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Opinion & Analysis

The Dan Plan: Keep your gear in line with your skill set

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My last post was about my experience at Titleist’s Oceanside Test Facility, and what it means to get fit by some of the best in the industry. The fitting process was very informative and positive, so I was excited to get my new custom-fit clubs. I couldn’t wait to break them in, get some launch monitor data and see how they matched up to my old gamers.

I was sold on the performance of the clubs at Oceanside, but I still wondered how much the fitting would affect my ball striking numbers at my home course. I was especially curious because my previous clubs were only a year old. But then again, I’d come a long way in that one year.

When I was last fit, I had never broken 80 and never played in a tournament. Since then, I have put in one third of my 4,200 practice hours, shot rounds of 73 and played in 12 tournament rounds with a low score of 80 on a couple occasions.  It’s been a growing year and so much has changed.

After hitting each new stick five times (to get a general average of how they performed) and comparing the results to a similar test I had done a few months ago, I was pretty surprised at some of the differences.

Although my old clubs were from Nike and my new ones are from Titleist, this post is not about comparing two different club manufacturers. It’s an eye-opener about how important it is for golfers to keep their gear in line with their skill set.

Below is a chart that gives my launch monitor numbers for my previous sticks:

nikesticks

Launch monitor numbers were gathered using Trackman and range balls from a grass range and with the data “normalized” for ideal conditions. 

One of the largest areas of concern with my old clubs was that I didn’t have very good gapping in my distances with some of the clubs. In particular, my 6 iron, 5 iron and 4 hybrid were scary close in profile, and I had a rather large gap between my 9 and 8 irons. I never quite understood the reason for that, and I am still not 100 percent sure why that was occurring. I had my clubs checked, and all of them had the correct lofts and lengths.

photo copy

Also, I didn’t feel like my mid-iron swing was as bad as it was on paper, and with the amount that I practiced with them I was mystified as to why the overlap and lack of distance was happening. For some reason, though, I was not delivering those clubs to the ball well.

A large part of me assumed that it was 100 percent my swing that was causing the numbers to be a bit off, but I was still curious what new gear could do for my game. When the clubs arrived, I didn’t know if things would be the exact same or if some differences would appear in the data. After hitting the irons (they arrived first) for two days, I got the launch monitor out and gathered some numbers in the same fashion that I had with my previous clubs. Here are the new iron numbers — again I hit each club five times to get an average look at what they now do:

titleistirons

For a full write up of what’s in the new bag, please check out this article:  http://www.golfwrx.com/91497/who-knows-how-to-fit-better-than-the-source/

To be honest, I’m not a pro at analyzing this data right now. That said, I am attending a TrackMan University class in Seattle this week and will know a ton more about what all of this actually means soon. For the time being, though, there are a few numbers that stand out to me immediately.

First off, my ball speed with the 9, 8, 7 and 6 irons are all somewhat similar from the old to the new, although the new clubs have more consistent steps between each iron. The distances are all fairly similar as was, but again the new clubs have better gaps.

The 5 iron is where it gets intriguing. My old 5 iron carried about the same as my 6 (I can attest it was the same on the course as the range) and my old 4 hybrid seemed to be roughly similar in flight distance. The new 5 and 4 irons are a different story. The consistent gapping goes through those irons and now I have sticks that carry about 185 and 194 yards. My new irons have nice gaps and have full-swing carries of everywhere between 140 and 195 yards. That’s a lot of distances covered.

Next comes the new hybrid, wood and driver. The old clubs carried 190, 204 and 235 respectively, and had decent gaps in ball speed between each club. The replacements came just a few days ago and I finally got the sticks on TrackMan yesterday. Here are the results:

titliestdriverwoods

The carry distances are now 210, 227 and 250. Granted, the hybrid is two degrees stronger than the old one. Regardless, it’s not the carry distance that matters, but having more distance is usually a good thing, especially when you are 5-foot-9 inches tall. The ball speeds are very similar between the old and new clubs, but the spin rates with the new sticks have gone way down, which is a testament to a successful club fitting. In fact, the spin rates with all of the new clubs are much more in line with PGA Tour averages, as are the launch angles.

There is a ton of data here to delve into and I hope to know more about it this week during the TrackMan University class. For now, I think that the differences between the new and the old clubs is significant and more than enough reason to make the switch. It will definitely provide a boost to my distances and confidence heading into this tournament season.

My goal now is to optimize my new clubs through better understanding this TrackMan data and by putting in hundreds (or thousands) of hours of practice with these new sticks. Titleist did its job and it did it well — now it’s my time to get to work.

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Dan decided in April 2010 to quit his job and, with zero previous experience in the game, dedicate 10,000 hours of practice to golf. Follow his journey as he discovers how practice translates into success. Learn more about Dan on his website, thedanplan.com Twitter: @thedanplan Facebook: facebook.com/thedanplangolf

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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