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Highlights from our talk with the “King of Stamping,” Titleist’s Aaron Dill

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Aaron Dill, right-hand man to Bob Vokey himself and the “king of wedge stamping,” as Andrew Tursky called him, talked with the TG2 on a rare day off after spending the week attending to staffer’s needs at the Masters.

While the full 40-minute podcast is well worth a listen, we’re picking from the buffet to make you a plate of some of the best of the chat with Mr. Dill.

On Bernd Wiesberger’s Masters wedge…

The Austrian traditionally gives Dill a call prior to the Masters to dial in his set and discuss wedge stampings. “He’s really into that stuff, and so am I…it’s a collaborative process.” Interestingly, Dill says the actual wedge stamping doesn’t take nearly as long as the preparation. “That stamping took…five to 10 minutes tops,” Dill says. The process of actually applying the paint involves bottles with fine tips and little squeegees, then cleaning the wedge with a little acetone.

On players preparing for the Masters…

“We take into account that the conditions are so unique…Augusta National does such a great job of preparing the golf course…it’s just immaculate out there. Conditions are generally firm and fast.” Thus, “prep involves a little bit of sole testing, a little bit of bounce testing.” Players test different soles to deal with the firmness and want to be sure their grooves are fresh. The process starts a month or two before the event.

On common player changes at Augusta…

While the likes of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth don’t change much, according to Dill, some players, “I don’t want to say ‘panic,’ but when you get to the Masters, you want to play your best golf. Equipment preparation and golf course preparation is so important those first three days…Justin and Jordan will roll into the event with the same four pieces they played at every other event.” The only changes pertain to new wedges with fresh grooves.

On gaining players’ trust…

“Trust is earned over time. Spending time with them. Listening to them. Getting an idea what they want and what they need…I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been able to work with these guys since they were really young…I got to know Jordan Spieth when he was a high schooler. Being able to say that I spent all that time with those guys validates our relationship and the trust they put in me and Bob Vokey.”

On wedge grinding…

“Wedge grinding is understanding how to polish and ground and how the wheels work…it’s the combination of learning how to grind, but also, understanding what you’re grinding and why.” Dill says the ability to translate a player’s preferences into the wedge s/he wants is vital.

On learning grinding from Bob Vokey…

“Bob, would it be OK if I took a case of heads and just practiced?” Dill would ask. He would then take the heads from Vokey’s shop and practice grinds at his own truck and take them back to Vokey for feedback. Vokey would then mark up the wedges with Sharpie (like a teacher with a red pin), showing Dill what he needed to change. He’d then work with Vokey’s in-house polishers to refine things further and continue to learn.

Wedge grinding is “like a haircut: once you take it off, it’s not going to go back on there…you have to take your time and become one with the that machine.”

On turning wedges into what Tour players want…

“Tour players have these incredible eyes for things. You learn a lot about that when you’re polishing over time: what players are looking for and why, how you can turn a club from a tool into a piece of art…blending beauty and the things that are needed in the sole to produce the things they want.”

On the popularity of Vokey wedges…

“It’s a combination of beauty and technology. Bob will tell you, ‘we’re not going to sacrifice the aesthetics of the wedge.’…He doesn’t want to produce a product that isn’t stunning.” Dill adds, “the first thing we focus on is the aesthetics and the profile. Then, once we have the attractive profile, we’re going to start focusing on technology.” Dill adds the focus then turns to grooves, soles, and CG, “but beauty comes first.”

On developing grinds…

“With Tour players, we spend years testing with them…The D-grind is kind of this interesting play on bounce where you need it and playability where you need it…We call it the big brother to the M-grind…All of our grinds are inspired by what’s successful on Tour. The D for us has been a really big offering, especially when we’re on the East Coast due the the Bermuda grass, the sand-based soils, and the grain pattern.”

“We’ll use Jason Dufner as an example and the K-grind as an example. He said, ‘Hey I was hanging out with Tom Kite, and Tom had this wedge that was really cool, but I want to change this, that and the other thing…can you make that?’ After taking an oversized wedge to the shop floor and grinding, Dill produced the sole Dufner wanted. Dufner took the wedge out, played it, was successful with it, which led to more players asking for the grind. “That’s where the whole process starts,” Dill says. And if a wedge does well on Tour, the company then considers bringing it to retail. “But we certainly don’t just make stuff to make stuff,” Dill says, “that’s why the Tour is so important to us.”

On the importance of wedge fitting…

“It’s important to get out and test things…if you’re going to make an investment in your golf equipment, you might as well make sure that whatever you buy is right for you. Everybody’s different, and that’s why we make 27 different models in SM7.”

On Justin Thomas’ wedge stamping…

“When he was younger, he came out to our test site…he was hitting shots, and he was just peppering this flag. And they were like, “You’re like radar. Every single time it’s perfect.’ That’s how ‘radar’ started. When I first met Justin, he had that on the wedges. When he came out on Tour, I asked him if wanted to keep stamping it.” Thomas said he wanted to do something different, so Dill started stamping some lyrics from some of the songs Thomas was listening to. “And his short game kind of went down hill a little bit,” Dill says, and Thomas said, “On this next set…go back to ‘radar.’”

On memorable stampings and the process…

“Morgan [Hoffmann] is great because he always has new material for me. We would relate it to things that were going on in his life. Another great guy is Robert Streb…Darren Stiles is another funny guy…He did latitude/longitude coordinates on some of his clubs…I tell guys, ‘I don’t want to do initials, that’s boring. Let’s tell a story, let’s have some fun. Let’s be funny. Let’s be unique.” Dill says that sometimes players come up with ideas, and sometimes they leave it in his hands. “Ian Poulter, he would have just ‘IJP’ on there. One day we were talking about cars.” Poulter told him about his newest Ferrari: his 13th and asked if maybe Dill could fit the names of all 13 models on a wedge.

On his all-time favorite stamping…

“I did the 17th hole at Sawgrass for Robert Streb. That was really, really fun. I stamped the Valspar chameleon on something.”

On whether raw wedges actually spin more…

“Not necessarily. We did some great work on scoreline testing. Sometimes, when you cut your scorelines in and put a surface over the top, like a chrome or something like that, we describe it as folding a piece of paper in. Every time you fold a piece of paper in, it can become a bit softer. So, that’s where we got together with our vendors and realized there’s a better process for that…the perception is raw spins more. In our testing, it’s so small, it’s not that much.”

On who has the best short game on Tour…

“I think my favorite guy, who is just impressive with a wedge, is probably Jordan [Spieth]. He does everything well and is just so consistent. Now, there’s another guy I’ve enjoyed watching forever, he’s one of those guys that Tour players go to…for wedge advice: Brett Rumford.”

Listen to the full podcast here.

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19th Hole

I wasn’t ready for the 2019 Rules of Golf

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We weren’t ready. We thought we were, but we weren’t.

For the last year, the USGA reminded us that in 2019 Rules of Golf were coming, but we didn’t listen. We heard the flag stick could remain in and we heard that you could take a penalty drop from knee-height.

But we didn’t listen.

I bet none of you have even practiced using your putter to flatten the entire green between your ball and the cup. You can do that now.

I’m also sure that you and I will continue to hover our club in all hazards, er, penalty areas. Yeah, we’re calling it a penalty area now.

The USGA went to the extreme depths of changing words all to simplify the game for you.

I don’t think the USGA listened either.

The rule changes were intended to speed up play and simplify golf for amateurs. Seems like a good idea. In turn, they may have bamboozled the PGA Tour while confusing the only amateurs who kind-of, sort-of knew the rules.

The pros didn’t need a new rule book, the amateurs just needed a simple one.

Us “locals” as the USGA refers to amateurs, do have one extremely fluid perk. When hitting a ball OB, or following a lost ball, you can drop with a two-stroke penalty instead of walking back to the tee. This of course, is dependent on your course, head professional, tournament conditions, and other factors including and not limited to what phase the moon is in.

If that’s somewhat confusing, read up, ask about your local rules, and buy a few extra sleeves. Reason being, in 2019, the limit on searching for a golf ball has been cut from five to three minutes.

2019-rules-of-golf

But wait, there’s good news.

Thanks to the USGA, if you accidentally move your ball as you frantically high-step through fescue, it’s no longer a penalty! What an exciting 180 seconds that will be!

If you somehow don’t find your golf ball in the hazard penalty area, the USGA tried to help us out, which they did, yet regrettably took away a more iconic portrait on the golf course.

The rigid, stoic stance and forceful drop of a ball at shoulder-height.

And we let it happen.

Now, we’ll watch a defeated man deliberately bend to his knees and gingerly drop his ball…Which, by the way, appears to be a convenient way for cheaters to “take a drop” that ideally doubles as “identifying my first ball”.

Don’t even get me started on the back issues this could flare up.

We heard in late 2018 that Bryson DeChambeau would use the flagstick when the odds were in his favor. He even laid it out simply for us.

“It depends on the COR, the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick.”

Simple.

We didn’t listen Bryson, we didn’t believe. We also have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.

But hey, as Bryson would say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. Yeah, he’d clearly never say that, but here’s to hoping!

We heard he would do it, but we didn’t believe it. We had to see to believe. What we saw was DeChambeau first in strokes gained putting in the very first round he was allowed to do it.

Obviously, this trend will continue for DeChambeau, and others may join in, because what is golf if not a constant chase for a marginally better opportunity at success.

Watch your back, because those others that may join in could be closer than you think. You may turn around to find a fellow member asking for the flag on their next 12-footer.

It should be a fun year of commentary and confusion at your local club and on the PGA tour. Professionals will have constant questions for rules officials, and commentators will consistently question Bryson’s methods.

There is one real question I hope is answered this April.

What will we do when Bryson banks in a downhill putt at No. 2 of Augusta?

Will we be ready? Will Augusta?

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19th Hole

Tweets of the Week: Justin Rose shows off his Honma clubs, Justin Timberlake does Happy Gilmore and Barack Obama’s new swing

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ho-sung-choi-swing

Over the last seven days, Matt Kuchar brought home the bacon at the Sony Open, while golf fans got a look at plenty of new equipment releases for 2019. But here’s some things you may have missed, and some of the quirkier moments from the world of golf dished out in the Twittersphere in the last week.

Justin Timberlake’s Draw

Ten Grammy Awards, four Emmy Awards, and he can hit a perfect draw Happy Gilmore style. Bit annoying.

Rose Showcases His New Honma Clubs

Still waiting to make his first start of 2019, the World Number 1 is ready to go as a member of Team Honma.

Chez Reavie Goes Bananas

In case you missed it, Chez Reavie became the first player since the PGA Tour began keeping records to make three eagles on three par 4’s in a single round. The fact that he holed out each one from the fairway is quite incredible.

Obama’s New Swing

Barack Obama has had a bit more free time over the past couple of years, since, well you know, he’s not running the country anymore. How do you rate his swing, GolfWRXers?

Double Hit Rule

This video has caused much confusion over the past week on social media. The double hit rule may have changed in 2019, but this attempt is still illegal. Impressive either way you look at it though.

 

 

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19th Hole

Exploring Ireland: Where to golf, drink and stay on the Emerald Isle. Pt. 4. Bearna Golf Club, Galway

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In these series of articles, I will be taking you around the Emerald Isle providing you with great golf courses to visit in some of the loveliest spots in Ireland. I’ll also be highlighting the best and most authentic Irish bars in these spots, as well as places to stay, eat and how to get there. Whether you’re taking a golfing holiday to Ireland in 2019 or are interested in doing so sometime in the future, I’ll make sure to let you in on the best places to spend your time.

In Part Three of our Exploring Ireland Series, we went west and focused on Spanish Point Golf Club in Clare. Now it’s time for Part Four, and we’re staying on the west coast and taking the short trip up to County Galway.

Galway city is famous for its bustling nightlife, and in terms of bars to choose from, there are few better places in Ireland. Whether it’s a quiet night out and a meal, enjoying a few pints with some live traditional music, or a wild all-nighter you’re looking for, Galway certainly has you covered. Conveniently, the city also homes some top golf courses, which makes it a must-visit destination for anyone coming to this island.

Bearna Golf Club, Galway

@kevinmarkham

Galway Golf Club and Galway Bay Golf Resort are usually the two golf courses that people think of when they mention this county. But lurking under the radar is Bearna Golf Club, which will provide you with just as incredible an experience as those two courses, at a lower price.

Located within a 15-minute drive of Galway City, Bearna GC offers an authentic Irish golfing experience. Surrounded by bogland, you can expect your nose to take in all of the scents of Ireland as you navigate your way through the rugged land of humps, gorse bushes and ditches that will give your game a real workout.

@kevinmarkham

Creeks will appear on most fairways, so don’t expect to be able to turn up and grip it and rip it. Bearna is a golf course that is going to make you think, and with the challenges provided, will most likely test your patience as well as your skill.

The track offers five different sets of tees, all of which provide for a fun test. The course ranges between 4,897 yards and 6,271 yards and plays as either a Par 72 or 71 depending on the tees you choose. Thirteen holes feature water, and the one relief that you will find here that is different than other courses in the area is the lack of fairway bunkers.

@IrishGolfPhotos

Robert J. Browne designed the course back in 1996, and as well as the feeling you will have of being amongst nature, you will also have impressive views of the Aran Islands, Galway Bay and the famous Burren.

During the week, 18 holes around Bearna GC will set you back just under $50, while to play on the weekend the rate rises to $75. Don’t be surprised if after your round you want another crack at this deceptive course.

Food & Drink – Tig Coili, Galway

@DBloom451

There is no “best pub in Galway.” The city has an inordinate amount of amazing watering holes to spend your night, and it just comes down to personal taste and what experience you are looking to have for your night. As someone who loves the feel of an old traditional Irish pub though, Tig Coili gets my vote.

@stacy_sobieski

Located in the Latin Quarter of Galway City, this place will often have swarms of people flooding out from the bar onto the street. Traditional music plays here every night, with 14 music sessions each week. The pub prides itself on its music, with pictures of famous musicians that have played here in the past covering the walls.

Also, Tig Coili’s pint of Guinness is renowned for being one of the best in the area, and it’s what 90 percent of folks will be drinking for the night here.

@MeetInGalway

As for food in Galway, it can only be oysters. Described by multiple top chefs as the “best flavoured in the world,” the oysters here come from Galway Bay and are so popular in the city that should you visit here in September you can enjoy Galway’s three day Oyster festival.

You can hop into most bars in Galway serving food and throw back half a dozen oysters, but if you want to experience them for a sit-down meal then go and visit Oscars Seafood Bistro, where the flavour will blow your socks off. An early bird two-course meal of half a dozen oysters and a plate of steaming hot mussels with fries will cost just $20. The perfect drink pairing for oysters? Guinness. Ideal.

Where To Stay

My recommendation is to stay in the center of Galway. We’ve gone traditional in our visits to Donegal and Clare, but for Galway, the city is so alive that you will want to stay right in the heart of it. The Jury’s Inn is a solid option, which will leave you within walking distance of the best bars, restaurants and sights to see in the city. A double room here will set you back in the region of $100 a night.

@WriterVicYates

If you like to shop then visit Quay Street, where you can take in the shops while plenty of buskers on the street entertain you, while the bronze statue of Irish writer Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde is an imposing outdoor sight that is a trendy spot for a photo.

@IndoSport

But as we’re sports lovers, then when in Galway do whatever you can to catch a game of hurling. Galway’s hurling side are currently one of the best teams in the land, winning the All-Ireland title in 2017, and they possess some of the most passionate fans. Just try not to mention the last final when you get here.

How to Get There

Galway is about as accessible as it gets from anywhere in the island. You can take the train from any major city in Ireland, and it’ll take you right into the city center of Galway. A direct train from Dublin City will arrive in Galway in just over two hours.

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