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Confessions of a Hacker

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By Jamie Katz

GolfWRX Contributor

Welcome to my first blog post for GolfWRX. If you’re looking for news on how you can plug your earphones to get MP3 tunes on the newest TM driver, or you want to read about the merits of nanotechnology shafts versus multi-material shafts, you’ll need to read something else. But if you’re interested in the triumphs and travails of an avid but all-too-flawed golfer and the equipment that has helped and hindered me, my close encounters with golf instructors, and the ways that golf can build and destroy a man’s peace of mind, then keep reading.

Most of you on GolfWRX are better golfers than I am—but I believe I can compete with anybody when it comes to loving the game. And I pledge to remember the GolfWRX creed: Golf is just a game. It’s not life and death — it’s way more important than that.

So what qualifies me to be a golf pundit?  Well, let’s start with my background and the golf demons I wrestle with. I am sixty years old with a lovely wife, an active teenage daughter, two dogs, a demanding job as general counsel at a major teaching hospital, memberships on three nonprofit boards, other family members to take care of, too much stomach, and a back that goes out on occasion. With all that going on, why, when I have a few minutes all to myself, do I spend it trying to figure out what clubs I need to fill the gap between my driver and my 21-degree hybrid? Why do I itch to buy a Tour Edge Trilogy hybrid that I’ve never hit, just because I found it for $49.99, or pine for an Adams XTD hybrid when I really don’t need the extra distance?

It wasn’t always this way. I played golf as a kid with Johnny Palmer clubs. Yes, Johnny Palmer—I had no idea who Johnny Palmer was, except he wasn’t Arnold (it turns out, for those with a historical bent that he was a good pro who pre-dated Arnie). I played on a local muni on the other side of town. I was happy just to play and it never occurred to me to think about changing clubs.

College ended my not-so-promising golf career. For over 20 five years, I didn’t pick up a stick. Then I attended a wedding of a brother-in-law in Florida and he set up a game for a bunch of us—including most of his five other brothers. I was decidedly unimpressive until the eighteenth, where I hit a lovely seven iron into the green on my second shot, 12 feet from the hole, in front of my in-laws. They kicked my butt on the basketball court, but on the golf course, I ruled. Out of the blue, I remembered the lure of the game and the bug came back.

I played for a few years with a small group of friends. We usually shot close to 100, but we enjoyed ourselves. Until one beautiful summer day, on an upscale course with a number of hard holes, my swing fell apart, totally, cataclysmically. From the twelfth hole on, I displayed no evidence that I had ever played golf before. My shots went short, left, right, anywhere but the intended direction and distance. I knew I’d developed something awful in my swing, something well beyond my knowledge or understanding.

I left the golf course that day determined to do one of two things–walk away from the game or take lessons and improve. So somewhere around 15 years ago, I found a teacher who revamped my swing and helped me back to occasional respectability on the golf course. And about 10 years ago, with a more predictable swing, I began trying out new clubs.

I now live very close to a driving range. I moved to a different instructor two years ago. I’ve been fitted for a driver and irons. I’m not able to play 18 holes more than once, sometimes twice a month, but I sneak away from work and family to the same muni I played on as a kid and play nine early on weekend mornings. In a good summer week, I’ll get to the range a couple of times and I’ll play over the weekend. I’ll buy some new and used clubs during the season, just to see if they’ll improve my game. What does this all add up to?  I’m the quintessential weekend hacker.

My 16-handicap game still bounces around. This summer, for example, I’ve hit a number of drives that are among the longest I’ve ever hit, despite my age. I had a score of 84 (good for me) on a twisting course with lots of elevations that I’d never played on before. And best of all, on that day, I blew away a couple of guys that I rarely beat. But I also had a couple of rounds over the summer where everything went wrong—indeed, on one hole, I hit three shanked wedges in a row. The three ugly shots each flew to the right, taking me halfway around a green. At that point, I picked the ball up and didn’t touch a wedge for the rest of the round.

I check in on GolfWRX regularly. I know my driver swing speed, more or less, and I know I need lower-spin clubs. But I don’t keep track of all my statistics, I don’t spine my clubs, I don’t do a lot of demoing on Trackman, I don’t switch my shafts, I don’t change my lies, and I don’t bother with adjustable clubs because my swing is not reliable enough to bother changing the settings.

But I love the game — seeing a nice drive soar and land in the fairway, hearing the sound of a solid iron shot, beating my brother-in-law in match play, finding a cool new course. I’ll never be a good player—indeed, given my age and the other choices I’ve made in life, I’ll never be better than I am now. But that’s OK. I get a kick out of the competition, I can make my own decisions on the course (unlike so many other areas in my life), I get to hang around outside, and every once in awhile, I come up with a really nice shot.

So back to the problem I started with—why am I worrying about the gap between my driver and 21 degree hybrid? I don’t know. I’m not even sure that the long clubs that I now have are significant problems — I haven’t kept detailed statistics about shots in the fairway, greens in regulations, putts made, or any of the important areas. Maybe I fixate on those clubs because most of the rest of the bag is pretty much set. Or maybe I just like to keep finding new clubs to fool around with. As it stands, my Rocketballz 3HL goes a long way, but I can lose it left or right too often (I know, it’s mostly the swing). A used Ping G20 17 degree I picked up recently goes left way too often (I know, it’s mostly the swing). So I need to work on the swing but while I do, I’ll keep thinking about the right clubs in between crises at work or while chauffeuring my daughter around. In the end, I’d love to fix the swing so I don’t need to buy new clubs. But then, of course, I’d find a reason to fool around with something else in the bag.

Come back, sometime down the road, and I’ll let you know what I do, or don’t do, about the hybrids. I’ll tell you about my experiences with different teachers and my efforts to get my teenage daughter onto the golf course. I’ve been a good putter, a bad putter, and fought back to being a decent putter — but now they may take away my beloved belly putter, so you’ll read about my adventures on the greens. I hope to entertain and enlighten a little. And if you, gentle readers, tell me I didn’t do too well in a particular post, well, clearly the problem is the arrow, not the Indian, so I’ll start thinking about which new computer to buy.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum.

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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The Gear Dive: Discussing the drivers of 2020 with Bryan LaRoche

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with his good buddy Bryan LaRoche. They chat on life and do a deep dive into the drivers of 2020.

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

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

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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.

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