These days everyone’s a know-it-all in regard to Tiger Woods’ 0-for-17 slump in major championships.
Tiger’s struggles in major championships continued yesterday in the final round of The Open Championship at Muirfield, prompting ESPN Golf Broadcaster and 1993 PGA Championship winner Paul Azinger to say:
“This is not the Tiger Woods we’re used to seeing. Maybe it is the Tiger Woods we’re getting used to seeing.”
And the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, one of Woods’ most vocal critics, took a veiled shot at Woods’ swing instructor Sean Foley after Woods T-6 British Open finish saying,
“What I hate more than anything is [Foley’s] turned [Woods] into a technical junkie. There’s so much pressure on him to be technically perfect, and it distracts him. He makes mental mistakes now that he never used to make. At 37 years old, he’s got all this experience and he’s not relying on it. [Instead] he’s playing with his golf swing.”
Even before the 142nd Open began, Woods took criticism from another golf broadcast heavyweight — 6-time major winner and CBS Sports analyst Nick Faldo. He said that Woods “is in a different mode when he’s winning regular tournaments, but he gets to the majors and something happens. The self-belief you have to have, maybe there’s a little dent in there.”
Woods is now more than five years removed from his last major championship, and is 25-over par in his last seven major weekends. But listening to Tiger, you wouldn’t think that he’s a guy with any weekend woes at all.
“I feel very good about my game,” Woods said before play began on Thursday. “I feel very, very good going into major championships.”
Assessing his performance after the Open, Woods said,
“I had a hard time adjusting to the [green] speeds, but I didn’t really play that poorly. I really hit the ball well today.”
And without prompting, Woods went on to also address his major dry spell, saying, “I’ve been in probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win during that stretch. I just haven’t done it yet.”
Sounds like the confident, fist-pumping, fairway-marching, 14-time major winner we all know, right?
The problem is that Tiger’s been giving this exact same speech before and after nearly every major for the past five years, and the results aren’t changing. Going back to April and Augusta, Woods said, “I feel like I’m playing well. I was pretty close and I had the lead at one point. Unfortunately, I just haven’t gotten it done.”
And after the U.S. Open at Merion, Woods said,
“I did a lot of things right, unfortunately I did a few things wrong.”
Tiger’s overall numbers at Muirfield were impressive certainly, hitting nearly 70 percent of the greens and 75 percent of the fairways, both well above the field averages.
But on Sunday, Woods hit numerous approach shots poorly, staring incredulously as shots veered off in various directions. Woods missed one green far right, came up miserably short on another, and flew the green on yet another. Despite missing more greens on Sunday than he did in the first three rounds, it’s perplexing that Woods would say he “hit the ball really well.”
Even when Woods did admit he couldn’t get the speed right on Muirfield’s greens, the statement came with a caveat:
“They were much slower today, much softer.”
That begs the question: If Tiger knew the greens were playing soft, why didn’t he adjust early on, or at least mid-round? That seems like something even a weekend golfer would know to do, let alone the greatest player of this generation.
Whatever Woods might say, there’s no mistaking Tiger’s demeanor on the course tells a completely different tale than what he presents in his press conferences. Enough even to at least question if Woods actually believes what he’s saying.
After Woods’ 13-over finish at the U.S. Open at Merion last month, former instructor Hank Haney called out Woods preparation for majors on FOX Sports, adding
“Tiger’s having a real hard time winning the easiest major he’s going to win – No. 15. No. 18 to tie Jack (Nicklaus) and 19 to beat Jack, those are going to be the hard ones.”
And Sunday at Muirfield, Tiger wasn’t charging with the verve and vitality of someone confident and playing well. He stood with shoulders slumped on multiple holes, with dazed resignation in his eyes. As early as his ugly three-putt on the first hole, Woods appeared tired — not in a physical sense, but emotionally. The kind that comes with the unrelenting pressure of watching yet another major championship slip away.
But put aside for a moment discussions of Tiger’s age and injuries, swing styles and scandal, or whether you agree with Azinger’s diminishing skills sentiment, Chamblee’s paralysis by analysis notion, or Faldo’s and Haney’s mental hurdles presumption.
Woods’ biggest problem may very well be a history no one has ever defeated. A five year major drought has been the death knell for every major champion in the history of modern golf. In the last 37 years, no player has ever won more than one final career major after going five years without major victory.
Woods seems to lean on his history of 14 majors as a reason why he’ll win again. And once upon a time that would have been enough. But history says that it’s likely Woods will struggle to get more than 14 or 15 majors, and that the window may have already closed on Tiger’s chase to surpass Jack.
Club Junkie: The softest forged irons you’ve never heard of and the Cobra RadSpeed hybrid!
Ever heard of New Level Golf? If you are looking for wildly soft players irons, then you should check them out. The PF-1 blades and the PF-2 cavity backs are as soft as anything on the market right now. Great irons for skilled players.
The Cobra RadSpeed hybrid is a solid mid/high launching hybrid with a solid Cobra feel and sound. Pretty neutral-bias ball flight with only a slight draw.
The future of club fitting is going virtual
Thanks to technology, you can buy everything from custom-made suits to orthotics online without ever walking into a store or working in person with an expert.
Now, with the help of video and launch monitors, along with a deeper understanding of dynamics than ever before, club fitting is quickly going virtual too, and it’s helping golfers find better equipment faster!
What really took so long?
The real advancements started in the coaching world around a decade ago. What used to require heavy cameras and tripods now simply requires a phone and you have a high-definition slow-motion video that can be sent around the world in a matter of seconds.
Beyond video, modern launch monitors and their ability to capture data have quickly turned a guessing game of “maybe this will work” into a precision step-by-step process of elimination to optimize. When you combine video and launch monitor elements with an understanding of club fitting principles and basic biomechanics, you have the ability to quickly evaluate a golfer’s equipment and make recommendations to help them play better golf.
The benefits of virtual fitting
- Any golfer with a phone and access to a launch monitor can get high-level recommendations from a qualified fitter.
- Time and cost-saving to and from a fitter. (This seems obvious, but one of the reasons I personally receive so many questions about club fitting is because those reaching out don’t have access to fitting facilities within a reasonable drive)
- It’s an opportunity to get a better understanding our your equipment from an expert.
How virtual fittings really work
The key element of a virtual fitting is the deep understanding of the available products to the consumer. On an OEM level, line segmentation makes this fairly straightforward, but it becomes slightly more difficult for brand-agnostic fitters that have so many brands to work with, but it also shows their depth of knowledge and experience.
It’s from this depth of knowledge and through an interview that a fitter can help analyze strengths and weaknesses in a player’s game and use their current clubs as a starting point for building a new set—then the video and launch monitor data comes in.
But it can quickly go very high level…
One of the fastest emerging advancements in this whole process is personalized round tracking data from companies like Arccos, which gives golfers the ability to look at their data without personal bias. This allows the golfer along with any member of their “team” to get an honest assessment of where improvements can be found. The reason this is so helpful is that golfers of all skill levels often have a difficult time being critical about their own games or don’t even really understand where they are losing shots.
It’s like having a club-fitter or coach follow you around for 10 rounds of golf or more—what was once only something available to the super-elite is now sitting in your pocket. All of this comes together and boom, you have recommendations for your new clubs.
We can’t talk about all the benefits without pointing out some of the potential limitations of virtual club fittings, the biggest being the human element that is almost impossible to replicate by phone or through video chat.
The other key factor is how a player interprets feel, and when speaking with an experienced fitter recently while conducting a “trial fitting” the biggest discussion point was how to communicate with golfers about what they feel in their current clubs. Video and data can help draw some quick conclusions but what a player perceives is still important and this is where the conversation and interview process is vital.
Who is offering virtual club fittings?
There are a lot of companies offering virtual fittings or fitting consultations over the phone. One of the biggest programs is from Ping and their Tele-Fitting process, but other companies like TaylorMade and PXG also have this service available to golfers looking for new equipment.
Smaller direct-to-consumer brands like New level, Sub 70, and Haywood Golf have offered these services since their inception as a way to work with consumers who had limited experience with their products but wanted to opportunity to get the most out of their gear and their growth has proven this model to work.
The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive
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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