the good with the bad and move on. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he figured maybe Ray hadn’t been cheating. Maybe he was confused. The old man decided he would keep an eye out.

By the eighteenth tee it was clear to him that Ray had a problem with his memory. The old man had seen it before: confusion with simple tasks, such as when Ray had struggled to get his Titleist out of the ball washer; difficulty in remembering new names, Ray must have asked him his name at least five times that day; a sudden lost sensation, as when Ray was confused on the cart path between holes.

Dementia. Maybe Alzheimer’s, the old man thought. If so, this was early onset. Ray was maybe late fifties.

After the final approach and putts had been made the old man extended his hand to Ray.

“Clubhouse for a cold beer?”?”That sounds great,” he replied. Upon reaching the 1960s era facade of the clubhouse the old man and Ray brushed their shoes free from the course’s turf. They entered through the diner side and walked down a short hall to the bar.

“Hey guys.” The greeting came in stereo from the assistant pro and a woman with dark green eyes and hair dyed a shade too dark for her age. She smiled, held out her hand to the old man and said, “Hi. I’m Sarah, Ray’s wife.”

The assistant pro filled in the details after Ray and Sarah had left. Ray was stage four Alzheimer’s, early onset as the old man had guessed. A couple of the starters knew, as did the pros, and had discussed with Sarah and Ray safety concerns and possible accommodations. It was unclear how the disease would progress; each person reacts differently. Ray would continue to golf and dream about making it to the Champion’s tour, of course.

The old man thought he might, too.

 Click here for more discussion in the “General Golf Talk” forum.

The following links are to the National Institute on Aging- Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers

http://www.alz.org/ http://www.alzfdn.org 

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Podcasts

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.

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On Spec: Blades vs cavity backs | Classic gear vs. modern equipment

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In this episode, host Ryan talks about a recent experience of playing poor golf and what it took from an equipment perspective to get his game back on track.

The talk is wide-ranging and offers an inside look at what equipment tweaks or experiments might help you play better golf—or get you out of a rut.

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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