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Part 2: Taking Shaft Fitting from Guessing to Specifics

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How Should a Golfer Select the Right Shaft for His/Her Swing? 

One of the most common posts I see on GolfWRX is when one golfer asks other golfers for a shaft recommendation. These posts seldom say anything about a golfer’s swing characteristics, other than his or her handicap and sometimes a clubhead speed.

Invariably, many different shaft recommendations follow, but rarely is there a follow-up question to ask the golfer anything more about his or her particular swing characteristics.

Shafts do not perform the same way for all golfers. Shafts perform differently for different swing characteristics because different swing characteristics make shafts bend and twist differently. Most golfers are aware that their clubhead speed has relevance to what shaft they should play. But in addition to the clubhead speed, there are several other swing characteristics which determine how different shafts can and do perform differently for different golfers.

Shafts are in essence “dumb animals.” There is absolutely NO magic to the performance of a shaft. They ONLY do what their owner’s swing characteristics ordain them to do.

For some golfers, there is some additional performance contribution from the center of gravity location inside the clubhead. However, there are a lot of different variations in how golfers swing the club with respect to the specific swing characteristics that dictate how a shaft will perform. The whole idea of analyzing the swing characteristics that are pertinent to shaft performance is to allow us to have a way to systematically ELIMINATE shafts from consideration for a golfer, so what is left would be a smaller, manageable number of shafts with which each golfer could play.

The KEY elements of the golf swing in shaft fitting

1. Club Head Speed

The clubhead speed affords a basic, rudimentary, BEGINNING indication for the approximate overall amount of bending force a golfer may put on a shaft. However, it is very common for two golfers with the same clubhead speed to put totally different amounts of bending force on a shaft.

It is also common for two golfers who put the same bending force on a shaft to have different clubhead speeds. This is why a good shaft fitter has to analyze other characteristics of the golf swing to get more of an idea of how much bending force the golfer is putting on the shaft for his/her swing speed, when that bending force is being applied to the shaft and where on the shaft is the most bending force being applied.

Clubhead speed gives us a starting point to help us begin to narrow the choice of possible shafts for a golfer in the fitting process. But it only tells us a part of the story.

2. Downswing Transition Force

The force with which the golfer starts the downswing determines the initial bending force on the shaft. In other words, how much the shaft is initially “loaded” is chiefly determined by the golfer’s transition force to start the downswing.

Of two golfers with the same clubhead speed, the one with the stronger, more forceful transition will need a stiffer shaft (a shaft with a swing speed rating that is higher than the golfer’s swing speed). Of two golfers with the same clubhead speed, the one with the smoother, passive transition will need a more flexible shaft (a shaft with a lower clubhead speed rating than the golfer’s swing speed).

In addition, a golfer with a stronger transition typically is better fit into a HEAVIER weight shaft. A strong/forceful transition with a very light shaft can result in a swing tempo that gets too fast and too inconsistent, although it can be possible to use a higher than normal swingweight to allow a golfer with a strong transition to not get too quick when using a very light shaft.

3. Downswing Tempo/Downswing Aggressiveness

We said the transition force determines the INITIAL loading of the shaft. The downswing tempo determines how much that initial loading may change during the rest of the downswing before impact.

Tests we have performed with special sensors on the shaft reveal that it is extremely rare for a golfer to increase the loading of the shaft during the downswing. It is not very common for a golfer to maintain the same load on the shaft during the downswing, either. Almost every golfer loads the shaft the most at the beginning of the downswing, after which the loading on the shaft begins to decrease from the moment the transition turns into the downswing.

A good shaft fitter will analyze the downswing tempo to estimate if the golfer is maintaining their initial loading of the shaft, slightly losing some of the loading or substantially losing it. In more recent research, we have come to the belief that the transition and tempo blend together in terms of the golfer’s ability to put a bending force on the shaft and maintain it or not to the point of release. Hence the good shaft fitter will analyze the transition/tempo together in one overall observation to decide whether the golfer is an AGGRESSIVE HITTER, a SMOOTH SWINGER, somewhere in between or variations of each extreme.

It really is not necessary to split the hair too fine on this evaluation. Good fitters chiefly think in terms of HITTER, SWINGER or AVERAGE when it comes to evaluating the effect of the transition/tempo on the golfer’s ability to load the shaft.

How is the analysis of the golfer’s transition/tempo used to help narrow down the shaft recommendation? 

The more forceful and aggressive the golfer’s transition/tempo, the more the shaft would be selected to have a swing speed rating that is a little higher than the actual swing speed of the golfer. Vice versa, the more passive, smooth and easy the golfer’s transition/tempo, the more the shaft would be selected to have a swing speed rating that is a little lower than the actual swing speed of the golfer.

For example, let’s say we have three golfers, each with a 100 mph clubhead speed.

  • Golfer No. 1 has a short, three-quarter length backswing with a fast, forceful transition and an aggressive downswing.
  • Golfer No. 2 has a normal backswing length with some sense of transition force and downswing aggressiveness but not nearly as much as Golfer No. 1.
  • Golfer No. 3 has a smooth, rhythmic, almost passive transition and tempo that identifies him as far more of a “swinger” than a “hitter.”

For basic fitting, Golfer No. 2 would be advised to look among shafts that have a 95-to-105 mph swing speed rating because his swing characteristics are putting an average amount of bending force on the shaft for his 100 mph clubhead speed.

Golfer No. 1 (strong/forceful transition and tempo) would be advised to look among shafts that would have a 100-to-110mph swing speed rating because his swing characteristics are “loading” the shaft more from him putting an ABOVE average amount of bending force on the shaft for his 100 mph clubhead speed.

And Golfer No. 3 (smooth, passive transition and tempo) should choose from shafts that have a 90-to-100mph swing speed rating because his swing characteristics are “loading” the shaft much less for his speed and put a BELOW average amount of bending force on the shaft for his 100 mph clubhead speed.

Three golfers in this example all had the same clubhead speed, yet each put a different bending force on the shaft. The more forceful and aggressive the transition/tempo, the higher the swing speed rating of the shaft should be in comparison to the golfer’s clubhead speed. The more passive and smooth the transition/tempo, the lower the swing speed rating of the shaft should be in comparison to the golfer’s clubhead speed. And for the golfer with the average transition/tempo, the swing speed rating of the shaft should allow for the golfer’s clubhead speed to be right in the middle of that range.

Here’s a little different way to look at this relationship of clubhead speed and transition/tempo versus the bend profile stiffness measurements and the swing speed rating for shafts.

In short, as the golfer puts more bending force on the shaft due to his transition and tempo, the swing speed rating of the shaft needs to increase higher than the golfer’s actual clubhead speed. And as the golfer puts less bending force on the shaft due to his transition and tempo, the swing speed rating of the shaft needs to decrease lower than the golfer’s actual clubhead speed.

But what’s next after finding the shafts which have a swing speed rating that corresponds to the golfer’s clubhead speed and adjustments for the golfer’s transition and tempo?

4. Point of Wrist-Cock Release During the Downswing

The key swing characteristic that good shaft fitters analyze to determine the correct TIP STIFFNESS design of the shaft for the golfer is the point the golfer unhinges their wrist cock release on the downswing. In swing mechanics terms, the action of unhinging the wrist cock angle is called the RELEASE.

The point when the golfer releases the club is what determines WHEN the shaft goes from being “loaded” to being “unloaded.”  The point when the golfer releases the club determines when the shaft moves from a “flexed back” position into a “flexed forward” position. The point of release also determines when the clubhead achieves its highest speed.

Once the golfer unhinges the wrist cock angle, the arms immediately begin to slow down while the clubhead speeds up. If the golfer releases the club too early, the clubhead reaches its highest speed well before it gets to the ball. With an early release, by the time the clubhead gets to the ball, the clubhead speed has slowed down. This slowing down of the clubhead before impact even happens for golfers who release the club midway on the downswing – though not as much as with an early release.

The only golfers who achieve their highest clubhead speed right when the clubhead meets the ball are golfers with a late release. Hence, this is another reason why a late release is such an important swing skill for golfers to achieve to be able to play to the best of their physical skills.

In shaft fitting terms, the later the golfer releases the club, the more tip stiff the shaft COULD be. And conversely, the earlier the golfer releases the club, the more tip flexible the shaft should be. Because the actual point of release can vary all the way from the start of the downswing to the very end, so too the tip stiffness design of the shaft is chosen to correspond.

  • Early release = most tip flexible
  • Latest release = most tip stiff
  • Release in between early and very late = tip stiffness in between.

You can now start to see why we need to have quantitative stiffness measurements of shafts so we can choose the right level of stiffness for golfers with varying levels of transition/tempo force and different points of release. With only letters for flex and generic terms for tip stiffness or bend point, shaft fitting is little more than a trial-and-error guess.

Below is a chart that offers some examples for how to combine the golfer’s clubhead speed, transition/tempo evaluation and the golfer’s point of release to narrow the choices for a suitably fit shaft:

5. The Qualitative Side of Shaft Fitting: The Golfer’s Perception and Preference for the Shaft’s BENDING FEEL

Talk about something that can throw a monkey wrench into all the logical things that we have taught so far about shaft flex/bend profile fitting! If you want to know why some golfers play well with shafts that are “on paper” considered to be too stiff, too flexible, too tip stiff or too tip flexible for their clubhead speed, transition/tempo and point of release, this is the reason why.

If a golfer has developed a specific preference for a type of bending feel of the shaft during any point in the swing, that feel preference has to be THE GUIDING FACTOR in the shaft fitting process. During the fitting process, the smart, experienced clubfitter knows to interview the player and ask questions to assess the golfer’s level of perception for the bending feel of the shaft and whether they have acquired specific “likes and dislikes” for various aspects of the shaft’s bending feel during the swing.

The very best way to incorporate a golfer’s preference for shaft feel in the shaft fitting process is to have the golfer reveal specific shafts they have either liked or disliked in previous or current clubs. If these shaft models/flexes are searched in the Bend Profile Software we created, the stiffness measurements of those shafts can then be referenced against possible future shaft recommendations to determine if the new shaft selection may or may not satisfy the golfer’s shaft feel preferences.

One of the myths about shaft flex/bend profile performance is when someone states that this or that shaft is designed in a way that can actually increase the bending velocity of the shaft to offer a golfer a higher clubhead speed. This is impossible because of the physics of tube design and performance. However, it is very possible for a golfer to change to a different shaft flex/bend profile design and experience a measurable increase in clubhead speed.

How this happens is how the new shaft falls into the golfer’s preference for the bending feel of the shaft. Give a golfer a shaft that feels perfect in terms of how much it bends, when it bends and where it bends in relation to the golfer’s acquired preference for bending feel and that golfer will achieve his most free, most unrestricted and most fluid release through the ball. And it is from this – having a shaft that feels perfect in every way to the golfer – that they are able to achieve a higher clubhead speed.

On the other hand, put the golfer into a shaft that demonstrates a feeling of being too stiff or too flexible in some way compared to the golfer’s preference for bending feel and they most typically will begin to change their swing to make the shaft perform and feel as they prefer. Manipulating the swing means a lack of free motion, free unrestricted release and a lower clubhead speed with less swing consistency.

Again, to not have a truly quantitative way to analyze shafts, trying to turn a golfer’s feel preferences for the shaft into a valid new shaft recommendation becomes a trial and error process.

6. Putting It All Together

The higher the golfer’s clubhead speed, the more forceful/aggressive the transition and tempo, the later the release, the more the flex and the bend profile of the shaft become a contributor to the launch angle, trajectory and spin rate for the shot. The lower the clubhead speed, the more passive the transition and tempo, the earlier the release, the less important the shaft’s flex and bend profile are to performance. But for ALL golfers, the WEIGHT of the shaft is an important part of the shaft selection process.

The higher the golfer’s clubhead speed, the more forceful/aggressive the transition and tempo, and the later the release IN RELATION TO THE SWING SPEED RATING and TIP STIFFNESS OF THE SHAFT, the more the shaft can increase launch angle, trajectory and spin.

The shaft only just begins to contribute to launch angle, trajectory and spin in a gradual increasing manner as the golfer has a midway to later to very late release. Midway release, the flex and bend profile begin to matter a little. Very late release, the stiffness design of the shaft matters a lot more. For golfers with an early to before midway release, the flex and bend profile of the shaft do virtually nothing to the launch angle, trajectory and spin of the shot. The shaft’s WEIGHT becomes the only key shaft fitting factor for golfers with an early to before midway release.

The ONLY ways the shaft can lower launch angle, trajectory and spin is:

  1. If the shaft is either more stiff overall than the golfer’s previous/current shaft, or…
  2. If the tip section of the shaft is more stiff than the tip section in the golfer’s previous/current shaft.

Just because a shaft is said to be tip stiff will not reveal whether it is a lower spin shaft than what you play now. A shaft has to be more stiff overall and/or more tip stiff than what you play now to have any effect on lowering launch angle, trajectory and spin.

The golfer’s preferences for a specific bending feel of the shaft overshadow the stiffness and bend profile fitting analysis compiled from the clubhead speed, transition/tempo and point of release. In all cases for all golfers, you do go through the stiffness and bend profile fitting analysis compiled from the clubhead speed, transition/tempo and point of release, but you listen hard and consider modifying the recommendation when the golfer says they have a specific preference for the bending feel of a shaft.

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Tom Wishon is a 40-year veteran of the golf equipment industry specializing in club head design, shaft performance analysis and club fitting research and development. He has been responsible for more than 50 different club head design firsts in his design career, including the first adjustable hosel device, as well as the first 0.830 COR fairway woods, hybrids and irons. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: February 2014 Tom served as a member of the Golf Digest Technical Advisory Panel, and has written several books on golf equipment including "The Search for the Perfect Golf Club" and "The Search for the Perfect Driver," which were selected as back-to-back winners of the 2006 and 2007 Golf Book of the Year by the International Network of Golf (ING), the largest organization of golf industry media professionals in the USA. He continues to teach and share his wealth of knowledge in custom club fitting through his latest book, "Common Sense Clubfitting: The Wishon Method," written for golf professionals and club makers to learn the latest techniques in accurate custom club fitting. Tom currently heads his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, which specializes in the design of original, high-end custom golf equipment designs and club fitting research for independent custom club makers worldwide Click here to visit his site, wishongolf.com

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Difference in Using Custom Fitted Golf Shafts | Golf Gear Select

  2. ron

    Aug 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    please provide advise on shaft replace for RBZ stage 2 9.5 driver

    ss – 94 mph
    downswing tran – little aggresive
    middle release

  3. Pingback: All About Customizing Golf Shafts | Golf Gear Select

  4. Pingback: Facts About Shaft Fitting | Golf Gear Select

  5. Martin

    Jan 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Based on the article I just read I would recommend Ckua 43 Miyazaki shaft, regular flex. Flexible tip and stiffer on the butt. Wonder what Mr Wishon thinks on my recommendation? 🙂

  6. pistol44

    Nov 9, 2012 at 11:56 am

    sorry, thx for your input if you can provide any!!!

    much appreciated

  7. pistol44

    Nov 9, 2012 at 11:55 am

    please provide advise on shaft replace for rocketballs 10.5 driver

    ss – 94 mph
    downswing tran – little aggresive
    middle release

    like to get more carry. LM indicates launch angle of 9 degrees

  8. Todd

    Oct 25, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Nice, Tom! Must say, though….in this age of high-tech gadgetry, its rather lacking that your typical “expert” clubfitter isn’t actually MEASURING the bend you put on the shaft. At the end of the day, if you’re not measuring, then your just guessing.

  9. Blanco

    Oct 25, 2012 at 5:08 am

    Much props for putting such detailed and important info into such an easy to read piece. I hope to see these charts on the walls of large retail fitting stalls.

  10. Plus8

    Oct 23, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Great article and I agree with the summation! My own experience of having self-styled ‘fitters’ has shown that many folks do not consider any transition, downswing speed, or wrist release (a MOST important factor for me, since I work on a late wrist release a lot). In fact I had a club pro tell me based on my age and without even looking at me, I needed a reg shaft, but in actually my reg, tip flexible shafts performed terribly for me and a stiffer, less-tip-flex performs wildly better with my transition and wrist. The only shame here is that so many folks are blindly following misinformed ‘fitters’ when the Wishon data clarifies the elements so well. Not a rant, just an affirmation.

  11. Joe Golfer

    Oct 22, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Very good article. As far as finding that “specific preference to the bending feel of a shaft”, it seems like one just has to keep trying a myriad of shafts in order to find that specific shaft that has the right feel to that golfer. I know that Mr. Wishon has software that compares many shafts to one another, telling you which shafts have similar frequencies all the way up and down the shaft, from butt to tip.
    I wonder if there’s any correlation between swing type and those other characteristics of the shaft.
    For example, in this article we learned about increased tip stiffness being related to a late release.
    If one looks up shafts like Diamana’s White Board, Blue Board, and Red Board, one finds that the company lists different characteristics not just for the tip, but also for the butt profile and the middle of the shaft profile.
    I wonder if Mr. Wishon has any data and recommendations on preferences of specific swing types as they relate to the butt and middle of shaft profiles, just as he has noted a recommendation regarding tip stiffness.

  12. Johnny

    Oct 17, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Note to the editors – excellent information! I believe you need to check the chart TGWT bend profile stiffness, seems the #1 and #3 golfer are switched.

  13. Bob

    Oct 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

    We all know Sergio swings a really short driver, but it also looks like (in this picture) that it is back weighted too.

  14. Peter Wentzlaff

    Oct 12, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Excellently explained how a shaft corresponds to a swing or vice versa.
    Even for a non perfect English speaking German easily to understand.
    Thousand Thank´s

  15. Tyler Summerhays

    Oct 10, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I’m happy to report that for a majority of my playing life I have enjoyed Mr. Wishon’s clubs both when he was with Golfsmith and now with his own company. In the past 3 years I have played shafts using his Shaft to Swing system and am happy to report that it’s been an improvement in my game, especially with my driver. I was a little hesitant about using one of his shafts because of my ego but I thought it was worth a try and the shaft hasn’t left my driver since. Now I have a greater amount of confidence that my driver will perform how I want it to when I make a good swing.

  16. Devin Drayton

    Oct 7, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Excellent!!!
    Extremely simple to understand, Bravo!

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The Gear Dive: Vokey Wedge expert Aaron Dill

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Titleist Tour Rep Aaron Dill on working under Bob Vokey, How he got the gig and working with names like JT, Jordan and Brooks.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Is your driver the first “scoring club”?

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I was traveling Sunday and didn’t get to watch the end of the PGA Championship, so imagine my shock Monday morning when I read what had happened on that back nine. Like most everyone, I figured Brooks Koepka had his game and his emotions completely under control and Sunday’s finish would be pretty boring and anti-climactic. Man, were we wrong!!?

As I read the shot-by-shot, disaster-by-disaster account of what happened on those few holes, I have to admit my somewhat cynical self became engaged. I realize the conditions were tough, but it still boils down to the fact that Koepka nearly lost this PGA Championship because he couldn’t execute what I call “basic golf” – hitting fairways and greens – when it counted. And Dustin Johnson lost his ability to do the same just as he got within striking distance.

I’ve long been a critic of the way the game has come to be played at the highest levels; what we used to call “bomb and gouge” has become the norm at the professional tour level. These guys are big strong athletes, and they go at it harder than anyone ever did in “the old days”. Watch closely and you’ll see so many of them are on their toes or even off the ground at impact, especially with the driver. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t see how that can be the path to consistent shotmaking.

So, my curiosity then drove me to the year-to-date statistics on the PGA Tour website to dive into this a bit deeper. What I found was quite interesting, and I believe can be helpful to all of you readers as you think about how to lower your handicap this season. Follow me here, as I think there are some very helpful numbers from the PGA Tour.
I’ve long contended that golf is a game of ball control . . . let’s call it shotmaking. Your personal strength profile will determine whether you are a long hitter or not, and there’s probably not a lot you can do (or will do) to change that dramatically. But PGA Tour statistics indicate that accuracy, not distance, is the key to better scoring.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy is Jim Furyk, the only guy who is hitting more than 75% of the fairways. The Tour average is under 62%, or not even 2 out of 3. That means the typical round has the tour professional playing at least 4-5 approach shots from the rough. I’m going to come back to that in just a moment and explore the “cost” of those missed fairways.

The Tour leader in greens-in-regulation is Tiger Woods at 74%, almost 3-out-of-4 . . . but the Tour average is less than 66%, or just under 2-out-of-3. I believe enlightenment comes by breaking that GIR statistic down even further.
From the fairway, the Tour leader in GIR is Justin Thomas at 85% and the worst guy at 65%, three points better than the tour average for GIR overall. Hmmmmm. From the rough, however, the best guy on Tour is Taylor Gooch at 63.4%, which is not as good as the very last guy from the fairway.

But let’s dive even a bit deeper to better understand the importance of driving accuracy. Is it true these guys are so good from the rough that hitting fairways doesn’t matter? Not according to the numbers.

From the rough in the range of 125-150 yards – a wedge for most of these guys – the tour’s best hit it 25-27 feet from the hole and only 30 tour pros are averaging inside 30 feet from that distance. But from the fairway, 25 yards further back – 150-175 yards – the tour’s best hit it inside 21-23 feet, and 160 guys are getting closer than 30 feet on average. Even from 175-200 in the fairway, the best on tour hit it closer than the best on tour from the rough 50 yards closer.

So, what do you do with this information? I encourage any serious golfer to really analyze your own rounds to see the difference in your scoring on holes where you find the fairway versus those where you don’t. I feel certain you’ll find throttling back a bit with your driver and focusing more on finding the fairway, rather than trying to squeeze a few more yards of the tee will help you shoot lower scores.

If you have the inclination to see what more fairways can do to your own scores, here’s a little experiment for you. Get a buddy or two for a “research round” and play this game: When you miss a fairway, walk the ball straight over to the fairway, and then 15 yards back. So, you’ll hit every approach from the fairway, albeit somewhat further back – see what you shoot.

Next week I’m going to follow up this “enlightenment” with some tips and techniques that I feel certain will help you hit more fairways so you can take this to the bank this season.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the PGA Championship

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Brooks Koepka made it four wins from his last eight appearances at major championships, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Bethpage Black.

Hot

While Brooks Koepka’s play off the tee was excellent at last week’s PGA Championship, the American utterly dominated the field with his deadly approach play. The 29-year-old led the field in New York for his approach play gaining 9.5 strokes over his competitors. In case you were wondering, this represents Koepka’s career-best performance with his irons. Check out the clubs Koepka did the damage with at Bethpage Black in our WITB piece here.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at last week’s event, and the Texan was streets ahead of anyone for the four days with the flat-stick in hand. Spieth gained a mammoth 10.6 strokes over the field on the greens of Bethpage Black, which is over three strokes more than anyone else achieved. It was the best-putting display of the 25-year-old’s career thus far, and Spieth now heads to Colonial CC ranked first in this week’s field for strokes gained: putting over his last 12 rounds.

Dustin Johnson came agonizingly close to capturing his second major title last week, and encouragingly for DJ is that he gained strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories. Johnson also led the field for strokes gained: off the tee, gaining 7.2 strokes over the field – his best performance in this area this year.

Cold

Bubba Watson endured a wretched two days on the greens at Bethpage Black. In just 36 holes, Watson lost 6.8 strokes to the field with the flat-stick. Even more frustrating for Watson is that he gained 6.5 strokes for the two day’s tee to green. A tale of what could have been for the two-time Masters champion.

Phil Mickelson faded badly at last week’s championship, and it was a poor display with his irons that did the damage. Lefty lost 6.3 strokes to the field for his approach play in New York, which is his worst display in this area for 2019.

It was a quick exit for Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, and though the 15-time major champion was far from his best off the tee (losing half a stroke), it was Woods’ putting that was his undoing. Woods lost almost a stroke and a half on the greens at Bethpage – his worst display with the putter since last August.

 

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