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Opinion & Analysis

Augusta isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Think again…

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Augusta isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? That would be the dumbest thing said in the history of… well, anything.

I’ve attended PGA Tour events as a player and coach. I’m also the son of a former Major League Baseball player, which is a big reason why I’ve been lucky enough to be in the stands for many deciding championship games in most major sports. I say all that to say I’m not one to be awed by the atmosphere. I also received an invitation to play Augusta 25 years ago, only to respectfully decline in order to play in a Web.com Tour event.

My affair with Augusta began in 1986. Yes, that 1986. I was a freshman at UCLA and that Masters Sunday I was on the lesson tee at Bel Air Country Club with my good friends Bob May (yes, that Bob May) and my teammate Ken Tanigawa, who is now a rookie on the Champions Tour. There were also a few other juniors there as well. The UCLA coach asked us who we thought would win.

“Seve.”

”Seve.”

”The Shark.”

”The Shark.”

“Nick Price.”

He then came to me. Being a typical contrarian I said, “Jack is going to shoot 64 and everyone else is going to start choking, putting balls in the lake and leaving 8 footers short.” No, I’m not kidding, I really said exactly that, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

After I left the course, I went back to my apartment and was about to watch the final round when my friends asked me to go play pickup basketball. I put on a VHS tape (yes, I’m that old) and went to play basketball. At the time, I had no aspirations for pro golf; I wanted to be a doctor. When I came back from hooping it up, I turned on the TV and was shocked to see Nicklaus had been declared the winner as Greg Norman had just missed his putt on No. 18.

I was even more shocked to see the final round unfolded almost exactly as I had predicted. Seve’s snap hook into the water on No. 15; Norman’s block into the stands on No. 18; Kite’s steer job eight-footer on No. 18 that was short.

I spent the next four hours watching, and something came over me that I had not ever experienced. It was something that most 18-year-old boys are too emotionally stunted to feel: overwhelming sentiment. As the birdies (and eagle) mounted, I started sobbing out of sheer excitement and joy. When Nicklaus almost made a hole-in-one on No. 16 and Jim Nantz uttered his famous, “The Bear… has come out of hibernation,” I had a complete emotional meltdown.

Even today, just thinking about that moment and line makes me well up (it’s happening even as I type this). If I were in a movie, I would need no acting classes to learn how to have an emotional reaction. Just play the 16th hole of the 1986 Masters for me. When Jack made the putt on No. 17 (the guy in the background covering his ears always cracks me up), I lost my mind and did a celebratory lap around my complex. That day, I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to play my way to Augusta and win just like Jack.

Thirty-two years later, after many failed attempts at the PGA Tour and my dumb decision to decline an invitation to play there, I made my first trip to Augusta last week for the 2018 Masters. You can see the videos and photos I took on my instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/montescheinblum/

The parking… free. The concessions… less expensive than any muni. The Augusta merchandise was so reasonably priced, I spent way more than I planned to. It was like going to Costco. I was going to buy one small token to commemorate my trip, but the prices were so ridiculous I lost my mind.

For the first 50 years of my life, I had no clue what sugar plumb fairies were. As I walked out onto the grass and the expanse of the course was in my view, the sugar plumbs weren’t just dancing — they were throwing a rave in my head. If you asked me when Christmas was, I’d have said it started 30 seconds ago.

At that point, I was no longer a former pro, high-level golfer whose hopes of playing in the Masters were dashed long ago. I was that 18-year-old boy at the genesis of his career… and a tourist. I felt like skipping and galloping my way down to Amen Corner and around Nos. 15 and 16. I have played more than half of the top-50 golf courses in the world. I’ve also played about 10 U.S. Open tracks and all of the Open Championship tracks except Murifield. With all due respect, all of them are dumps in comparison… all of them.

As I arrived at Amen Corner, I nearly cried with the same joy as when my two children were born, but I survived the onslaught of emotion. Walking down the right side of the 15th fairway, I was amazed at how wide the fairway was before the trees on the left pinch in… and how ******* scary (profanity is sometimes necessary to convey degree) the second shot into that paper thin deep green looks from the top of the hill.

It was now time for me to see No. 16, the symbol of my emotional outburst over 30 years ago. The place I approached from was under and to the left of two giant grandstands that cover the tee box. When I emerged, it was nirvana. It is one of the most gorgeous holes I have ever seen, and I’ve played No. 18 at Pebble Beach and No. 12 at Old Head. The lake and hole was to my right, and a giant hill that turns into a makeshift grandstand of die cast folding chairs on my left.

No one was around and I lost it. I was a mess. There were no tissue concession nearby and only the fancy “Players Only” bathroom in sight. I was denied entry by the attendant when I complained of “sunblock burning my eyes.” He did get me some tissue and a wet paper towel to wash the “sunblock” out.

That brings me to another point. I have never been to any sporting event, or anywhere for that matter, where the volunteers and security are so nice and polite. No power trips. “Sir, you’re not supposed to stand there. I would really appreciate it if you would keep walking.” It’s probably why the other fans are so polite. Everyone is so happy to be there. There is no pushing or shoving. People say “excuse me.” They make room for you. They “sit down in front” without you even asking. Nobody is yelling: “Mashed Potatoes” or ”Baba Booey” or ”You Da Man” or ”Get in the Hole.” The Masters is the way society should be.

I simply cannot overstate the magnificence of the course conditions and the elevation changes in the holes and greens. The perfection of design and just sheer awesomeness is on all sides of you at all times. At other golf courses, the severity would be Mickey Mouse. At Augusta, it’s purposeful.

The famous pimento cheese sandwich (all of $1.50) is as succulent as a Maine Lobster tail in drawn butter at a five-star restaurant. The Coca-Cola is as refreshing and delightful as the finest Dom Perignon… and it’s because you’re at Augusta National Golf Club. Brussel sprouts, tofu and even McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwiches would be edible on the grounds of Augusta.

After the Wayne’s World dream sequence faded, I thought it was about time to watch some actual golf. I took some very nice video of Henrik Stenson (above). Stenson became a victim of the very difficult right pin on No. 14, where he spun down into the collection area where par was unlikely. While I was filing the scene he hit a second ball from the same spot, adjusted and hit it in gimme range.

Most of the golfers had played their practice round before I got there, so I saw very little actual golf until I decided to go watch some of the par-3 contest. I saw and got video of Rickie Fowler lipping out and almost making an ace on No. 1… only to have Jordan Spieth hit nearly the same shot and spin it back to a few inches. Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and a few others followed and again, I got some very nice video of their shots.

As I was about to go walk the less famous, but probably more difficult front nine, I heard, “Here comes Nicklaus, Watson and Player.” Holy ***! My boyhood hero and two of his great rivals headed to the first tee. For you old time Saturday Night Live fans, I was definitely verklempt.

I saw an amazing time machine-level event. Nicklaus, Player and Watson all hit it within 2-3 feet and as you know, Watson won it all. I am sorry (and happy) to say I missed the grandson’s hole-in-one on No. 9. If I had been there, a 50-year-old man blubbering like a small child would have made SportsCenter’s Not Top 10. I couldn’t wait to come back and watch actual tournament play on Friday.

When I arrived on Friday, I was made aware of yet another one of Augusta’s awesome traditions: the folding chair stands. You go buy a very high quality folding chair that comes in an over the shoulder carrying case (for only $30). There is a spot for a luggage-style name tag, and all over the golf course in very choice spots on every hole there are areas marked for these chairs to create makeshift grandstands. You get to the course, find your favorite spot, open your chair, drape the case over the back and go off to all places viewing the greatest golf has to offer. Your spot is reserved for you whenever you choose to return.

I chose a spot midway up the 16th hole (where else did you think I would pick?). I could see and follow the tee shots all the way to the green and watch the putts fall as they may. It was also the perfect angle to look back up the 15th fairway to the top of the hill and watch the nausea-inducing shots into the green. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the actual golf, as that was being covered by the media, but I did witness some pretty amazing stuff.

I stood in a very nice spot behind the 14th tee and watched the game’s best from less than 10 paces behind the tee. Finau, Bubba, Jordan, Rickie, DJ, JT, Rory, Gary Woodland (who was the most impressive) and many, many others. I then ventured to possibly the best spot in the house: the 11th tee. It’s way back up the hill in a secluded spot. You can literally get on the ropes and be 10 feet from the golfers. Day, Reed, Oosthuizen, Rose, Garcia and many, many more.

What I also saw on the 11th tee was four young lads having a special moment. I’d say they were between the ages of 16-18. They were clad in black pants (it was 80+ degrees) and a Nike red shirt. I know it’s obscure, but I’ll force you to guess who they were fans of. When the tee sheet showed that the next group was going to include one Eldrick Woods, the anticipation the four young men were creating was rubbing off on the rest of us.

I have stood next to Tiger on a PGA Tour range and chatted with him briefly. This was not my first rodeo… but that was not during the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Just like the Fab Four standing shoulder to shoulder right next to me, I and the other patrons were showing a level of anticipation that can only be seen by teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert… only in this case, the man walking up to us merits this sort of adulation and worship.

Tiger was not playing well, and he had his head down when he walked on the tee. When he looked up, the first thing he saw was his four doppelgängers and he laughed out loud. He was visibly touched and gave all four a fist bump. I am sorry to tell their moms, but I believe they will never wash those hands again.

After the interlude with Eldrick, I decided to go to my spot on No. 16. Among other things, I saw Oosthuizen get up and down to the right pin from the right bunker, hitting it to six inches. It was maybe one of the five greatest shots I have ever seen in my life as a fan and player. Even Oosthuizen laughed. I also saw DJ from the same line on the edge of the green, 10 feet away, putt the ball down the slope 40 feet away and make the comebacker for par, much to the delight of the roaring crowd.

I also saw Leishman’s great hook around the trees into No. 15. There was a huge bang when his ball was landing, and it seemed to those of us on No. 16 that he had hit the grandstand and kicked across the green to that spot. Not until I saw the highlights did I know it was a coincidence. After some wonderful time on No. 16 and watching the shots down the hill on No. 15, the day was over, as was my time at Augusta. I had a 13-man golf school in Atlanta Saturday though Monday and wouldn’t have a chance to come back.

I destroyed my credit card balance at the pro shop on the way out, which only had a 5-10 minute wait as they have 16 checkout stands with four attendants at each. As I walked to my car and lamented not being able to see the back nine on Sunday, I couldn’t help but start planning my next trip. I started to pull up Priceline to check hotels for next year, but my cell phone was in the car as they are not allowed on the grounds. The Masters actually has scanners checking people trying to sneak them in.

“Crap, already sold out for next year, except a zero-star hotel for $800 a night. Wait a minute… the course where I am holding the school is less than two hours away from Augusta. The last tee time is not until nearly 3 p.m. I bet if I ask the guys to start early, I can make it back to watch the last few groups tee off on No. 1 and catch anyone making a charge on the back 9.”

Saturday at lunch, I asked the group if they’d do me a favor. Unanimously, they said they were going to kick me out at noon on Sunday as they were sick of me already. They say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine Sunday, and I was about to experience that first hand.

I got there about 40 minutes before the final group teed off. I rushed down to No. 16 only to find every inch of choice space taken already. Even the terrible space was overloaded. I shouted an expletive and a nice lady tapped me on the shoulder. I profusely apologized and relayed the reason for my angst. She knew why I uttered the profanity, totally understood, and she told me she and her husband were leaving the choicest of spots just across the bunker about 15 paces from the famous Sunday back left pin that provoked the tear dropping line from Jim Nantz in 1986.

I was overjoyed. I rushed back up the hill to watch the last two groups tee off on No. 1, then back down to my spot were I enjoyed myself immensely. I noticed Jordan Spieth was making a charge. They talk on TV of the roars echoing through the trees. That is a false representation. If you’re in the right spot and the roar is in the right place, it is a literal tsunami of sound waves rushing up and down the course through the shoots of trees.

I hurdled several people and moved my 230 pounds of childlike enthusiasm toward the No. 11 tee, where I followed Spieth up close for the rest of his riveting back nine. I saw the tee shot on No. 12 where he raised in hands in mach triumph for avoiding the disaster of two years ago and the made putt that sent Amen Corner into a frenzy. I was as close as anyone when he switched to the hybrid on No. 13 and was in my choice real estate when he bombed it in on No. 16. I surpassed my normal 11-inch vertical leap by at least 6 feet it was so exciting. I also saw the disastrous Spieth Spur Strike or Jordan’s Juniper Jostling, if you will.

That disappointed me. I wanted to see the history, but I did see Rickie’s great birdie and Reed’s gut checking save to win, both on No. 18. Paulina Gretzky (DJ’s wife) was standing shoulder to shoulder with me when DJ tee’d off on No. 12 Sunday. So just like the boys on No. 11 Friday, I’m never washing my shoulder again… or maybe just the shirt.

My amazing 32-year journey was close to the end. I bolted for my car with a quick stop to ruin some more plastic in the pro shop. I hope everyone knows they’re getting Augusta swag for Christmas.

In the movie Field of Dreams, the Ghost of Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) asks Ray Kinsella (Kevin Kostner) if the field they are on is heaven. Ray responds, “No, it’s Iowa.” With all due respect to Iowa, heaven is in Augusta, Georgia. This is one light from the afterlife you definitely want to walk toward.

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Monte Scheinblum is a former World Long Drive Champion and Web.com Tour player. For more insights and details on this article, as well as further instruction from Monte go to rebelliongolf.com

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Matt B

    Apr 13, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    A very enjoyable read. Thanks Monte!

    (P.S. Surely it’s “mock” triumph and Kevin Costner!)

  2. golferOG

    Apr 11, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Great read but for someone with as much respect for Augusta you should know it doesn’t have a front/back nine. If you pay attention they refer to the separate nines as the first and second nine. Research how different analysts have been corrected for such mistakes

  3. Tom54

    Apr 11, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Monte that was a well written article. I read it all through to the end. I was lucky to attend the ‘09 Masters and I too felt like it was a religious event. We were shuttled to a gate not exactly knowing where on the course we were. Imagine what it was like when we walked past some bleachers only to find that we were right by the famous 13th green! My friend and I walked every hole because we wanted to see it all. Every thing you wrote about in your essay perfectly describes why this course, this tournament, and everything about the Masters cannot quite adequately be described unless one is lucky to see it first hand. Thanks for pretty much describing what it truly is all about

  4. A. Commoner

    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    Pretty similar to reading a few pages in a sophomore’s personal diary.

  5. Art Williams

    Apr 11, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    Last I read DJ and the Great One’s daughter were still single. How did you manage all those tickets? Connections? Great story for someone who turned down an offer to play golf at the Cathedral of courses.

  6. ogo

    Apr 11, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Even Flow or Evenflo ??!!!
    https://www.evenflofeeding.com/

  7. Neil C

    Apr 11, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Monte, I never knew you were such a great writer. That was awesome.

  8. RLawrence

    Apr 11, 2018 at 11:54 am

    You absolutely made my day Mr. Scheinblum! I felt as if I were there with and you actually caused my eyes to well up as you described your own excitement. I hope you write more articles in the future as I am hooked. Thank you.

  9. larrybud

    Apr 11, 2018 at 11:51 am

    FYI “I’m a medium”

  10. jc

    Apr 11, 2018 at 11:39 am

    nice article monte,,,remember you and your dodge viper at upland hills…

  11. Socrates

    Apr 10, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    Who are the 7 losers who voted Flop, OB or Shank?

    • Willy Wonka

      Apr 11, 2018 at 1:43 pm

      It’s now 11-1-1.

      These people hate golf, hate Monte or hate themselves.

  12. ogo

    Apr 10, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Even Flow or Evenflo ?
    https://www.evenflofeeding.com/

  13. Wayne

    Apr 10, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    Last Tuesday, I celebrated my 53rd birthday at Augusta with my oldest son. Just like Monte, I have never seen a course as beautiful. I’ve been to 4 other tour stops and while nice, they just don’t compare. I cannot accurately articulate what I saw and my feelings that day. Monte’s story is very similar to the way I felt. Thanks for the well written story.

  14. Mike Pollard

    Apr 10, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    Two years ago I had the same experience after waiting for nearly 60 years to attend my first MASTERS! I teared up then and again reading your about your experience……..it affects us all in a similar way.

    ps…….let’s figure out a way to do it AGAIN!!

  15. Tony Lynam

    Apr 10, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    Monte,

    I too am in my 50s and went to my first Master last Friday. As you go down the walkway with the practice area to your left, the sun was just starting to come up and I saw my first glimpse of that practice area and my eyes filled with tears. Then walking past the Patron’s golf shop and seeing the magistracy score board with all the country flags, I felt like Rudy walking onto the Notre Dame football field for the first time, LOL. Walking down to Amen Corner I was overcome with emotion again! P.S. I spent more than I had planned on too in the golf shop.

  16. J Zilla

    Apr 10, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Sugar PLUM* Fairies.

    Sugar plumb fairies are what plumbers need to unclog my toilet most of the time.

  17. Ernest J.

    Apr 10, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    The 3 DB’s that Shanked this article have obviously never been on the grounds at Augusta! Very well DONE Monte!

  18. Patrick

    Apr 10, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    Hands down THE best major of them all…. I wish all tournaments were ran like this. Not hearing one baba booey, get in the hole (par 5 tee shot), mashed potatoes… was just the best.

  19. Ted McRoger

    Apr 10, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    What society should be is right. We would have it but we let the left destroy everything commencing 50 years ago.

    • Gill Weir

      Apr 10, 2018 at 11:10 pm

      Totally agree Ted. We have self sabotaged this great Country of ours to regressivism. Augusta will always be a pipe dream of what could have been.

  20. Chuck aka wmblake2000

    Apr 10, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    Now that was a write-up! Took me right on the journey with you. So glad you got to go Sunday, that your students accommodated. I think my favorite was the 4 boys in black/red… this memory will last their entire lifetime.

  21. Derek

    Apr 10, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Great article Monte! It is truly a one of kind experience – can’t wait to swap some stories during the Sioux Falls school. I’ve been lucky to go to a practice round in 2016 and 2018 each now, and am hoping to add a tournament day in the future.

  22. Brandon

    Apr 10, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    Nice write up Monte! Good to meet you on Sunday back behind the 17 green.

  23. DrKell

    Apr 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Was at the Masters last week as well. I think this just about sums it up…
    A great read.

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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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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!

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