In the first part of this series, we traced the rise and fall of tennis and postulated the conclusion that it was a natural condition seeking its reasonable level. There are those who say all the hand wringing about golf’s decline in popularity is nothing more than a reaction to a normal occurrence. In other words, let it find its level and move on.
Furthermore, golf is a game; something people do for enjoyment. Despite the sanctimonious tones of some TV broadcasters, it’s still a game. The job of broadcasters is to create an environment where people watch, get emotionally involved, tell their friends and increase viewership. This positively effects ratings, which is used to extract more money from advertisers. Nothing wrong with that; it’s the business side of things.
An abandoned golf course, however, does not equate to an abandoned tennis court. Besides the pure acreage difference, an accompanying issue is that a golf course is an employer. Jobs range from managers with advanced degrees to on-course maintenance employees, which can mean dozens of jobs per course, and I count people losing jobs as part of the overall issue.
I’ll give a brief nod to the values learned on the course. It’s been written about extensively, and I’ll suffice that the values are real and recognized. It’s better for me to leave that detailed analysis to the experts.
I will say that I’ve had conversations with many professional athletes from other sports over the years and if young potential golfers could listen in they would come to the game in droves. These are elite athletes who have tested themselves against the very best in their sport and love golf because it pits them against their toughest opponent: themselves.
Most sports are about reacting in a competitive environment. Golf gives you all of that challenge and, to make things even more intense, time to think about it. The great NBA point guard of yesteryear Earl “The Pearl” Monroe once said, “I don’t know how anyone can guard me. I don’t know where I’m going to go.” In golf, you have time to ponder a variety of choices and must have the mental will to execute your choice to the best of your effort.
Years ago, I was at a charity golf event watching Julius Erving, the 4-time NBA MVP known as “Dr. J,” play the last hole with his team one shot ahead. He chipped a shot over a water hazard close to the flag and made the short putt. Afterwards, I asked him why he didn’t chip wide of the water to take it out of play. “Gotta come in through the front door,” he answered, revealing the inner workings of the mind of a champion athlete. He didn’t want to be in his comfort zone; he wanted to test himself.
Then there is “THE” reason why golf should flourish, or more accurately, 3.9 BILLION reasons. You see, through a variety of efforts, golf raises $3.9 billion annually for charity, more than all other sports combined!
I got this number from a PGA Tour official and my first thought was that the number had to be overstated. WAY overstated. I contacted Golf Digest and was told that their staff reacted just as I did, but upon deeper investigation ascertained that it was a realistic number. I guess you must consider that a vast majority of U.S. towns — cities of every size — have one or more charity golf events; everything from sending the band to state to funding cancer research. Add in the professional tours, the USGA and you can see how it gets to be such a huge number.
My response to Golf Digest was subtle, at least for me.
“Why in hell isn’t this performance an annual issue with $3.9 billion the entire cover.”
I was told that there just wasn’t enough interest. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. This should be tracked and reported annually. Every person who plays (or contributes) should take immense pride in the accomplishment.
We are not going to let the drop in participation be registered as normal ebb and flow. Starting in part three of this series, we will define the drop in specific numbers and begin the process of goal setting.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
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