During the last 17 years, I’ve graduated from the simple regripping of golf clubs to creating full blueprints. Today, when I build clubs for friends and family, I try to leave no stone unturned and work to minimize the variables from club to club. For better golfers, this consistency pays off with a predictable ball flight when you are looking at a shot that requires delicate touch. But does a newer golfer need 100 percent blueprinted clubs? Is that expenditure really going to pay off?
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not swimming in cash. My obsession with putters aside, I have to budget and decide where I am going to spend my dollars. For a lot of golfers, the cost of that fitting or repair may not make sense when they can just apply that cost to buy new clubs. But there are a lot of things you can check without having to visit a shop.
I’ve got big hands. Not ROBOPTI big, but they are pretty meaty. One of the first things I learned was that a larger grip fit my hand better and allowed me to keep control of the club during the swing. I’d suspect that a lot of golfers just play with whatever grip came on the club when they bought it.
Checking for free: Grip the club and look at your hands. The rule of thumb is the tips of your fingers should be lightly touching your palm. If they are not, the grip may be too large for you. If your fingers are digging into your palm, the grip is probably too small.
If you decide you need a change: Now is the time to have your hands measured. Beyond standard, midsize and jumbo, the repair shop can add extra wraps of masking tape as needed to fine-tune the feel. Take the Goldilocks approach and make sure the fit is just right. Grips have different taper rates, so try different brands to get the right combination of taper, feel and tack for you.
Obsessive-compulsive details for WRX members: Just because you have used .600-inch Golf Pride round grips for the last 10 years, understand that not all shafts are .600-inch anymore. Your driver might have a .605-inch up to a .620-inch butt diameter depending on the model. What used to be a perfect on Dynamic Gold will not be the same with PX or C-Taper because the butt section tapers under the grip.
A top-tier clubfitter will measure your grips in two or three areas to make sure you have consistent sizing for both hands of the grip.
CHECK YOUR LIE ANGLES
OEM Online Fitting programs will get your lie angles in the ballpark if you want to order new clubs. But the final step is verifying the measurements against your swing on a lie board. You can see if you need to be more upright or flat while you are at the driving range.
Checking for free: A lot of people hate them, but the range turf mat is your friend in this exercise. I shouldn’t have to state this, but I will anyway: hit off the mat. Don’t hit off the tee! As you hit balls, the green schmutz on the sole of your irons and wedges will tell you if the clubs are too upright or flat for you. Properly struck shots will have the green in the center of the club, or evenly across the entire sole. If you see that the mark is biased towards the heel or toe, it’s time for your clubs to be adjusted.
If you decide you need a change: This is a serious step and you have either an easy choice or a time-consuming choice. The easy way is to let the clubfitter set your lies from a single club, usually a 6- or 7-iron. The clubfitter will see what lie angle you need compared to the reference standard of that set and then adjust the lies accordingly. This is when you will hear people tell you they are “2-degree upright” or “1-degree flat.”
Obsessive-compulsive details for WRX members: The time consuming method is to hit every club on the lie board and adjust each club as needed for your swing. At this point, you will refer to each club by its lie. I have a 61-degree 5-iron, a 64.5-degree 9-iron and a 65-degree sand wedge. My lie progression does not match the factory model and if I just said I was “one-degree up,” my long irons would be too upright.
A good fitter will give you a chart with your lofts/lies when you walk out of the store. You should check these specs against the new clubs you may buy in the future and order your specs accordingly.
Note that loft/length are dependent on each other. The Ping color chart is a good example of this. If your 7-iron is 63 degrees, that lie is based on the length of your current club. If you extend or shorten your clubs, you will want to verify your angles again on the lie board.
CHECK YOUR SWING WEIGHTS
All clubs start their lives as components. Heads, shafts and grips each have specifications and tolerances for angles, lengths and weight. For the majority of the industry, there is a tolerance of plus/minus 2 grams on weights. As a result, the specified swing weight of the club may not match the actual swing weight. One club with a heavy head and light grip can feel radically different compared to the same model with a light head and a heavy grip. Yet both would be “in spec” for a production line built set of clubs.
Checking for free: This one is not completely free, unless you can get access to a swing weight scale. Most club repair shops and big box stores with repair centers should have one. Some driving ranges and pro shops may have a scale as well.
Most golfers, when they think about their clubs, usually have two or three clubs in the bag that they always seem to hit well. There are usually some that always seem to be a struggle. A quick check on the swing weight scale will often times show the good clubs to have a similar swing weight and the tough clubs will be significantly lighter or heavier. When having clubs built for you or repaired, make sure you specify the good swing weight to your club fitter so that they get the club to feel right.
If you decide you need a change: Light clubs can be made heavier by adding lead tape to the club head. Applied to the back of the club near the center of the club head, add mass until the swing weight matches the good clubs. Verify the feel on the range. Heavier clubs can be adjusted by having your clubfitter grind away some weight from the club head. Again, adjust until the swing weight matches the good clubs to give a more consistent feel from club to club. You can get a roll of lead tape at your golf shop for a few dollars. One package is usually enough to raise an entire set of clubs by one swing weight point.
Obsessive-compulsive details for WRX members: Swing weight can be affected by length as well. You may want to have your clubfitter check the lengths of your clubs to ensure consistent spacing between each club. You can also have internal tip weights installed by your clubfitter to match the swing weights and avoid lead tape, which is unsightly to some golfers on their pretty new irons. Grip weights can also change swing weight. The Golf Pride NDMC grips are seven or eight grams lighter than the 50-gram Tour Velvet grip found on a lot of factory clubs. This can move the swing weight up to 1.5 points. A .580-inch core Tour Velvet will also weigh two or three grams more than a .600-inch core Tour Velvet. Midsize will weigh even more than the standard sized grips. Ensure you have consistent grips sizes and weights, especially if you are having your set regripped.
Knowing the specifications that work for you will give you, your teacher and your clubfitter an easy reference to ensure you are getting the best, most consistent performance from every club in your bag.
A breakdown of NCAA golf’s 2018 early-signing period
With the early-signing period for college golf ending about a week ago, I wanted to examine the numbers and see how they compared to last years. As you may remember, I reported last year that the average National Junior Golf Score Board (NJGS) ranking for a player that signed at a Division One Institution was 365. Likewise, the average NJGS for Power 5 Conference School was 114, while 52 percent of signees where from in-state. This year during the early signing period there were 173 players who signed at D1 schools. Of these the average NJGS for all division one signees was 262.6. The average for the Power 5 Conference signees was 113.76 and again 51 percent of players signed from in-state.
An important question is “what do we know about the 263-ranked player in NJGS (the average rank for D1)?” At the end of the signing period, this player was Ben Woodruff. The native of Huntersille, NC signed to play in-state for the University of North Carolina Charlotte. According to NJGS, Ben played 9 events with one top-5 finish, an overall rank of 507 and a scoring differential of .35. Historically, we see that the average Division One player has a scoring differential very close to .5 or better.
For the second consecutive year, the number one player chose a non-power 5 Conference school; Ben Wong decided to play his college golf for Coach Enloe at Southern Methodist University (SMU), located in Dallas, Texas. This means, Wong a native of Spring, Texas (a northern suburb of Houston) will be playing college golf about 3 hours north. He will also be joined by NJGS second-ranked player Noah Goodwin, giving SMU a formidable pair of recruits! Florida, Louisiana State University, Pepperdine, North Carolina and Texas also all nabbed two players each from the top 25 in their class, while UCLA grabbed three!
Among the most interesting trends in recruiting is the preference for college coaches to recruit “in-state” players. Over the past two years, the number of “in-state” signees have remained about 50 percent. This number, in my opinion, is based largely on limited recruiting budgets; less than 20 percent of schools have major recruiting budgets. Instead many coaches rely on recruiting budgets of a couple thousand dollars, which is not going to “travel” well.
It is also interesting to note that of the signees for Division I listed on NJGS, only 24 of 197 players where international. This means that international players make up 12 percent of the signees. This number is steady from the previous data collect. Of these players, Wake Forest signed players ranked 305 ad 702 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR), while UAB signed a player ranked 2476, Iowa State a player ranked 1098, UTEP a player ranked 2132 (also 325 in NJGS), Western Carolina a player ranked 3699, Stanford a player ranked 208, Arizona a player ranked 141, Colorado a player ranked 754 and 1050, Louisiana Monroe a player ranked 1524, Washington State a player ranked 3251, Northwestern a player ranked 332, Oregon a player ranked 527 and 2229 (also 291 in NJGS), VCU a player ranked 3216 (also 168 in NJGS) and George Washington a player ranked 2851 (also 276 in NJGS). The average WARG for these players is 1,558.5 (please note these represent their current WAGR rankings).
Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole
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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
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