At first blush, a similarity emerges with historical re-enactment junkies and hickory golfers. Both sets of aficionados strive for authentic recreation of apparel and equipment.
But here is where the two roads diverge. While the re-enactors hope to portray a particular episode from history, hickory golfers strive to create new history while remaining faithful to a bygone era of golf.
Hickory golfers are niche enthusiasts. They compete at courses named Oakhurst, Temple Terrace and Southern Pines. The numbers on the scorecard typically run between 5,800 and 6,000 yards and the clubs in their bags have names, rather than numbers. Terms like brassie, baffy, niblick and mashie emerge from a P.G. Wodehouse story into the light of a new era. Swings slow down or smooth out, and the dull “thlock” of a wooden head and shaft on a golf ball returns to the auditory spectrum.
“Before the 14-club rule went into effect in 1939, players could carry as many (clubs) as they wanted,” said James Davis, communications coordinator for the Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG). “There are stories of up to 22 clubs in a bag. Players had certain shots they counted on and went to club makers of the day to have clubs made specifically for perhaps only one or two shots a round. Today, a good starter set of hickories might be only six clubs: two wood headed clubs — driver and brassie — and four irons — mid iron, mashie, niblick and putter. Of course there are dozens of other clubs that are commonly found in modern hickory bags from a more-lofted wooden headed spoon to irons such as driving irons, 1- to 4-irons, the jigger and mashie niblick. These are the most common. Other names of clubs get real involved.”
Hickory golf is an opportunity to commune with the era of Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones, of Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson. It is the game of golf without the technological trappings of composite shafts, souped-up golf balls and massive titanium driver heads. Hickory golf allows the ball to move from side to side, to be curved intentionally, to be played low and trundling.
What Is Hickory Golf?
Mike Just, club maker for Louisville Golf and a reformed hickory player, discussed the province inhabited by hickory golfers in a recent interview.
“Some people play with clubs originally made in the early 1900s,” he said. “Because good, original equipment is hard to find, some play with replica clubs that are of the same design and materials as the club made during the hickory era. Many people dress in knickers and wear a shirt and tie like Bobby Jones and other great golfers of the period.”
Just also said Louisville Golf has been making wooden-headed clubs for 35 years.
“There was tournament, the National Hickory Championship, where people played with pre-1900 equipment on a course that was maintained the same way as when it was built in 1884 (Oakhurst in West Virginia),” he said. “Original woods from that era cost a few thousand dollars each and players didn’t want to risk breaking them. So they contacted Louisville Golf to see if we could replicate the woods. Our involvement has always been demand driven. After successfully replicating the pre-1900 woods, we were asked to replicate woods from the 1920s.”
Authentic or Replica?
As with many endeavors that seek a connection to the historical past, debate arises over authenticity. Hard-line wood golfers insist that tournament-approved clubs must be original equipment, built prior to the time when metal shafts replaced hickory ones. A second perspective is that, due to the cost and scarcity of original, quality clubs, approved replica equipment is to be permitted in tournament play.
Just affirms that clubs built as far back as the 1920s are viable for use still.
“Hickory shafts can and do break, but that is a rare occurrence,” he said. “The old vintage clubs need to be refurbished before play or they are likely to fail. But a refurbished club or a replica is much more durable than many people think. If I hand my hickory-shafted driver to someone who has never hit a hickory-shafted club, their first reaction is, ‘Is this going to break when I hit it?’ The answer is obviously no….Bobby Jones hit drives over 300 yards with his driver. That’s a lot of force on the shaft, and his clubs didn’t break.”
Now, don’t think it can’t happen. In 2012, I broke a brand-new hickory 4-iron and was gun-shy the remainder of the round. My hickory-wielding mates assured me that it was a totally random occurrence and that I should give the hicks another go. I’ll do that in mid-February in Pinehurst. Seems like an appropriate place, right?
Who Is Playing Hickory Golf?
Two fellows for whom the hickory game means a great deal are Greg Vogelsang and Kevin Lynch. The former has played hickory for a number of years while the latter is a recent convert. Vogelsang’s proficiency was such that he emerged as the 2011 Vermont Hickory Open champion. Lynch’s enthusiasm is such that he owns two sets of clubs, one from Just and another from Tad Moore. What binds men and women to hickory golf is a need to know the origins of the game, and Lynch and Vogelsang are no different.
“I was trolling around on the Internet and came upon the site of the Society of Hickory Golfers,” Vogelsang said. “Lo and behold, there were guys playing hickory golf. And then I thought, it would be really fun to play hickory golf at Grover Cleveland.”
Grover Cleveland Park, formerly known as the Country Club of Buffalo, hosted the 1912 USGA Open championship and stretches to 5,600 yards, well below today’s standards. Hickory golf, people like Vogelsang have said, brings relevancy back to courses from a different era.
For Lynch, it was about the feel not only of the shots but of the course.
“It’s almost a cure for your swing ills,” he said. “It’s a swing aid in a way. We had a guy, decent golfer, played moderns for two days, barely breaking 90. We told him, ‘Try hickory.’ Next day, at Dormie in Pinehurst, he shot 75 the first time he saw the course. Changed his rhythm. Not only do you feel the club, you need to show more care. Can’t just leave them in the trunk for a year. Store them flat and in proper temperature, so that they don’t warp or bend. They’re strong, but not indestructible.”
Hickory golf is growing across the world, with several European nations holding annual championships. There are hickory golfers in Australia and Japan. The SoHG sponsors a championship series of five tournaments with points awarded for various finishing places. The top finisher is acknowledged at the season-ending hickory championship at Mid Pines, N.C., in November.
The easy access to hickory clubs has been one factor in the popularity of their use.
“Anyone can pick up hickory clubs and have a go,” Davis said. “They are not hard to find, as there are scads of them on eBay for example. Trade shows held in various regions of the country by the Golf Collectors Society show hundreds and hundreds of such clubs for sale. An inquiry to the (SoHG) website will help put anyone in touch with hickory golf enthusiasts in their area. Find a mentor through the SoHG website and get help when choosing a starter set. There are also helpful ‘build a starter set’ stories on the SoHG website.”
At the inaugural Erie County Amateur, an event held in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that fabled USGA Open, Lynch and Vogelsang, along with compatriot Eric Hoxsie, played the Grover Cleveland course in their plus-fours, schoolboy caps and their hickories. The modern-ball players asked question after question about the clubs and left with curiosity piqued. Perhaps the niche is growing.
How to qualify for the U.S. Amateur (in-depth statistical analysis and tutorial)
This is a follow-up of sorts to an article that I published on GolfWRX in May 2017: A Modern Blueprint to Breaking 80.
With the U.S. Amateur concluding at iconic Pebble Beach last weekend, I thought of the many amateurs out there who would love to one day qualify for this prestigious event. Personally, I made it to the State Amateur level, but work and life got in the way and I never made it to the next step. For those who aspire or wonder, here’s an outline of what your game should look like if you want to qualify for the U.S. Amateur.
To start with, your USGA Index needs to be 2.4 or lower to even attempt to qualify. If your course is rated 71.5/130*, the best 10 of your most recent 20 scores should average 74.3. This score will adjust slightly up if your course is rated more difficult, and slightly down if it’s rated less difficult. For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming the average course and slope rating above.
*Note: 71.5/130 is the average rating of courses played by single digit handicap golfers in the ShotByShot.com database of 340,000 rounds.
Your average scores by par type will be:
- Par 3: 3.21
- Par 4: 4.20
- Par 5: 4.86
The Fastest and Easiest Way to Lower Your Scores
Every round is a mix of good shots, average shots and bad shots/errors. The challenge is to determine which piece of your game’s unique puzzle is your greatest weakness in order to target your improvement efforts on the highest impact area. If you track the simple good and bad outcomes listed below for a few rounds, your strengths and weaknesses will become apparent.
Tee Game or Driving
Goals: Hit EIGHT fairways and limit your driving errors to ONE, with the majority being the less costly “No Shot errors” (more on this later).
Distance: I will ignore this and assume you’re maximizing distance as best you can without sacrificing accuracy.
Fairways: Hitting fairways is crucial, as we are all statistically significantly more accurate from the short grass.
Errors: Far more important than Fairways Hit, however, is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of misses. To help golfers understand the weaknesses in their game, my golf analysis program allows users to record and categorize the THREE types of Driving Errors:
- No Shot: You have missed in a place from which you do not have a normal next shot and require some sort of advancement to get the ball back to normal play.
- Penalty: A 1-stroke penalty due to hazard or unplayable lie.
- Lost/OB: Stroke and distance penalty.
Goals: ELEVEN GIRs and ONE penalty/2nd
Penalty/2nd: This means either a penalty or a shot hit so poorly that you are left with yet another full approach shot from greater than 50 yards of the hole.
The chart below displays the typical array of Approach Shot opportunities from the fairway (75 percent fall in the 100 to 200-yard range). The 150 to 175-yard range tends to be the most frequent distance for golfers playing the appropriate distance golf course for their game.
Short Game (defined as shots from within 50 yards of the hole)
Chip/Pitch: If you miss 7 greens, you will have 6 green-side save opportunities. Your goals should be:
- Percentage of shots to within 5 feet: 40 percent
- Percentage of Saves: 47 percent (3)
- Percentage of Errors (shots that miss the green): 6 percent, or approximately 1 in 17 attempts.
Sand: You should have 1 of these green-side save opportunities. Your goals:
- Percentage of shots to within 8 feet: 35 percent
- Percentage Saves: 32 percent
- Percentage of Errors (shots that miss the green): 13 percent, or approximately 1 in 8 attempts.
Putting: You need just over 31 putts. Aim for:
- 1-Putts: 6
- 3-Putts: 1
The chart below displays the percentage of 1-Putts you will need to make by distance, as well as the typical array of first-putt opportunities by distance. Note that 62 percent of your first-putt opportunities will fall in the 4 to 20-foot range. Adjust your practice efforts accordingly!
Good luck, and please let me know if and when you are successful.
For a complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to ShotByShot.com and sign up for a 1-round free trial.
Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics
After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.
Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.
The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.
These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.
There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:
- Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
- You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
- Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
- All things being equal, take the younger player.
- Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.
A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):
The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).
The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).
It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.
The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.
Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:
This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.
Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.
Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.
This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).
From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.
Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing
In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?
If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:
Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.
It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.
Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:
- What is your coaching philosophy?
- What is your favourite part of coaching?
- What type of student best fits in at your university?
- What type of athlete best fits in?
- What are the goals for the golf program?
- How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
- Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
- What access does the team have to golf courses?
- Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
- Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
- What is your greatest strength as a coach?
- Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
- What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
- How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
- Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
- What success do people have getting jobs?
- What success do people have getting into grad schools?
Know the Numbers
With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.
Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.
For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!
Do your research
Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).
Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.
First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.
Have a Plan
Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!
For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.
As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.
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