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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

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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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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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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

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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