It’s said that scratch golfers are among the top 1 percent of golfers worldwide. They are the Sasquatches of the golf world — often heard about, but seldom seen or played with. Some people think you can recognize these golfers not just by their fluid swings, soft touch around the greens and rhythmic putting strokes. According to a lot of golfers, most good golfers can be recognized with a simple peak into the bag to see what clubs they are playing.
There’s something telling about a golfer’s bag and the clubs in it. Maybe it’s the wear spots on the irons and how old the wedges are. Is there a classic club in there? A Titleist 905R driver perhaps? Does he or she have an old Ping Anser style putter, or rusty Cleveland 588 wedge?
We all play this game because we want to be that golfer, the one who no one wants to play against, the golfer who makes every 5-foot putt he or she looks at and the one who can get up and down from anywhere. It’s time to be honest, though. There’s a solid chance that golfer is never going to be you. You work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and have a wife and children. You aren’t the golf Sasquatch, you just use a Nike Sasquatch (not the tour model, the retail version with the Mitsubishi Rayon’s made-for yellow Diamana).
I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. Remember, the average handicap of male golfers is 16, which is a really long way from scratch.
Here’s the thing with golf though — when you’re on the course with three other people, even a fairly open course, only those three people (and possibly the three people in the group behind you) are the only ones who will ever see you hit a shot. So does it matter if you are a scratch? Maybe to some. But for most golfers, looking like a scratch golfer will be much easier and more fun that being one.
If I’ve learned one thing from golf, it’s that the golfers who look good on the course also have a tendency to play better. That’s why I’ve created a step-by-step guide on how to build an intimidating bag of clubs, one that will make you look like a scratch golfer. Getting better is up to you.
Step 1: Bagging the right bag
Let’s start with the bag. You have a staff or cart bag you say? Great. How big is your fireplace? Go throw it in there.
I’ve played with some great players who’ve had cart bags, but that’s not the point. We want to make this a slam-dunk. You know what a cart bag says about you? It says you like to ride in a cart (and you probably drink beer during rounds too). That means you are probably not a scratch golfer.
Go buy a Ping Hoofer carry bag and thank me later. You get bonus points if you carry it during the round. I’ve never seen a bad player lug a Ping Hoofer around for 18 holes and neither have you.
Step 2: Covering those clubs
Don’t stop there while you’ve got the fire going. Here’s another piece of golf equipment that never hits a shot, but can make a world of difference in how you’re perceived by the golfing community: head covers. No scratch player is going to lose to a guy with a set of head covers that look brand new say “Rocketballz.” You can use TaylorMade RocketBallz products, mind you, just make sure to get a sock head cover for them. Put your Rocketballz under a Rocket Tour and you are in business! (If you don’t get that reference, you are probably one of the golfers that should re-read this).
If you want to take your head cover street cred a step further, drive over your head covers a few times with your car. Head covers are like jeans – they look better broken in. As for iron head covers, throw them out because no good player has ever used them. Dings are like divots — if you’re a good player, you can’t escape them.
Step 3: Choosing the right driver
First off, trade in your square driver unless your name is Lucas Glover. Ditto for any driver with a significant offset.
Great players use drivers from all makes and years, so it’s really tough to go wrong. If you want to seal the deal, though, buy a Titleist 910 driver. Great amateur players use Titleist drivers, but you don’t necessarily want it to be too “new” because that has its own implications. The 910 models are in the sweetspot — a couple of years old, but holding strong on Tour.
The aforementioned 905R is another good choice, but it’s been around so long it’s made it into a lot of hacks bags through eBay or used bins. If you have a Titleist 907 and think that’s fine, it’s not. Drive into a bad part of town and leave your door open (I am doing you a favor. You’ll just have to trust me). The 907 drivers were only created because TaylorMade got a Manchurian candidate into Titleist for two years to sabotage them. That’s at least what I read on GolfWRX.
Step 4: Picking a 3-wood
A good 3 wood needs to be old enough that you’ve hit it a lot, like a 1000 times. It also needs to look like it’s made par 5s just line up and surrender to you.
A good 3 wood is your most trusted club, but also one of the hardest clubs to hit. Scour eBay and find a TaylorMade V-Steel, the holy grail of modern 3 woods. You get bonus points if it’s beat to within inches of its life. If it isn’t, just smack it with a rock a few times so it is. Done and done. Actually, while you’re at it, make sure to get the 5 wood too, because great players don’t use hybrids. I don’t know why, but Tiger and Rory don’t use them, so that’s good enough for me.
Step 5: Bagging the proper irons
Irons present the biggest opportunity for posing of any club in the bag. Miuras might mean you are a player, but they also might mean you have a lot of money and just want to play the clubs Tiger used while with Nike, I mean … never mind.
Titleist blades? You might be one of the many 15 handicaps who actually think blades are the best way to improve. I’m not going to judge, actually no wait that’s what we are doing here. In fact that’s the whole purpose of this article. So let’s judge: I don’t trust people with blades. Some golfers with blades are great players, but some guys are trying to appear like great players. I’m trying to give you a chance to not appear like you are appearing, are you still with me here?
Here is what you do: buy a set of Mizuno MP-60s. They are tasteful and elegant forged cavity backs. No one “poses” using cavity backs, and Mizuno somehow manages to be a players club while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of being a magnet for wannabes. Your irons better be dinged up too, because nothing says “I like to take drops when my ball is on a root” more then pristine clubs. So bang ‘em up a bit. Scratch players punch out. Guys that get beat by scratch players use their foot wedge and say things like “leaf rule” or “root rule.”
Step 6: Adding wedges
Scratch players pretty much all play the same wedges. I’ve never met one who didn’t have a Vokey or some form of rusty Cleveland in his bag. So when you’re choosing why risk it? Get yourself one of both. I’m thinking a 53-degree rusty old Cleveland 588 and the 60-degree Vokey of your choice.
Step 7: The putter
Probably half the great players you’ll ever meet use Scotty Cameron putters. I’d guess those players make up less than half Cameron’s business, however. Horrific golfers who happen to have great wives use the rest of Cameron’s putters. If you choose to go with a Scotty it had better be an old one because the absolute truth of golf is that guys with shiny putters make absolutely nothing.
If I were choosing (and I am), I’d go with an old Ping Anser style putter. You might be thinking, “Aren’t there like a million Ping Ansers out there? Aren’t most of them in the bags of total hacks?”
The answer is yes, but an old Anser putter in the bag of a guy using MP60s and a Titleist 910 driver — there’s not too many of those. That guy isn’t missing inside 10 feet and you know it. At least that’s why you think when you see his bag.
I shouldn’t have told you all this, because guys with intimidating bags don’t lose. But just by hanging out by the putting green with your new bag, 97 out of 100 of them will think you are the best player they’ve ever seen. Impressing the other three is on you though.
The range is that a way.
A breakdown of NCAA golf’s 2018 early-signing period
With the early-signing period for college golf ending about a week ago, I wanted to examine the numbers and see how they compared to last years. As you may remember, I reported last year that the average National Junior Golf Score Board (NJGS) ranking for a player that signed at a Division One Institution was 365. Likewise, the average NJGS for Power 5 Conference School was 114, while 52 percent of signees where from in-state. This year during the early signing period there were 173 players who signed at D1 schools. Of these the average NJGS for all division one signees was 262.6. The average for the Power 5 Conference signees was 113.76 and again 51 percent of players signed from in-state.
An important question is “what do we know about the 263-ranked player in NJGS (the average rank for D1)?” At the end of the signing period, this player was Ben Woodruff. The native of Huntersille, NC signed to play in-state for the University of North Carolina Charlotte. According to NJGS, Ben played 9 events with one top-5 finish, an overall rank of 507 and a scoring differential of .35. Historically, we see that the average Division One player has a scoring differential very close to .5 or better.
For the second consecutive year, the number one player chose a non-power 5 Conference school; Ben Wong decided to play his college golf for Coach Enloe at Southern Methodist University (SMU), located in Dallas, Texas. This means, Wong a native of Spring, Texas (a northern suburb of Houston) will be playing college golf about 3 hours north. He will also be joined by NJGS second-ranked player Noah Goodwin, giving SMU a formidable pair of recruits! Florida, Louisiana State University, Pepperdine, North Carolina and Texas also all nabbed two players each from the top 25 in their class, while UCLA grabbed three!
Among the most interesting trends in recruiting is the preference for college coaches to recruit “in-state” players. Over the past two years, the number of “in-state” signees have remained about 50 percent. This number, in my opinion, is based largely on limited recruiting budgets; less than 20 percent of schools have major recruiting budgets. Instead many coaches rely on recruiting budgets of a couple thousand dollars, which is not going to “travel” well.
It is also interesting to note that of the signees for Division I listed on NJGS, only 24 of 197 players where international. This means that international players make up 12 percent of the signees. This number is steady from the previous data collect. Of these players, Wake Forest signed players ranked 305 ad 702 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR), while UAB signed a player ranked 2476, Iowa State a player ranked 1098, UTEP a player ranked 2132 (also 325 in NJGS), Western Carolina a player ranked 3699, Stanford a player ranked 208, Arizona a player ranked 141, Colorado a player ranked 754 and 1050, Louisiana Monroe a player ranked 1524, Washington State a player ranked 3251, Northwestern a player ranked 332, Oregon a player ranked 527 and 2229 (also 291 in NJGS), VCU a player ranked 3216 (also 168 in NJGS) and George Washington a player ranked 2851 (also 276 in NJGS). The average WARG for these players is 1,558.5 (please note these represent their current WAGR rankings).
Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole
In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.
Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
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