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Hot Metal: The Risks and Rewards of Custom Putter Design

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Let’s start off with a basic admission, a dirty little secret most golfers are unwilling to admit to. The putter you’re currently playing with day in and day out is no better or worse than any other.

Grab any putter, new or old, priced dirt cheap or sky-high and see if you can’t get the ball to drop into the bottom of the cup. Between reading the slope of the green, identifying the fault line, analyzing the grain of the grass, judging the pace and making a steady-handed stroke, the putting apparatus in your hands, while certainly not inconsequential to the result, is but a single factor that determines the number of strokes you take to hole out.

So imagine the kind of audacity I had arguing my point of view with Dave Billings, the President of Dogleg Right, better known as the inventor and designer of Machine Golf, one of the most highly respected boutique putter manufacturers in the industry. The conversation could’ve gone sideways in a hurry, but Billings let me off the hook; he’s got a Southern charm that makes you feel at ease. Plus, he’s been around long enough to have heard it all.

Billings has been tinkering with golf equipment since he was a teenager. The self-professed club junkie has been making significant contributions in putter design for the better part of two decades. His innovations have been awarded a dozen patents so far and his Machine putters have been coveted and purchased by die-hard enthusiasts at every conceivable level of the game. So while Billings didn’t agree with my claim that “any old putter will do,” he acknowledged that putters, more so than any other piece of equipment in golf, are judged primarily based on how they look and how they feel in the hands of a golfer standing over his or her ball.

“We’re finally seeing technologies that have come into play that allow us to get into more of the performance than in any time in the past,” says Billings. “It’s a little counterintuitive like a lot of things in golf. People say things like, ‘putting should be simple,’ or ‘I can putt with anything.’ But what we really know now is that a putter has a real impact on how you swing it. We see really remarkable results when we do it right — when we take the time to really get to know the golfer and figure out how to appeal to both the performance aspect and the visual aspect of their wants and needs.”

Machine Golf, while certainly not the only independent company specializing in custom milled putters, has perhaps more than anyone, come to embody the concept of made-to-order, or bespoke design. The company went into business in 1994 with very little seed money, a lot of big dreams and a successful product launch focused around an experimental putter that took the hands out of the equation.

“It started with something that was very innovative, something out of the box, namely the HOG putter,” says Billings. “The first ones were radical in their design. The head was oversized, almost as big as the MacGregor Response [ZT 615] was. The shaft and the grip were equally oversized. That innovative product looked like no other product, performed like no other product and got attention wherever we showed it. We started selling them very quickly in our first year, all around the world in fact.”

Machine putters, if you’re not familiar with them, are anything but run-of-the-mill. Imagine if someone had asked the surrealist painter H.R. Giger to submit a design, the end result might look like something that belongs in the Machine portfolio. A typical Machine putter is modular; the sheer number of customizable options is unmatched. Most Machine putters will incorporate at least some level of innovation, whether it’s adjustable weight and convertible flange technologies, unusual hosel and/or head designs, proprietary milling patterns and grip technologies. In some cases, the innovations lie exposed like a mechanical chassis, in other cases a more refined approach is used.

machine-pillcut-plumber-hosel

“We make a broad array of designs from the very classic-looking to those that can be described as being very technology-driven,” says Billings. “With one model we can say it’s more art because it’s Damascus (steel) and it’s a real traditional head. But when you look at the interchangeable flanges and weights, and the internal milling — that’s more about the science. I try to have a balance between those things and it’s a push and pull in different directions for different customers.”

Machine putters aren’t for everyone; perhaps that’s true of customizable putters in general. The sheer number of options that can be adjusted can be overwhelming to comprehend. What Billings, as well as other putter designers were able to impress upon me is that even the slightest change, say for instance the type of hosel used or its offset, can have significant impact on how a putter will swing. So while anything can be used for the purposes of putting, not every putter (certainly not the kind that are randomly chosen off the rack) are a good match for their respective owners, says Billings.

“There’s a lot of pride in being able to buy something that’s handmade as opposed to mass-produced,” he adds. “I think there’s a big draw for that, especially when [a golfer] can become part creator and contribute to what at the very least is a customized product.”

What I’ve come to recognize about the custom milled putter business from speaking to Billings is that it’s a fellowship of gear heads who risk everything in a pursuit to transform metal into art.

“For anyone who goes into the boutique putter business,” says Billings, “it’s a labor of love. You have to put in the hours, the blood, sweat and tears. There’s not necessarily a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

The kind of hand-crafted putter design that Billings and his contemporaries are engaged in is a fringe business within the putter market, which in itself vies for a tiny fraction of the total dollars spent every year on golf equipment.

So how big, or rather, how small is the pie?

  • The two largest golf markets in the world, the United States and Japan, netted a combined $8.8 billion in equipment and apparel sales in 2013 according to a World Golf Market Report released jointly by Golf Datatech and Yano Research Institute.
  • Out of the total cited above, only 3.3 percent came from putter sales in the U.S. ($173 million) and 2.6 percent in Japan ($98 million) respectfully.
  • If that isn’t sobering enough, putter sales declined by 8 percent in the U.S. in 2013 and 18 percent in Japan. That’s no hiccup. Since 1997, unit sales of putters at big box stores and green grass shops have declined by nearly 42 percent.

Market conditions would appear to suggest that the custom-milled putter is an endangered species. But that hasn’t stopped craftsmen like Machine, Bettinardi, Byron Morgan, Edel and Bobby Grace from competing with the larger OEMs, many of which are producing less expensive cast molded putters.

Joining them within the last few years are a vast number of independent designers; companies such as Low Tide, Piretti, Nead, Bellum Winmore, Carnahan, Carbon, Buzelli and BPutters.

So what convinces these golf enthusiasts to sacrifice time, money and occasionally their common sense to pursue an expensive hobby with no guarantees of success? I looked to Italy for the answers.

Born For The Big Shot

It takes a certain leap of faith to order a putter over the Internet, from a designer overseas, someone just getting started in the golf industry. Sure, I had seen some sample photos online and I had a few terse conversations (over email) with the owner of BPutters, Antonio Biagioli. My hopes were high. Luckily, the model that arrived from Cesena, a town near the eastern coast of Italy and a two-hour drive from Florence, was a real beauty; or as they in Italian, molto bella.

My model, coined the Coyote by Biagioli, was almost too delicate to wield. That is to say, I didn’t want to leave a smudge on the reflective black pearl finish or wrap my hands clumsily around the refined leather pistol grip with raised stitching running across the spine. Biagioli designed the putter to closely match the specs of my Scotty Cameron Del Mar. Four degrees of loft, 34 inches in length and 350 grams of weight in the head. For what it’s worth, the Coyote felt much heavier. Something about it was quintessentially Italian; perhaps it was the clean lines, the feminine-like curves or simply the handcrafted feel.

Italy, as you might imagine, doesn’t have a strong golfing tradition. Biagioli estimates that there might be 80,000 golfers in his country, a number that is actually contracting. Like many Italians, Biagioli grew up playing football and knew nothing about the game until he was dragged to a golf course in Ireland on a business trip almost 20 years ago. He fell in love with golf immediately but his subsequent adventure as a putter designer took a long time to plan and execute.

Biagioli has been working in the automotive industry for most of his life, primarily as an executive manager where he coordinates between suppliers and producers — a boring job as he chooses to put it. Boring though it may have been, the job gave Biagioli a chance to study engineering first hand.

“I started to work closely with the engineers and see the production happen on a daily basis,” says Biagioli. “We work on transmissions and power steering, both hydraulic and mechanical, so we have a lot of work with metals. From that I started to take little pieces at a time and began learning about how suppliers finish metals, how they actually mill metal. It became kind of a second job for me.”

While continuing to work in the automotive industry, Biagioli launched BPutters about year and half ago, combining his love of art, engineering and of course golf.

“I’ve always been intrigued by putters because of the intimacy of their use,” says Biagioli. “I’ve always felt that putters are something so personal compared to a driver or an iron that you carry in your bag.”

He came out with four models initially. One of them, the Hammer, looks like a traditional blade-style putter, the others are adaptations of a mallet design. To come up with these designs, Biagioli says he began sketching on paper.

“I go through at least three or four phases before I can prototype a 3D model of the putter,” he says. “I use a very simple 3D printer to get an initial perspective of the putter itself. It’s a plastic model that ends up becoming a steel prototype.

“That is probably the longest process because you have to program a CNC machine,” he adds. “It’s not that easy and I do have a professional CNC programmer working with me on this project. Once we have a prototype, we test it many times. We make adjustments to the weight distribution, adjust the shape and try to decide which finish can be applied to that model. It’s another three weeks just to test finishes. If we’re talking about carbon steel, it takes more than a month.”

bputters

Aside from his role in designing putters and managing the production line, Biagioli spends his remaining time promoting his brand. If you think it’s difficult for an American putter craftsman to breakthrough in the U.S., try doing it from a far-flung town in Italy. Undaunted, Biagioli has learned how to leverage social media. Many of his posts are tagged with his signature motto — born for the big shot. They feature plenty of product shots of course, but Biagioli has also posted many candid shots of himself, his home in Italy and has made some genuine friendships with golfers over the Internet.

His social media strategy (if you want to call it that) complements the sincere approach he takes to running his small business.

“I don’t want to sell putters in bulk,” Biagioli says. “I just want to sell the right putter to the right person. To establish that sort of a relationship with a customer — I see it as a privilege.”

It’s unclear whether BPutters will have the staying power to succeed. Biagioli tells me that the response from the golf community has been overwhelmingly positive so far. He’s made some in-roads selling to the Asian and Western European markets. Orders from America have also starting trickling in.

“I still have a lot of things to learn,” says Biagioli. “But at the same time I very much enjoy it. Otherwise it would be absolutely impossible for me to do both my job and what will hopefully become my full time activity in the future. I know the entire golf industry is not doing well over the last few years. But I’m taking this as an opportunity to do something that I feel is really important.”

The Scotty Cameron Effect

Unfortunately I can’t take credit for the phrase. That distinction belongs to Golf Digest Equipment Editor, Mike Stachura, who used it to describe how a single putter designer was both able to hold significant market share, while enabling other designers to raise their prices exponentially to keep up in a sort of arms race.

First and foremost, Scotty Cameron deserves his due — he makes fine putters. But it would be hard to deny, even for a casual observer, that Cameron benefited greatly from the many relationships he’s had with PGA Tour superstars over the years, including Tiger Woods who used a Newport 2 prototype for most of his career. Concerning the price of his putters, even Cameron at one time admitted to Golf Digest, “The price points on my putters are relatively high, but you aren’t just buying performance. You’re buying confidence. It’s human nature to have greater faith in something you’ve paid a premium for.”

tiger-pebble-putt

Tim Shaughnessy, co-owner of Bellum Winmore, a tiny start-up that launched only a year ago, says “Certain manufacturers have pushed that increase. Scotty Cameron has a kind of rockstar status. And at some level Bettinardi has kind of the same thing. I think the more press individual manufacturers receive and as their status increases, it ends up driving the overall cost in the market for putters.”

Shaughnessy and his partner Zac Nicholls, who live on opposite ends of the coast and are lifelong friends and golfers, went into business together with a simple idea: release a quality milled putter at a price everyone can afford.

“We tried not to be in the same realm as say a Byron Morgan who is doing a lot of stamping, Damascus and exotic stuff,” says Shaughnessy. “We weren’t going to be able to compete if we were out there for $350. We don’t have the brand recognition.”

Shaughnessy’s company focuses on three basic things: design, material and process. All Bellum Winmore putters are precision milled from a single block of 303 stainless steel and then bead blasted to a matte finish. There isn’t much variance from model to model, but Bellum Winmore does provide limited finish options, and a wide range of grip weights (10 grams to 100 grams), offering what Shaughnessy feels are the most custom back weighted options of any company out there.

bellum-winmore-backweight

“Our overhead is negligible — almost nothing,” says Shaughnessy, when asked about keeping his price points so low. “I handle everything from a design standpoint to the assemblies, the painting, customer service and anything else from New York. Zac focuses on machining and prototyping [in California] and we have an overseas facility that does the production.”

The one common denominator for companies like Bellum Winmore and BPutters is the Internet. While I’m not suggesting that the Web, more specifically social media, has allowed individual putter designers to take on Scotty Cameron and companies of that size directly, it has at least allowed them to co-exist in the industry. Billings, who launched Machine Golf back when dial-up was considered high-tech, believes that entering the marketplace is easier now, but it’s far from a cakewalk.

“The Internet has definitely lowered the barrier,” says Billings. “You don’t have to have sales reps to take your putters to the local golf shops. On the other hand, most people still want to look, feel and try before they buy. So making that switch from over the Internet to traditional retail is a bigger barrier now because there are less golf shops that want to pioneer a new brand.

“Twenty years ago you had great guys like Edwin Watts who always liked to bring in something new and put it in their catalog or over the Internet before any of the smaller companies even knew how to make a good website,” he continues. “We had great guys like that who would get your brand distributed across the country or even around the world. You don’t see much of that anymore; the big companies just don’t want to gamble on smaller brands for a lot of the obvious reasons. It’s kind of sad that it’s gone away because it can be a great shot in the arm for a small company to be able to partner with them and receive a lot of exposure.”

The one thing everyone I spoke to tended to agree upon is that differentiation is the key to survival when operating in a niche market. If your product fails to connect with a core audience, you won’t be in business for very long. And when it comes to golf equipment, putting attracts the most diverse, passionate and opinionated connoisseurs in all of golf.

“On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the guy who’s so proud to have found a putter out of a barrel that he paid five bucks for and makes everything with it,” says Billings. “On the other end you have someone like Arnold Palmer who’s had 5,000 putters. Let’s just say it — it’s a chase for the next magical wand. It’s part of the fun and adventure of getting a new club and discovering what it might mean to your game.”

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Risks and Rewards of Putter Design | Rusty Cage | Writer and Golfer

  2. Pingback: The Risks and Rewards of Custom Putter Design | Rusty Cage | Writer and Golfer

  3. Preston

    Jan 11, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Excuse my ignorance, but couldn’t someone that has access to CAD and a milling machine make their own putter? Just dial up the design and feed it to the computer. It then runs the program.

    • Kyle

      Jan 21, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Preston,
      The short answer is: Yes, it is possible for someone with CAD and a CNC machine to be able to mill out their own putter.
      *However* It is that it is much more complicated than you are probably imagining. You need to have expertise in CAD design, CNC programming, as well as machining in order to produce a retail-ready product. It is definitely much more difficult than just feeding your CAD model to your CNC machine to cut out for you.

  4. Joey

    Jan 9, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Sounds like he’s trying to talk out of it all the little guys, start-ups, dreamers that are popping up more and more now.

  5. Lancebp

    Jan 9, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I’d bet serious money that if every golfer were required to pick a putter the first week he starts playing and then prohibited under penalty of death from ever changing that putter again, 99.8% of golfers would now be better putters than they are. For that matter, require every golfer on the planet to use an original Ping Anser, and 99.8% would be better putters than they are.

  6. dr bloor

    Jan 9, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    The putters are gorgeous and the ability to produce so many variations is impressive, but I’d be interested in reading more about how the fitting process for the respective companies is carried out without actually seeing the client putt. I don’t think you can actually call a putter “custom made” if the specs are dependent on something equivalent to static fitting for a driver or set of irons.

  7. rymail00

    Jan 9, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Good article Rusty Cage. It’s unfortunate that a few members always try to tear down just about every article that’s written. Usually the people that do try that usually really have no idea WTF they talking about.

  8. JEFF

    Jan 9, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    The tool author was charmed by a man?

  9. david

    Jan 9, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    PT Barnum: sucker born every minute! Most of the best putters were from yesteryear, (Ben Crenshaw, Jack, Bob Locke, Loren Roberts, Stockton; all using old technology and 10 dollar putters. Putting is after green reading, confidence. I laugh when people spend 300 bucks on a putter. Having said that, if that’s waht it takes for you to get confidence that lasts, then spend the 350, it’s worth it. My 5 dollar garage sale special is my friend and I’m an awesome putter.

    • DMR

      Jan 9, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      Cool story, bro. Clearly Rusty covered that not everyone needs a custom milled putter. I’m sure that even you would benefit from purchasing a new putter but I do envy you confidence in your putting game.

  10. DaveT

    Jan 9, 2015 at 11:46 am

    “Identifying the fault line”?!? Do you expect an earthquake to affect your putt?

  11. Tom

    Jan 9, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I own a Bellum Winmore. The company really is awesome. One thing I really liked about them was how important it was to Tim to make sure that my putter was perfect for me and had what I wanted on it rather than it just be an off the rack kind of putter.

    • Jason

      Jan 9, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      I also have a Winmore and love it. Great people to deal with and Tim worked with me for 2 hrs finding the perfect fit for me. Great look, feel, and performance of anything out there.

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The Wedge Guy: A defense of blades

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One of the longest-running and most active conversations in all of golf equipment is the subject of blades versus game improvement irons. Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been writing this blog as “The Wedge Guy,” I’ve addressed this in various ways and always stimulated a lively discussion with my readers.

I hope this angle on the conversation will do the same, so all of you please share your thoughts and observations.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have always played some kind of blade-style irons, with only a few detours along the way. But I always come back to my blades, so let me explain why.

I grew up in the 1950s and 60s when blades were all we had. As a teenager with a developing skill set, I became a devotee to those models from the old Ben Hogan Company, and played the “Bounce Sole” model, then several iterations of the Apex line after it was introduced. Those few sets served me well into my 30s, when I became involved in the golf equipment industry. Having Joe Powell Golf as a client, I switched to his pure muscle back model called the “PGI.” They were certainly sweet.

In the late 1980s, I was handling the marketing for Merit Golf, who offered a cavity back forging called the Fusion, which was inspired by the Ben Hogan Edge irons, but offered a more traditional face profile. So, I switched to them.
Playing to a low single digit handicap at the time, I really didn’t see my scores change, but I just wasn’t making as many birdies as I had before. Openly pondering why my golf felt different, a regular golf buddy noted, “You’re not knocking down pins as often as you used to,” and I realized he was right. I was hitting just as many greens as before, maybe one or two more, but I wasn’t getting those kick-in birdies nearly as often. So, I went to the closet and broke out the old Joe Powell PGI irons and had an epic day with three birdies inside five feet and a couple more in the 5-10 range.
Those blades stayed in the bag until I developed my first iron design, the “RL blades” by my first company, Reid Lockhart. By this time, I had seen enough robotic testing prove that the most penalizing mishit with a blade was a toe impact, which mirrored my own experience. So, I sculpted a pure muscle back blade, but added a bit of mass toward the toe to compensate for that deficiency of all such designs.

I played those irons for 20 years, until I created the “FT. WORTH 15” irons for the re-launch of the Ben Hogan brand in 2015. In that design, I further evolved my work to very slightly add a bit of modified perimeter weighting to a pure forged blade, taking inspiration from many of Mr. Hogan’s earlier personal designs in the Apex line of the “old” Ben Hogan Company. Those are still in my bag, going on eight years now.

So, why do I think I can make a solid defense for playing blade irons? Because of their pinpoint distance control, particularly in the short irons — those with lofts of 35 degrees or higher.

I’ll certainly acknowledge that some modern perimeter weighting is very helpful in the lower lofts . . .the mid- and long irons. In those clubs, somewhere on or near the green is totally acceptable, whether you are playing to break 90 or trying to win on the PGA Tour. [Did you know those guys are actually over par as a group outside 9-iron range?] That’s why you see an increasing number of them playing a conservative game-improvement design in those lofts. But also remember that we in the golf club design business deal with poor “hits” only . . . we have no control over the quality of your swing, so the vast majority of bad golf shots are far beyond our influence.

But what I’ve seen in repeated robotic testing and in my own play, when you get to the prime scoring clubs – short irons and wedges – having a solid thickness of mass directly behind the impact point on the face consistently delivers better distance control and spin. In my own designs of the SCOR wedges in 2010, and the Ben Hogan FT.WORTH 15 irons and TK15 wedges, I created a distribution of mass that actually placed a bit more face thickness behind the slight mishit than even in the center, and the distance consistency was remarkable.

I’ve carried that thinking to the Edison Forged wedges by positioning much more mass behind the high face and toe miss than any other wedges on the market. And in robotic testing, they deliver better transfer of energy on those mishits than any other wedge we tested.

So, back to that experience when I switched back to my Joe Powell blades from the Merit cavity back forging, I can sum it up this way.

If your pleasure from your golf is derived more from how good your worst shots turn out, then a game improvement iron is probably the way to go. But if your golf pleasure is more about how good your best shots are, I think there is a very strong case to be made for playing some kind of blade iron design, at least in your scoring clubs.

Alright, fans: sound off!

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Open De France: Betting Picks & Selections

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After an enthralling Italian Open at next year’s Ryder Cup venue, the DP World Tour moves on to Le Golf National, scene of one of Europe’s finest hours, a 17.5-10.5 victory at the 2018 running of the bi-annual festival.

With Valderrama on the schedule in three weeks’ time, the tour showcases a trio of its best courses within a month, and whilst deserving of a better field than present in France this week, the tournament should again provide viewers with a treat.

With the lowest winning total since 2000 being 16-under, and an average of 11-under, the focus is very much on a strong tee-to-green
game. The rough is up, the greens are tricky, and scrambling difficult. Those with low confidence in any aspect of their game need not apply.

2019 winner Nicolas Colsaerts somewhat went against the grain when winning via a long driving game , certainly compared to the likes of runner-up J.B Hansen and third-placed George Coetzee, as well as previous winners Jaidee, McDowell and Levet. Like the differing results at the Marco Simone course over the last two runnings, we should resume normal service, with bombers not having so much of an advantage.

In a hard event to weigh up, here is this week’s best bets.

Antoine Rozner 28/1

Ewen Ferguson 45/1

Jorge Campillo 45/1

Marcus Kinhult 60/1

There are few of the top lot that can be ruled out.

All of Thomas Pieters, Jordan Smith, Ryan Fox and, Victor Perez appear very high on the season-long tee-to-green lists. The Englishman was the first one on my list but, at 20/1, he can be left alone, especially given I would have expected him to have done better than a best of 21st in three outings here.

Nevertheless, his is the type of game needed for here and with home support probably a boon, plump for Antoine Rozner to make the Gallic crowd go wild for the first time since Levet’s victory in 2011.

Since his last couple of appearances in his home country – ninth and 13th on the Challenge Tour – the 29-year-old has won in Dubai and Qatar in contrasting styles.

The first saw him putt the lights out to win in 25-under, whilst the more relevant victory was at wind-affected Education City, where he grinded out a one-shot victory in eight under-the-card, a final hole 60-plus foot putt sealing the deal.

2022 has been good.

The record of two top-10s in Spain and Crans disguise four further top-20 finishes, and that he was inside the top-10 after round two of the BMW International, round one of the Czech Masters, and rounds one and three at Glagorm Castle.

Indeed, it was after the first of those that he announced he was very happy with the way his game was trending, and, true to his word, his tee-to-green play has been nothing short of stunning.

Since July, he has averaged a ranking of ninth for approaches, two of those efforts rating him leading the field for tee-to-green. Using the older stats, Rozner has recent greens-in-regulation figures of 21/2/2/7/34/5, perfect for a course that will penalise anyone that constantly misses the short stuff.

There may well be a current issue about his putting, but that is true of all the better ball-strikers. After all, it would be neigh impossible to beat them if every facet was ranking in the top five.

Rozner is bound to know this course better than his ‘debutante’ status, so take him to prove himself in a very beatable field.

Qatar seems a bit of a theme with Ewen Ferguson taking the next spot in the plan.

The Scot owes us nothing after two wins this year for the Players To Follow in 2022 column, but I’m not sure he is quite finished yet.

Slightly naïve when in front on Sunday at the Kenya Open, his next two starts might show finishes of 61st and 40th but, again, they disguise better play than the record shows – Fergie was 11th after three rounds at the MyGolfLife and just outside the top-20 at halfway at Steyn City.

That experience no doubt led to a grinding victory – another to be seen in Qatar – where his solid tee-to-green game outlasted most of his opposition.

The game has continued in that vein, with a 12th place at Celtic Manor (7th after three rounds) being a fine correlation with this week’s track, followed by his second victory of the year at Galgorm Castle.

Probably his best effort was in Himmerland at the beginning of the month, when his all-round game was in superb shape, only giving way to a ridiculous pair of putts by Oliver Wilson. As he did in Ireland, Ferguson led the tee-to-green figures via both driving and irons, whilst his scrambling game was also highly ranked.

Despite the smiles, he may have been feeling that defeat when missing the cut at Wentworth, a course that doesn’t suit everyone on debut, and look at his price – over twice that of players that fail to convert winning chances.

At the same price, the mercurial Jorge Campillo is well worth backing to continue a solid bank of recent and course form.

Rather like previous Spanish winners of the French Open, the 36-year-old (yes, I thought he was older than that, too) has that capability to get out of trouble with the short game so identifiable with his compatriots.

One missed cut in his last nine starts shows he has a belief in his overall game, whilst six consecutive cuts sees him in the sort of form that should enable to challenge for his third European victory, after Morocco and (here we go again) Qatar.

Again his record shows just a couple of top-10 finishes this year, but he was in fourth place going into the final round at Kenya, top 10 for the middle rounds in Belgium, led the Irish Open at halfway and was in the final group on Sunday, whilst he closed late last weekend when it turned tricky in Italy.

With an 8th, 15th and 18th in six starts around here, it’s that ability to grind out a result that gives him claims this week. Campillo isn’t a strong birdie machine, so a winning score of around 10 to 12-under will do just fine.

Marcel Schneider and Romain Langasque both tempted me in at the prices, but whilst the former is in flying form, his record shows he improves after a first sighting at a course, so monitor him for a quiet debut and back him next year! As for the French native, he really should do well if his win at Celtic Manor and his home record has anything in them. The issue is that, at the moment, he is hitting it sideways off the tee and unable to recover with his irons – not a great combo around a tight track.

Instead, take a chance on Marcus Kinhult, who beat Robert MacIntyre, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace to the British Masters in 2019, held at the links of Hillside, his sole victory on tour to date.

The Swede, whose tee-to-green game doesn’t give him as much reward as it may be ought to, followed that win by making a tough up-and-down at the final hole of that season’s Nedbank Challenge to join Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off, both having come from off the pace at the start of the day.

Unfortunately, that one didn’t go his way, but he has continued to bank a solid record, including top-10 finishes in Qatar (hello, again), The Renaissance Club and Wentworth through 2020, before a personal nightmare.

As he explained in his DP World Tour blog, the 26-year-old started suffering with dizzy spells, eventually diagnosed with epilepsy. In terms of golf, we can put a red line through 2021 form.

Fortunately, the condition is now under control and having worked his way through the Nordic Golf League, where in two events he finished ninth and first, arrived at full fitness at Kenya to finish inside the top-10, before a closing third in Qatar (hello…oh, ok.)

Whilst he couldn’t capitalise on a place in the final two-ball at The Belfry, it was a good warm-up for a return to Hillside, where he would finish a never-nearer third, following that effort with a pair of 23rd place finishes at the Czech Masters and Crans.

It is worth noting that his best efforts in 2018 were in Qatar, at Wentworth and around here (when finishing in fifth place), whilst the last time the French Open was played here, he again finished quickly to be just outside the top-10.

Kinhult has ranked top-12 for driving accuracy in his last three completed outings, and in the top-20 for scrambling in five of eight starts. This is his track.

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Equipment

Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama make big gear changes in Napa

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Andrew Tursky was on site at the Fortinet Championship this week and got all he could handle in terms of new equipment news. There were new irons, drivers, and even headcovers all over the range, so we had to dig into two of the biggest stories out there on this week’s Two Guys Talking Golf Podcast (give us a follow on Instagram: @tg2wrx).

Rickie Fowler’s new irons

Rickie Fowler has been changing a lot of equipment in his bag as he has struggled to get his golf game back into shape. We have seen him with different drivers, shafts, irons, and putters throughout the 2021-2022 season. Fowler has typically played some form of blade during his career, and Cobra even made him some signature Rev33 blades that were beautiful, but razor thin and intimidating for us mortal golfers.

Rickie showed up to the Fortinet with some brand new, unreleased, Cobra King Tour irons. The King Tour irons look a lot like the current Cobra King Tour MIM irons, and we can only assume that the new Tour will replace the MIM.

The interesting thing about the King Tour irons is that they look a little larger than his preferred blades and that they might have a little more ball speed and distance built into them. From the images you can tell there is a little slot behind the face that might be filled with some type of polymer.

Rickie didn’t get into the tech of the new King Tour irons but did tell Tursky that he was gaining around 3-4 yards on shots that he stuck low on the face. He finished the first round of the Fortinet Championship in the top four, so the new irons have seen some success under pressure. I know many of us hope to see Rickie back to form soon, and maybe these new King Tour irons can be the catalyst.

Hideki Matsuyama’s driver change

The other big story comes from a former Masters Champion testing out some new drivers on the range, Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama is well known as a golfer who loves to test and tinker with new golf equipment. Each week there is a good chance that he will have multiple drivers, irons, and fairways in the bag searching for the perfect club that week.

Earlier this week, Hideki was spotted with some new, unreleased, Srixon drivers out on the range in Napa. We spotted a few pros testing the new Srixon ZX7 MkII and ZX 5 MkII LS on the range.

Andrew spoke to the Srixon reps and learned Hideki has been trying the new drivers and seems to have settled on a Srixon ZX5 MkII in 10.5 degrees of loft (and his trusty Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8 TX shaft).

The ZX5 MkII LS looks to have an adjustable weight on the sole that is moved far forward —closer to the face — to possibly lower the spin. We haven’t heard anything specific from Srixon on the new drivers, but with their recent success, we would expect to see some solid performance out of the line.

Check out the full TG2 podcast, below

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