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Williams: Want to hit straight golf shots? Try learning to shoot straight!

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Phil Mickelson got a lot of attention for a tweet that showed him spending time on a firing range to prepare for the Ryder Cup. Mickelson wrote, “How is today’s long-range sniper shooting preparing me for the Ryder Cup? Meditation, controlling my thoughts, breathing, heart rate and connecting with the target are critical for both!” While it ultimately didn’t do him a lot of good in France, the theory was a sound one. The roles of equipment, technique, and mindset are almost identical in shooting and golf. These crossovers exist between golf and most shooting sports, but Phil should have been practicing at a sporting clays course instead of a sniper range.

Per the National Sporting Clays Association, sporting clays is the fastest growing sport in America. The sport dates back to England in the early 1900s but gained in popularity with the introduction of low-cost clay targets and automatic clay target throwers. It’s recently become known as “golf with a shotgun,” and for good reason. As in golf, sporting clay facilities are arranged as courses, with between 10 and 20 stations comprising a course. Each station has machines that launch clay discs into the air and participants attempt to hit the clays using shotguns. Each station is unique, with varying levels of difficulty achieved by combining various speeds and angles of flight of the clay targets. And like golf course architecture, the quality of a sporting clays course is determined by terrain, course conditions and the imagination of the course designer to engage and challenge the player.

I first had the chance to try sporting clays a couple of years ago at a golf resort in Florida. It did not go well, partly because the coach was a post-divorce emotional wreck, but also because I sucked. While I was not afraid of guns, I was definitely unfamiliar with them so there was a steep learning curve. But eventually I did hit one of the clays, shattering it into a gazillion pieces. The tuning fork had gone off, just like the first time I hit a golf ball well. I was hooked.

My second opportunity was at Gleneagles, the posh resort in Scotland that has hosted everything from world political summits to Ryder Cups. I was determined to redeem myself, but I got off to a bad start, hitting only one of the first ten or so targets. Just like when your confidence leaves your golf swing, I had the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing.

Alan Dickson, the Director of Shooting Sports at Gleneagles, is a former British Marine who has been involved in shooting sports his whole life and has seen a lot of bad shooters. He stood behind me and asked me to shoot at a target that was arcing upward from left to right. After three of those, all misses, he asked me to shoot at the same target going in the opposite direction and I hit two of three. Dickson took a roll of black electrical tape from one of the 200 or so pockets in his shooting vest and covered the left lens of my protective eyewear with black tape. He gave them back to me and had me shoot the same six targets…I hit all six. It was like one of those days on the golf course when you figure something out and suddenly everything works.

From that point on, I took the opportunity to shoot whenever I could, and just like golf, I had good days and bad days. On a visit to The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, the Director of Shooting Sports David Judah explained to me that part of the reason that I had been erratic was that I hadn’t had a gun that truly fit me. “It’s just like with a golf club,” Judah explained. “Shotguns have different weights, dimensions and balance points. If you don’t have a tool that fits you, you will struggle to control it. With a tool that fits you, you will make a much more natural move to the target”. He had me try a number of shotguns of different brands, sizes and configurations before finally settling on a Beretta Silver Pigeon, a 12-gauge shotgun with a 35” over/under barrel. It felt just like a fitted set of irons. I took the Beretta out to the range where Judah had set up several stations with clays going everywhere. With a shotgun that fit perfectly I hit nine out of the first ten clays, “powdering” most of the them (powdering is when you hit the target so perfectly that it turns into a cloud of orange powder, and the feeling is identical to hitting a 3-iron on the center of the clubface). I shot at 50 clays that day and hit 44; for me, that’s about like shooting a 69 at Congressional from the tips. I was determined to carry my rhythm from the shooting range to the golf course. I played a round of golf in the afternoon on the beautiful Cascades course and I shot a 78. I was convinced that the rhythm and timing that I had developed earlier in the day on the shooting range was the reason.

I became determined to make a direct connection between the methodologies of shooting sports and golf. Enter Jason Gilbertson, Marketing Director at Winchester, one of the oldest and most respected names in firearms and shooting sports. We met at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri, one of the nation’s best destinations for golf and outdoor sports. I told Jason about my experiences in golf and shooting, and my idea that there were definite crossovers between the two sports. He asked if I had spent any time with world-class marksmen and I acknowledged that while I had played with top professional golfers, I hadn’t spent any time with the best of the best in shooting sports. With that, Gilbertson arranged for me to spend time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the best athletes in the country go to dedicate their lives to excellence in their chosen sports, including the shooting sports.

At the U.S.O.T.C., I learned that as with golf, there are different mindsets and personalities in the shooting sports. The air pistol people are very quiet and methodical; they reminded me of great putters like Ben Crenshaw. The rifle specialists reminded me of gearheads like Phil Mickelson, always looking for just the right equipment tweak. But the trap shooters were the most interesting to me, since trap is the closest discipline to sporting clays. Trap shooting involves shooting clays that are moving much faster and at more severe angles than sporting clays. Like golf, a good trap shot “happens” before you make a move. A proper grip, balanced stance and consistent alignment assure that you will make a good shot. And like golf, it is important to keep the hands moving through the “swing” after the point of impact. And the best golfers and trap shooters in the world have a pre-shot routine that involves visualizing a desired result, slowing down the breathing, controlling your adrenalin, then executing. I had found the connection that I was looking for.

After a year of visiting first-class golf and shooting facilities I came to the Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, the brand-new sporting center at Reynolds Lake Oconee. Located halfway between Atlanta and Augusta and boasting an established reputation as a golf destination, Reynolds recently added a shooting sports center that is among the finest I around. I met up with the director of the sporting center, Justin Jones, a decorated shooting champion who opened the very first shooting center based at a golf resort, the aforementioned Gleneagles.

There is a decidedly British feel to the structures and the landscape at Sandy Creek, with stacked stone shooting stations and lush landscaping that makes you feel like you are on the set of Downton Abbey. I shot well, bagging the easy clays on the first try and getting most of the difficult ones on the second try. Jones watched me quietly and then asked if I was willing to make a couple of changes. I was reluctant since I had been shooting well, but I remembered that golfers with bad habits can have a good day and listened to his advice. He adjusted my grip, stance and alignment; it felt more comfortable, and I turned clay after clay from disk to powder in rapid succession. Then came the final station, a pair more difficult than any I had faced. The first clay was a high lob to my right, followed by a “water rabbit”, a diabolical creation of Jones’. A rabbit is a clay that skips rapidly across the ground and is very hard to hit. The water rabbit skipped evasively across a pond for a second or two before diving under water like, well, like a scared rabbit.

“Not a lot of people can do this one,” warned Jones, which was all I needed to hear to know that I wasn’t leaving without bagging that pair. The first shot was a relatively easy one, and I powdered that clay almost every time. But the water rabbit eluded me time after time. After the fifth or sixth attempt I could almost swear that I heard the rabbit laugh as it slipped intact under the surface. I was down to my last couple of shells and feeling like Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup trying to get that 3-wood over the water. I took a deep breath and Jones reminded me, “Don’t aim at the target, point at it.” I took my stance and tried to remember what I had learned from Jones and from the U.S. Olympians. “Pull,” I said firmly, and I hit it the first clay dead center. I swung my gun to the point just ahead of the water rabbit on its third and final skip. I fired, and the target turned into a combination of orange powder and pond water, a sort of ballistic Tang. I looked at Jones, who was smiling like Obi-Wan Kenobi. I took a deep breath and bellowed, “Yeeeeeesss!!!” Not very British of me, but the feeling of nailing that pair was what I imagine a hole in one feels like. Hopefully I’ll get to make the comparison soon.

Golf and sporting clays are a natural fit, and even if you have never touched a firearm in your life you will enjoy the thrill of a shot well executed, just like golf.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. benseattle

    Nov 28, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    Because I walk my dogs around the neighborhood for some two hours a day, listening to podcasts has become a staple. I tried fitting Michael Williams into the routine but I’m here FOR GOLF and this just doesn’t fit the bill. We don’t come to GOLFWRX for anecdotes about “shooting sports” and neither do we want to hear his constant plugs for obscure resorts or useless gear. I would like to know if William is getting kickbacks (payola) for featuring these people. This “golf” podcast is in the woods, thus I DO NOT LISTEN ANYMORE. (What’s more, we dial up a podcast KNOWING what we’re listening to; no reason for Williams to Say His Own Name a dozen times in an hour. Ego out of control.)

    • DaveJ

      Nov 28, 2018 at 1:58 pm

      Shank. There are plenty of golf-specific stories to read. If you have no interest in shooting sports, simply don’t click on the story.

  2. UR

    Nov 27, 2018 at 2:01 am

    Playing soccer is a better way to learn to hit the ball and understand about weight shift and swinging something at a round object and moving it in the air

  3. polarpete

    Nov 26, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Moe “Pipeline” Norman, the greatest ball striker of all time, only hit straight shots. “Why hit curved shots unless you are in trouble?”, he asked. Listen to Moe, he knows.

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Opinion & Analysis

Could Dollar Driver Club change the way we think about owning equipment?

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There’s something about golfers that draws the attention of, for lack of a better word, snake-oil salesmen. Whether it’s an as-seen-on-TV ad for a driver that promises pure distance and also fixes your power slice, or the subscription boxes that supposedly send hundreds of dollars worth of apparel for a fraction of the price, there always seems to be something out there that looks too good to be true.

Discerning golfers, who I would argue are more cynical than anything, understand that you get what you pay for. To get the newest driver that also works for your game, it may take a $150 club fitting, then a $400 head, and a shaft that can run anywhere from $100 up to $300-$400. After the fitting and buying process, you’ve made close to a thousand dollar investment in one golf club, and unless you’re playing money games with friends who have some deep pockets, it’s tough to say what the return on that investment actually is. When it’s all said and done, you have less than a year before that driver is considered old news by the standard of most manufacturers’ release schedules.

What makes a driver ‘good’ to most amateur golfers who take their game seriously is a cross section of performance, price, and hubris. As for that last metric, I think most people would be lying if they say it doesn’t feel good having the latest and greatest club in the bag. Being the envy of your group is fun, even if it only lasts until you snap hook your first drive out of bounds.

As prices of general release equipment have increased to nearly double what it was retailing at only 10 years ago, the ability to play the newest equipment is starting to become out of the question for many amateur golfers.

Enter Tyler Mycoskie, an avid, single digit handicap golfer (and the brother of Tom’s shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie). Tyler’s experience with purchasing golf equipment and his understanding of uniquely successful business models collided, which led him to start the Dollar Driver Club. With a name and logo that is a tongue in cheek allusion to the company that has shaken up the men’s skincare industry, the company seeks to offer a new way of thinking about purchasing golf equipment without completely reinventing the wheel of the model that has seen success in industries such as car leasing and purchasing razors.

The company does exactly what its name says. They offer the newest, top of the line driver and shaft combinations for lease at a cost of about a dollar per day.

The economics of the model seem too good to be true. When you purchase a driver, you are charged $30 plus $11 for shipping and it’s $30 per month from then on. You can upgrade your driver at no extra cost each year and your driver is eligible for upgrade or swap after 90 days of being a member. After a year, the total cost comes to $371 with shipping, which sounds a lot nicer than the $500 that it would cost to purchase, as an example, a Titleist TS3 with a Project X Evenflow T1100 today.

The major complaint most people would have is that you still don’t own the driver after that year, but as someone with a closet full of old golf clubs that diminish in value every day, which I have no realistic plans to sell, that doesn’t sound like a problem to me or my wife, who asks me almost weekly when I plan on thinning out my collection.

The model sounds like an obvious win for customers to me, and quite frankly, if you’re skeptical, then it’s probably just simply not for you. I contacted the team at the Dollar Driver Club to get some questions answered. Primarily, I want to know, what’s the catch?

I spoke with a Kevin Kirakossian, a Division I golfer who graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American in 2013 and has spent virtually his entire young career working on the business side of golf, most recently with Nike Golf’s marketing team prior to joining Tyler at Dollar Driver Club. Here’s what he had to say about his company.

At risk to the detriment of our conversation, I have to find out first and foremost, what’s the catch?

K: There’s no catch. We’re all golfers and we want to offer a service that benefits all of our members. We got tired of the upfront cost of drivers. We’re trying to grow the game. Prior to us, there was no way to buy new golf clubs without paying full price. We take a lot of pride that players of all skill level, not just tour pros or people with the extra budget to drop that kind of money every year, can have access to the latest equipment.

With that question out of the way, I delved into the specifics of the brand and model, but I maintained a skeptical edge, keeping an ear out for anything that I could find that would seem too good to be true.

How closely do you keep an eye on manufacturers and their pricing? It would seem that your service is more enticing as prices increase in equipment.

K: The manufacturers are free to create their own pricing. We work closely with manufacturers and have a great relationship with them. As prices increase, it helps us, even if they decrease, I still think it’s a no-brainer to use our service, purely for the fact that new equipment comes out every year. You don’t have a high upfront cost. You’re not stuck with the same driver for a year. It gives you flexibility and freedom to play the newest driver. If a manufacturer wants to get into the same business, we have the advantage of offering all brands. We’re a premium subscription brand, so we’re willing to offer services that other retailers aren’t. We’ll do shaft swaps, we’ll send heads only, we have fast shipping and delivery times. We’re really a one-stop shop for all brands.

What measures do you take to offer the most up to date equipment?

K: We will always have the newest products on the actual launch date. We take pride in offering the equipment right away. A lot of times, our members will receive their clubs on release day. We order direct from the manufacturers and keep inventory. There’s no drop shipping. We prefer shipping ourselves and being able to add a personal package.

The service is uniquely personal. Their drivers come with a ball marker stamped with your initials as well as a stylish valuables pouch. They also provide a hand signed welcome letter and some stickers.

Who makes up the team at Dollar Driver Club?

K: We’re a small team. We started accepting members to our service in 2018 and it has grown exponentially. We have four or five guys here and it’s all hands on deck. We handle customer inquiries and sending drivers out. It’s a small business nature that we want to grow a lot bigger.

When discussing the company, you have to concede that the model doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially traditionalists. There are golfers who have absolutely no problem spending whatever retailers are charging for their newest wares. There are also golfers who have no problem playing equipment with grips that haven’t been changed in years, much less worrying about buying new equipment. I wanted to know exactly who they’re targeting.

Who is your target demographic?

K: We want all golfers. We want any golfer with any income, any skill level, to be able to play the newest equipment. We want to reshape the way people think about obtaining golf equipment. We’re starting with drivers, but we’re looking into expanding into putters, wedges, and other woods. We’ve heard manufacturers keep an eye on us. There are going to be people who just want to pay that upfront cost so they can own it, but those people may be looking at it on the surface and they don’t see the other benefits. We’re also a service that offers shaft swaps and easily send in your driver after 3 months if you don’t like it.

At this point, it didn’t seem like my quest to find any drawbacks to the service was going well. However, any good business identifies threats to their model and I was really only able to think of one. They do require a photo ID to start your account, but there’s no credit check required like you may see from other ‘buy now, pay later’ programs. That sounds ripe for schemers that we see all the time on websites like eBay and Craigslist.

When you’re sending out a $500 piece of equipment and only taking $41 up front, you’re assuming some risk. How much do you rely on the integrity of golfers who use your service to keep everything running smoothly?

K: We do rely on the integrity of the golf community. When we send out a driver, we believe it’s going into the hands of a golfer. By collecting the ID, we have measures on our end that we can use in the event that the driver goes missing or an account goes delinquent, but we’re always going to side with our members.

The conversation I had with Kevin really opened my eyes to the fact that Dollar Driver Club is exactly what the company says it is. They want to grow and become a staple means of obtaining golf equipment in the current and future market. Kevin was very transparent that the idea is simple, they’re just the ones actually executing it. He acknowledged the importance of social media and how they will harness the power of applications like Instagram to reach new audiences.

Kevin was also adamant that even if you prefer owning your own driver and don’t mind the upfront cost, the flexibility to customize your driver cheaply with a plethora of high-quality shafts is what really makes it worth trying out their service. If for whatever reason, you don’t like their service, you can cancel the subscription and return the driver after 90 days, which means that you can play the newest driver for three months at a cost of $90.

In my personal opinion, I think there’s a huge growth opportunity for a service like this. The idea of playing the newest equipment and being able to tinker with it pretty much at-will really speaks to me. If you’re willing to spend $15 a month on Netflix to re-watch The Office for the 12th time in a row or $35 a month for a Barkbox subscription for your dog, it may be worth doing something nice for your golf bag.

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Opinion & Analysis

A conversation with a Drive, Chip and Putt national finalist

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I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend all of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National since the inception of this amazing initiative. I’ve also been extremely lucky to have attended the Masters each of the past 10 years that I have been a PGA member. Each year, I’m still like a kid on Christmas morning when I walk through the gates at Augusta National, but nothing compares to my first trip in 2010. I was in absolute awe. For anyone that’s been, you can surely agree that Augusta National and the Masters Tournament is pure perfection.

The past few years at DCP finals, I couldn’t help but notice the looks of sheer excitement on the faces of the young competitors as well as their parents. That led me to reaching out to one of this year’s competitors, Briel Royce. A Central Florida native, Briel finished second overall in the 7-8-year-old girls division. She is a young lady that I know, albeit, not all too well, that competes in some of my youth golf organization’s Tour series in Florida. I spoke to Briel’s mom at Augusta and then reached out to the family after their return to the Orlando area to get a better idea of their DCP and Augusta National experience…

So how cool was it driving Down Magnolia Lane?

Briel: “Driving down Magnolia Lane was awesome.  Usually, you do not get to experience the scenic ride unless you are a tour player or a member. Everyone got extremely quiet upon entry. There were tons of security along our slow ride. Seeing the beautiful trees and the Masters Flag at Founder’s Circle in the distance was surreal. Having earned the right and opportunity to drive down this prestigious lane was breathtaking. I would love to do it again someday.”

What was the coolest part of your time at Drive, Chip and Putt at Augusta National?

Briel: “Everything was cool about the DCP. Not too often do you see people taking walks in the morning with green jackets on. We were not treated like kids. We were treated like tour players, like we were members at Augusta. The icing on the cake was when they took us to the practice green and we were putting alongside Zach Johnson and Charl Schwartzel. Everyone was confused when we first got there because we weren’t certain we should be putting on the same green around the pros. Again, we were treated like we were tour players. Where else would I be able to do this? Nowhere other than DCP at Augusta. One of my favorite reflections is having Bubba Watson watch us chip and congratulating each of us for our efforts. He did not need to do that. He took time out of practicing for a very important week in his career to support the DCP players. I think his actions show what the game of golf is about: the sportsmanship, the camaraderie, and support.”

How did you prepare for the finals?

Briel: “I prepared just like I did for every other tournament, practicing distance control, etc. But to be honest, you really can’t practice for this experience. The greens are like no other. The balls roll like they are on conveyor belts. I didn’t practice being in front of so many cameras, Bubba Watson, Condeleeza Rice as well as many other folks wearing green jackets. You need to practice playing under extreme pressure and scrutiny. When it is game time, you need to just do your thing and concentrate; have tunnel vision just like the ride down Magnolia Lane.”

What tour pros did you get to meet and talk to?

Briel: “WOW! I spoke to so many tour pros while I was there. I spoke to Keegan Bradley, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Zach Johnson, Mark O’Meara, Gary Player and Patrick Reed. I also met up with the U.S. Woman’s Amateur Champion, Jennifer Kupcho, and 14-year-old baller Alexa Pano. I’m still in awe!”

 

How fast were those greens?

Briel: “Those greens were lightning quick. The balls rolled like they were on a conveyor belt; you didn’t know when to expect them to stop. Had I practiced these speeds a little more, I would have putted the 30-foot like a 15-foot and the 15-foot like a 6-foot putt.”

I also wanted to ask Briel’s parents a few questions in order to get a better idea from the standpoint of the mom and dad, on what an increasable experience this must have been.

So how cool was it driving up Magnolia Lane for you guys?

Mom and Dad: “Going down Magnolia Lane was a dream come true and we wouldn’t have EVER been able to do it without Briel’s accomplishment. Driving down was so peaceful; the way the trees are shaped like a tunnel and at the end of that tunnel, you see the Masters Flag and Founder’s Circle. Just thinking about all the legends, presidents, influential people driving down that road and we were doing the same thing was extraordinary. We appreciated how slow the driver took to get us down the lane for us to take it all in. A lot of tears. It was heavenly.”

What was the coolest part during your time at Drive, Chip and Putt and Augusta National?

Mom and Dad“The coolest part was seeing 9-year-old Briel compete at Augusta National! Seeing the whole set up and everything that goes into making this event what it is, we have no words. They made these kids feel like they were royalty. We are so truly blessed, thankful, and grateful for everything that was provided to Briel to make this a truly awesome experience. We don’t want to share too much as it needs to be a surprise to anyone else that’s reading this that may make it there.”

How impactful do you feel this initiative is to golf in general?

Mom and Dad: “You can’t possibly make any bigger impact on golf than to let golf’s future attend the best golf course and the coolest event, Drive, Chip and Putt at none other Augusta National during Masters week. The day after the event, we had a handful of people walk up to Briel to tell her that she was an inspiration to their older daughters who now want to play golf. They even requested a picture with Briel; how cool! This initiative is definately, without question, growing the game.”

It goes without saying that you were incredibly proud of your daughter but what may have surprised you most on how she handled this awesome experience?

Mom and Dad: “We are so incredibly proud of Briel! She handled this challenging and overwhelming experience very well for only being 9 years old. She was cool, calm and collected the whole time. The atmosphere at Drive, Chip and Putt can chew you up if you let it, but she didn’t let all of the distractions get to her, she embraced them.  Out of all the competitions she participated in to earn her invitation to Augusta, we truly feel she treated this whole experience like she was not at a competition but a birthday party where she was having a blast. She made many new golf friends and we met amazing golf families we anticipate spending more time with in the future. You don’t get to go to many parties where Bubba Watson is hanging out with you like he’s your best friend.”

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 76): Rees Jones on how Tiger won at Augusta and will win at Bethpage!

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The Open Doctor Rees Jones talks with host Michael Williams about the key holes that shaped Tiger’s win in Augusta and his chances for victory at Bethpage Black in the PGA Championship. Also features John Farrell of Sea Pines Resort (host of this week’s RBC Heritage Classic) and Ed Brown of Clear Sports.

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

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19th Hole

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