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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

How important is playing time in college if a player wants to turn pro?

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One of the great debates among junior golfers, parents and swing coaches is what is the most crucial factor in making the college decision. My experience tells me that many students would answer this question with a variation of coaching, facilities and of course academics (especially if their parents are present).

I would agree that all three are important, but I wanted to explore the data behind what I think is an often overlooked but critical part of the process; playing time. For this article, I examined players under 25 who made the PGA tour and played college golf to see what percent of events they participated in during their college career. In total I identified 27 players and through a combination of the internet, as well as conversations with their college coaches, here are the numbers which represent my best guess of their playing time in college:

Player Percent of Events

  • Justin Thomas 100%
  • Rickie Folwer 100%
  • Xander Schauffele 100%
  • Bryson DeChambeau 100%
  • Jon Rahm 100%
  • Patrick Reed 91%
  • Jordan Speith 100%
  • Beau Hossler 100%
  • Billy Horschel 100%
  • Aaron Wise 100%
  • Daniel Berger 100%
  • Thomas Pieters 95%
  • Ryan Moore 100%
  • Kevin Tway 98%
  • Scott Langley 95%
  • Russell Hendley 100%
  • Kevin Chappell 96%
  • Harris English 96%
  • JB Holmes 100%
  • Abraham Ancer 97%
  • Kramer Hicock 65%
  • Adam Svensson 100%
  • Sam Burns 100%
  • Cameron Champ 71%
  • Wydham Clark 71%
  • Hank Lebioda 100%
  • Sebastian Munoz 66%

Average: 94%

Please note that further research into the numbers demonstrate that players like Pieters, Munoz, Clark, Reed, Hicock, Langely, Reed and Champ all played virtually all events for their last two years.

This data clearly demonstrates that players likely to make a quick transition (less than 3 years) from college to the PGA tour are likely to play basically all the events in college. Not only are these players getting starts in college, but they are also learning how to win; the list includes 7 individual NCAA champions (Adam Svensson, Aaron Wise, Ryan Moore and Thomas Pieters, Scott Langley, Kevin Chappell, and Bryson DeChambeau), as well 5 NCAA team champion members (Justin Thomas, Jordan Speith, Beau Hossler, Patrick Reed, Abraham Ancer and Wydham Clack) and 2 US Amateur Champs (Bryson DeChambeau and Ryan Moore).

As you dig further into the data, you will see something unique; while there are several elite junior golfers on the list, like Speith and Thomas who played in PGA tour events as teenagers, the list also has several players who were not necessarily highly recruited. For example, Abraham Ancer played a year of junior college before spending three years at the University of Oklahoma. Likewise, Aaron Wise, Kramer Hickok and JB Holmes may have been extremely talented and skillful, but they were not necessarily top prospects coming out of high school.

Does this mean that playing time must be a consideration? No, there are for sure players who have matriculated to the PGA Tour who have either not played much in college. However, it is likely that they will make the PGA tour closer to 30 years of age. Although the difference between making the tour at 25 and 30 is only 5 years, I must speculate that the margin for failure grows exponentially as players age, making the difference mathematically extremely significant.

For junior golfers looking at the college decision, I hope this data will help them understand the key role of playing time will have in their development if they want to chase their dream of playing on the PGA Tour. As always, I invite comments about your own experience and the data in this article!

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member pdaero, who takes us to Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas. The course is situated just ten minutes from downtown San Antonio, and pdaero gives us some excellent insight into what you can expect should you make the trip here.

“My favorite golf course to play, it is always in really good shape. These pictures are from wintertime, which the greenness is still impressive. The course has a ton of fun holes and unique designs, and only houses visible on 4 tee and between 14 green and 15 tee.

The course rating is strong, with a 74.2 rating on a par 71 (7007 yards from the tips), and even from the second tee you get 1.3 strokes.”

According to Republic Golf Club’s website, the rate for 18 holes during the week ranges from $29 to $49, while the weekend rate ranges from $35 to $69.

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Opinion & Analysis

An interview with State Apparel’s founder Jason Yip

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For the past five years, Jason Yip has been building an apparel company that redefines the purpose of golf wear. With a strong background in innovation from his days in Silicone Valley, Yip wanted to reinvent golf apparel to be a functional tool for the golfer.

The other day, I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Jason Yip about State Apparel and a little about himself. It is not every day that you get to speak with someone who can exude passion through the phone. On this day, though, I could hear the passion Jason has for golf, California, and for State Apparel.

Yip said State Apparel has two major foundations

  1. Functional innovation
  2. Social responsibility

Jason loved talking about watching Tiger Woods. However, he watched for something I believe few ever have. How was Tiger wiping the dew and the grass off his clubs, hands, and ball? The answer that Jason observed was that Tiger and others are utilizing their clothing as wiping surfaces. The core of State Apparel is the functionally located wiping elements on your article of clothing. The staple of the brand is their Competition Pants which have wiping elements located on the cuffs, side pockets, and rear pockets.

State Apparel recognizes the need to be socially responsible as a company. This seems to be from Jason’s earlier days of playing golf behind a truck stop in Central Valley, California.

How is the State Apparel socially responsible? Yip identified three ways.

  • Production is done in San Francisco.
  • Most of their apparel utilizes sustainable fabric.
  • Proud supporter of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.

Jason’s desire is to provide not only apparel that is golf specific but also the experience that we have on the golf course. A little over a year ago the State Apparel Store and Urban Clubhouse opened on Filmore Street in San Francisco, California.

“I wanted to provide the golfing experience closer to the home of many golfers in the area,” Yip told me.

Among the State Apparel clothing at the store, there is an indoor hitting by with launch monitor. And they have even hosted speaking events with local professionals and architects at the clubhouse.

At the end of our conversation I asked Jason, what would he say to someone who knows nothing about State Apparel, especially those of us not in California?

His answer

“State Apparel is a unique authentic brand that is designed specifically for golfers by a golfer. Look at the product because it is something you have never seen and absolutely communicate on what you see or what you have questions about.”

 

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