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The Most Overlooked Parameter in Iron Fitting

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In the chart below, you can see the average results for an iron fitting I did with one of my members at Biltmore Forest CC recently. Based on these three data points presented, which iron would you choose? Most golfers go with club No. 2. The club head speed is faster, the carry is the longest, and the dispersion is the second best. It’s a no-brainer, right? If you think this is a trick, you’re on the right track, and I’ll get back to that later.

Iron_Fitting_Parameter_1

Club fitting has become a very important of golf. Most golfers today are fitted in some way before they purchase clubs, but that hasn’t always been the case. Before club fitters could accurately measure ball flight and club delivery with launch monitors, they relied on static fittings that accounted for length, loft, and lie adjustments at setup. With the introduction of a lie board, they were then able to tell how the club was positioned through the impact zone. As a result, fittings became more based on impact and ball flight results. Fast forward to the availability of launch monitors like TrackMan, and fitters can see exactly what the golf ball is doing and how the golf club communicates a message to the golf ball. All of these advancements have made the fitting process more transparent, as well as enhanced a fitter’s ability to fine tune the clubs of each and every golfer. The bad news is that they’ve also made a lot of golfers completely obsessed with distance.

When it comes to club fitting, the conversation often revolves around the driver. Driver fittings are fun for both the player and the teacher, because who doesn’t want to see longer, straighter drives? While I completely concede that driver fittings and distance are very important pieces to golf improvement, I also think their focus can dilute the fitting process for the 13 other clubs golfers use. With a driver, fitters are almost always trying to help golfers achieve a higher launch angle while reducing spin. It’s a formula that’s great for longer drives, but not always better iron shots. Too often, I see golfers worried most about distance when they’re trying different kinds irons at a demo day, which often leads them to choose the wrong clubs for their game.

Equipment manufacturers have played a role in the distance craze, of course, promoting the additional distance their clubs offer compared to the previous model or a competitor’s product… and they have a lot to brag about. Advancements in engineering have allowed golf equipment manufacturers to move weight lower in their iron heads, which helps golfers launch the ball higher. They’ve made their iron faces thinner and more flexible, which also makes shots go higher, and increased the amount of shaft options available, particularly their lightweight shaft options, to give the vast majority of golfers a chance to find a stock shaft that works for their swing.

As a result of these changes, today’s irons have lower different lofts than those produced not even 20 years ago, as well as slightly longer shaft lengths to help golfers take advantage of the latest technologies. Below are the published lofts and lengths from two leading iron manufacturers (I’ve labeled them Company A and Company B) for the same type of iron sets: one released in 2000, one released in 2017. As you can see, there’s been an incredible transformation in 17 years. It’s great for some golfers, but not for others, and I’ll explain why.

Company A

Company_A_iron_Specs

Company B

Company_B_Specs

As you can see, the leading equipment manufacturers have reduced loft by 2-6 degrees with each iron, and they’ve added as much as 0.625 inches to the length of each iron as well. This will no doubt help golfers hit longer shots, but it can also have a negative effect on the control some golfers have over the golf ball when it lands on the green.

Control over the golf ball when it lands on the green is known as “stopping power,” and it’s is affected most by land angle (the angle at which the golf ball hits the ground). Land angle is highly correlated with how much the ball will bounce and roll once it has hit the ground, as each degree of reduced land angle is responsible for about 3 yards more of bounce and roll.

So what is a good land angle? For irons, I like to think about it this way. Anything coming into the ground at an angle more than 45 degrees is going more down than out when it lands; anything coming into the ground at an angle less than 45 degrees is traveling more out than down when it lands. That’s why the rule of thumb is that iron shots should have a land angle of at least 45 degrees.

There’s a caveat with this rule of thumb, however, and it’s that many golfers don’t have the swing speed to achieve a 45-degree land angle with all their irons. They need to be able to swing a 6 iron at about 85 mph to make it happen, and in the example below, the golfer I was fitting did not have that ability.

Fitting Example

Here is the same example from above — a golfer I fit hitting five different 6 irons — that now includes peak height and landing angle.

Iron_Fitting_Parameter_2

With the most important data added, there’s no question that this golfer needs to use iron No. 5. It flew almost as far and as straight as No. 2, but shots with No. 5 had a landing angle that was almost 3-degree higher, which means that shots will stop 6 yards sooner when they hit the green. That’s a big deal when hitting a shot to a protected front pin. Remember, the goal with irons is to hit shots as close to the pin as possible. Yes, within reason we want to hit the ball as high and as far as possible, but not at the expense of stopping power.

Just because a set of irons has strong lofts doesn’t mean it will be bad for you. Some golfers need a 49-degree pitching wedge to perform their best, while others can perform their best with a 42-degree pitching wedge. The only way for you to know for sure what you need is to have an iron fitting that includes a focus on land angle. If it’s optimized, you will be a much happier golfer when you get out on the course with your new set.

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PGA Member and Golf Professional at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, NC. Former PGA Tour and Regional Representative for TrackMan Golf. Graduate of Campbell University's PGM Program with 12 years of experience in the golf industry. My passion for knowledge and application of instruction in golf is what drives me everyday.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Jul 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Shaft lengthening has done the most harm. Rather than pay for expensive custom ordering/fitting, make sure you choke down on each shot. Instill this in practice sessions.

  2. Lloyd Jackson

    Jul 3, 2017 at 1:25 am

    Company A 2000 model: Those specs would have been rather unusual even then. More likely the specs of a blade from the 1980s.

    As my very good friend, Jay Turner of RedBird/Avian Golf would say: With irons, it’s not HOW FAR, it’s HOW CLOSE.

    The number on the sole has little meaning and the deceptive loft jacking and shaft lengthening began with Callaway’s S2H2 irons.

    • Hunter Brown

      Jul 5, 2017 at 7:31 am

      Hey Lloyd thanks for your response and interest. One set was a game improvement iron and the other was a more typical cavity back mid to low hdcp option

  3. Dill Pickelson

    Jul 2, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    hi, can i ask why you extend your clubs? i’m tall too and used to have 1″ longer but every club is a different length anyway! i went back to ‘standard’ length and no issues. so, why bother changing shaft length?

    • TONEY P

      Jul 3, 2017 at 7:43 pm

      What did you do for the swing weight of each club extended. They had to feel heavier?

    • TONEY P

      Jul 3, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      Most golfers don’t have a clue what they’re doing or really need when buying clubs. If you can’t PUNCH your iron 3/4 it’s distance straight then the iron lie needs to be adjusted.. Good golfers know what to do so the other 97 % need to ask them .

  4. Joshua Chervokas

    Jul 2, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    This is never overlooked by actual fitters. The problem is that what they do at big box stores is not a fitting regardless of what they call it. Go to any Golf Digest top 100 fitter like myself and an iron fitting will focus highly on landing angle and we will weaken and strengthen lofts all the time.

  5. QV

    Jul 2, 2017 at 10:44 am

    You must be very lonely.

  6. Jeff

    Jul 1, 2017 at 10:36 am

    I certainly agree with the article. Too much hubris in the world today to go back to higher lofts in irons. If your buddy hits a 7 iron and you need to hit a 6, well that’s just emasculating now isn’t it? I originally thought though the article was going to be about lie angles being too upright and not enough emphasis placed on that since you included the left stat. I see so many people I play with that have that issue and then wonder why they pull their shots so often.

  7. CTGolfer

    Jul 1, 2017 at 6:08 am

    Why is Peak Height and Land angle not part of the “optimizer” in Trackman. What in the Optimizer correlates with peak height and land angle?

    • Me

      Jul 1, 2017 at 6:55 am

      When I do my club fitting clients, my trackman 4 has Height and landing angle in my front (top) page of my tiles used.
      Recently I fitted one of the younger assistant pros at an exclusive club
      When comparing recently the Titliest AP2 vs the Taylormade 770, both quality clubs. Both share the same lofts 33deg. It was clear visually even without the trackman the 770 went higher.
      with the track man the 770 peaked higher by 12 feet, went more than 10 yards further (177) a much steeper landing angle. But here is where it got interesting, the 770 consistently was 4700-5500 spin. The ap2 was 6000-7500 spin. Both clubs had the KBS tour FLT 120 g shaft.

      There was no question what the right club was based on peak, spin….the added distance was just a bonus.

    • Hunter Brown

      Jul 1, 2017 at 9:08 am

      Launch, Spin, and height are all included in the Optimizer. This determines land angle so although it is not expressly in the optimizer it will be a result of what is in the optimizer. You can also look at the ‘side/top’ view to see the trajectory window and optimized shot should travel vs what the trajectory it actually took

  8. Adam

    Jun 30, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Gofwrx’ers I agree, BUT we should thankful for all the marketing. 98% of golfers are awful, but love to play and love to hit all their clubs as far as possible. More marketing= more bad golfers spending more on gear and more money at the course, which keeps more golf courses open, more staff employed and better conditions for me. We need more people attracted to the game these days more than ever.

    Now I have played the same specs as my original titleist 680’s my entire golf career and have known my exact lofts and lie’s and think its more fun hitting high cut 2,3 irons than jacked 4,5 irons any day. So I think it’s funny…

  9. Thus

    Jun 30, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    The ball can have a huge affect on Landing angle and peak hieght some times more then the iron, dispersion is what I fit for the most, more front to back, then side to side, then height and spin..
    One of the biggest myths is flex, difference between flexes is minimal.

  10. Myron miller

    Jun 30, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    But almost, if not maybe more important is backspin on the iron. wHen I got fitted for my current iroons, The choice was between two different styles. Both had land angles less than 45 degrees, but the second one had over 3000 rpm more backspin even though its land angle was almost 4 degrees less. I just flat out spun that club way more. And having more backspin sometimes if more important in stopping the ball on the green than the landing angle.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen players use a club and chip it about 40 yards onto the green with a land angle of less than 25 degrees but with a ton of backspin and the ball literally bounces once and backs up 2-5 feet. One can play that particular pitch two ways, with a very low landing angle but a ton of spin or a very high land angle and minimal spin. If there is a bunch of wind, then the lower angle is definitely the better shot. Same applies to longer approach shots. With windy conditions, higher land angles will hurt you more times than not.

    Land angle certain is important, but spin is easily as important and sometimes even more.

    • Hunter Brown

      Jun 30, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      This situation you describe is hard to fathom. 3000 more rpm of spin and 4 degrees less of land angle is almost impossible to happen on a full shot land angle is directly effected by spin. More spin higher=higher land angle

    • TR1PTIK

      Jul 3, 2017 at 10:59 am

      Gotta agree with Hunter on this on too. Also, the situations you describe are caused by the actions of the player, not the performance of the club. You can take pretty much any iron or wedge and the two shots you described. To see that much variation in spin on full shots is unlikely unless you’re looking at SGI vs. Player’s clubs.

  11. Well now...

    Jun 30, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Kind of the argument the latest try of Hogan irons when loft comes into the argument. The number on the club is all relative and a point of reference in the end – you can call a club with a loft of 25* anything you want, in the end it’s still 25*.

  12. Iutodd

    Jun 30, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Good article.

    I’m hoping to get fit next year for irons – this article is getting saved for the experience. Never thought about landing angle before.

    • Iutodd

      Jun 30, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Oh and I’m gaming MX-17s so my lofts are a lot closer to the “2000” lofts. I’m not sure how I’m gonna get a similar style – which is more “game improvement” but get lofts that work for me. The Z545s look similar to my clubs but the lofts are pretty different. I guess I’ll have to see if I’m good enough for the 745s which are much closer to my current lofts.

  13. TR1PTIK

    Jun 30, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I had a pretty good idea this article would lead to peak height and landing angle. Following closely behind those two metrics IMO would be spin; dispersion next, and then carry distance when trying to fit a set of irons or wedges. For anyone who has yet to see them, these Trackman averages from 2014 should give some good insight about what the irons should be doing… https://blog.trackmangolf.com/trackman-average-tour-stats/

    • Hunter Brown

      Jun 30, 2017 at 11:35 am

      Good stuff here and you are exactly right. I will say that unfortunately not everyone can achieve “Tour Averages” because of the lack of speed. It is definitely better for most to look at the LPGA Average stats but understand that averages are exactly that and suitable for everyone

      • TR1PTIK

        Jun 30, 2017 at 1:27 pm

        I agree. In terms of landing angle though, either data set will apply.

  14. SoonerSlim

    Jun 30, 2017 at 10:05 am

    One thing I don’t understand whenever WRX presents these examples is they always use a golfer with much, much more swing speed than the average golfer. How many average golfers have a 6-iron swing speed of 80 mph?? In the mid to high 60s is more accurate!

    • Hunter Brown

      Jun 30, 2017 at 11:32 am

      this particular gentleman was pretty average. He is in his mid 50s and about a 12 hdcp. His swing speed is maybe a little on the high end for his demographic but not by much

    • Grizz01

      Jun 30, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      I’m 54 and I still play my 1994 Lynx Parrallax irons. I don’t have a clue what my swing speed is but I still hit my 6 iron (normal conditions) 180-185yds. I don’t know what loft it is … but I do know that the PW is 50 degrees straight out of the box.

  15. xjohnx

    Jun 30, 2017 at 9:59 am

    I really wish the masses would start incorporating more logic such as this to golf marketing. It’s unfortunate that there is only one rule that trumps all else. Seemingly by no coincidence it was most famously said to me once by a regional TM rep, “distance sells golf clubs”.

    I can’t imagine anyone with any common sense arguing the message behind this article. The ability to hit your shots closer to the hole is always going to potentially lower your scored more than a few extra yards. I almost feel bad for people who get so caught up in hitting their irons longer. Whether you have 7 irons and 3 wedges, or 6 irons and 4 wedges that all go the same distances, does it matter what number is stamped on the sole?

  16. Chris B

    Jun 30, 2017 at 9:14 am

    I would still go for iron 2, make them 1 degree weak if need be based on this. There is more to choosing the right set of irons than this data.

    It is a shame that what Hogan did dint take off, putting the loft on the club rather than a number. I was looking at a thread the other day on 3 irons, one person commented on how they had made their 4 iron 1 degree strong – to 18 degrees!

    • Hunter Brown

      Jun 30, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Chris – you bring up some good points however EQM’s don’t just lower the loft and call it a day they know the irons would not perform if that was the case. Sometimes they account for the lower loft by lowering the cg, lighter shafts, etc. to launch the ball higher. Just because the loft of one club to the next may be different doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing. I am glad you are thinking the right way though!

  17. Daryl

    Jun 30, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Out of curiosity, would the 45 degree rule hold for the longer irons?

    • TR1PTIK

      Jun 30, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Yes. Follow the link in my other comment to view Trackman data. It is older, but plenty relevant for holding greens.

    • Hunter Brown

      Jun 30, 2017 at 11:37 am

      Daryl – good question. If possible yes this would hold true but most people do not have the swing speed in order to accomplish this. Also course conditions and where someone plays needs to be considered.

  18. Jack Nash

    Jun 30, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Marketing indeed has taken over with the help of Media. GC is always touting how far X Golfer hits his driver. There’s part of the problem.

    • Scott

      Jun 30, 2017 at 9:01 am

      I agree Jack. No one should be able to hit 180 yard Wedges and 9 irons. A little truth in advertising would be nice. A 42 degree Pitching Wedge? That is between my 8 and 9 iron.

      • Lee Shaw

        Jun 30, 2017 at 10:43 am

        42 deg was my 8 iron in 1974, I hit it pretty good too, but saying that my 9 is now 40 deg and I’m not to shabby with that either.

      • Grizz01

        Jun 30, 2017 at 12:50 pm

        I still play with my 1993 Lynx Parrallax irons. I know the PW is 50 degrees. And I remember back then I thought wow! Technology has come along way. My previous clubs from the late 70’s were Wilson 1200’s. And I was suddenly using 1 -2 clubs less with the Lynx.

        Turns out not much technology as much as just renaming an old 5 iron a 6 or 7 iron.

        • Jeremy Thompson

          Jul 1, 2017 at 4:17 am

          which opens up a market for gap wedges…….when the separation between PW and SW becomes exaggerated.

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Opinion & Analysis

Golfholics Course Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

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In this new course review series, Marko and Mike from Golfholics provide their takes on the golf courses they’ve played around the world. The first episode starts with the famed, yet often overlooked Spyglass Hill. Enjoy the video below, and don’t forget to check out more videos from Golfholics on their YouTube page!

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Redkacheek’s DFS Rundown: 2018 CJ Cup

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Wow, what a crazy start to this season! Not only has the cheat sheet and slack chat plays over at the Fantasy Golf Bag been on complete fire, but the new golf betting model has now hit on two outrights and one FRL in back-to-back weeks! We get a much better field this week so definitely plan to keep this heater going here at the CJ Cup this week. Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up for the first time since being named the 2018 POY, along with guys such as Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, and our new favorite Sungjae Im. As you can see, this will be a fairly exciting event for a setup as similar as last week’s tournament.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at this course and see if we can pinpoint some key stats to take us to another Big GPP win or at least a couple good choices for an outright win.

The CJ Cup will be played at the Club at Nine Bridges, a 7,196 yard par-72 golf course in South Korea. Although this may appear like a similar course to TPC Kuala Lumpur last week, this one will play quite significantly tougher. As you can see below, in 2017 there were more bogeys than birdies for the week which doesn’t happen much outside of majors. Justin Thomas won last year’s event after shooting 63 in the first round but failed to break 70 the following three days. JT finished at nine under, which tied Marc Leishman, who coincidentally won this last weekend (2019 Fall Swing narrative). So why so tough if it appears so short? Let’s take a look.

So first off, let’s get this out of the way first. These greens are brutal. No joke; these greens were the single most difficult greens to putt on all of last year. Everything from one-putt percentage to 3-putt avoidance, these ranked the No. 1 most difficult on Tour all year. But here’s the problem: We all know putting is the single most variable stat, so using SG:P will tend to lead to a very disappointing pool of players. For example, coming into last year the players ranked Top 10 in SG:P finished 11-33-47-40-28-64-36-26-71-36, respectively. There is a still a stat that helped fine-tune player pools last year that I will recommend this year: my first key stat to consider this week is 3-putt avoidance.

The next section here I will just briefly touch on the driving accuracy and GIR percentage for this course. It is very average for the PGA Tour…that is really all you need to know. Driving accuracy ranked 48th and GIR percentage ranked 38th in 2017. This course is not difficult tee-to-green, plain and simple. I will certainly add the usual SG:T2G this week along with GIR percentage, but this course will favor most guys this week.

So besides putting, why are these scores so poor considering the appearance of an easy course? Well besides putting on these greens, scrambling here is brutal. Scrambling also ranked No. 1 most difficult here last year but again, this is a stat that is extremely tough to see useful trends. I will, however, encourage you to use SG:ARG to help narrow down your player pool more efficiently.

Remember that this segment of the Fall Swing will not yield strokes-gained data, so we must only utilize the traditional stats the PGA Tour keeps. On top of all the micro-scoring stats mentioned above, let’s take a closer look at this course from a macro level. This will be fairly straightforward when building your model. The par 4s here are extremely difficult, so add SG:P4 Scoring to your research (par 3 scoring is also very difficult but sample sizes are usually too small to include each week). Par 5 scoring was difficult as well but there is a better stat we can use than the P4 scoring mentioned above. The final stat we will be using is simply bogey avoidance. This will do a fantastic job of incorporating T2G, scrambling and putting into our model/research.

Overall this course is really an amazing layout but will pose a difficult task for the players. Just like last week, I encourage you to ease into the season by playing light and also primarily playing GPPs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my core plays for this week…

Justin Thomas (DK $11,600)

Justin Thomas finally makes the core writeup. After a mediocre finish last week (5th place), he comes to Nine Bridges as the defending champion. Ironically, he beat out Marc Leishman, last week’s winner, in a playoff last year and I think he is going to be the guy to pay up for over $10k. JT won both CIMB Classic and The CJ Cup last year, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave this leg of the Fall Swing (Asia) without a win. There’s a lot going for him outside of his recent form and course history (if that wasn’t enough), he ranks first in both SG:T2G and SG:APP, second in par 4 scoring, eighth in bogey avoidance and finally, surprisingly, 11th in 3-putt avoidance. If you are building only a few lineups this week, I think JT should be in around two-thirds of them.

Byeong-Hun An (DK $8,700)

Mr. Ben An makes the list again! Byeong-Hun An received a lot of praise from both Jacob and myself on the FGB Podcast last week and he did not disappoint with a 13th place finish, and really a strong chance to win going into the weekend. As part of a common theme you will see here, Ben An is the kind of consistent ball-striker to rely on each and every week. On the PGA Tour in the last 50 rounds, he ranks third along with a strong ranking in bogey avoidance (third) and GIR percentage (also third). He did play this event last year, finishing 11th at 4-under par, and if it weren’t for a final round 73 he had a realistic chance for the win! The price on Ben An is getting a little steep but I think we can still get some value out of it this week.

Kyle Stanley (DK $8,200)

Kyle Stanley should be considered a core play almost every week he is under $9K on DraftKings. One of the most elite ball strikers on Tour, ranking ninth in SG:T2G, 11th in SG:APP, sixth in GIR percentage and 14th in par 4 scoring, he sets up for another solid top 20. Last week Kyle finished 13th in Kuala Lumpur and now comes to Nine Bridges where he ended the tournament in 19th place last year. Kyle tends to be very “mediocre” so upside for a top 3 always seems to come sparingly during the season, but you still cannot ignore his skills at this price.

Charles Howell III (DK $7,700)

Charles Howell III is a lock for me this week. Coming off a strong showing last week (T5) but also an 11th-place finish at this event last year, he grades out as one of the strongest values this week at only $7,700. CH3 hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for over a month before appearing at Kuala Lumpur, causing him to fly well under the radar on his way to a solid top five finish. Always known as a superb ball-striker, Howell actually rates out 16th in bogey avoidance and 10th in 3-putt avoidance, both key stats for this golf course. Additionally, CH3 ranks inside the top 20 of both par 4 scoring and GIR percentage. In a no-cut event on a difficult ARG golf course, count on CH3 to gain enough placement points to pay off this solid price tag.

Ian Poulter (DK $7,600)

Ian Poulter may be extremely sneaky this week. We haven’t seen him since the Ryder Cup and most people that play DFS have severe recency bias. Poulter is a grinder, and considering the winning score should only be around 12-under par with lots of opportunities for bogeys, he should keep the wheels on all four days and have a chance on Sunday. One of the most surprising stats for me in my research on Poulter is that he ranks first in 3-putt avoidance, along with some impressive tee-to-green stats where he ranks inside the top 25 of all of my key stats mentioned above. Why is the 3-putt avoidance stat so important? As I noted in the course preview, these were the single most difficult greens to putt on last year with the worst 3-putt percentage. Outside of the key stats, it does seem like this course fits his eye as he finished 15th here last year. Ian Poulter will be another core play but I think he may come in quite under owned from where he probably should.

Joel Dahmen (DK $6,900)

Chalk Dahmen week is upon us and I am going to bite. Dahmen has been a DFS darling this year and last week was no different. Dahmen ended up finishing 26th which was largely due to a poor final round 71, which dropped him 11 spots. Even with that poor finish he was able to pay off his sub-$7K price tag, which is where we find him again this week. Dahmen ranks top 10 in this field in several key stats, including: SG:T2G, SG:APP, and bogey avoidance. If you need some salary savings but unsure about anyone under $7K, Dahmen should be your first look this week.

Also consider

Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Marc Leishman
Paul Casey
Ryan Moore
Sungjae Im
Kevin Tway

Good luck this week everyone!

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Mondays Off: Bermuda vs. Bent grass, How to chip when into the grain

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How do you chip into the grain off of Bermuda grass without chunking the ball? Club pro Steve Westphal explains how to best handle the situation. Also, Westphal and Editor Andrew Tursky give advice on how to play in qualifiers or PAT (players assessment test) events, and they tell a few stories of their own.

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

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