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!
Chat with a Champion: Keegan Bradley
Since bursting on the scene in 2011 as Rookie of the Year and joining a very short list of first-time winners in their major championship debut, Keegan Bradley has been part of the PGA Tour landscape for almost a decade now. It hasn’t always been an easy road for the New Englander, with some down years in 2016 and 2017. He jumped back into the winners circle in 2018 with his victory at the BMW Championship, which also propelled him to an 8th place finish in the 2018 FedEx Cup standings.
I had a chance to catch up with Keegan recently. From his early days to his love of the Ryder an Presidents Cups, we covered a bunch of topics related to his golf journey to this point.
What was your earliest memory of the game? Being your dad is a PGA Professional, I’m sure that he was an early influencer…
KB: I’ve been holding a golf club as long as I can remember. I am guessing I started swinging it around 2 years of age… I used to love going to the golf course with my dad.
When did you realize that golf was “Your Sport” over skiing? As you think back, was there something that sticks out as the biggest influence on your decision?
KB: I was probably a better skier than golfer, growing up in the Northeast. I remember one day, challenging for a title while I was in high school, standing on the top of the mountain, in the freezing cold thinking, ya, I am probably done now, golf it is. I was 16 at the time.
How much did your Aunt (Pat Bradley) play a role in your development as a player?
KB: Aunt Pat has been an unbelievable mentor for me over the years. She has had such a great influence on me and I like to think that we are both very similar. She has taught me the importance of focus and intensity. Not only in competition, but in practice.
Growing up in the Northeast (as I did) golf is very seasonal. What did you do to practice in the winter? Or did you just kind of shut it down for a few months?
KB: I didn’t play and I rarely even practiced in the winter months in the Northeast. I think it prevented me from burning out as a kid. People tell me that it was a disadvantage, I thought it was a huge help! I was on skis all winter and then couldn’t wait to get my clubs out in the spring!
What lead to your decision to attend St. Johns? How important was your College experience in your development?
KB: Honestly, at the time, I just had to go somewhere that offered me a full scholarship. Coach Darby showed belief in me and that meant a lot. Once I started having success, I got offers from bigger golf schools to transfer, but I stayed loyal to Coach, as he did to me. To this day, my best friends are the guys I played golf with during my college career. We all still hang out together today.
Obviously, a rookie year like yours must have been a dream. How did it feel to not only be Rookie of the Year in 2011 but to also join the likes of Willie Park, Sr. and Francis Ouimet as one of only 4 players in the history of the game to win in their debut in a Major?
KB: It was a complete whirlwind, I started out trying to figure out how to keep my PGA Tour card and trying to plan a schedule, to all of a sudden, becoming a PGA Tour winner and a Major Champion. Winning the PGA was beyond a dream, and to be one of only four players to win a Major at their first attempt is something I am very proud of.
I was in attendance for your win at the PGA, I’m curious what you felt was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
KB: It validated that I could play under the most intense pressure and gave me the launchpad for my career.
I was also in attendance at the Ryder Cup in Chicago. Considering the much different outcome of that experience over the win at the Atlanta Athletic Club, what were your take away from that Ryder Cup?
KB: I love team golf and it kills me when I am not on a team now, representing the USA and I can’t wait to get back there. I played some of the best golf of my life, at Medinah and the memories will last a lifetime. Playing alongside Phil, who has become a friend, as well as a mentor was inspirational.
How much do you love the team events?
KB: I love team events. The fact that we play an individual sport, but we can come together and be such a tightknit group, under a crazy amount of pressure is awesome and it is so much fun. I am going to be working very hard to play on the next USA Team!
You have become close with Michael Jordan over the years. What influence has he had on your career?
KB: MJ may be the greatest athlete of all time. I feel very privileged to call him a friend. He has been around during both the peaks and the valleys of my career and he always knows the right thing to say. He is a very inspirational and motivational person and just great to be around.
How big was your win last year for your confidence going into this season?
KB: My win last year was huge for me. It was a validation of all the work I had been doing with my instructor Darren May. It is no secret that I had struggled for a couple of seasons, even though technically, but I was improving and felt good. The way I won and the field I beat to win, gave me an incredible amount of satisfaction and has set me up to keep moving forward.
I asked Jack Nicklaus in his interview (which will post in a few weeks) about the work-life balance for a world ranked PGA Tour Professional. Obviously, it was a different time in his era but how do you manage this as a husband and fairly new father?
KB: I am always learning, and I try to keep as balanced as possible. I love spending time with my wife, Jillian, and my son, Logan, but like any husband/father there is a need to work in order to provide. I think I have just got better at structuring my practice, so that I am more efficient with my time.
What are your feelings on the overall health of the game? From both a professional and recreational standpoint?
KB: I think the game is in a GREAT place right now. Tiger is back and that is huge for our sport, add to that the great young players contending each week and the personalities we have on the PGA Tour and internationally, I think we are in a great position to grow the game.
What is your advice for a young golfer looking to pursue a career in golf? Either as a player or club Professional?
KB: I will always advise all children to play as many sports as possible, have fun, don’t take it too seriously too early or you will burn out. You have to make the game fun. Once you have made the decision to pursue golf, work hard. You need to make sure that when you are done for the day, that no one else you are competing with, could have out worked you. It is a mindset more than anything. Golf is a very competitive industry, but there are many ways to get into it. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again!
Lastly, what in your opinion is one way we as an industry can bring more people to our game?
KB: Make it fun and make it more affordable for the masses. Encourage 9-hole competitions; time is one of the biggest barriers to entry for golf, as a sport.
The Gear Dive: Sacks Parente Golf
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist Golf, Johnny chats with longtime club designers Steve Sacks and Rich Parente on the old days with Callaway, Goldwin Golf, Carbite and the new endeavor Sacks Parente.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
There’s a major omission in Brandel Chamblee’s list of the 10 best seasons in men’s golf
Brandel’s list is great, but he’s missing a BIG one…maybe the BEST one. Earlier this week Brandel Chamblee, whom I respect and enjoy, tweeted a list of the top 10 years in men’s golf.
The ten best years in men’s golf.
Tiger 2005 https://t.co/I9ZqGH03E1
— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) June 25, 2019
It’s a great list and one that was very well thought out. However, there is one season that is missing, and in my opinion, it could go down as one of the top 5 of all time, if not the best: Tiger Woods’ 2008 season.
Yes, the year he played only the first half of the season
Before the trolls start to engage, let’s look at all the facts…
Tournaments worldwide: 7
Wins: 5 (Dubai, Torrey, Bay Hill, Match Play, U.S. Open)
Top 5s: 7
Scoring average: 67.65
*also won the Tavistock Cup
So, let’s put this in perspective, the guy teed it up eight times total (including the Tavistock). He won six times. His worst finish was fifth. He came from behind to win in Dubai, Bay Hill, and the U.S. Open. The only tournament that he didn’t really have a chance to win was the Masters, and frankly, if he makes any putts at all he wins that too.
He dealt with serious left leg and knee injuries all season; having arthroscopic knee surgery two days after the Masters, hurrying his comeback, and suffering stress fractures in his tibia and continued ACL issues. AND TW also revealed in 2010 that he injured and re-injured his right Achilles tendon multiple times throughout 2008.
In regards to the competition: Phil, Ernie, Padraig, Sergio, Westwood, Adam Scott, and many others were in their primes and gunning for him harder than ever before. Keep in mind that from 2005-2007, Tiger won 21 times in 52 starts on the PGA Tour. What would he have done if he was healthy?
Let’s also discuss the moments in this season. The nuclear putt on the 18th at Dubai, the utter dominance at Torrey, the hat throw on 18 at Bay Hill, The absolute smackdown of Stewart Cink in the Match Play final, Tiger’s back 9 on Friday at U.S. Open, Tiger’s back 9 on Saturday at U.S. Open, Tiger’s final round at U.S. Open, Tiger’s playoff vs. Rocco. So, in perspective, he had maybe 20 moments that year that probably land in his top 100 highlight reel.
While you are all taking this in, go to YouTube and watch videos from that year, and I guarantee you will get lost in the countless moments of absolute greatness. What he did in 2000, 2006, 2007, etc was unbelievable BUT what he did in ’08 is truly unworldly.
And, oh yeah, one other thing: Tiger played six times on the PGA Tour, finished second on the money list just $1 million behind Vijay who played 23 times. He was No. 1 in Fed Ex Cup points going into the playoffs….in 6 events.
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