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The Facts About Single Length Irons

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There has been a LOT of discussion lately about single-length iron sets. So much, in fact, that as a club builder and fitter single-length irons have become a daily topic of conversation.

Most of this buzz about single-length irons has been created by reigning U.S Amateur and NCAA Division I Individual champion Bryson DeChambeau, who has been very successful using a custom set of single-length irons made by Edel, a boutique equipment company in Texas.

Related: Bryson DeChambeau WITB 2016

Edel isn’t the first company to build a set of single-length irons. Tommy Armour built and marketed a set called the EQL’s in the 80’s, and there have been a few other niche companies who have been building these sets for a long time, including One Iron Golf. Recently, Tom Wishon and Jaacob Bowden released a set of single-length irons. Named Sterling Irons, they’re designed to be built shorter than others. At 36.5 inches, they’re each about the length of an 8-iron.

SterlingIrons-cavity

Related: Learn more about Sterling Irons

All of the sets listed above have one thing in common; they were designed with the sole purpose of being built to a single length. With this trend gaining more interest from the general golfing public the most popular questions are:

  • Can single length irons work for me?
  • Can I make my current set into a single-length set?  

I’m going to explain the differences between a standard set of irons and single-length irons, why it’s difficult to convert a standard set of irons to single length and what is needed to make sure proper gapping is achieved throughout the set.

According to DeChambeau and the team at Edel, his set took many attempts to get just right. And as a club builder who is getting requests for this type of set, it’s difficult to explain the small nuances involved to golfers, especially those players looking to do this to either an existing set or to a new one built from scratch using standard OEM components. It’s also difficult to fit a golfer for this type of set because of the cost associated with having enough club heads of varying lofts to properly fit for distance gapping.

The other piece of information that I don’t believe has been mentioned enough as it pertains to the average golfer is that DeChambeau is a finely tuned athlete who swings his 45-inch driver at more than 120 mph. Most club players can only swing that fast in their dreams, and DeChambeau’s speed gives him a distinct advantage with his irons.

If you give a golfer five clubs of the same length, shaft flex, total weight, and swing weight, they will swing them at almost exactly the same speed. Give that golfer a traditional set of irons that are built with shafts that get approximately 0.5-inches longer as the iron number decreases (with the same shaft, shaft flex, swing weight and a decreasing head weight of 7-to-10 grams per club), however, and they will likely swing each club 2-3 mph faster as they move up the set.

The increased clubhead speed translates into faster ball speeds in the longer irons, which is needed to maintain a consistent peak height from the lower-lofted clubs, also know as a consistent flight window. Smash Factor also slowly increases, because the reduced loft will transfer more energy into the ball (the contact is less “glancing” or oblique), creating faster ball speeds with the longer clubs.

Distance gapping can become an issue in the longer clubs with a single-length iron set, because swing speed does not stay the same as loft is reduced. That’s why DeChambeau’s custom Edel set uses bigger loft gaps (5 degrees) in the longer clubs. Wishon’s Sterling irons do not have this design, but he addressed the issue by making the faces of his long irons “hotter,” which has the same effect.

trackman_pga_vs_lpga_data

Here is where things become very difficult from a building perspective. Standard head weights for irons are not designed to be built to the same length. They are engineered for a company’s specific length progression, generally 0.5 inches between clubs.

The chart below demonstrates the difference in club head mass between standard head weights of a set built to roughly D3 and a set of single-length irons.

Single_Length_HeadweightsAlso, the lies and loft of standard irons are not designed to be bent past a certain point, which can cause detriment to the playing characteristics of the club head.

DeChambeau plays his entire set at 73-degree lie angle, which is more upright than the lie angle of most off-the-rack putters! Trying to bend a set of standard iron heads to these angles would either totally mar the hosels or cause them to break, especially considering many irons now are made of multiple materials and advanced constructions. DeChambeau’s Edel irons, on the other hand, are forged and more easily bent.

It should also be noted that DeChambeau’s irons are manufactured so there is no negative effect on performance. And his extremely upright lie angles are the result of his unique swing mechanics, and are not necessary to use a single-length iron set.

The chart below demonstrates standard lie angles vs. DeChambeau’s Clubs.

Single_Length_lie_Bryson

Going back to the issue of gapping, with a set of single-length clubs, lofts need to be adjusted accordingly to make sure that golfers have proper yardage gaps between clubs. With any player, the gapping will depending on swing speed.

The Trackman data below shows some interesting information based my testing a set of single-length irons (37.5 inches) and a set of irons built to standard lengths with frequency matched shafts, matching swing weights, and built in 0.5-inch increments.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The conclusion is that single-length irons might be the perfect solution to creating more consistency in your golf game, but just like buying a new driver or standard set of irons, be sure to visit a proper club fitter. It will take some time to find the right components to fit your needs.

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Ryan Barath is a club fitter and master club builder who has more than 15 years experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour professionals. He studied business and marketing at the Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf located in Toronto. He now works independently from his home shop in Hamilton and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers, including True Temper. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf and share his passion for club building, wedge grinding, & craft beer.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Bruce Gerhold

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I used conventional club heads and fabricated a set of MOI matched clubs using a 2 length concept. This could be an alternate set that a player would find useful: I have played these for several months no plans to return to variable length, variable weight clubs.

    I hold advanced degrees in Mechanical Engineering where I studied the science and mathematics of moving bodies. My career was in R&D work so tinkering with club fabrication is a natural. I’ll outline my fabrication below.

    The clubheads are a cavity back design with and undercut behind the face ( Hireko Prophet CB cast perimeter with a forged, hardened stainless face Note the lofts are 1 club number lower than conventional to artificially add length but I refer to conventional loft club numbers below. http://www.hirekogolf.com/golf-components/clubheads/golf-irons/dynacraft-prophet-cb-iron-clubhead.html ). I selected these based on excellent feel of the forged face inserts and the undercut offers a convenient place to add weight that is well supported mechanically and will remain on the club head. The 2, 3, 4, 5 irons are same length, same shaft, same shaft trim (5 iron), same grip. I used two techniques to add weight to the club heads so they all equaled the 5 iron ( 263 g) : first, I mixed tungsten powder and shafting epoxy forming a self leveling mix, then put the mix in the cavity allowing it to settle to the bottom of the undercut and distribute evenly. When greater than 10 grams is required, I used 1/4 oz “egg” shaped lead fishing sinkers that were flattened to fit into the undercut – one in the toe and one in the heel. I then used the tungsten powder + epoxy to trim the weight and pot in the lead pieces. Both methods function well with no weight lost while playing and practicing. The long irons are 37 inches long.
    The 6, 7, 8, 9 are made similarly with weight equal to the 8 iron ( 284 g ), shaft trim of an 8 iron and no weight on the 9 iron (simply made it 3/8 shorter for constant total club MOI). The short irons are 36 inches long. Since the short irons are shorter, but with increased head weight, the club MOI equals that of the long irons as measured with a pendulum technique. Note: the MOI is the moment of inertial of the entire club about the point between the hands (pivot point for club release which is what generates speed). The concept of swingweight is not supported by science and I (and many others) take as meaningless.

    I find that even though I have 2 club lengths, the ball position is roughly the same for the 2 lengths with the longer clubs played one ball forward of the short clubs.. The common set up tremendously simplifies your game and leads to solid iron play. I flattened lie angle somewhat on the 5,4 and 8,9 but hesitated to bend too much because they are a cast body (2 degree max bending recommended). My 2 length clubs play just fine with minimal lie adjustments because the 2 lengths effectively give a lie adjustment.

    My results show NO SHOT DISTANCE PROBLEMS. The length of a shot depends on club loft, club momentum (speed times MASS), and hitting the sweet spot. The added club head mass compensates for the shorter shaft, and I hit much more solid shots due to a controllable club length. 9 iron 120 and 2 iron 195 with normal type spacing for the intermediate clubs.

  2. Lawrence Savage

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I bought a set of 1 Iron clubs because I thought it sounded like a really good idea. These were the problems I experienced:
    1. The look on some clubs (3i, 4i and particularly wedges) was a bit off putting
    2. I hit shorter shots in general, even though the lofts were nearly identical to my previous set. This was an absolute confidence killer. My swing speed is very middle of the road and I found that 3i and 4i were barely longer than 5i
    3. I found the shafts in the wedges a little bit whippy, which may have contributed to reduced distance
    4. The larger grips took a bit of getting used to, and I went from hitting a relatively predictable draw to an semi-controlled fade
    5. Chipping was much harder from Kikuyu grass because of the low bounce of 3° (except SW at 6°) – certainly it was awkward-feeling chipping with a 7i-length LW at first
    6. The grooves absolutely mashed the golf balls covers. In fact if one were super particular it would be one shot one ball, so much was the scuffing. This was a real sore point since the ZAR:USD exchange rate has made decent balls very expensive now
    7. I went out six shots on handicap over five months – this was the death knell for me

    I eventually went back to my old set and after a year I recovered my old form, in fact I reached my lowest hcp. It was a really expensive experiment, but super glad I tried it. Maybe when I’m older I would consider them again.

  3. Ash

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    The article ‘borrows’ heavily from members comments in the forums. A key point left out is that Bryson D, with Edel Golf, have adjusted heads so that the weights are IDENTICAL. Missing that vital point renders this article worthless.

  4. Gisle Solhaug

    Mar 17, 2016 at 10:25 am

    The advantage of single length sets of irons is that your muscle memory will only have to learn one swing for your set of irons rather than one swing for each club. The same can be achieved on a standard set of golf clubs by optimizing the weight of each club by adding a specific weight to the grip end of the club. As the ball position and club length differ on a traditional set, so must the weight of each club. The calculations to obtain this exact weight is complex and involves building a computer model of your body swinging each of your clubs. You will then have the same swing for every club in your bag, except the putter of course. By making every club the same length, the ball position will be the same for every club at setup. Therefore, the clubs will be perfectly matched when they all have the same weight and MOI. And they will all have the same Swingweight, for those of you that care about that. The disadvantage of a single length set of irons is that you still need to apply a different swing for all the other clubs in the bag. What if you could have the same swing for all the clubs? That would make the game a lot easier. Those who are interested can learn more at http://www.rational-golf.com

    • Large chris

      Mar 18, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Not according to the book ‘physics of golf’ by Jorgenson as referred to by Dave Tutelman.
      Perfectly balancing a conventional 1/2 inch progression set of irons requires specific weights added both at the butt and midway down the shaft. It can’t be done by just adding different weights at the butt only, as it is not possible to equalise the first, second and third moments of the club without adding weights at the midpoint.
      Also you seem to be suggesting you can achieve the same swing with different length clubs…. Patently impossible as the lie angle is changing ie the angle your wrists are pointing at to ground out the club.

  5. KK

    Mar 16, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Very interesting but I do agree this this probably for the higher swing speed golfer. Maybe two lengths for slower swing speeds? That would be a nightmare for fitters, lol.

  6. Tony Wright

    Mar 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the informative article Ryan. You mentioned Tom Wishon’s single length iron design. I know that he worked for 2 years to develop it, in partnership with a very good European player. It will be very interesting to see what happens with his design once it gets into the hands of golfers through custom club fitters. I know that he has already sold out 4 orders of single length iron heads through his supplier – the first shipment of heads from Tom to custom fitters will happen sometime later in March, and the 4th set of orders will not occur until sometime in June. None of this says that single length is going to catch on – and Tom himself says it will not be for everyone – but we will see!

  7. Snowman9000

    Mar 16, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Regarding your dispersion graphic: At least one of those club numbers should have been effectively the same in both sets. Maybe the 5 iron, maybe the 6. Yet every SL club was worse. Are you comparing an ill-fitted SL set to a well-fitted conventional set?

    BTW I don’t disagree with your assessment of the obstacles involved. I have custom made 3 SL sets. Even going so far as to remove or add weight in the right places as to improve the flighting of the irons. My last set was my best, and it’s pretty good. But I still find that the “short” irons (9 & wedges) fly too high. I feel it’s because the attack is shallower. My irons are only 6 iron through wedges, so the rest of the objections don’t really come into play. I can see a 5 iron, but I can’t see any reason today for a recreational golfer to play a 4 iron, no matter the length. So for 5 or 6 irons through wedges, it’s not that hard to do, and there are definite benefits in consistency, once the right fitting is found.

    With an SL set, you don’t have to fret about whether to match the clubs via swingweight, or MOI, or MBI, or balance point, etc. Which is good, because some golfers do better with descending swingweights, some with steady swingweights, some with ascending weight shafts, some with constant weight shafts, some with unitized (descending weight) shafts, etc. But the amount of testing, and of required discernment ability by the fitter and golfer, and randomness of swings during fitting, make it extremely unlikely that the golfer comes out of the fitting with the true right heft and balance for him, throughout the set. MAYBE for the test club, yes. Hopefully so.

    In the SL set, all that goes out the window. If the test club is truly a good fit, so are the others.

    Again, I admit that this has to be balanced against the downsides, which are distance gapping and flighting. Many golfers, if they played an SL set that truly matched their swing, might find better results even despite the gapping and flighting issues. Might.

  8. Jason

    Mar 16, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Golfers are funny. Every top 100 player in the world uses a standard set of clubs and some guy shows up out of nowhere (albeit BC is a great golfer and he obviously has had tremendous success) with a single length set and now everyone is considering changing years of familiarity for them. The lifelong equipment search for golfers continues…

  9. Robert A Parolisi

    Mar 15, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Add tape to build up the taper in the shaft, then grip down on the iron.

  10. Al

    Mar 15, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I’ve tried to do this with 2011 Tmag tour preferred MC (they have exchangeable weights and ebay allowed for a variety of options), I went with a lighter shaft Nippon 950gh HT. Basically, I had the 8-LW the same length. The 3,5 and 7 same length, didn’t use the 4 and 6 for gapping purposes. Had the 3 bent to 20, the 5i to 25 and 7i to 30. I added a heavier weight plate to the back as well as brass shaft tip weights. I was able to get them to C9-D2. Overall it was fine, I actually had some solid rounds and scored well too. Mentally I struggled looking down at the 3 and how short it was. I played the 8-LW at a length of 35.5″ and 3-7″ at 36.5″. Unfortunately I reverted back to normal lengths. I regret it now and wish I would have stayed with it longer. I have another set of shafts I can play with if I get the itch.

  11. Scooter McGavin

    Mar 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Sounds like something you’d need to go to a specialty shop for, because I doubt the local Golfsmith or Golf Galaxy would have the equipment or know-how to accommodate.

  12. Bob

    Mar 15, 2016 at 11:23 am

    I’ve known Ryan for many years and he knows the mechanical aspects of club building as well as anyone I’ve met in my 37 years in and around the golf business. He an excellent synopsis of the positive and negative aspects of the single length approach, IF in the hands of an athletic player like Dechambeau.

  13. TOM

    Mar 15, 2016 at 10:49 am

    the last paragraph sums it all up.

  14. Ryan

    Mar 15, 2016 at 10:46 am

    I’m not quite ready to switch to a single length set of irons, but what do you think about a single length for wedges? It’s something I’ve been considering for awhile.

    • devilsadvocate

      Mar 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Single length wedges are the norm on tour… Highly recommend not only single length wedges but single swing weight , total weight, and lie angle throughout your wedges… Only difference would be loft (obviously) and bounce… Then when you practice short game you develop a consistent bottom of the arc with your wedges… Kind of important haha

    • Aaron

      Mar 15, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      I have played my wedges (46,50, 55, 60) at the same length (off the pw) for years. The consistency is definitely easier to have when they all setup the same. It will feel only a tad odd at first on your lob wedge when you are gripping it normal and you will gain some extra yardage in that club as well, but I have found it to be easier to control them because the setup and feel is the same throughout. I don’t know that I would go to a single length set though… The idea of increasing length shafts allows you to have an increased swing speed as you go towards the long irons without the addition of actually swinging harder. The other thing that comes into play is “working the ball”. The flatter lie angle on the lower lofted clubs makes it easier to create draws and fades. I tend to change my swing quite a bit to suit the shot shape I am attempting and I don’t play the robotic swing style like Bryson. If you are someone who views golf in straight shots and the same swing as much as possible in a round I think the single length set could be advantageous.

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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