Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.
The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.
Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice
The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.
Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.
If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.
Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.
I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.
Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.
Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.
The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.
Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance
The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.
When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?
Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.
What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?
If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.
Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!
Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!
Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.
Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?
I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.
First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.
How Does This Happen?
Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.
A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?
OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.
Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.
The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.
You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.
Obviously lots of discussion about fast (hot ????) drivers so let’s talk about that for a minute.
As they get used, a driver will get faster. The “hottest” a driver will be is right before the face fails!
To think this is a new thing is shortsighted, there are other examples…
— Ryan Barath ???????? (@RDSBarath) July 21, 2019
Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…
With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.
It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.
What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?
There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules, technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.
Chat with a (soon-to-be) PGA Tour champion: Sam Ryder
From 2003 through 2008, I had a side job as a high school golf coach for Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida. One of the kids to come up through the ranks during my tenure at Bishop Moore was a young man named Sam Ryder. Now, at 29 years of age, Sam is in his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, qualifying by way of his second-place finish in the standings on the 2017 (then) Web.com Tour.
Ryder played on the PGA Tour Canada in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, he finished fourth in the PGA Tour Canada Order of Merit earning a place on the Web.com Tour for 2016.
In July 2017, Ryder had his first Web.com win, at the Pinnacle Bank Championship, finishing eight strokes ahead of the field. He finished second in the 2017 Web.com Tour regular season rankings to gain a place on the PGA Tour for 2018.
In his rookie campaign on the PGA Tour, Sam had a T2 finish at the John Deere, a fifth-place finish at the Houston Open and a T7 at the Barbasol Championship. He finished the year ranked 101 in the FedEx Cup Race.
This year, despite battling an injury, Sam has a third at the Shriners, a T4 at the Safeway and just last week, a T18 at the John Deere. He is currently ranked 92nd in the FedEx Cup standings and 190th in the World Golf Rankings.
I recently caught up with Sam to chat about his run-up to the PGA Tour and all the various experiences that go along with that.
So, let’s go back to your Bishop Moore days…when I was coaching my last year of vrsity, I think you were a junior. Sean took over your senior year. Curious, if back then, did you aspire of playing professionally?
SR: Generally, yes, I think I always saw myself playing baseball growing up. I wanted to be a professional in Major Leagues. When I turned to golf, I continued the path. I have always thought, “Why put in the effort if you don’t have a means to an end?” Without putting the goal on paper, it was always the end goal: to see how far I can go.
How about your years at Stetson? How did that play into your development as a future PGA Tour star?
SR: Stetson was my only Division 1 scholarship offer, and actually the only school I applied to. I knew I wanted to give golf a shot. Playing Division 1 in Florida was going to give me my best opportunity to get better.
At what point during your rise through the Canadian and Web.com did you really feel like you had what it took to play full time on the PGA Tour?
SR: I’ve always just wanted to see how good I can get. I love the game of golf, so it’s easy for me to work hard. I never knew if I was going to be a failed pro who never made it on tour or make it to number one in the world. But I’ve always been driven by the competitive nature of the sport and wanting to see where I “stack up” so to speak.
What was the most eye-opening part of playing full time on the PGA Tour for you?
SR: I think the biggest challenge of being a PGA Tour rookie is trying to learn all of the new golf courses. Everything about being a rookie on Tour is setting you up to be uncomfortable. Rookies are really behind the eight-ball when they get out there. Until you’re able to get into a routine and develop a level of comfort it’s hard to expect good results. I wanted to stay true to my approach for the most part. I earned my way on the PGA Tour and knew I was good enough based on the success I had on the Web.com Tour. I’m always trying to get better, but I wanted to do it my way, the way that got me there. It’s really easy to try to be someone you’re not when you get on Tour.
You have been in contention multiple times on the weekend and deep into a Sunday, what have you taken as the biggest positive from those experiences and what do you feel you still need to work on in regard to notching that first win?
SR: Biggest positive: playing well in big-time pressure moments. I haven’t really “lost” an event, so to speak. I have come from behind to make a good push. Knowing that when I am in these situations, and the adrenaline is going, I am able to hit the shots and make the putts. It gives me confidence that I am not going to fold in a pressure situation.
Something that everyone is always working on, including Tiger Woods, is to stay in the moment. As cliche as that is, it is a constant struggle to focus on the task at hand. Don’t get too high or low- treat each shot for what it is…
As a PGA Staff Professional with Cleveland/Srixon for several years, I know how great the equipment is with them. What had you join their team as a staff Tour Professional?
SR: I’ve been with Cleveland since I turned pro in 2012-13, they were the first manufacturer to approach me, and I love their equipment from the ball to the wedges and now the irons and driver.
What currently are you and your coach working on?
SR: Having missed significant time due to injury recently, we are just working on a lot of the same things I have been working on, my swing doesn’t change much. Right now, distance control with the irons and wedges is a focus.
Any veteran Tour members welcome you as a new member when you first came out? Kind of show you the ropes.
SR: Former player, Fulton Allem, gave me advice about managing strengths and weaknesses. Some players get so consumed with their weakness that they lose their strengths. Other players maximize their strengths and have awareness and the ability to monitor and play around their weaknesses. That goes along with the importance of staying true to your identity as a player as opposed to trying to be someone you’re not.
Chris DiMarco has been a mentor to me, growing up in the Orlando area. He has been able to provide guidance and support over the past few years, as I navigate my first years on TOUR.
For the most part veteran players as a whole have been accommodating and welcoming and are happy to share knowledge along the way.
So, what’s a typical work week look like for you? Tournament week and non?
SR: Tournament Weeks are pretty consistent…
Monday- is usually a travel day and I make a point to good work out in that day, as it’s a day off from golf Tuesday- I play nine holes
I go to the gym every day before I go to the course, just to get my body warmed up. Thursday and Friday rounds alternate AM/ PM tee times. I get up three hours before regardless of the time of the round, just to get body ready.
When I am home, I go to the gym with my trainer, Alex Bennet @ TPC Sawgrass performance center 5/6 times per week. Usually, Monday and Tuesday are days off from golf, to give my body a rest.
I practice on Wed/ Thursday and play money games with other TOUR players on the weekend, to keep my game sharp and prepare for the high stakes the next week. I live less than a mile from the beach, and I enjoy going there to relax. I spend time visiting friends too.
You’ve become somewhat of a fashion icon on tour…what is your take on style and dress on Tour? It seems like a big thing for an observer from this side of the ropes…a way of self-marketing perhaps or standing out from the pack?
SR: I definitely care about my style on the golf course. I’m certainly not afraid to make a little bit of a fashion statement and wear things other players may not be willing to wear. The clothes I wear can definitely contribute to some added confidence, and confidence is one of the most important components to playing good golf.
Curious on your take of the health of golf in general?
SR: I think it’s great. The game of golf is in a good spot. I think Tiger Woods being relevant is massively important to the game, it brings sponsors and more viewers to the game. There is a great crop of young players right now. It is in a healthy, sustainable spot. Jay Monahan really has the TOUR moving in a good direction.
The 19th Hole: Gary Player, Irish ambassadors talk Open in Northern Ireland
Hall of Famer Gary Player returns to the 19th Hole to talk about the Championship, his record and his favorites to win this year. Also features Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall and Northern Ireland Consul Director Norman Houston.
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