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Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk on how to make golf (and its apparel) more cool

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GolfWRX recently spent time in Los Angeles investigating the relationship between golf culture and skate culture. As part of our trip, we spent time with Iliac’s Bert Lamar, who happens to be longtime friends with skate legends Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero.

Related: Our golf trick shot with Steve Caballero

Below is our Editor Andrew Tursky’s talk with Tony Hawk, where they discuss how to make golf cooler, how to attract young kids into the sport, how golf apparel can improve, why he likes the range more than the golf course, and the skate trick he’s most proud of.

Watch the full video, or read along in the transcript below.

Andrew Tursky: What’s your relationship like with golf?

Tony Hawk: I played as a kid with my mom, actually we took golf lessons for a while. And then I tried to pick it back up and I was really skating a lot and succeeding and then I just couldn’t find the time. But I enjoyed it, I mean, I liked the challenge of it.

AT: What would you change about golf to get someone like you playing a bit more? 

TH: That’s a good question. I think, it’s really just the time constraints. And I feel like you need that long periods of time to get better at it, but at the same time like, my life is super hectic and always moving and going places and so I feel like if I had an hour two then that would make it a lot easier for me and then I feel like you can do obviously 9 holes or whatever. But maybe if that’s more the directive that might help.

AT: How would you change golf to get someone like you when you were 15, like how could golf a little bit more cool? 

TH: I think maybe just to highlight the social aspect of it because I feel like that gets lost on kids that you actually have this time to hang out with your friends and you have a couple hours to joke around and do whatever but you know, play it seriously. I feel like that’s sort of not the goal. I don’t know, I liken it to, for instance if you go gambling; I like to play blackjack. Not that I think it’s the best game, but it’s more social. You’re hanging out with your friends and your joking around and stuff like that and I feel like that element of golf is something that could be highlighted more, especially for kids.

AT: What’s the connection with skateboarding and golf? Like, all the young skateboarders coming up right now are playing golf, and they’re two seemingly opposite sports. So what’s the connection there with skate culture and golf? 

TH: I think it’s just the challenge. I think golf is constantly challenging; no matter how good you are at it, you can improve your game. And the same goes for skateboarding. And the idea that it’s an individual pursuit. Sure, you’re competing with other people and you’re trying to get better scores, but at the same time, you can always just do it yourself and try and get better at it. And that is definitely the attitude for skating, that’s the mindset.

AT: How can golf apparel change a little bit, what do you think about that? 

TH: (Laughs) Uh, I don’t know. I guess golf apparel, if anything, could be more edgy. And I feel like that is coming to fruition. But before it was definitely, it was uniform. It was like this is what you wear, this is the look, collared shirt. You had to fit into this mold, and I feel like that is changing quite a bit.

AT: In the age of social media now, with Twitter and Instagram and all that, how can we get m0re 10, 12, 13 year olds involved with golf?

TH: I think it would be through the influencers that they follow. And the people that do play golf and don’t promote it; that do it but aren’t making a big deal about it. And trying to bring that more to the forefront of what they share. But for sure, I was talking about earlier, like the pro surfers a lot of em are really good at golf because they have so much down time when they go travel and are waiting for waves. I feel like if they were to sort of promote that a little more, that that’s what they’re into, then more kids would get into it, because, you know, those are their heroes.

AT: Well do us a favor, next time you’re at the range, put it up on Instagram. 

TH: Hah, yeah, I’m definitely not the most adept at golf, but I don’t mind hitting balls and not chasing them.

AT: So last question, I’ll do a skate question for ya. What’s the proudest trick that you’ve landed throughout your career. 

TH: Well I mean a lot of people associate me with a 900. I think that trick for me because it sort of marked the end of my competitive career. For me, it was something I had been working on for almost 10 years of my life. So that was a big moment for me and totally unexpected. But I think that something in terms I’m more proud of internally; an Ollie 540 cuz I feel like for me that opened up a whole new direction in terms of being able to spin and not hold your board, and something I literally thought was impossible a few years prior to that. I know it’s not the most groundbreaking trick nowadays, but I still feel like it changed my perception of what I could do on a skateboard.

AT: Do you still skate at all?

TH: I still skate. I’m actually goin to skate right now actually.

AT: Love it. Well we won’t hold you up anymore. Appreciate it. 

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole: Mark Rolfing and architect David Kidd on Carnoustie’s challenges

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It’s Open Championship week at Carnoustie! This week, Michael Williams hosts NBC and Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing and award-winning architect David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) to talk about how the pros will try to tame “Car-nasty.” It also features Jaime Darling of Golf Scotland on the many attractions around Carnoustie outside the golf course.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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Opinion & Analysis

Think Carnoustie’s hard? Try winning a title on it playing golf with one arm

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When things get challenging during the 147th Open this week on the Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, the players would do well to think of Mike Benning–specifically the fortitude he channeled into success at the venerable venue.

Benning grew up with golf at Congressional while his father, Bob, was head professional at the iconic country club in Bethesda, Md. Due to a rare form of cancer, Benning, who was already a top junior in the Washington, D.C. area, lost his left arm below the elbow to amputation at age 14.

Rather than let that stop him from playing, he learned to adapt. So much so that he won back-to-back Society of One-Armed Golfers world championships in 1993-94. The first win came at Seaford Golf Course in Sussex, England, in 1993. Benning defended his title at Carnoustie in 1994, the 56th and 57th renditions of the annual event, which began in the 1930s.

Benning was low medalist in stroke play at Seaford, shooting 80-81-161. With the top 16 finishers advancing to match play, Benning won four matches in two days to become champion. He went to Carnoustie the next year full of confidence but couldn’t find the form initially that carried him at Seaford, qualifying 10th in medal play.

“My game wasn’t on, and the course was brawny and fast,” Benning said this week from his home in Scituate, Mass. “The course was so dry it was grey, and it was windy. That makes Carnoustie very difficult, even more challenging than normal. I had a difficult draw in match play, but I found my game when it mattered most, and only one of my matches went to the 18th hole.”

In the championship match, Benning defeated Scotsman Brian Crombie of Dundee, a 25-minute drive from Carnoustie.

“He had about 50 friends and family members rooting him on, the crowd was definitely behind him,” Benning recalled. “But I had a couple Americans following me. One was Mike Gibson, who now works for Titleist. He came out wearing a pair of red plus fours and an American flag shirt. He and Mark Frace really propped me up. I remember having a big decision on the 10th hole – whether to try and get a 3-wood over the burn – so I turned and looked at those guys behind me, and they encouraged me to go for it. I cleared the burn and ended up 12 feet from the hole.”

Benning was an independent sales rep in the golf business before joining Hanger, Inc., the leading U.S. provider of prosthetics and orthotics, where he is currently Marketing Manager. He has played other Open Championship courses but calls Carnoustie’s Championship layout “probably the greatest risk-reward course” in the rota. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do justice to the demanding test of golf it presents players,” he said.

To underscore his assertion, Benning cited the 6th hole – “Hogan’s Alley” – named after 1953 Open Champion Ben Hogan. Here is the description for it from the Carnoustie Golf Links website. “Normally played into prevailing wind, this can be a severe par 5. Bunkers and out of bounds await the miss-cued drive and although the best line is up Hogan’s Alley between the bunkers and the out of bounds fence, it requires a brave player to drive to that narrow piece of fairway. The second shot is no less perilous with a ditch angling across the fairway and the out of bounds continuing to be a threat. The approach is reasonably straightforward to an undulating green, particular care must be taken if the pin is located on the back-right portion of the green. A player should always be content with a five on this hole as it can be the ruin of many a scorecard.”

Benning said the pair of fairway bunkers side by side on the 14th hole – known as “The Spectacles – have to be experienced to be understood how hard they play for those unfortunate enough to find them.

“I hit into one of them during a match and it was the only time I had to hit backwards out of a bunker during the championship,” Benning remembered. “The face of the bunker was unthinkably high.”

The closing holes at Carnoustie’s Championship Course – Nos. 16-18 – may be the most difficult finish in all major golf, particularly No. 18, named “Home”.

“Just ask Jean Van de Velde,” said Benning, referring to the Frenchman who led by three strokes going to final hole of the 1999 Open Championship. Van de Velde took triple bogey to fall back into a tie and playoff, which he lost to Paul Lawrie. No golf follower who watched the debacle can forget the image of Van de Velde standing in Barry’s Burn with his trouser bottoms rolled up, hands on hips, stunned disbelief etched on his face. Conversely, Lawrie’s final round 67 astounded Benning, who pointed out that the final round average score was significantly higher. The 18th also cost Johnny Miller the 1975 Open title, after Miller took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker on the hole.

Suffice it to say, Carnoustie will provide many of the world’s greatest players the chance for immortal golf glory this week, or demoralizing defeat. Maybe both. Whomever emerges as champion, Mike Benning will relate to the elation felt after prevailing on one of the game’s greatest courses.

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19th Hole

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