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The 5 Biggest Mistakes in Club Fitting

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Throughout my golf career, I have been fortunate to spend time with some of the best club fitters in the world. Before I became a full-time golf instructor, I was a Tour Rep for TrackMan, which had me traveling around the U.S. and beyond to top club fitters and golf professionals. Through that experience, combined with my own teaching and fitting background, I have come to understand the many mistakes that can be made during a club fitting.

This article is not meant as a criticism toward any club fitter or golf professional. I simply want to pass on what I’ve learned to GolfWRXers and the greater golf community to do my part to make sure golfers don’t end up with a set of clubs that are a detriment to their games (and their wallets). These are the 5 biggest mistakes in club fitting.

1. Using Face Tape

Face tape has been used in club fitting for a long time. It is extremely helpful in showing us where on the club face a golf ball was struck, and it helps us understand more about why the ball is flying the way it does. This is the only way I would ever recommend using tape on the face of a golf club.

If you are a club fitter or a golf professional trying to protect your golf club during a fitting, it’s fine to put tape on the top or bottom of a wood to protect it from sole wear or potential sky marks. It’s a grave mistake to use tape on the face when you’re evaluating ball flight and/or launch monitor numbers, however, and you can see why in the example below.

Ghost tape

With the tape on his driver club face, this golfer had about 700 more rpm of spin and 14 yards less total distance. If you are a golf professional and you want to dial in your students, DO NOT use face tape when you’re evaluating ball flight. A good alternative to face tape is Dr. Scholls foot spray. It may sound a little strange, but it will show where the ball was struck and have little to no effect on the ball flight.

2. Assuming Optimal Launch and Spin are Uniform

This is something I hear quite a bit, even from golf equipment manufacturers. Not too long ago, many in the golf industry were in agreement that the optimal launch and spin for any golfer with a driver for maximum distance was a 17-degree launch angle with 1700 rpm of spin. This might be true in a bubble, but we as humans have thousands of different combinations of swings and speeds, making this guideline almost completely useless. Take a look at some numbers for two very different golfers below: Player A and Player B. I want you to consider what you think good launch and spin should be for both.

Player A

Player A

Player B

Player b

In this scenario, I think most would assume that Player A (a low-speed player) would need significantly more spin to be optimal than Player B (a high-speed player). The rule of thumb is that the slower a golfer swings, the more spin they need to keep the ball in the air for maximum distance. Using that guideline, however, you wouldn’t optimize either golfer.

In club fittings, everything hinges on the specific needs of the golfer in front of you. The three main player inputs that determine optimal launch and spin are:

  1. Club Head Speed
  2. Attack Angle
  3. Desired Trajectory

In choosing a desired trajectory, a golfer has three options. They can opt for a high trajectory for maximum carry distance, a low trajectory for the most roll out (and sometimes the most total distance, depending on the conditions of the courses they play), or a combination that balances the two (carry and total). For simplicity, let’s assume both of these golfers want to optimize for the combination of carry and total. Now, let’s take a look at the optimization chart for each player below.

Player A Optimized

LandauPlayer B Optimized

karan

As it turns out, Player B with 135 mph of club head speed needs more spin than Player A with 76 mph of club head speed. It goes against my instincts, too, but it’s true. The reason is the Attack Angle for each player.

  • Player A is hitting 5-degrees up on the ball, so he is already launching the ball into the air. For that reason, he doesn’t need as much spin for optimal distance.
  • Player B is hitting 3-degrees down on the ball, so he needs more more loft and more spin to keep the ball in the air for optimal distance.

3. Only Looking at Distance Gained

This is the biggest and most common mistake I see during fittings. Both golfers and fitters are guilty of focusing on the one shot that travels 8-10 yards further during a fitting, and because it has the most distance potential, they assume that it’s the best club. I will never tell anyone that distance isn’t important, but I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on it in both driver and iron fittings.

Dispersion is huge for playability, and I suggest fitters take the time to allow golfers to hit plenty of shots in fittings. This allows them to not only optimize for distance, but also for dispersion.

Golf equipment manufacturers have given us fantastic equipment that can makes it very easy to adjust ball flight. The ability we have to tweak weighting, face angle, and lie angle can be vital to our ability to create a tighter dispersion. If you’re fitting outside, however, I encourage all fitters to go beyond the flat, perfect lies of the driving range. Have golfers hit shots from different lies and locations, and get them out on the course if you can. By testing clubs for the shots golfers are most likely to encounter during a normal round of play, you’re going to gain a much better understanding of what club will actually perform best for them.

Graham

Above are the Trackman numbers for a highly skilled junior golfer during a driver fitting. He was carrying shots about 245 yards with a total distance of 260 yards, and the ball was flying very straight. In the fitting, we were able to narrow down his best options to two drivers. With one of them, he cracked the longest shot he hit all day: 251.5 yards in the air, rolling out to almost 280 yards.

With that driver, he also recorded his fastest ball speed and best total distance by about 8 yards. When we look at the full picture, however, we will see it was not the best driver for him.

graham 2

Driver #2 (white) is absolutely the most consistent in length and dispersion despite the fact that he hit Driver #1 (yellow) farther one time. Most golfers only think of their bad shots as “outliers,” when in fact they should often be discounting their very best shot with a club in the cases when the majority of their shots with the club are off-target.

4. Using a Lie Board

Impact

Lie boards are a thing of the past. There, I said it. Basing any loft or lie adjustments purely off a lie board is completely useless. On any well struck golf shot, the golf ball has already left the golf club before any significant ground and club interaction has occurred. This means the marks on the bottom of the club tells us next to nothing.

Lie Angle

Above is a great picture from a friend of mine, Errol Helling. He’s the owner of Profectus Golf in Nashville, Tennessee. The photo shows the difference in where two golf clubs point at address: one at 3-degrees upright (pointing left) and one at 2-degrees flat (pointing right). It’s important to remember that the photo shows “static loft.” We are most interested in “dynamic loft” and the face angle at impact because that’s what effects ball flight. Just because we have an iron that is orientated a direction at setup does not mean it will point in the same direction at impact.

5. Looking at Divot Direction and Depth

Recently, this has been a frequent topic of discussion in the golf world. I hate to disagree with one of the greats of our game, Ben Hogan, but the secret is not in the dirt. I can’t say that Hogan was wrong, as his thoughts on the golf swing worked very well for him, but we now know that divot direction and divot depth tell us very little about ball flight. You can hit any kind of golf shot with every kind of divot, so why assume that the divot is going to tell us anything valuable?

Below are some pictures of shots I hit on the range. The divot direction is indicated by the alignment stick (on the left in each photo) that travels directly through the divot. The target line is the alignment stick on the right side of the picture. As you can see, the divots had no correlation to direction or curvature.

Shot #1

Divot 1

Shot #2

Divot 2

Shot #3

Divot 3

Shot #4

Divot 4

If you are trying to determine swing faults or fitting issues by looking at divots, you will be chasing an answer that does not exist. Keep your focus on impact location, face angle, club path, and angle of attack, and you’ll be on your way to better fittings.

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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.

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57 Comments

57 Comments

  1. when_is_a_wrench_not_a_wrench

    Aug 27, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Did anyone notice the main photo shows someone pretending to insert a wrench into a M2 Tour Iron head?

    • Beta

      Aug 27, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      Yeah? So? It’s a Fitting head. They have one of those last year lol so he’s not pretending

  2. SoonerSlim

    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Hunter, very interesting article, but for me it did not go far enough because I’ve never seen and do not understand what the side and spin axis numbers you offer for the divot pictures represent. Unfortunately, you did not go far enough and offer an explanation for them. For example, what’s the difference between + and – spin axis? What does the side number mean? Great article except for the last part.

    thanks, SoonerSlim

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 27, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Sooner, thanks for reading and giving your feedback. You are probably right I should have included some definitions about Spin Axis and Side. Coming from that world sometimes I forget not everyone knows the terminology. Spin axis represents which way the golf ball is curving so if positive the ball is curving to the right and if negative it is curving to the left. Side represents how far off of the target line the ball landed. Hope this helps! If you want to learn more about TrackMan Definitions visit the trackman blog.

      • SoonerSlim

        Aug 27, 2017 at 9:34 pm

        Thanks, Hunter

        Never have seen or used a trackman, too old school I guess.

        S

  3. Michael

    Aug 26, 2017 at 11:10 am

    What if your line is straight on the club face but out towards the toe?

  4. Jeffrey

    Aug 26, 2017 at 4:14 am

    Heres an idea. Why don’t we go out with our golf clubs and hit the ball and have some fun and forget about all this numbers/fitting/trackman/drills/etc BS. If you play good, great. If you play bad, there is always next time.

    • emb

      Aug 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      ya who cares about shooting your best possible scores, might as well buy your equipment from walmart and play top flites right

  5. Stevegp

    Aug 25, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Enjoyed the article and subsequent discussion. Getting fitted and hitting a club outdoors always seemed much different–and better–than hitting into a net while indoors.

  6. Guia

    Aug 25, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    I am lost! Seems most of what has been accepted in the past is wrong, or misused.

  7. Marooned

    Aug 25, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    No idea of how the “fitting culture” are in the states. But here in Europe (Sweden) most of this is common sense except your point of the lieboard.

    It is such a great and easy tool and a must have. One thing about lie though that I feel is that many people just hit a couple of shots with an 7-iron and that sets the marknfor the lieangle throughout the set.

    A longer iron such as an 4-iron often needs a more upright lieangle then a 9-iron for example.

    The majority of people a do an lietest with hitting a 4, 7 and 9-iron are hitting it more on the toe with a 4-iron compared to the 9-iron.

    • Bert

      Aug 26, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Good thoughts – I’ve always just hit a 6 or 7 off the lie board. I’ve measured all my lofts and lies but tomorrow I’ll hit the long irons and short irons off the board and note the results.

  8. Bob

    Aug 25, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Gee, it seems like there is a lot of disagreement about proper club fitting technique. I have gotten advice about clubs on several occasions but never really had a fitting. One reason is that I have heard so much disagreement about how it should be done and am not aware of any standards or any acknowledged experts (e.g. Ping vs Callaway, etc.). I suppose the best shot might be to work with a pro, who also provides instruction and who will be around to provide guidance after new clubs are purchased or current clubs are adjusted for length, loft, lie, swing weight, grip, etc. The big question is why spend a lot of money, if you don’t know what you are buying?

  9. Rors

    Aug 25, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Steve Elkington has a video on youtube about dynamic fitting for irons… He marks a ball with a sharpie and that mark imprints on your club… I tried it and its the best…

  10. Ben Jones

    Aug 25, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Good Lord! How did we survive before technology. Now, I can get some really great clubs perfectly fit for me on that day for $4,000 or more, but if my swing ain’t worth crap and I can’t putt, what good is all this?

  11. Lorne

    Aug 25, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Clubs have a ‘static’ lie and a ‘dynamic’ lie which is a function of shaft tip ‘droop’. The position of the hands and club butt end changes through release and impact, which will affect the shaft lie.
    The weight and shape of the clubhead will affect dynamic lie because the clubhead CofGs vary the droop characteristics of the shaft. Shaft specs influences dynamic loft as does downswing plane and clubhead speed which can vary as the golfer fatigues during the round.
    So we have how many variables for dynamic lie? 6? 7? 8? 9? More? Less?
    A good fitter can measure several of these lie factors but must also use intuitive knowledge to match the golfer to the optimal shaft and clubhead, and grip too. Good luck.

  12. Tata

    Aug 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    In regards to #3.
    I can guarantee you that 9 out of 10 amateurs who can’t hit their driver past 200 yards is solely focused on that aspect. They don’t care about anything else, because they all believe that once their distance is sorted out, that they can then learn to control their ball flight. Which is deadly absolutely true.

  13. Dave

    Aug 25, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Very interested in this article, yes I understand how you can determine lie angle by using a marker pen on the ball and Callaway use this method a lot with there fitting. We use the marker on the ball when fitting outdoors, but indoors with launch monitor the Marker ruins the white screen we have for our projector and leaves black marks on the screen. Would be interested to know if there are any other ways of determining a correct lie angle without the option of a lie board or marker pen on a ball???

    • Noodler

      Aug 25, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I temporarily hang a black tarp/net in front of the screen to prevent the marker from being left on the white screen.

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 25, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      Dave I would suggest always keeping your focus on flight and dispersion. From there if you need to make adjustments to lie angle you can but it shouldn’t be the first thing we go to

      • Noodler

        Aug 26, 2017 at 9:21 am

        Sorry Hunter, but I believe this is misguided advice. Golfers should be fit to their physique, strength, flexibility, etc., not to their swing mechanics. Swing mechanics will change over time (even day to day). Using lie angle adjustment to compensate for swing flaws is not the right approach. Trying to use club fitting to compensate for swing flaws is the 6th biggest mistake in club fitting.

        • Hunter Brown

          Aug 27, 2017 at 9:19 am

          Why can’t it be both? I never said you shouldn’t fit for the human being in front of you. Too much mutual exclusivity in your train of thought.

  14. TexasSnowman

    Aug 25, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Agree with the comments on hitting indoors; I never feel like I hit my best shots. Club Fitting needs some type of standards or certification for competence. Even if you pay for a “tour level” fitting, you really have no idea if the fitter knows what he is doing… I’m not saying take all the ‘art’ out of the process, but it’s really the wild west out there in terms of quality.

  15. Bobalu

    Aug 25, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Hunter- Great points! Fittings need to be done with a competent fitter with Trackman on the range. Period. Good luck finding this.

  16. ADIDAG

    Aug 25, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Looks like to get optimum anything players need to focus on roll

  17. Nack Jicklaus

    Aug 25, 2017 at 9:59 am

    You can get a good idea if your lie angle is correct by drawing a straight line around the circumference of a ball with a sharpie. Sit the ball on the ground with the line pointing straight up and down and with the line also pointing directly where you intend to hit the ball (just like people who line up putts with a line drawn on their ball). Now hit your shot and some of the sharpie line will stick to the face of your club. If the line is perfectly perpendicular to the grooves on your club, then your lie angle is correct. If not, it needs changing one way or the other.

    • Steve

      Aug 25, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      100% spot on. Well done.

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm

      I agree with this however if the line is perpendicular and the golf ball is going as straight as possible for that player then why should we care. My point is we should always focus on ball flight not the extraneous details that sometimes do or do not matter

  18. Sam

    Aug 25, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Lie angle has been a big question mark for me. So what is a better way to determine this other than a lie board? Almost, every ‘fitter’ or club seller I’ve seen, used a lie board, with one exception at DSGoods .. one employee used impact tape and adjusted lie angle until center contact was made .. very strange to me.

    • OGWC

      Aug 25, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Use a dry erase marker and put a vertical line on the ball. This is a simple and effective way to read the lie. When you hit the ball, the line gets transferred to the club face. A straight line up and down on the iron face means the lie is good.

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 25, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      Dry erase is a decent solution however I would suggest just to focus on ball flight and dispersion. I would never care if a sharpie isn’t perpendicular or a piece of tape on the bottom of the face is telling me the club is “upright”. If a player is getting good results then that’s all that matters on course.

      • Noodler

        Aug 25, 2017 at 8:30 pm

        This only makes sense if you adhere to the idea that you should use lie angle adjustment to change ball flight. Many other factors could be impacting ball flight. Trying to fix ball flight due to other swing flaws via lie angle adjustments is a fool’s folly (IMHO).

  19. KV

    Aug 25, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Help me understand your thoughts on lie boards. You talk about dynamic loft but criticize the lie board. It’s not called a “loft” board it’s a lie board. How else do we adjust lie without knowing where and how the club sole contacts the ground? Get everything else right and have the wrong lie adjustment and you’ve wasted a lot of time.

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 25, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      Hey KV thanks for reading and your thoughts. I would always start with ball flight and dispersion if this is something you can measure or a pro near you can. Lie board’s tell us nothing about the shot that was just hit so I don’t know why we should care.

      • JN

        Aug 25, 2017 at 7:21 pm

        Although there are better ways to examine dynamic lie over the lie board (e.g. HMT), it definitely is relevant. Regardless of someone’s ball flight, getting them fit so that the dynamic lie is near 0 will improve their consistency and quality of impact. It’s just hard to consistently hit the center of the face when the toe or heel of the club dig into the ground early. The small change in face angle due to a lie change can be always be addressed after the fact. If you need help with a slice, just closing the face during setup with a proper lie angle is better than making impact toe up and getting the face closed from that.

  20. Justin

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:58 am

    You say not to use a lie board…not to look at divots…. How do you determine proper lie? Cannot do by shot pattern into a net. If you are going to give criticism, provide a solution as well.

    • Jon

      Aug 25, 2017 at 9:19 am

      I couldn’t agree more, Justin. How am I supposed to determine the proper lie angle without the aid of a lie board? I am new at this and am trying to learn how to make the proper adjustments on my own.

    • Nick

      Aug 25, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Trackman

      • Nick W

        Aug 25, 2017 at 11:15 am

        Trackman does not tell lie angles, trackman spits out information regarding ball flight. It does not care if its 10* upright or 2* flat.

    • Matt

      Aug 25, 2017 at 11:15 am

      Take some chalk or marker that will transfer when struck. Draw a straight line on the ball. Put the ball on the ground with the line vertical where you will strike it. Hit the ball. Look at the club face… you’ll have a good idea whether your club is too flat or upright.

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 25, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      Hey Justin thanks for the input. I would always prefer to do a fitting outside if possible. Even on the course sometimes. If not possible and you are only hitting into a net then hopefully you have availability of TrackMan. If not I would suggest trying to find one. My point of lie boards and divots is that they have no correlation to what the ball is actually doing so why should we care? TrackMan does not specifically spit out a number called lie angle however it does tell us Face Angle at impact and Dynamic loft which would be a result of lie angle. If those numbers are good then you should be ok.

  21. Jon

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:54 am

    If lie boards are horrid, how am I supposed to determine what lie angle is best suited for me? I am looking for a little more education on this subject as I am just getting started with trying to assemble and adjust my own clubs. Thank you in advance for any and all advice.

    • Greg

      Aug 25, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Draw a vertical line on the ball with a sharpie. Examine the line it leaves on the club face. Adjust until vertical. Google it or search the forums.

    • Hunter Brown

      Aug 25, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      Hey Jon thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. I would rather the focus to be on ball flight and dispersion in a fitting. Also loft and lie adjustments can sometimes be a band aid for a bullet hole as it doesn’t address the root cause of the issue. Not always the case if you are really trying to dial things in with little tweaks but I get scared when people are fit for major lie adjustments. Often I think it actually makes the problem worse. I would work from the ball flight backwards. If thats good then why adjust? If it isn’t then you can make some adjustments of the loft lie but as I said earlier be cautious

      • Loz

        Aug 26, 2017 at 3:44 am

        So as I’m 6′ 4″ provided I can hit an off the shelf club ok I shouldn’t worry about custom fitting? On the Ping scale I come out at 4 degrees upright and plus one inch. I know I can hit an off the shelf club well, but won’t I subconsciously be compensating in my setup and swing. I’m a 4 hcp and have pretty solid fundamentals. Surely I’m going to be catching the toe first on everything, which can’t be a good thing. What would be my start point in your fitting?

  22. Robert Malaussena

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Get fitted by your local PGA pro on a range.

    • Bert

      Aug 26, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      I’m not sure that’s good information. PGA Pro, good fitting? Maybe find a good PGA professional or golf instructor for lessons.

  23. xjohnx

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:48 am

    Though some of these mistakes are made only in professional, outdoor fittings, #3 is the biggest thing wrong with the golf industry as a whole. Most people getting “fit” are walking into a sporting goods store or golf shop and comparing a few drivers and looking at the “numbers” on a very one dimensional basis and in a short amount of time. #3 happens just about everywhere just about every time.

  24. Me

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:47 am

    As a fitter ….

    Irons, I weigh on more ball flight, direction and consistent carry. Ideally on natural turf as opposed to a hard mat. Driver; I agree completely with the writer, then again the golfer has final say, after reviewing the data of what ball flight they “like” . There are some that prefer a lower ball flight period, its often what they feel the most comfortable with- despite the technology and Data. Sergio for example prefers a slightly lower & more boring trajectory. No everyone is like Sergio but there is a fair amount of my customers that prefer a 10 degree launch angle than a say a 12.

    Even tougher to fit is older guys, who have slowly lost distance every year. Who in a subtle attempt of trying to speed up the driver head at impact, resort to lurching ahead of the ball with their hips, body and head, de-lofting the head to a negative attack angle. Rather than neutral or +1, 2, 3 degree attack angle by staying behind the ball.

    good article over all.

  25. Andy

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:39 am

    I suspect many people do not feel like they are swinging 100% like they normally do with indoor fittings. I am one of those people who feel confined and I also like to have a further away target. We will look back at hitting balls 15 feet into a padded screen as a huge mistake. Hit the clubs on the range and on the course before purchasing. Not many fitters offer this.

    There will come a day when we can swing some tool at a course and capture all the necessary data and the tool will identify the possible clubs to maximize our swing. The possible clubs will include past years and even various cost options. The Fitter model today is like new car salesman. I don’t feel 100% sure that their interest and my interest is fully aligned.

    • Me

      Aug 25, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Andy, that’s not unusual & normal for some. I compare the feeling you have to driving a car. When we do we focus on an object 100-150 feet ahead ( depending on car speed) as opposed to looking just over the hood and have to constantly correct steering of the automobile. In other examples some people feel like they are hitting into heavy fog when being fitted in an indoor simulator. I still do the fitting, but once things are narrowed down, take the club outdoors.

  26. Tom F. Stickney II

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Good points HB!

  27. Thus

    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Great advice, as a club fitter I recommend all other fitters and even coaches read this… lie boards are horrid and reading divots can create disastrous thoughts

    • Nick W

      Aug 25, 2017 at 11:18 am

      What would you propose for lie angle assessment if you are not using a lie board or reading divot patterns?

      • Loz

        Aug 26, 2017 at 3:26 am

        Yes I’d like to hear this too. I’m 6′ 4″ and am 4 degrees upright on the Ping scale. I currently have 2 degree up 1/2″ long Mizuno from their national UK fitting centre, yes a lie board was used. As I can hit my friends off the rack club straight, probably subconsciously compensating in my setup and swing, then I actually don’t need custom fit clubs. My natural swing is always going to hit slightly toe down and you think there’s nothing wrong with this in the long term?

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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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