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The need for speed

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In golf culture, as we all know, certain dreaded words must avoided. However, contrary to popular belief, the worst is not “shank”—it is either “bunter” or “short knocker.” How do I know? Years of abuse at the hands of friends who love to bomb it by me and then taunt me. This reached a tipping point in early December with my buddy Fredrick Lindblom of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. Right after we teed off he asked, “You catch that?”

“Ripped it,” I said, as we both got into the cart and started driving to our balls.

“Yeah. Looked like you sent it at least 201,” he said with a chuckle. “By the way, did you hear about all the new construction around here? I hear it includes a new Super Walmart!”

“A new Super Walmart around here! Cool. Where’s it going?” I asked.

“Right between my ball and yours,” he could barely get the words out before exploding into laughter.

That evening, as I sat at home reflecting, I decided it was time to make a change. It wasn’t just Freddy, it was a lot of people. I needed to be able to hit it further: I set a new goal for myself: fly the ball 250 by September 1, 2019.

What follows is the story of my journey.

It’s not just swinging harder

Going into this process, because of my background in golf, I knew my best shot would be to learn to move more efficiently to create more optimal launch conditions. My first step was to call the people at K-Motion. K-Motion makes a technology in golf called K-Coach—they use wireless sensors to provide data to software that produces an evaluation report that explains how a player uses their body to hit the ball. How good? 51 of the coaches on the top 100 list, 21 major league teams, and Freddy all use it.

Data collection with K-Coach and a Flightscope took less than ten minutes. One sensor went on my back with a vest (hence the name), one around my waist with a belt, one on my arm with a Velcro strap and one on my golf glove with a clip. I took five swings with my six iron and that was it. Out popped the report and graphs.

“You’re obviously aware of your FlightScope numbers,” my friend Joe DiChiara, Director of education at K-Motion, who coaches elite junior and your players, reminded me. “You swing your 6-iron about 79 mph with a path way right”

I nodded.

“Here is what your body is doing” said Joe, as he turned the computer screen show me some data in the evaluation. “You start with your arms and hands first and that limits your ability to transfer the energy your body is creating to the golf ball through what we call the kinematic chain.“

“And what should I be doing?” I asked.

“In an efficient swing, and not all great golfers are efficient, in the transition sequence, from the top of the swing, you want the lower body to fire first, then the upper body, then the lead arm, and then the hand, like when you crack a whip.”

“Makes sense,” I told him.

“And the other thing I would suggest, you need to focus on your side bend at the top of your swing. As you can see,” he said pointing to another page of the report, “you have flat shoulders at the top, and that’s making it hard for you to deliver the club at impact.”

“What does the rest of the report say?” I asked

“That’s all you need to know right now” Joe told me.

“So, here is the million-dollar question, how do I get better on this?” I asked. “Hit a ton of balls?”

“Actually, we are going to do no range work. We are going to design you a biofeedback training program for your K-Coach and you have super speed weighted clubs, and I want you to use the program I give you for those too.”

Joe spent another two minutes creating my programs, emailed them to me and I was ready to go. As I shook Joe’s hand and left, I was excited but also worried, no range? Is this going to work? I mean, it’s where people practice?

I caught my flight home and as soon as I got home, I downloaded the biofeedback training program from Joe, put on my K-Coach and got to work. Immediately I could feel how different the patterns were. My posture was way different, and I really had to struggle to follow the avatar that guided me through my new movement patterns, engaging my muscles in new ways.

I stuck with the program, upping my work to three times a day for the first 10 days. Slowly, I improved, the work got easier, and I got better at getting into position. I called Joe and told him it was getting easy at day 15, so he tightened the tolerances on my biofeedback activities. It got harder again.

About 20 days into the program, I felt confident in my new movement patterns and ready to test my work. I headed out to my home course TPC Pebble Creek.

I got up on the first tee. I did a step through drill, then addressed the ball and whack! So far left, it was crazy. No Bueno. Lack of separation on the downswing with some forward bend, I thought.
No problem, needed to side bend more at impact and not be so forward. Rehearsing the change, I hit another and this time, crushed it. I was pumped to see where it was, so I quickly put my driver away and darted down the fairway to find it about 20 yards past where I have ever hit it on a course that I have probably played a million times. That was the story of the day, everything way longer than ever before.

After the round, I pulled out the Flightscope and tested my 6-iron speed, 87 mph, ten miles per hour faster. Wow. I called Joe.

“Fantastic stuff, time for new clubs,” he told me.

Studio 360 club fitting

Now that I had better movement patterns, I enlisted the help of my friend Lyndon Wilson at Golf Studio 360 based at Orange County National in Orlando, Florida. Lyndon is a world-class fitter who has done work for many of the best players including Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell to name a few. I was excited to get his opinion on if equipment might be able to help me get more distance.

After watching a couple shots with my irons, Lyndon in his English accent said, “are you ready for something that will change your life?”

I nodded. He turned away and I could tell he was screwing some components together. He turned around and immediately, my smile turned upside down; Lyndon has put in a graphite shaft. I immediately protested, “Lyndon, I may not hit it far, but I love the stability of my steel shafts. I don’t want a couple yards at the cost of accuracy.”

Lyndon smiled and said, “Read it, what shafts are those?”

“KBS C-Taper Lites” I responded.

“Yes, and these are the new KBS graphite. Designed by your buddy Kim (Braly – the owner of KBS). They have the same profile as the steel but have a range of weights from 50 grams to 80 grams. We are going to try you in the 70 grams with the same TaylorMade head you currently play). I want you to hit 10 with yours and then 10 with these. Let’s see what happens?”

The last sentence should have been a hint; a Wiley veteran like Lyndon never guesses, he knew that the KBS graphite would make a huge difference and of course, he was right. The results were not even close; I had now gotten even more distance, flying my 6-iron close to 190 yards: Boom!

Lyndon was clearly happy, but we were not done yet, it was time for the moment of truth; how far would the driver fly? “Mate, now that you have better side bend, sequencing and speed, your driver launch conditions are going to be mad different. I think if we can get +2 AoA (angle of attack) we have a real chance of going 250+” said Lyndon. “Give me 1 second, think I got the perfect fit”.

Again, he turned his back, fiddled with some things and then reached out to hand me a new weapon to try.

I immediately went to check it out; a TaylorMade M5 with an Accra TZ6. The club looked sexy AF. I was pumped. Teed one up and smackkkkkkk. I turned quickly and saw a cheeky little smile on my buddy’s face: “257 carry, 274 total, mate!” said Lyndon.

“Wow, that’s a missile launcher” I said.

“Yes, those TaylorMade heads are really good, but this new Accra Shaft mate…whoooo. It’s so unique because it’s low torque but has an active tip. This means we can give you a really low spin head and it won’t just noise dive,” he said as he showed me the numbers on FlightScope. “Look at these numbers; you hit up two, 103 mph and spin of 2,200. Couldn’t be any better.”

“I also love the feel,” I said, as I smashed a couple more. “Also, really like how everything looks.”

“You know those Accra’s also come in custom finish. I got something in mind that you are going to love. Trust me, you’re going to have a killer set when I’m done building these things!” explained Lyndon as he shook hands and ended the fitting.

My new best friend Chuck

Recently my buddy Katie, invited me out to play golf with her, her dad and his friend Chuck. Don’t let the sweet name fool you, Katie is a stud; former college lacrosse player, who’s super athletic and had just qualified for her first USGA championship (US AM). She was also down in our series 2-1 and very eager to tie it up. 4 hours later, it was not even close, after Katie laid a complete beatdown on me, she did something extremely admirable; she invited me in for a beer and nachos. As I numbed the loss with a delicious pint of Guinness, Chuck looked at me and said “you hit is so good day, way better than Katie! You kill it brother! What’s your secret?” I smiled, the circle was complete, and the loss quickly faded from my mind.

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Brendan is the owner of Golf Placement Services, a boutique business which aims to apply his background in golf and higher education to help educate players, their families and coaches about the process! Website - www.golfplacementservices.com Insta - golf.placement.sevices Twitter @BMRGolf

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Donald

    Oct 30, 2019 at 12:08 am

    Beautiful story! Did you make Katie breakfast in the morning?

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Equipment

Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020

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As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.

Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.

TaylorMade became educators…and kicked off live golf again

Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.

Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.

Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.

PXG leaned in

Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.

The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.

Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.

In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.

Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.

The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.

Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled

Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.

There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.

Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.

Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.

Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”

Cobra Rev 33 Irons

Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.

It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.

What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.

Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.

It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.

The Titleist train chugged on

I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.

So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.

It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.

Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to

Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.

The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.

As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.

Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball

Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.

However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.

 

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.

After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is 2020 golf’s big chance?

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At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.

Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.

It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).

If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.

The news sports landscape

Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.

People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.

The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry

  • Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
  • As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.

When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.

Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.

As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.

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