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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

The Wedge Guy: Is your driver the first “scoring club”?

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I was traveling Sunday and didn’t get to watch the end of the PGA Championship, so imagine my shock Monday morning when I read what had happened on that back nine. Like most everyone, I figured Brooks Koepka had his game and his emotions completely under control and Sunday’s finish would be pretty boring and anti-climactic. Man, were we wrong!!?

As I read the shot-by-shot, disaster-by-disaster account of what happened on those few holes, I have to admit my somewhat cynical self became engaged. I realize the conditions were tough, but it still boils down to the fact that Koepka nearly lost this PGA Championship because he couldn’t execute what I call “basic golf” – hitting fairways and greens – when it counted. And Dustin Johnson lost his ability to do the same just as he got within striking distance.

I’ve long been a critic of the way the game has come to be played at the highest levels; what we used to call “bomb and gouge” has become the norm at the professional tour level. These guys are big strong athletes, and they go at it harder than anyone ever did in “the old days”. Watch closely and you’ll see so many of them are on their toes or even off the ground at impact, especially with the driver. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t see how that can be the path to consistent shotmaking.

So, my curiosity then drove me to the year-to-date statistics on the PGA Tour website to dive into this a bit deeper. What I found was quite interesting, and I believe can be helpful to all of you readers as you think about how to lower your handicap this season. Follow me here, as I think there are some very helpful numbers from the PGA Tour.
I’ve long contended that golf is a game of ball control . . . let’s call it shotmaking. Your personal strength profile will determine whether you are a long hitter or not, and there’s probably not a lot you can do (or will do) to change that dramatically. But PGA Tour statistics indicate that accuracy, not distance, is the key to better scoring.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy is Jim Furyk, the only guy who is hitting more than 75% of the fairways. The Tour average is under 62%, or not even 2 out of 3. That means the typical round has the tour professional playing at least 4-5 approach shots from the rough. I’m going to come back to that in just a moment and explore the “cost” of those missed fairways.

The Tour leader in greens-in-regulation is Tiger Woods at 74%, almost 3-out-of-4 . . . but the Tour average is less than 66%, or just under 2-out-of-3. I believe enlightenment comes by breaking that GIR statistic down even further.
From the fairway, the Tour leader in GIR is Justin Thomas at 85% and the worst guy at 65%, three points better than the tour average for GIR overall. Hmmmmm. From the rough, however, the best guy on Tour is Taylor Gooch at 63.4%, which is not as good as the very last guy from the fairway.

But let’s dive even a bit deeper to better understand the importance of driving accuracy. Is it true these guys are so good from the rough that hitting fairways doesn’t matter? Not according to the numbers.

From the rough in the range of 125-150 yards – a wedge for most of these guys – the tour’s best hit it 25-27 feet from the hole and only 30 tour pros are averaging inside 30 feet from that distance. But from the fairway, 25 yards further back – 150-175 yards – the tour’s best hit it inside 21-23 feet, and 160 guys are getting closer than 30 feet on average. Even from 175-200 in the fairway, the best on tour hit it closer than the best on tour from the rough 50 yards closer.

So, what do you do with this information? I encourage any serious golfer to really analyze your own rounds to see the difference in your scoring on holes where you find the fairway versus those where you don’t. I feel certain you’ll find throttling back a bit with your driver and focusing more on finding the fairway, rather than trying to squeeze a few more yards of the tee will help you shoot lower scores.

If you have the inclination to see what more fairways can do to your own scores, here’s a little experiment for you. Get a buddy or two for a “research round” and play this game: When you miss a fairway, walk the ball straight over to the fairway, and then 15 yards back. So, you’ll hit every approach from the fairway, albeit somewhat further back – see what you shoot.

Next week I’m going to follow up this “enlightenment” with some tips and techniques that I feel certain will help you hit more fairways so you can take this to the bank this season.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the PGA Championship

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Brooks Koepka made it four wins from his last eight appearances at major championships, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Bethpage Black.

Hot

While Brooks Koepka’s play off the tee was excellent at last week’s PGA Championship, the American utterly dominated the field with his deadly approach play. The 29-year-old led the field in New York for his approach play gaining 9.5 strokes over his competitors. In case you were wondering, this represents Koepka’s career-best performance with his irons. Check out the clubs Koepka did the damage with at Bethpage Black in our WITB piece here.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at last week’s event, and the Texan was streets ahead of anyone for the four days with the flat-stick in hand. Spieth gained a mammoth 10.6 strokes over the field on the greens of Bethpage Black, which is over three strokes more than anyone else achieved. It was the best-putting display of the 25-year-old’s career thus far, and Spieth now heads to Colonial CC ranked first in this week’s field for strokes gained: putting over his last 12 rounds.

Dustin Johnson came agonizingly close to capturing his second major title last week, and encouragingly for DJ is that he gained strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories. Johnson also led the field for strokes gained: off the tee, gaining 7.2 strokes over the field – his best performance in this area this year.

Cold

Bubba Watson endured a wretched two days on the greens at Bethpage Black. In just 36 holes, Watson lost 6.8 strokes to the field with the flat-stick. Even more frustrating for Watson is that he gained 6.5 strokes for the two day’s tee to green. A tale of what could have been for the two-time Masters champion.

Phil Mickelson faded badly at last week’s championship, and it was a poor display with his irons that did the damage. Lefty lost 6.3 strokes to the field for his approach play in New York, which is his worst display in this area for 2019.

It was a quick exit for Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, and though the 15-time major champion was far from his best off the tee (losing half a stroke), it was Woods’ putting that was his undoing. Woods lost almost a stroke and a half on the greens at Bethpage – his worst display with the putter since last August.

 

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Courses

Brough Creek National: The backyard course you wish you’d built

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted a golf course in your backyard.

Of course you have.

Now leave your hand raised if you actually rolled up your sleeves and made it happen.

Among the very few people left with their hands in the air are Ben Hotaling, Zach Brough, Evan Bissell, and Mark Robinson, the driving force behind Brough Creek National. That’s right. These guys are building a golf course in their backyard. From scratch.

The true beginnings of golf aren’t well-documented, but one thing’s for sure: people were playing golf at least 400 years before the first working internal combustion engine. Long before golf course architecture was a multi-million dollar investment before the first dime of revenue trickled in, courses were laid down largely by hand using the natural movement of the land. In that same spirit, Ben happened to notice that there was one particular shot in their backyard that reminded him of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, as it plays over their barn and to a green situated right in front of the road to the property.

Ben ultimately convinced his roommate Zach, whose family has owned the land for some time, that they should clear some trees and put in a makeshift green for their Road Hole. That was in 2015 and, while that’s technically the genesis of Brough Creek National, it was in 2018 when they started sharing their ideas in No Laying Up’s online forum section that things escalated rather quickly. Bouncing ideas off their fellow compatriots revealed great natural setups for a Biarritz/punch bowl combination, a Redan, and more. Before they knew it, they had a 630-yard, 7-hole golf course criss-crossing through the three-acre property in Kansas City, KS.

Road Hole green at Brough Creek National

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brough Creek National is that it has operated solely off of donations, which started with a weed eater here and a can of herbicide there and has since grown to a recent GoFundMe campaign of $15,000. These donations have allowed them to purchase grass seed and other vital equipment to see the project through. The community aspect of Brough Creek National is so important to what they’re trying to achieve that anyone who provides their name and address on the website is sent a free new membership packet (I happen to be member #209). Included are some stickers, a ballmark, and a welcome letter that states (among other things),

“We are proud to have you as a lifetime national member at our exclusive, member-owned (and maintained) club…The vision of Brough Creek National is to have a place for community golf modeled around fun for members and guests from all golfing backgrounds…Your dues will be assessed at the rate of $0.00 annually.”

Ben further emphasizes the importance of the community aspect by saying:

“I think Brough Creek stands for community. It’s like-minded individuals coming together and supporting something they’re proud of. It’s a smart, intriguing golf course, but it’s ultimately about making friends and that’s what matters. The quality of the golf course is almost inconsequential because the real purpose is to assemble this brotherhood of people who are passionate about the game of golf. We think it’s done in a way that sheds the elitist stigma that golf has often struggled with and we’re almost mocking that in a playful way.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone they have to experience the game a certain way, but we try to go above and beyond to be approachable and welcoming because we think that’s more important than status. Golf’s not a money-making business. It’s just not. So, why don’t we just take that out of it, come together as a community, and create something we can all be proud of?”

If we’re all having an honest moment, not even Ben and Zach know exactly how this project is going to evolve, but one thing’s for sure: an emphasis on maximizing fun for the highest number of the golfing community is never a bad place to start. Those who believe par and total yardage are irrelevant in determining the amount of fun available to them should be in for a treat. To watch the project unfold, check out www.someguysbackyard.com and follow @someguysbackyrd on Twitter and @someguysbackyard on Instagram.

Below is an overview of the course, narrated by Ben Hotaling

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19th Hole

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