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Opinion & Analysis

Olympic Golf: Rooting for the Red, White and Who?

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It all started so well. Like building a new house, the blueprints were perfect. Well known builder… check. Money… check. Piece of land… check. Interest… check. Then as they started building, it all went wrong, sinking like a bad foundation.

Way back in October of 2009, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced with great fan fare golf would return to the Olympics at Rio for the first time since Canadian George Lyon won in 1904. At the time (2009 not 1904), Padraig Harrington went as far as to tell PGATour.com:

“I do believe in time the Olympic gold will become the most important event in golf, and I don’t believe it will take that long.”

Well, someone forgot to tell the rest of the players because players have been dropping like flies.

Vijay Singh, someone with no issue taking on the PGA Tour and its governing body, announced in April of 2016 he would not play for Fiji. A week later, Adam Scott said he had a busy summer schedule and personal commitments, which would not allow him to play.

Since those two, a proverbial who’s who of players have announced they will not attend. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Braden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Hideki Matsuyama, Brendon de Jonge, Andy Sullivan and Tim Wilkinson have all bowed out. That’s a leader board any major championship would be happy with on a Sunday afternoon.

Of those not playing, the excuses have run the gambit from family (Day and others), schedule (Scott and others) and Zika, which has been the most prevailing.

With regard to the schedule, the chance to win gold comes at an inopportune time. The event will take place August 11-14, which is just two weeks after the PGA Championship and the week before the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. There’s no doubt the Wyndham is a popular event. It attracts a top field, but we aren’t talking about the Quad Cities Open. This is the Olympics; it’s a once-every-four-year chance. Given the way the Tour has gone the last couple years, it may be a once in a lifetime chance. There is no telling who will be the best players four years from now.

Not to mention these guys aren’t flying United. They can hop on a private jet and fall asleep in Rio and wake up in Charlotte ready to go.

Now we come to the touchier subjects: family and Zika.

Mind you, family is just a code word for Zika, and it is seemingly a legitimate concern. Who is going to argue with a player putting family first? It is an easy out, maybe even a smart decision. No one is going to deny Zika is a risk. The photographs of Brazilian mothers holding a newborn child with microcephaly are sad and scary. But is health a real concern or just a convenient reason to get out of playing?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), yes, athletes are at risk of being infected by the Zika virus from infected mosquitoes, the same as any other Brazilian citizen. However, WHO has stated Zika usually only causes minor symptoms, with most persons not having any symptoms at all. The Center for Disease Control has said Zika should not cause any problems for women wanting to get pregnant after it has passed through the blood stream. They have recommended waiting for at least six months after the first symptoms to start trying to have a child just to be safe.

It’s up to the player to decide if waiting six months to have a child is worth a possible gold medal; only they can answer that. Not to get all Dr. Ruth but, if a player really needs to have a kid within the next six months, can’t they freeze a sample before heading for Rio? Plus if it is such a concern, why hasn’t Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, or other top LPGA players backed out?

Other athletes have more concerns than Zika, and will be more exposed to contracting Zika than golfers will. Dead bodies are washing up on the shore where the beach volleyball games will be played — that’s right, dead bodies. The USA rowers are all wearing science fiction body suits to keep bacteria in the water from touching their skin. Just this week we learned the waters sailing events will take place in have super bacteria resistant to medicine.

“Every time you get some water in your face, it feels like there’s some alien enemy entering your body,” a German sailor told CNN.

Think he’s withdrawing? Nope. Let that sink in. Sailors, without million dollar salaries or endorsements, are willingly going to risk becoming infected with a bacteria medicine can’t help just for a shot at a medal.

Think about it: if the beach volleyball teams can play in bikinis and board shorts, can’t golfers take precautions? How about long sleeves and bug spray? Heck, use it to get sponsorship deal with Off!

The Red, White and Blue hasn’t been immune either. Just last night Dustin Johnson backed out citing family reasons, after previously stating he would play. And there could be more losses to follow; Jordan Spieth just last week said he is still gathering information and Rickie Fowler has been non-committal. It would be no shock if those two members of the #SB2K16 were waiting for another American to withdraw so they could, too.

And back to that list, poor Gary Player, captain of the South African contingent, has gone from having Oosthuizen and Schwartzel and a legitimate chance of gold to suggesting that he may have to play for South Africa in the Olympics.

So exasperated with the process, he went on Morning Drive recently and reiterated his belief amateurs should play instead of pros because they would appreciate it more.

And while amateurs would certainly appreciate it more (at this point, it would be hard not too), it’s not reality. People aren’t tuning in, and the PGA Tour, IOC and Brazil haven’t spent millions of dollars to find the next George Lyon. Fans and organizers want star power. Just like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson brought to Barcelona in 1992. Without those types of names, enjoy the golf this year, because after 2020, it may be another 112 years before we see it again.

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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

On Spec

On Spec: Interview with GOLFTEC VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater

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In this episode of On Spec brought to you by Golf Pride Grips, Ryan talks with GOLFTEC’s Vice President of Instruction Nick Clearwater about his history with golf, teaching, and how he and his team at GolfTec help golfers play better.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: The day I met Ben Hogan

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In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.

We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.

We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort.

Industry veteran (and one heckuva writer) Tom Stites, who served as the Director of Product Development at Nike’s Oven, tells the story of how he landed a job as an engineer at the Ben Hogan Company and what his first meeting with Mr. Hogan was like.

Get a taste for Stites’ excellent piece from 2015 below.

Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.

My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.

Me as their boss? That was a joke.

I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.

Read the full piece here.

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Opinion & Analysis

Why do Tour players prefer fades over draws from the tee box?

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There is a growing trend on the PGA Tour and other professional golf tours where some of the game’s best players favor a fade from the tee box. Amateur golfers often struggle with golf shots that slice away from their target. These shots can lead them out of play and have them eagerly chasing a more neutral or drawing shot shapes. Additionally, a large fraction of low handicap and professional golfers play a golf shot that draws repeatedly onto their target. These thoughts can leave you wondering why anyone would choose to play a fade rather than a draw with their driver.

The debate over whether players should fade or draw their golf shots has been intensely lobbied on either side. While this is highly player specific, each particular shot shape comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. In order to discuss why elite golfers are choosing to play a fade and why you might as well, we must first explore how each shot shape is created and the unintended effects within each delivery combination. This article explores the ideas that lead some of the most outstanding players in the world to choose a fade as their go-to shot shape for their driver.

Before examining what makes each shot unique, golfers should be familiar with some common club fitting and golf swing terminology. Club path, clubface angle, impact location, spin-axis or axis tilt, and spin loft are all detailed below.

The curvature of a golf ball through the air is dependent on the backspin and sidespin of each shot. These spin rates are directly linked with each players golf swing and delivery characteristics. During every shot, each golfer will deliver the golf club back to the golf ball in a specific orientation. The relationship between the golf club face and the path of that club will determine much of how the golf ball will travel. A golf clubface that is closed to a club path will result in golf shots that either draw or hook. A clubface more open to the club’s path with create a shot that fades or slices. It is important that face angle measurements are taken in reference to the club path as terms like “out-to-in” or “in-to-out” can results in either of these two curvatures depending on face angle and impact location measurements.

Impact location should not be overlooked during this exchange and is a vital component of creating predictable golf shots that find the fairway and reach their maximum distances. As strikes move across the clubface of a driver gear effect begins to influence how the golf ball travels. In its simplest form, gear effect will help turn the golf ball back to the center of the golf club head. Impact locations in the heel will curve towards the middle and lead to golf shots with a more pronounced fading shape. Toe strikes lead to the opposite reaction and produce more draw or hook spin. Striking a golf ball from the upper half of the driver clubface produce higher launches and less spin, while strikes from the bottom create lower launches with higher backspin rates.

Spin-axis tilt or simply axis tilt is a result of the amalgamation of face angle, club path and strike locations. A golf shot will curve in the direction that its axis tilts during flight. Golfers familiar with launch monitors like Trackman and GCQuad, can reference axis tilt and spin-axis tilt measures for this measurement. Shots that curve to the left will have a leftward tilted axis, and shots to the right a rightward axis tilt. Golf shots tilting to the left and to the right are given names depending on which hand is dominant for that golfer. A draw or hook is a golf shot that curves in the air away from the golfers dominate hand. Right-handed players will see a golf ball hit with a draw spin from right to left in the air. Left-handed golfers see their draw shots spin from left to right. Fades and slices have the opposite shapes.

Spin loft is another critical component of creating and maintaining the flight of a golf ball. In concert with the spin-axis tilt of the golf ball, the spin loft influences the amount of backspin a golf ball possesses and will determine much of how stable that golf ball’s flight becomes. Golf shots hit with more backspin curve less violently than golf shots hit with too little spin especially in the wind. Spin loft is exemplified as golfers find themselves much more accurate with their wedges than their driver. More spin equals more stability, and this leads us to why professional players opt for their fade.

Modern drivers can be built to maximize the performance of each golfer on their best swings, but what about their misses? Golfers often lose confidence standing over their golf shots if they see the ball overdrawing or hooking too often. Overdraws and hooks create golf ball flight conditions that are unpredictable and lead to directional and distance detriments that can cause dropped shots and penalties. Because of this, elite right-handed players do not often like to see the golf ball going left from the tee box. By reducing their chances of hitting hooking tee shots, golfers often feel more freedom to swing the golf club freely and make smooth, powerful motions. This is never more evident than when watching Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit their drivers. While both players hit the golf ball both ways, their go-to shot from the tee is a left-to-right curving fade.

But wait, doesn’t a draw go further than a fade? While it is not inevitable that a draw will fly further or roll out more than a fade, the clubface and club path conditions needed at impact to produce each shape often lead to differences in spin rates and launch angles that affect distance. Less dynamic loft created by a closed clubface can lead to lower launch, less spin, and more distance. The drawback of these conditions is the reduced spin loft and decreased stability. So how much distance is worth losing to find more fairways? As we continue to see some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour win tournaments and major championships distance is the premium.

Luckily, modern drivers and club fitting techniques have given players a perfect blend of distance and accuracy. By manipulating the center of gravity of each driver, golfers can create longer shots from their best strikes without giving up protection from their mishits. Pushing the weights more near the clubface of drivers has given players the ability to present more loft at impact without increasing backspin. The ability to swing freely and know that if you miss your intended strike pattern your shot will lose distance but not end up in the most dangerous hazards have given players better, more repeatable results.

While it can be advantageous for casual golfers and weekend players to chase as many yards as possible, players that routinely hit the golf ball beyond 300 yards can afford their misses to fall back if they will remain in play and give them a chance to find the green in two shots. More stability when things do not go as planned thanks to increased spin lofts and less violent curvature has allowed elite level golfers to perform consistently even under the most demanding situations and it is why we continue to see a growing number of players favor a fade from their tee shots.

 

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