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How I Went Undercover to Recover My Stolen Golf Clubs

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Imagine the following scene: I’m walking on 23rd street toward my car. There’s glass everywhere, and I carefully plot each step around it. I look up. My rear passenger side window is busted. Really. I try to stay calm and assess the scene. Ok, my phone charger is gone. A bag of coins I use for parking is as well, and my car’s insurance and owner’s manual are torn up on the sidewalk.

A woman with her dog hurries by. Does she think I’m breaking into my own car?

Shoot, shoot, shoot. Clubs! Where are my clubs? I pop open the trunk. Oh. My. God. My prized Texas Mid-Amateur participant headcover; that new HZRDUS shaft I’ve been trying to work myself into; the set I shot my career-best 70 with. Everything is gone.

Here’s the thing about stealing gear from someone who’s worked in the golf industry – you can run with my clubs, but you can’t really hide them. I know my equipment very, very well, and I am determined to track it all down. I call every golf store in the area, and I obsessively check – and recheck – ads on eBay and Craigslist. Three weeks later, just when I think I’m the victim of an elaborate, underground, golf-club-stealing crime ring, there they are – listed for $2,000 and mere blocks from the scene of the crime. As panicked as I am, there’s no chance that my jumbo grip, 1-inch over, and 3-degree upright sticks will command $2,000 on the open market. Still though, I need to work fast!

I immediately call the local police precinct to explain the situation. Even with a filed police report in hand, I sense there isn’t much they can do. After a day without hearing back, I catch a break. Through a friend, I am put in touch with another police officer. He’s a golfer and a member at a course I know well, so there’s instant rapport between us. He essentially tells me where to go, who to talk to, and what to say.

Meanwhile, I start a dialogue with the person who has my clubs. At this point, all I know is that they’re still available, he wants two grand, and he can meet up at 7pm.

Following the golfing officer’s advice, I head down to the police station. After an hour or so of waiting, form filling, and transfers, two officers come out. Unfortunately, they aren’t golfers. “We’d love to help,” they say. “There’s just one problem; we don’t have any plain clothes officers working right now. So, if you want to do this, you need to meet the seller yourself. Confirm it’s your property, and then we’ll move in.”

I’m not one to be confrontational. Unless you tee up in front of the box – which for some reason really bothers me – I tend to mind my own business. In golf and in life. Not once did I consider having to face this person, so it was a major snag in my plan. I also don’t live in the best part of town, and masterminding an undercover sting operation a few blocks from my apartment wasn’t a great look.

The officers do what they can to quell my uneasiness, and I ultimately decide to play along.

I suit up. Baggy jeans, a hoodie, and the most nondescript hat I can find – ironically, a Fisher’s Island Club hat I borrowed/stole from a buddy who played there. 20 minutes later, I’m on a street corner waiting for someone to surface from a run-down San Francisco Victorian. The cops are nearby, and we’re in communication over text. A few moments later, a guy wheels a fully-loaded travel case towards me. We shake hands and he introduces himself. He starts telling me a story about how he got the clubs a few months before. For two of the most drawn-out minutes of my life, I stand there quietly. Listening. Trying to understand what would possess anyone to break into a car and take something from someone they know nothing about. And then, just when I think the cops found something better to do, two police cars rush in. Handcuffs clip together, and that’s that.

All my stuff is there. Even a bag-tag with my name on it hangs in plain sight. I walk the officers through every detail (the burden is on me to prove ownership). “There’s a dent on the 60-degree wedge half way up the grip; my left shoe is missing a spike; there are golf balls from my bachelor party, but the personalized logo is a bit crude, so maybe don’t include that in your report!” They loved the detail.

I ride with the officers to the precinct to give a full statement. A few days later, I’m called by the District Attorney’s office; they’re prosecuting for possession of stolen property and need me to testify. The city wins, and my clubs are returned from evidence a few weeks later.

Believe me, a lot of effort was expended here. When I’m standing over that 6-foot putt for 69 and my first ever round in the sixties, hopefully I’ll say it was worth all the trouble and drain the putt.

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Alex is a mechanical engineer who has spent the past six years in golf equipment R&D. Always focused on metal woods, he has extensive experience in club design, manufacturing processes and testing methodologies from his time at Adams and Callaway Golf. Now that the golf industry gig is over, he’s done playing favorites. The GolfWRX chapter is all about finding the best 14 sticks to take his game to the next level. Alex is also an avid golfer. He's often referred to as “The Launch Monitor Hero" and is always up for 36. He’s the co-founder of an addicting game called Office Golf, and he was once six shots from qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Am.

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. chip

    Mar 14, 2017 at 9:51 am

    the best part are the details you had to explain to the cops. I know my clubs like the back of my hand, and non golfers would be quite impressed with the minute details i could spew out.

    • setter02

      Mar 20, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Had the same thing last year when my clubs were stolen from my car. I started listing out everything (they got quite a bit as I had extra’s in the car) and on the 3rd club I could hear her just kind of getting uneasy that the level of detail. Told her I’d just email her a complete list and she was relieved.

  2. Kelly

    Mar 12, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Someone broke into my car. They ransacked my car and rifled through the trunk. I had about 25 cds in the cab and all my golf equipment in the trunk. All the guy took was a Tim Horton’s card. I thought, “Obviously I have terrible taste in music and I need to get better golf clubs.”

  3. Jazzy

    Mar 12, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Everyone should take this story to heart and inventory all your equipment based on S/N. It makes for a much easier process identifying the items if they do go missing. This could of course be a week-long job for some of us gearheads 🙂

  4. Bruce Ferguson

    Mar 11, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Being a Sanctuary City isn’t a plus . . .

  5. Nick Prafke

    Mar 11, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    My rental car was broken into in San Fran a couple weeks ago. They took all my luggage but not my golf clubs, luckily. I would have burnt the city to the ground to find them had they taken my clubs.

  6. Louie

    Mar 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

    I actually had my clubs stolen from my garage (thanks to my older son forgetting to close it and to me for leaving them there), never recovered, but, as I filed the police report, they said that I should contact my home owners insurance (USAA), I did and a few weeks later (had to show proof of the stolen equipment was actually mine, luckily I had photos of the clubs and where they were in the garage, don’t ask me why) I received a very substantial check to cover the equipment…

  7. HUH?

    Mar 11, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Bubba – Please just stay wherever you are in whatever paradise you think you live in. Because I’d truly hate for you to become disillusioned about your life should you ever have the unfortunate opportunity to visit The City. Hashtag IgnoranceIsBlissDude

    • Mike

      Mar 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      Wow. Those who have never left “The City” have no place lecturing others on ignorance. And leave the superiority complex behind if you have the courage to because otherwise you won’t last 2 seconds here in the better half of America. We don’t call the cops when we catch thieves. They become forgotten. We take responsibility for our carelessness and then take care of our problems ourselves.

  8. SlapHappy

    Mar 11, 2017 at 8:11 am

    We’re not going to find another story about you with your throat cut, after the guy gets out of jail, tracks you down and kills in revenge? lmao

  9. Dan

    Mar 10, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    This was a wakeup call for me. I live in rural Alabama where there is very little crime but, I’ll never keep my clubs in the trunk again, because I play golf all over the state and visit family in MD. I’m glad you got your clubs back without getting hurt.

  10. Tim

    Mar 10, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    Real brilliant comments here! You should be proud. Lol

    Almost as eloquent as your idol, Mango Mussolini.

  11. Keith

    Mar 10, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Man, he didn’t even take the bag tag off….real mensa student.

  12. Brian

    Mar 10, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Libtard…you must be an intellectual giant.

  13. Joey5Picks

    Mar 10, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Linking politics with this crime is ludicrous.

  14. Tom

    Mar 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    The Haight district?

  15. Big Wally

    Mar 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Great story. I appreciate how disturbing it is to lose a big of sticks that you finally had the way you want them. Happened to me once and it messed me up for a couple years. What wasn’t clear was the guy that was selling the clubs the same as the one who stole them. What was he convicted of?

    • Alex Berger

      Mar 10, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks, BW. My understanding is that the prosecution/conviction was on felony possession. No one tried to claim that this guy actually broke into the car. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.

      • Mower

        Mar 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        Just saw a movie like this (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) with Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey. “When a depressed woman is burglarized, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves alongside her obnoxious neighbor.”

  16. TR1PTIK

    Mar 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    My wife’s car was broken into in January of last year. It’s a mess to deal with and none of it plays out like all those movies and TV shows would have you believe. For starters, if you want your stuff back and the criminal to be punished you’d better be prepared to do some of your own leg work. It’s not that the police department doesn’t care, they just really do have more pressing matters. Unless, you were robbed at gunpoint or assaulted in the process or it’s part of some bigger more pressing criminal act they will only do so much beyond filing the necessary paperwork. We were fortunate in that at least one of the people had repeat violations and jail time to help speed things along. Still, I was the one who pulled our bank records and determined where they’d been spending money, then drove there to see if the store clerks recalled anything suspicious and could provide photographic or video evidence. Ultimately, they nabbed 2 out of 4 possibly 5 people that we know of involved with the crimes that were committed against us following that – identity theft, forgery, grand theft auto, and vandalism to name a few. It’s no fun at all. Glad you got your clubs back!

  17. SF

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Great story. But leaving your clubs in the car in the Mission? Big nono 🙂

  18. Dat

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Great story!

  19. James

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:31 am

    I’ve stopped carrying my clubs in my car due to this reason. I work in the golf industry, so I hear all the horror stories and cannot fathom losing all the personal items. Clubs can be replaced, but my Fitter of the Year headcover and Scotty Cameron 3wd cover from the gallery after touring Scotty Cameron’s work facility can’t be replaced.

  20. P. Edmondson

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I wonder what punishment the court gave the thief, probably a coupla days community service. Give me 1870’s Deadwood justice any day. Stealing a mans clubs is as bad as stealing his horse!

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 10, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Good one! Yes, i say hang the guy… 14 times!

      • Double Mocha Man

        Mar 10, 2017 at 12:06 pm

        … from the most prominent tree on your favorite golf course.

      • Mike

        Mar 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Yes. Bring back real penalties for committing crimes against others. There’s a big difference between this and the 1000’s of worthless victimless crime laws we have now.

  21. Double Mocha Man

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Alex, how did the guy know to break into YOUR car??? Any indication there were clubs in the trunk? This is my worst nightmare… I never open my trunk if someone is in the parking lot or driving by. Nobody gets to see into my trunk! Although when I’m loading groceries around my Titleist bag some onlooker might be curious…

    • Alex Berger

      Mar 10, 2017 at 3:56 pm

      There wasn’t anything visible in my car. It was completely random! I think you know my advice…

  22. Nicole

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Great story! Love the dedication to getting your sticks back.

  23. mitch

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

    That is a golfer’s nightmare! Glad you got them back!

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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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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