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Opinion & Analysis

A first timer’s trip to the promised land

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Hello. My name is Dustin, and much like many of you, I, um, have a problem. I am addicted to golf. I guess it all started, or rather, the first time I realized it could be an issue was in my Junior year of high school. I grew up in rural Illinois and the winters could be brutal. Sure, there was cold and wind and snow and all that jazz, but the real problem for me was the prolonged period in which I couldn’t play golf. On one sunny, crisp January morning, however, all that changed. I woke up and just knew I had to get out on the golf course, so that’s exactly what I was going to do. I wiped the dust from my clubs and snuck them into my trunk. I left at my normal time so as not to arouse any suspicion, but instead of turning into the school parking lot I drove right by. I. Drove. Right. By.

The feeling that consumed me was indescribable. I felt the shackles of society breaking away. I felt like a bird flying for the first time. I felt like nothing could stop me as I was the master of my own fate, even the entire universe for that matter, but in all of my excitement, I wasn’t watching my speed…I got pulled over about a half of a mile from my local course. So with the added weight of a speeding ticket in hand, I was escorted back to school and sentenced to the brutality of watching the rare semi-warm day fade away. Since that moment in time, my life has basically been a Groundhog’s Day version of the same day over and over again. Sometimes I am successful in my endeavor to sneak away and play eighteen and sometimes I am forced into the shackles that keep me indoors. One thing never changes though, the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check the weather.

Back to the present day. No s***, there I was, standing on the precipice of glory, taking it all in. I was about to step foot in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando for the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show. I would love to be able to tell you how it felt, walking into The Promised Land for the first time, but I’ll be honest, I blacked-out for a bit. The only thing I can really compare it to is that one time I rattled off an eagle and two birdies in a row before falling off the wagon and shooting a forty-nine on the back. I am sure it was a moment of greatness, but I just can’t recall. When I finally came to I was standing in front of the Holy Grail.

I lost all composure at this point and time. I started to kneel. I didn’t know what else to do in the presence of such greatness. Luckily, there was a Mizuno Rep. nearby. He graciously helped me to my feet, handed me a bottle of water, and assured me this wasn’t the first time this had happened today. I didn’t get his name, but wherever you are, sir, thank you. You may have saved my life because if not for your swift intervention I may still be kneeling there today.

I started to feel self-conscious that I was ill-prepared, that my thirty-five years on this planet training for this very moment weren’t enough, and perhaps I should’ve waited until I was seventy to attend “The Show”. A pattern appeared that caused me more anxiety than a twenty-yard pitch over a bunker with water deep. I approached a booth, got more twitchy than Kevin Na in 2012, then backed-off to the relative safety of the center aisle. This happened again and again. I was wandering aimlessly, too scared to enter a booth, too ashamed to make eye contact with my fellow patrons, and too stubborn to call it quits. And that’s when the Golf Gods intervened.

After years of being cursed by those vile creatures, trust me, I was as floored as anyone when the skies opened up and the spotlight shown on the most comforting sign at the PGA Show. It was at this moment, that I knew I was right where I belonged. It was at this moment that I knew I was amongst my people. It was at this moment that I finally achieved acceptance, and therefore the true zen of that most heinous four-letter word, G O L F.

With my new-found calmness, I resumed something of a normal temperament, albeit, with much more elevated awe and shock, I continued perusing the booths. One by one, going around and around the show again. Every time I revisited a booth, I saw something new, a new Scotty Cameron headcover, a new version of the Callaway Mavrik, a new hybrid that promised I could land it softly from two hundred and thirty yards. I went from paralysis to eagerness, greed even. I was hungry for every shiny thing that caught my eye.

At some point, my step counter started smoking and quit, but it didn’t even phase me. I simply undid the strap and let it fall to the floor, next to some schmuck kneeling in front of a blue and white staff bag. I muttered “rookie” under my breath, and continued on. After all, this was thirty-five years in the making.

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Opinion & Analysis

An open letter to golf

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Dear golf,

I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.

It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.

On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.

This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.

As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.

I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.

When you are able to return in full, I will be here.

Sincerely,

Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact

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One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.

As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.

I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.

So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.

So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.

I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.

I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.

If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.

[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]

It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.

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On Spec

On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion

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In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.

Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.

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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