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Grading Fox Sports’ golf debut

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Inherently, tournament golf is a sport better viewed from a television screen. When you’re a spectator at a live golf event, you’re there to see the course, the players, the shots and take in the experience of world class golf — you’re not there to see winners and losers. It’s the only sport where you could attend the event, watch live action all day and really have no idea who’s winning the tournament or what’s going on.

That’s because when you watch golf on TV, you can view multiple golfers playing different holes at opposite ends of the course with a leaderboard that’s never more than a commercial break away. In person, seeing all that action is physically impossible.

That’s why it’s especially important that golf television broadcasts are on point — without a proper production, it’s easy for the viewer to lose sight of what’s happening. A team of producers needs to be aware of various storylines, who’s in contention and the precise moment at which to reveal to the audience pivotal moments on the golf course.

Fast forward to this past Saturday, December 13, when Fox made its professional golf debut in broadcasting the Franklin Templeton Shootout from Naples, Fla. Let’s analyze the broadcast on (1) Initial Impressions (2) Commentary and (3) Appearance.

Initial Impressions

Buck (1)

I must say, initial impressions are a bit weak. The coverage starts with an overly cheesy montage of various Fox Sports personalities and golfers feigning surprise (“We have golf on Fox?!?”) about Fox now covering golf. This is immediately followed by their Fox Sports/Football theme — Ba da da da da DA! Oh no you didn’t, Fox! I need something else here. I mean, if you are you responsible for replacing arguably the greatest sports theme of all time — Yanni’s “In Celebration of Man” — you better be replacing it with iconic brilliance of your own. I was personally hoping they’d introduce a golf song.

Buck, to his credit, starts off the broadcast on a humble and cautious note; acknowledging the difficulty in furnishing a coherent golf broadcast while also setting the bar low out of the gate:

“Right now, we’re not worthy.  Someday maybe we will be.”

Hey, Joe, a few slipups are fine for the Shootout, but get your act together for the U.S. Open please? No one’s going to care that this is Fox’s maiden voyage into golf if Tiger and Rory are in contention at Chambers Bay in June.

Initial Impressions grade: B-

Commentary

Here, Fox has big shoes to fill. Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller have been mainstays for many golf tournaments throughout the years, especially the U.S. Open. Losing them for our national championship will be a sentimental blow to fans everywhere (myself included).

And Joe Buck, for whatever reason, certainly seems to have his legions of haters out there. I admit there is something not too likeable about his delivery, but I’ve always found him to be a very good play-by-play guy. He has a great voice and doesn’t over-complicate big moments with useless chatter. He’s done his homework with golf, and in his first few minutes is already light years ahead of other non-golf broadcasters, like, say, Chris Berman, who badgers his companions and the audience, with clueless, rambling comments. That being said, referring to Brad Faxon as “Fax” seems a bit forward.

Flop

The Shark steadily improved throughout the broadcast, showing his (stubborn) personality, which I mistook for blandness early in the broadcast. Norman is not scared to gleefully engage in on-air spats with the other golf personalities on the team — there was a playfully testy exchange between Norman and Faxon on the proper way to play a flop shot from a tight lie — and he subtly establishes himself as the alpha-male of the group throughout the day. Much will rest on Norman’s shoulders going forward, particularly in filling the sharp-tongued vacancy left by Johnny Miller.

The on-course guys — Steve Flesch, Scotty McCarron and Brad Faxon — are very knowledgeable. Having Faxon, one of the greatest putters to ever live, talk about green breaks and speeds is a downright pleasure to listen to. The trio already seems to have established a familiar rapport will each other, with some good-natured needling taking place throughout the broadcast.

There will be a learning curve, however, for the audience identifying the voices and personalities of these otherwise accomplished golf minds. They’re not only new, but it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart. They don’t have the distinct sounds or viewpoints like you’d hear from David Feherty, Gary McCord, Roger Maltbie, Paul Azinger and, of course, Johnny Miller. David Fay lurks quietly in the background in the event of any rules questions. At times, the collective delivery from the entire group is a bit dry (I do realize this is a weekend scramble in December and not a Major).

KennyPerry

Fox has E.A. Tischler — a full time golf teacher — exclusively doing golf analysis. This is a bit different than how the other networks do it, with the commentators also moonlighting as swing gurus like with Kostis (an accomplished teacher in his own right) or Chamblee. Tischler’s first review of Stricker, Kuchar and Kenny Perry’s swing was great information but suffered a bit from strange context; it sort of appears out of nowhere and perhaps Fox was a bit too eager to show off its swing mechanics chops. E.A. nonetheless does a fine (albeit pre-recorded and somewhat bland) job narrating the nuances in each golfers takeaway, although the arrow graphic featured on both the face-on or down-the-line view is not necessarily explained.

Commentary grade: B

Appearance

Fox’s appearance package, a bit needlessly tech-y at time, is actually pretty good. One thing that stood out was the sound quality. It’s entertainingly sensitive, picking up lots of golfer-caddy strategy chatter. A few times, the cameraman seemed a bit wobbly behind the tee however.

NeonHole

You could have predicted that Fox, whose mascot is Cleatus the Robot, would get hi-tech in some way shape or form during the broadcast. Behold the neon hole surrounder brought to you by “FoxLabs,” which I don’t have anything against necessarily, but seems pretty pointless. I can’t really recall a time where I mystified as to where a guy is rolling his ball to. Still, it left me curious as to what other techy tricks Fox will have up its sleeve going forward.

One thing I do need, however, is a shot tracer. I think that is one of the coolest advancements in golf TV in recent memory. Do yourself a favor and google “Tiger Woods Protracer,” then sit back and watch the glory.

Appearance grade: B-

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think Fox did a decent job during their TV debut. Will Buck and Norman be the next Nantz/Venturi or Hicks/Miller combination? Early indications would seem to make meeting those standards unlikely, but give them time. They had a promising, capable start.

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Lawyer, Bachelor and Golf Nut. John also writes for his and his sister's Italian culinary and lifestyle blog at www.johnandelana.com, maintains an honest GHIN handicap, and is from New Jersey; all of which he is proud of.

65 Comments

65 Comments

  1. Rob

    Dec 19, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Never liked Miller, talks about himself too much and is sometimes too opinionated however, every once in a while he says something incredibly insightful. Can’t imagine listening to Norman and wondering if he will ever realize he is not the only person on earth. The stupid exchange between Norman & Faxon was inexcusable but pure Norman. Good thing the remote has a mute button.

  2. cmasty

    Dec 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Awesome

  3. Trubo

    Dec 18, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Never heard Buck commentate before this event, so didn’t find him too hard to listen to. If Greg said ‘absolutely’ once, he said it twenty times. And, as usual, tried to hard to sound incisive. Just speak to us as you would one of your mates.
    Didn’t like the ‘tron’ sound effects of EA’s analysis.
    The rest of the team were okay, but not outstanding. Here’s hoping they improve with time.
    I too like pro tracer and would like to hear more about the equipment the pros are playing.
    Can do better B-.

  4. Beacher50

    Dec 17, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    I don’t mind Joe Buck and find him better than most at Baseball and Football. Clearly his golf announcing is a bit rough, but over time it will improve.

  5. Regis

    Dec 17, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I started watching golf on TV with Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. Nothing will ever compare to CBS doing the Masters. I like Johnny Miller. Getting more tired by the day of Feherty’s schtick, but I like him as a person. I like Buck on Baseball-he’s perfect but worst fit for broadcasting golf ever-worse than those corporate spokesman who come on tournaments to talk about their company, their dedicated employees and the charities they support. I really liked the Fox graphics. Their three color swing plane graphics are the best since Hogan’s Five Lessons.

  6. ken

    Dec 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    What little I viewed was OK….I found myself immediately comparing Fox’s crew to that of CBS. IMO CBS golf coverage is in first place. Everyone else is last.
    Now, after I let FOX stand alone and critiqued it from there, I found myself cringing at the commentary of Joe Buck. Buck is either a work in progress or he is simply not suited to golf.
    Because I’m not a fan of Joe Buck who to me is enamored by the sound of his own voice and presents his play by play in a manner in which he thinks his opinion of the action is important and interesting to the viewers. newsflash, it isn’t. I do not watch sports on TV so that the play by play guy can lecture me on what I should think about the action. Moreover, I am not in the least bit interested in “personal interest” points of view. Buck seems incapable of steering clear of these and other ‘issues’….
    Note to FOX….We can SEE what it taking place on screen. There are times when the announcers should just keep quiet and let the action stand on it’s own

  7. Jeff

    Dec 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Watching the replay right now. Look, it’s the only golf on. Right now, it’s the best golf on.

  8. JEFF

    Dec 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    The need to put a muzzle on the announcers…… news flash,,,, taylor made had a new line of clubs!

  9. jgolf

    Dec 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Honestly I didn’t see all of the broadcast, but from what I did see, I thought it was terrible. I really like Fox for the NFL. In spite of Joe Buck. But I’m a golf geek and would usually watch golf and flip to the NFL just to get the scores. I like ABC at “The Open” but glad they don’t cover a lot of golf. NBC is decent,but ever since Miller got the reputation of being “truthful”, I now think he’s gone too far with some of his critiques just to be controversial. CBS is the best of the major networks, but McCord who was funny at one time, has now become a caracature of himself. But Fox…Joe Buck?? Come on. And the NFL theme music they use for the NFL going to commercial break? Did anyone at Fox know they had a golf event to televise before last week? I have to give them a D overall. IMO of course.

    • jgolf

      Dec 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Oh….and without a doubt, the pro tracer is the best thing to happen to golf on TV since HD.

  10. SkierGolferNewHampshire

    Dec 17, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Joe Buck is an excellent football guy, but an awful golf guy. His staccato delivery drives me bonkers. The greatness of the CBS and NBC teams is that they are very conversational. Buck and Norman are anything but. Buck needs to go and be replaced by someone with a more golf-like presences on air.

    I was waiting for something really new. How about using the pro-tracer on EVERY tee shot? That’s one of the great inventions in golf coverage and it’s used so sparingly. It’s a shame.

    • billm311

      Dec 17, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      Joe Buck ruined playoff baseball for me. Now I guess he will be ruining golf for me as well.

  11. Fran

    Dec 17, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Just one question. WHERE IS HOLLY SONDERS????

  12. tom

    Dec 17, 2014 at 9:47 am

    That was a very good write up John. I didn’t see any of the coverage, nor did I care to. Not because of Fox, but because the “shootout” is boring… Frankly, I had no idea it was on until watching some football coverage on Sunday and seeing the box scores. What did that mean? That Fox has not done a good job of marketing that it will be carrying golf, and its native voyage was this past weekend.

    That being said, here I’ll go… I’m particularly qualified to comment on this because a) I was a professional golfer b) I’ve watched a lot of just about every golf tournament over the past seven years.

    Miller/Maltbie/McCord – stale – just stale. They cater to the much older generation(s) and that’s the only chord they strike. I think golf is losing its appeal because of the tired old banter between these “TV Analysts.” I don’t think Norman is going to change any of this. Who cares about his travails on the tour in the 80s. He’s not going to grow the game or get my kids interested in watching golf on TV.

    McCarron/Flesch/Faxon – yawn… There’s not anything different here. Faxon is a bore. Someone wrote he’s one of the best putters to live… Was that you John? Come on… Tiger is one of the best putters to live. Palmer, Nicklaus, Player – guys who’ve won tournaments – lots of tournaments – and oh yeah, majors. Faxon? What has he won? I’m not going to listen to his yukety yuk anymore than I’d listen to McCord’s as he describes the upcoming putt.

    Flesch? No one has heard of him. McCarron? Same…

    Fox is new to golf? yes Check!
    Golf is new to fox? yes Check!

    Get some new announcers. Joe Buck – not new – known for world series – that’s the only place I’ve seen him… Norman – not new.

    How about getting some young hip dudes that have a low handicap. How about Kelly Slater? I bet my kids would watch golf (for at least a few minutes) if an ultra cool surfer dude was calling some holes. What about a call down from the booth like they do for NFL broadcasts? Slater calls down to someone like Laurie Dhue – remember her? She’s the ultra beautiful ex-Fox news woman? That would be ultra fun to watch and would attract a new audience.

    Face it – no one who’s CURRENTLY interested (all of us) in the US Open would turn away from watching it on Fox if a band of super models was walking the course with headphones and microphones calling shots. And if they were led by a hipster like a “Slater” that would be cool too.

    Fox has big pockets – they could afford anyone they’d like to help kickstart this wonderful game.

    How about Charles Barkley in the booth? I could go for that…

    With much love…
    Tom

    • John

      Dec 17, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Check out Faxon’s putting stats – putts per round – from ’93-2000. Pretty insane.

  13. Shelbs

    Dec 16, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    I thought it was ok.

    CBS is miles better then any other broadcast.
    ABC is very good for the British Open too.

    I thought Fox was better then NBC/Golf Channel. Unfortunately Miller and Hicks ruin every broadcast.

    I’ll be looking forward to watching the US Open by Fox…..

  14. Jon

    Dec 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Get rid of Joe Buck his commentary on golf is terrible. He’s rude, boring to listen to and has a lame personality. Put Holly Sonders in the booth at least she’s nice to look at and has a personality!

    • ken

      Dec 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      Please….No eye candy.
      I watch golf for the golf.
      Saunders can work in studio…..Away from the course…

  15. Jadon

    Dec 16, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I was looking for the final round of this tournament and couldn’t find it. No wonder. What the heck Fox? Let someone know you’re broadcasting final rounds. Geez.

    • John

      Dec 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      last round was on Saturday

      • Jack Nash

        Dec 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm

        Because he was doing NFL Broadcast. Fox will try with all the fancy gadgets like they tried in the NHL but people don’t need flashing lights and do dads. They just like to watch great golf.

  16. Adam

    Dec 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

    The statement at the beginning about attending a live event and not knowing what’s going on is going away. I was at the President’s Cup at Muirfield Village and for $10 they gave us a portable device to watch the NBC broadcast. Best of both worlds. It will be common place to do this on your smartphone very soon.

  17. Travis

    Dec 16, 2014 at 7:05 am

    I have not watched a World Series for 10 years or so now because of McCarver/Buck. Fox sports must be into torture as well as ‘sports’ broadcasting.

    • ken

      Dec 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      Mc Carver is long gone.
      Funny thing is, when Mc Carver started his broadcast career with the Mets, he was a credible and knowledgeable no nonsense analyst.
      Once he went national, he grew an enormous go and became unwatchable

      • Kirby

        Dec 18, 2014 at 12:11 am

        I honestly hate mccarver. Im a cards baseball fan and found out he was going to be doing a decent amount of our local games.I listen to the radio with the volume turned off I hate that guy so much.He is so fake, hates the cardinals because they traded his ass, and regurgitates the same crap every game.His best moment ever for me is when Deon Sanders shot that alcohol all over his smug face.

  18. Mizzy

    Dec 16, 2014 at 12:17 am

    First Non-“A” review i have seen on here.

    • John

      Dec 16, 2014 at 10:04 am

      I try to be as objective as possible, Mizzy

  19. Waqar

    Dec 16, 2014 at 12:03 am

    The right wing takeover of golf is finally complete. I used to like norman but now I hate him for being in bed with fox and its ideology. Johnny miller is and will be the most objective and intelligent commentator in golf. I will never buy anything again which is associated with norman, and never play on a course he designed.

    He is seriously overrated as a golfer. He is a known choker, alpha males DO NOT choke.

    • Spinball

      Dec 16, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Brilliant injecting your personal politics into a discussion of a golf telecast. This would be like someone saying “I saw Obama eating an apple. I will never eat apples again.” That sounds pretty stupid; doesn’t it? Being closed minded, as you obviously are, doesn’t add to intelligent debate.

    • ken

      Dec 17, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      right wing takeover…..Oy vay….Leave it to a flaming lib to politicize anything and everything.
      Tut tut….No one asked you to respond.

  20. Taylor

    Dec 15, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    I cannot stand Joe Buck. Please golf, no more Buck. Protracer every shot

    • marcel

      Dec 16, 2014 at 12:02 am

      David Feherty is the best – all the way half dressed half whatever – DAVID is the man and then Shark

    • Double Mocha Man

      Dec 16, 2014 at 11:03 am

      At least there is some golf history in the Buck family. As a kid I remember caddying for his Dad, Jack Buck, at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis.

  21. Pat

    Dec 15, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    No more Joe Buck. Dude doesn’t know anything about golf and has the personality of a door knob. Monotone voice which puts me to sleep. I’m glad Miller isn’t commentating anymore. Way too cocky and self-righteous. McCord isn’t funny and needs to retire. Norman’s alpha male “testosterone overdrive” attitude is way too abrasive for TV. Don’t get me started on Costas, he says some of the stupidest things and my brain cells die whenever he talks about politics. I think Faxon, Feherty and Maltby are great for the sport.

  22. 1putt23

    Dec 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Holly Sonders please!!!;-)

    • Pat

      Dec 15, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      No way. Holly is the definition of fake and plastic. More Win McMurry please.

      • 1putt23

        Dec 15, 2014 at 9:20 pm

        I don’t watch Morning Drive anymore….I’ll take Win too….but she’s not on anywhere ;-(

      • Kirby

        Dec 18, 2014 at 12:16 am

        No kidding,that chick wears so much freakin makeup, her voice sounds like she has smoked for 50 years, her fake breasts are ridiculously too large for her frame,and she looks 20 years older than she actually is. These guys wanting her on t.v. need to get some better standards.Good lord.

  23. Ritch

    Dec 15, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I think Fox needs to bring back “Loves Theme” that ABC used for many years during their broadcast of majors.

  24. slider

    Dec 15, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    any Canadians on here this is just like sportsnet taking over CBC not good for the game of golf firing miller and maltby for norman buck and others

  25. james

    Dec 15, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    did not like fox joe buck knows less about the game than roger maltby and I am a huge miller fan so I don’t like to see him go and maybe fox could get their cameras out of fairway bunkers right in the line of poulters shot. Also for greg this is not a time to promote your wine and other businesses just stick to calling the action. Overall grade is an F and Fox is going to ruin the game unless they get some smarter broadcasters

    • Pat

      Dec 15, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      I agree that Joe Buck is horrible and doesn’t know squat about golf. We see enough of him when he does football games. He has the personality of a door knob. Snore fest.

  26. tiptin

    Dec 15, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    The coverage offered nothing new to bring in new golf viewers
    I agree with RobG’s comments above. So much new technology is available to make golf look interesting on TV. Just showing 80% coverage on putting doesn’t cut it like all other channels do. Show different shots via pro-tracer, show proper player shot alignments instead of same straight camera angles, over head camera shots, good slow motions of swings, even aimpoint break lines for putting..need something new and interesting to spruce up the 3-4 hrs of golf. Otherwise it gets less interesting to even watch it on DVR

  27. Steve

    Dec 15, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I’d be very happy if they could get the protracer on every shot. I love that

    • JOSH

      Dec 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      Yes!!!! Completely agree. Love the protracer.

      • John

        Dec 15, 2014 at 5:01 pm

        Protracer is just pure glory. Youtube has a bunch of amazing compilations if you ever want to wonderfully kill time.

    • jonno

      Dec 16, 2014 at 2:05 am

      they have protracer on every shot for japanese golf which when i watched a tournament recently amazed me – i thought they needed to setup a static camera behind the tee to make it work, they had it going off their normal cameras if stationed behind the player.
      makes me think it’s just software so there’s no excuse for it not to be on every shot possible.

  28. RobG

    Dec 15, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    I personally don’t care about the commentary on a golf broadcast, I just want to see more golf. NBC and CBS have become almost un-watchable. They only show shots of the leaders and a few guys close to lead and fill the rest of the gaps with 8 replays of shots that we have already seen from different angles, commercials, useless banter or “features.” I tune in to watch golf, the more shots they can show in real time, the better.

    • rgb

      Dec 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      Oh God, the ‘features’ waste of time at the Masters is intolerable. And the low funeral-home tone voices. Its a golf course, for heaven’s sake, not the manger of Christ.

  29. Scooter McGavin

    Dec 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    No offense to Yanni, as he has made a lot of money selling albums to middle aged folks, but how can you call “In Celebration of Man” the “greatest sports theme of all time”, when I don’t even know that there’s ever even been a performance by real musicians (and not just the MIDI computer rendering that’s played on the broadcasts). Have you never heard Williams’s “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”? I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a sports theme.

    • John

      Dec 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      Scooter – great point and great song. I probably got a bit dramatic in handing Yanni that crown. But, come on, “In Celebration of Man” is just fantastic.

  30. FTWPhil

    Dec 15, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Didn’t watch.
    Hate Miller!
    Tech reminds me of their ill fated attempt at NHL.
    Need protracer!

  31. James

    Dec 15, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    At least Fox was trying some new things. I liked the highlighted hole. I would like to see a putt tracer and fill shot tracer too. I wonder if they thought about a GO-NO GO zone for attempting to hit a par 5 in two?

  32. Nathan Sargent

    Dec 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Johnny Miller stinks on TV. However, he is the GOAT. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. Literally every broadcast he brings up shooting 63 at Oakmont. “You could hit a small bucket and not do any better than that”

    • sgniwder99

      Dec 15, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Dude, forget about every broadcast. If I shot a Sunday 63 to win the US Open I’d mention it every SENTENCE.

  33. Brad

    Dec 15, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Fox broadcasted more live swings in one hour than Golf Channel/NBC does in two. Bonus: no Johnny Miller.

    • bradford

      Dec 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      I’ll agree with the lack of Johnny Miller. Can’t go anywhere but up from there

      • John

        Dec 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm

        can understand the sentiments on Miller. Still, I somehow will miss his grouchy tone for the Open.

    • jill

      Dec 15, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      miller is a stud tells it like it is my favorite announcer

  34. mtn1414

    Dec 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    They must have mentioned ten times that Kuchar ran a 5k Saturday morning before the round, and acted like it was some amazing feat. It’s not like he ran a marathon before playing the final round at the Masters.

  35. west

    Dec 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    The more golf coverage/access/exposure…the better! Good for the game! Love it! Kudos Fox!

    • Regis

      Dec 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      Only Fox is replacing NBC. To me its a step down

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Mondays Off: Augusta National: start on the front or back nine? | Knudson’s Fujikura visit

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Would you rather start your round at Augusta National from the front or back nine? Mondays Off debates both after the most recent Masters had players starting from both. Steve gets some information on Fujikura shafts from Knudson’s visit last week and then Knudson confesses on how his first night of league play went!

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The Wedge Guy: How many wedges?

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From the feedback I get, many golfers are not entirely confident…or are completely confused…about how many wedges they should carry. Those of you who know my work and writing over the past 25 years or so also know that I am a proponent of carrying a carefully measured “set” of wedges that give you the shotmaking control you need in prime scoring range. But what I’ve learned over those many years is that the number of wedges that is “right”, and the lofts of those wedges can be very different from one golfer to another.

The reason I think getting this right is so important is that your scores are more heavily influenced by your play from wedge range into the green, and your shotmaking around the greens, than by any other factor. The right “set” of wedges in your bag can make all the difference in the world.

As I repeatedly preach, taking your guidance from the PGA Tour players might not help you achieve your goals. These guys spend hundreds of hours each year perfecting their wedge play, and you simply cannot do that. The good news is that you can add some science to your wedge set make-up that can help you have more shot choices when you are in scoring range or trying to save par from a missed green.

My basic premise on the subject is that the answer can be approached scientifically for each golfer, and it is a multi-step process

  1. Begin by knowing the loft of the 9-iron and “P-club” that came with your set of irons, as optimum gapping begins there. The industry challenge of producing longer-hitting irons has led most OEMs to strengthen lofts throughout the set. Along the way, it was apparently decided to widen the gaps between the short irons to 5 degrees from the traditional 4 that stood for decades. What this does is increase the distance differential between your 9-iron and “P-club” from what I would consider optimum. For golfers of slower swing speeds, that 5-degree gap might well deliver a 10-12 yard differential, but my bet is that most of you are getting a difference closer to 15 yards, or even more. That just will not let you get the distance control precision you want in prime scoring range.
  2. The second step is to be honest with your distances. I am a big proponent of getting on the golf course or range with a laser or GPS and really knowing how far you carry each of your short irons and wedges. Hit a number of shots from known yardages and see where they land (not including roll out). My bet is that you will find that your distances are different from what you thought they were, and that the differentials between clubs are not consistent.
  3. Figure out where to start. If your actual and real distance gap between your 9-iron and “P-club” is over 12-13 yards, maybe the place to start could be with a stronger P-club. You can either have your loft strengthened a bit or make the shaft 1/4 to 1/2” longer to add a few yards to that club.
  4. Figure out what lofts your wedges should have. From there, I suggest selecting lofts of your wedges to build a constant yardage difference of 10-12 yards between clubs. Depending on your strength profile, that may require wedges at four-degree intervals, or it might be five – each golfer is different. Those with very slow swing speeds might even find that six-degree gaps deliver that distance progression.
  5. Challenge the traditional 52-56-60 setup. Those lofts became the “standard” when set-match pitching wedges were 48 degrees of loft. That hasn’t been the case in over 25 years. Most of today’s P-clubs are 45 degrees, which leaves a very large distance differential between that club and a 52-degree gap wedge. Some enlightened golfers have evolved to carry a wedge set of 50-54-58, which is a step in the right direction. But you can get whatever loft precision you want, and you should do that. At SCOR, we made wedges in every loft from 41 to 61 degrees, and our wedge-fitting tool prescribed lofts of 49-53-57-61 to many golfers, based on that 45* “P-club” and their stated distance profile. Those who took that advice were generally very happy with that change. We fitted and sold many sets at 49-54-59 as well. Though no company offers wedges in every loft, you can bend even numbers to hit your numbers exactly. Just remember, bending stronger reduces the bounce and bending weaker increases the bounce.

What many of you will find with this exercise is that it suggests that you should be carrying more wedges. That’s probably true for the vast majority of recreational golfers. I have come to realize that more wedges and less long clubs will usually improve your scores. After all, long or short by 25-30 feet is great at long range, but not acceptable in prime scoring range.

If you have more clubs at the long end of your bag (longer than a 5- or 6-iron) than you do at the short end (9-iron and up) then you should consider an honest self-appraisal of how often you use each club between your driver and putter. My bet is that it will be an enlightening analysis.

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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