One week ago, I walked up my driveway with a bounce in my stride that I only get at the end of a great day. Watching the sunset from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro was special, but spending the day in a PGA Tour Van at the Valspar Championship was beyond words.
“Honey, I’m home,” I called out to my girlfriend as soon as I walked in the door. “I went to the Valspar and watched a bunch of tour players hitting bullets on the range,” I said. “But then I got to hang out in a tour van and watched Scott build a set with an SST Pure. It was the most amazing thing!”
“Sorry,” she said, looking at me like I was a bit crazy, “but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I tried to explain it in plain English.
“Today, a friend took me into a tour van and introduced me to Scott E. Garrison,” I said. “Scott owns and operates a tour van. His van is basically a tractor trailer truck that’s a pro shop on wheels and steroids. Imagine a science lab crossed with a tailor shop crossed with the best stocked pro shop you could imagine.”
“Let me see if I get this,” she said. “Your great mood is because you spent the day in a tractor trailer truck?”
“Not just any… Scott’s,” I said. “He travels to about 32 tour events per year, usually stays from Monday to Wednesday, repairing, fitting and building clubs for tour players. His van is full of the most unbelievable technology, a lot of which you can’t find anywhere other than a van like his. He has a couple of lie and loft machines, a gripping station, a saw, a belt sander and a machine to get shafts PUREd.”
“A PUREd?” she asked. She looked at me like I was crazy and speaking a foreign language.
“Yes, a PUREd,” I said, barely holding back my excitement. “It’s this machine that analyzes golf shafts and identifies the most stable plane. It’s helped PGA Tour players earn $2 billion around the world.”
“PureD made $2 billion?” she asked. “Sounds like a vitamin or a workout tape.”
“No, it’s better,” I told her. “What you do is load a club shaft into the machine, then the machine spins the shaft around to locate the strongest point in the shaft. When the machine identifies the spot it even marks it! Then, when Scott builds a club, he puts that spot into the 12 o’clock position on the club, which optimizes performance.”
Her interest piqued. “Why is that important?” she asked.
“Because even something as well built and precise as the shafts in golf clubs have individual characteristics that can be used to make how you use them more or less effective. In this case, it allows you to position the club so it can be its strongest, most consistent and most effective when you swing.”
“Wow, now I get it,” she said. “So that machine could be the difference between someone winning or losing on tour?”
“Exactly,” I said. “I also got to watch Scott put together a set for a big deal on the PGA Tour while the guy stood there. The process was pure artistry. First, Scott looked at the desired specs for the player. Then he weighed all the heads, all the grips, PUREd the shafts and then set upon building what was literally a perfect set.”
“A true artist at work,” she said.
“You got it,” I said. “As he moved effortlessly, he spoke of the precision required in his work, teaching me about the nuances of the process, as well as the challenges of working with tour players. Many of these guys can tell even one swing weight.”
“At one point he held up two brands of golf grips: an Iomic and a Golf Pride,” I said. “He pointed to the end of a club and said, ‘See here, Iomic has no butt, but Golf Pride has about a quarter-inch butt. When you build, you better account for the difference.'”
I kept chattering.
“He was moving from machine to machine through the process, snipping a little hear, measuring a little there, then some mixing and a little light banging and VOILA!” I said. “The perfect set; all lengths, swing weights and frequencies spot on!”
I had her attention as she sat sipping her water.
“The process continued,” I said. “A hybrid for another household name player. Then a putter grip and then a loft and lie check.”
Scott told me that many PGA Tour players came into his Tour van every week to check their lies as he measured a golf club using his $6,000 digital loft and lie machine. “And then there are some who come less often,” he said. “Depends on the guy. Some are very particular, others are not.”
I continued recounting the events of the day to her.
“Around 11 a.m., the Pro-Am was about to start,” I said. “The players and everyone other than Scott left the van. As he continued to work I asked, ‘Was that stressful?’ He laughed. Just how he looked at me, it was clear that he loves his work as much as any artist or craftsman who needed to be on his game all the time. He made it all look very easy.”
“And then what?” my girlfriend asked.
“I watched him work silently for a long time,” I said. “It really felt like he was the master sword fitter, arming the greatest Samurai in the land, and I was watching him build the swords that would make the difference between life and death.”
“Come on young Skywalker,” she said laughing. She kissed me and led me into the kitchen for for dinner; I could smell the spaghetti bolognese, my favorite.
“It didn’t just seem like it,“ she said. “He probably was.”
“Yup,” I said. A perfect day, as I kissed her lightly on the cheek, a happy, contented man.
Scott has one of the most amazing Instagram pages (@scotteggolf). It is AWESOME and a must follow! He also offers “Tour Experiences,” where you can have him build you a set of clubs. To find out more, you can visit his website at ScottEGGolf.com.
Bob Van Sweden is a full-time club fitter in St. Petersburg, Florida. His website is http://www.golfrepaircenter.com/.
The 19th Hole: Mark Rolfing and architect David Kidd on Carnoustie’s challenges
It’s Open Championship week at Carnoustie! This week, Michael Williams hosts NBC and Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing and award-winning architect David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) to talk about how the pros will try to tame “Car-nasty.” It also features Jaime Darling of Golf Scotland on the many attractions around Carnoustie outside the golf course.
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?
‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?
A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:
- It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
- It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.
That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:
- It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
- It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.
In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.
The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:
- Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
- Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
- Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.
Where does your game fall in these two important categories?
Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?
You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:
- They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
- The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.
That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!” See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.
Think Carnoustie’s hard? Try winning a title on it playing golf with one arm
When things get challenging during the 147th Open this week on the Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, the players would do well to think of Mike Benning–specifically the fortitude he channeled into success at the venerable venue.
Benning grew up with golf at Congressional while his father, Bob, was head professional at the iconic country club in Bethesda, Md. Due to a rare form of cancer, Benning, who was already a top junior in the Washington, D.C. area, lost his left arm below the elbow to amputation at age 14.
Rather than let that stop him from playing, he learned to adapt. So much so that he won back-to-back Society of One-Armed Golfers world championships in 1993-94. The first win came at Seaford Golf Course in Sussex, England, in 1993. Benning defended his title at Carnoustie in 1994, the 56th and 57th renditions of the annual event, which began in the 1930s.
Benning was low medalist in stroke play at Seaford, shooting 80-81-161. With the top 16 finishers advancing to match play, Benning won four matches in two days to become champion. He went to Carnoustie the next year full of confidence but couldn’t find the form initially that carried him at Seaford, qualifying 10th in medal play.
“My game wasn’t on, and the course was brawny and fast,” Benning said this week from his home in Scituate, Mass. “The course was so dry it was grey, and it was windy. That makes Carnoustie very difficult, even more challenging than normal. I had a difficult draw in match play, but I found my game when it mattered most, and only one of my matches went to the 18th hole.”
In the championship match, Benning defeated Scotsman Brian Crombie of Dundee, a 25-minute drive from Carnoustie.
“He had about 50 friends and family members rooting him on, the crowd was definitely behind him,” Benning recalled. “But I had a couple Americans following me. One was Mike Gibson, who now works for Titleist. He came out wearing a pair of red plus fours and an American flag shirt. He and Mark Frace really propped me up. I remember having a big decision on the 10th hole – whether to try and get a 3-wood over the burn – so I turned and looked at those guys behind me, and they encouraged me to go for it. I cleared the burn and ended up 12 feet from the hole.”
Benning was an independent sales rep in the golf business before joining Hanger, Inc., the leading U.S. provider of prosthetics and orthotics, where he is currently Marketing Manager. He has played other Open Championship courses but calls Carnoustie’s Championship layout “probably the greatest risk-reward course” in the rota. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do justice to the demanding test of golf it presents players,” he said.
To underscore his assertion, Benning cited the 6th hole – “Hogan’s Alley” – named after 1953 Open Champion Ben Hogan. Here is the description for it from the Carnoustie Golf Links website. “Normally played into prevailing wind, this can be a severe par 5. Bunkers and out of bounds await the miss-cued drive and although the best line is up Hogan’s Alley between the bunkers and the out of bounds fence, it requires a brave player to drive to that narrow piece of fairway. The second shot is no less perilous with a ditch angling across the fairway and the out of bounds continuing to be a threat. The approach is reasonably straightforward to an undulating green, particular care must be taken if the pin is located on the back-right portion of the green. A player should always be content with a five on this hole as it can be the ruin of many a scorecard.”
Benning said the pair of fairway bunkers side by side on the 14th hole – known as “The Spectacles – have to be experienced to be understood how hard they play for those unfortunate enough to find them.
“I hit into one of them during a match and it was the only time I had to hit backwards out of a bunker during the championship,” Benning remembered. “The face of the bunker was unthinkably high.”
The closing holes at Carnoustie’s Championship Course – Nos. 16-18 – may be the most difficult finish in all major golf, particularly No. 18, named “Home”.
“Just ask Jean Van de Velde,” said Benning, referring to the Frenchman who led by three strokes going to final hole of the 1999 Open Championship. Van de Velde took triple bogey to fall back into a tie and playoff, which he lost to Paul Lawrie. No golf follower who watched the debacle can forget the image of Van de Velde standing in Barry’s Burn with his trouser bottoms rolled up, hands on hips, stunned disbelief etched on his face. Conversely, Lawrie’s final round 67 astounded Benning, who pointed out that the final round average score was significantly higher. The 18th also cost Johnny Miller the 1975 Open title, after Miller took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker on the hole.
Suffice it to say, Carnoustie will provide many of the world’s greatest players the chance for immortal golf glory this week, or demoralizing defeat. Maybe both. Whomever emerges as champion, Mike Benning will relate to the elation felt after prevailing on one of the game’s greatest courses.
Confirmed: Ernie Els did indeed beat the crap out of Steve Marino aboard a private jet
GolfWRX Members Choice: The best blade irons of 2018
Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB: 2018 U.S. Open
Spotted: Ping i210 irons and Glide Forged wedges
Spotted: In-hand photos of the new Ping i500 irons
Pro golfer Hosung Choi has the most ridiculous golf swing you’ll ever see
Spotted: New Titleist “TS2” and “TS3” drivers at the 2018 U.S. Open
Dustin Johnson’s Winning WITB: 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic
Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”
Spotted: Tiger Woods testing a TaylorMade Ardmore 3 putter (updated w/ in-hand pics)
GolfWRX Members Choice: Best Open Championship course
With Open week upon us, we wanted to know which Open Championship venue is first in the hearts of GolfWRX...
Fancy a punt? Check out these Tiger Woods British Open prop bets
It wouldn’t be a major featuring Tiger Woods without Tiger Woods prop bets, would it? Bettors, as we know, get...
WATCH Phil Mickelson hit a flop shot over a man 2 yards in front of him
On the Gear Dive podcast, Fred Couples told Johnny Wunder that Phil Mickelson is the best judge of a lie...
Want to watch Rickie Fowler drive it 458 yards? Sure you do!
I’m not about to act like Rickie Fowler had some Hulk-meets-Joe Miller moment at the Scottish Open and belted a...
Equipment3 weeks ago
Spotted: In-hand photos of the new Ping i500 irons
Opinion & Analysis1 week ago
Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”
pga tour3 weeks ago
Francesco Molinari’s Winning WITB: 2018 Quicken Loans National
Equipment2 weeks ago
Kevin Na’s Winning WITB: A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier 2018
Equipment1 week ago
SPOTTED: TaylorMade “GAPR” 2-iron
Equipment1 week ago
GolfWRX Members Choice: The best players irons of 2018
Equipment2 days ago
Everything you need to know about TaylorMade’s new GAPR Lo, Mid and Hi clubs
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Sung Kang cheated, additional witnesses say. What now?