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Opinion & Analysis

Walker Cup Five named by USGA

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The United States Golf Association gave precious little notice that it planned to reveal half of its Walker Cup side for 2013 on Wednesday.

The media was alerted less than two weeks ago that John “Spider” Miller — the 1996 and 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion — would be named to succeed two-time captain Jim Holtgrieve in 2015. Miller will captain the team at Royal Lytham (and again, one presumes, at Los Angeles country club in 2017.) No mention was made of the impending revelation of the first five members of Team USA 2013. And then, on Wednesday of U.S. Amateur Public Links/British Open week, the podium went live and the Walker Cup was the topic.

The Walker Cup, first contested in 1922, pits ten-man sides from GBI (Great Britain and Ireland) and the USA. The trophy is named for George Herbert Walker, ancestor of two U.S. Presidents and president of the USGA when the match was initiated. The biennial event will be contested at the National Golf Links of America in September, the 43rd playing of the match.

Never before have two teams so dominated division one college golf in the U.S. It was expected that Alabama and Cal-Berkeley would square off in the match-play final, until Illinois pulled off the upset of the top-ranked Bears in the semifinals (they lost to the Crimson Tide in the championship). Two players each from the Tide and the Bears were named to the USA Walker Cup team. Justin Thomas and Cory Whitsett will represent Alabama, while Max Homa and Michael Kim will carry the colors of California into battle. This quartet will be joined by Patrick Rodgers of Stanford, perhaps the hottest amateur golfer on the planet.

Michael Kim electrified the galleries at Merion golf club in Pennsylvania during the U.S. Open in June. Kim spent some time on the leaderboard before finishing as low amateur, tied for 17th overall. Patrick Rodgers competed in the John Deere Classic in July on the PGA Tour, where he made his first cut in a professional event. He shot in the 60s both weekend days and finish tied for 15th overall.

Cory Whitsett won the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island in June, after completing his junior year. Whitsett stood out in match play (the format used in the Walker Cup) with three wins at the NCAA championships and a 3-0-1 record at the 2013 Palmer Cup, also a team match-play event.

Justin Thomas has not won an individual amateur event since the 2012 Jones Cup, but he did represent the USA at the 2012 World Amateur Team championship and did reach the semifinals of last year’s US Amateur championship.

Left off the team thus far are Bobby Wyatt of the University of Alabama and Michael Weaver of Cal-Berkeley. Both are in the thick of the race for one of the final three spots designated for the under-25 set. In January, the USGA announced that a minimum of two spots would be reserved for mid-amateurs, players over the age of 25. During the last two Walker Cup matches, Nathan Smith has carried the torch for the older generation, as did Trip Kuehne and George Zahringer before him. The USGA suggested that the presence of wizened competitors matters as much as a win, yet failed to name either selection this week.

Smith is expected to be named to the team in August, given his success in previous competitions and his stature as the only four-time USGA Mid-Amateur champion. Since another slot is up for grabs, many over-25 competitors have registered for events like the Northeast, the Sunnehanna and the Porter Cup, hoping to catch the eyes of Captain Holtgrieve and the selection committee.

The USGA typically names its U.S. Amateur champions to the team, so the remainder of the team is not expected to be named until that tournament concludes in mid-August. The winners of the upcoming Porter Cup and Western Amateur will certainly make a case for their own candidacies.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Homa Wins! And how to avoid “paralysis by analysis”!

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This week’s episode covers a wide array of topics from the world of golf including Max Homa’s win on the PGA Tour, golf course architecture, and how to avoid “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to your golf game.

This week’s show also covers the important topic of mental health, with the catalyst for the conversation being a recent interview published by PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and his struggles.

 

 

 

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