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Opinion & Analysis

Shinnecock Hills and a Golf Pioneer

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There are a handful of courses throughout the United States that stand out as keepers and curators of golf history. Chief among those courses is Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Founded in 1891, Shinnecock is four years older than the United States Golf Association and is one of the five founding member clubs of the USGA. As were many courses before the turn of the 20th century and many of the clubs in Scotland, Shinnecock was originally designed as a 12-hole course by architect Willie Davis, but six holes were added in the spring of 1895 with the anticipation of the following year’s U.S. Open.

In the second year of the USGA’s existence, it hosted by the Men’s U.S. Open and the Men’s U.S. Amateur in 1896. Since Shinnecock hosted its first U.S. Open, it has hosted several more USGA events over the past 122 years. The club’s championship resume includes U.S. Opens in 1896, 1986, 1995, 2004 and 2018, U.S. Amateurs in 1896 and 1900 (Women’s U.S. Amateur) and a Walker Cup in 1977.

The course we know today as Shinnecock is quite different from the original 12-hole design from 1891 by Mr. Davis. William Flynn conducted a complete redesign of the course prior to it being reopened for the 1931 season, bringing to life the natural topography and embedding the DNA of a true links course. And while the design history of both the course and clubhouse are remarkable, there are a few other details that make this course a pioneer in the golf history books.

John Shippen Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. in the winter of 1879 to John Shippen Sr. and Eliza Spotswood Shippen. His father was an African American Presbyterian Minister, and his mother was a Native American. Sometime in 1888, John Shippen Sr. was called to serve a congregation on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation just outside of the property that would soon become the famed golf course. When the course opened, John Jr. worked as a caddie. The club’s Scottish-born professional, Willie Dunn Jr., taught Shippen Jr. how to play the game.

As Shippen Jr. progressed, his golf game became superb. When the 1896 U.S. Open rolled around, several club members at Shinnecock offered to pay Shippen’s entry fee. At that time, golf was still an “exclusive” game in the U.S. and Shippen was allowed to enter the tournament only if he registered as a Native American along with another Native American caddie, Oliver Dunn. As one would expect in 1896, Shippen and Dunn’s registration sparked a minor racial controversy. When the other professionals found out Shippen and Dunn had entered the event and that they were not Caucasian, they threatened to boycott the event. When the USGA President at the time, Theodore Havemeyer, learned of the impending boycott, he informed the players that the tournament would continue even if it were only contested between Shippen and Dunn. The professionals backed down and play began.

Shippen Jr. made a name for himself that week as he finished fifth in the tournament and contested as a professional. He became the first African-American to tee it up in a U.S. Open, he also became the first American-born professional golfer.

John Shippen Jr. would go on to play in four more U.S. Opens in 1899, 1900, 1902 (where he finished fifth once again) and 1913. Shippen continued to live and work in the Shinnecock area until he retired from competition in 1924. In 1931, he became the head Professional and Greenskeeper at Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, the first African-American country club, where he worked until 1964.

Shippen would be the only African-American to compete in a U.S. Open until 1948 when Ted Rhodes qualified and entered the tournament. Shippen was barred from membership into the PGA of America because of its “Caucasian-only” clause, which was eradicated in 1961, only seven years before his death in 1968. It wasn’t until 2009 that the PGA of America bestowed posthumous membership to Shippen along with fellow African-American pioneers, Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller.

Shinnecock was also a pioneer in another way. As with our country’s open race bias, turn of the century America had a clear opinion on the place women held in society. At the time the USGA was founded, it was incredibly difficult to find locations for women’s golf tournaments to take place. And even when they did find locations, the support they received from the local community and the course itself was diminished in comparison to their male counterparts. Not only was it difficult for women to host tournaments, it was nearly impossible to find a club where women could be members outside the “social” side of the memberships their husbands maintained. Shinnecock Hills, however, admitted women into its club from the day it was founded.

As we watch the U.S. Open this week, we’ll hear a lot about the conditions in 2004. We’ll hear a hundred times how the USGA had to water the seventh green in between groups on Sunday. We’ll see clips of Corey Pavin’s walk up No. 18 on Sunday in 1995 to win his first and only major championship. Maybe we’ll also see a little glimpse of the pioneer John Shippen Jr. and the first women members into the club.

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website, chandlercrawford.com, or on Amazon.

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  1. Darren W McGowen

    Jun 13, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    It was Oscar Bunn, not Oliver Dunn.

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On Spec

On Spec: Interview with GOLFTEC VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater

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In this episode of On Spec brought to you by Golf Pride Grips, Ryan talks with GOLFTEC’s Vice President of Instruction Nick Clearwater about his history with golf, teaching, and how he and his team at GolfTec help golfers play better.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: The day I met Ben Hogan

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In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.

We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.

We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort.

Industry veteran (and one heckuva writer) Tom Stites, who served as the Director of Product Development at Nike’s Oven, tells the story of how he landed a job as an engineer at the Ben Hogan Company and what his first meeting with Mr. Hogan was like.

Get a taste for Stites’ excellent piece from 2015 below.

Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.

My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.

Me as their boss? That was a joke.

I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.

Read the full piece here.

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Opinion & Analysis

Why do Tour players prefer fades over draws from the tee box?

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There is a growing trend on the PGA Tour and other professional golf tours where some of the game’s best players favor a fade from the tee box. Amateur golfers often struggle with golf shots that slice away from their target. These shots can lead them out of play and have them eagerly chasing a more neutral or drawing shot shapes. Additionally, a large fraction of low handicap and professional golfers play a golf shot that draws repeatedly onto their target. These thoughts can leave you wondering why anyone would choose to play a fade rather than a draw with their driver.

The debate over whether players should fade or draw their golf shots has been intensely lobbied on either side. While this is highly player specific, each particular shot shape comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. In order to discuss why elite golfers are choosing to play a fade and why you might as well, we must first explore how each shot shape is created and the unintended effects within each delivery combination. This article explores the ideas that lead some of the most outstanding players in the world to choose a fade as their go-to shot shape for their driver.

Before examining what makes each shot unique, golfers should be familiar with some common club fitting and golf swing terminology. Club path, clubface angle, impact location, spin-axis or axis tilt, and spin loft are all detailed below.

The curvature of a golf ball through the air is dependent on the backspin and sidespin of each shot. These spin rates are directly linked with each players golf swing and delivery characteristics. During every shot, each golfer will deliver the golf club back to the golf ball in a specific orientation. The relationship between the golf club face and the path of that club will determine much of how the golf ball will travel. A golf clubface that is closed to a club path will result in golf shots that either draw or hook. A clubface more open to the club’s path with create a shot that fades or slices. It is important that face angle measurements are taken in reference to the club path as terms like “out-to-in” or “in-to-out” can results in either of these two curvatures depending on face angle and impact location measurements.

Impact location should not be overlooked during this exchange and is a vital component of creating predictable golf shots that find the fairway and reach their maximum distances. As strikes move across the clubface of a driver gear effect begins to influence how the golf ball travels. In its simplest form, gear effect will help turn the golf ball back to the center of the golf club head. Impact locations in the heel will curve towards the middle and lead to golf shots with a more pronounced fading shape. Toe strikes lead to the opposite reaction and produce more draw or hook spin. Striking a golf ball from the upper half of the driver clubface produce higher launches and less spin, while strikes from the bottom create lower launches with higher backspin rates.

Spin-axis tilt or simply axis tilt is a result of the amalgamation of face angle, club path and strike locations. A golf shot will curve in the direction that its axis tilts during flight. Golfers familiar with launch monitors like Trackman and GCQuad, can reference axis tilt and spin-axis tilt measures for this measurement. Shots that curve to the left will have a leftward tilted axis, and shots to the right a rightward axis tilt. Golf shots tilting to the left and to the right are given names depending on which hand is dominant for that golfer. A draw or hook is a golf shot that curves in the air away from the golfers dominate hand. Right-handed players will see a golf ball hit with a draw spin from right to left in the air. Left-handed golfers see their draw shots spin from left to right. Fades and slices have the opposite shapes.

Spin loft is another critical component of creating and maintaining the flight of a golf ball. In concert with the spin-axis tilt of the golf ball, the spin loft influences the amount of backspin a golf ball possesses and will determine much of how stable that golf ball’s flight becomes. Golf shots hit with more backspin curve less violently than golf shots hit with too little spin especially in the wind. Spin loft is exemplified as golfers find themselves much more accurate with their wedges than their driver. More spin equals more stability, and this leads us to why professional players opt for their fade.

Modern drivers can be built to maximize the performance of each golfer on their best swings, but what about their misses? Golfers often lose confidence standing over their golf shots if they see the ball overdrawing or hooking too often. Overdraws and hooks create golf ball flight conditions that are unpredictable and lead to directional and distance detriments that can cause dropped shots and penalties. Because of this, elite right-handed players do not often like to see the golf ball going left from the tee box. By reducing their chances of hitting hooking tee shots, golfers often feel more freedom to swing the golf club freely and make smooth, powerful motions. This is never more evident than when watching Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit their drivers. While both players hit the golf ball both ways, their go-to shot from the tee is a left-to-right curving fade.

But wait, doesn’t a draw go further than a fade? While it is not inevitable that a draw will fly further or roll out more than a fade, the clubface and club path conditions needed at impact to produce each shape often lead to differences in spin rates and launch angles that affect distance. Less dynamic loft created by a closed clubface can lead to lower launch, less spin, and more distance. The drawback of these conditions is the reduced spin loft and decreased stability. So how much distance is worth losing to find more fairways? As we continue to see some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour win tournaments and major championships distance is the premium.

Luckily, modern drivers and club fitting techniques have given players a perfect blend of distance and accuracy. By manipulating the center of gravity of each driver, golfers can create longer shots from their best strikes without giving up protection from their mishits. Pushing the weights more near the clubface of drivers has given players the ability to present more loft at impact without increasing backspin. The ability to swing freely and know that if you miss your intended strike pattern your shot will lose distance but not end up in the most dangerous hazards have given players better, more repeatable results.

While it can be advantageous for casual golfers and weekend players to chase as many yards as possible, players that routinely hit the golf ball beyond 300 yards can afford their misses to fall back if they will remain in play and give them a chance to find the green in two shots. More stability when things do not go as planned thanks to increased spin lofts and less violent curvature has allowed elite level golfers to perform consistently even under the most demanding situations and it is why we continue to see a growing number of players favor a fade from their tee shots.

 

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