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Opinion & Analysis

For Calvin Peete’s Sake: An Appreciation

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Eight years ago, I was sitting in a T.G.I. Fridays in Times Square with Calvin Peete waiting on our order to come. I had just moderated a panel discussion on the past, present and future of African-Americans in golf that featured Peete. After the panel discussion came the obligatory pictures and handshakes with his many admirers that had attended the event. A quiet and dignified man, Peete always seemed pleased but slightly surprised by the attention he would attract.

When I came up to shake his hand and thank him for his participation he mentioned that he was a little hungry. I offered to treat him to dinner, with the full expectation that the golf legend would have a far better offer. To my surprise, he accepted my offer and asked if Friday’s would be too expensive. I told him that I would take him anywhere he wanted; “Oh no, I like Friday’s. They have a great steak.” Despite my protestations and offers to indulge in Manhattan’s finest he insisted on Friday’s, so off to Friday’s we went.

It was a modest choice made by a modest man. Born in Detroit, Mich., and reared in central Florida as one of his father’s 19 children from two marriages, Peete dropped out of high school to earn money for his family. One of his jobs was picking corn for endless hours in the hot Florida sun. When his friends asked him to play golf at the local course, he told them he had enough of being outside.

In addition to his aversion to being outdoors in the heat, Peete’s left arm wouldn’t fully straighten as a result of a broken elbow suffered as a child. Eventually he relented and took up the game at age 23, beginning one of the most meteoric career arcs in golf’s long history. Just nine short years from picking up his first club, he refined his game to the point where he made the PGA Tour, playing in his first Tour event at the age of 32, a point where most pros are prime for their first victory. Just nine years later, Peete won the Vardon Trophy, given annually to the professional golfer with the lowest per-round score, averaging 70.56 shots per round, giving him statistical claim to the title of the Tour’s best player. And the following year he won The Players Championship, considered the sport’s “fifth major” and host to one of the strongest fields of competitors in golf each year.

In the time it takes most people to figure out if they are worthy to compete at the highest level, Peete had ascended to the pinnacle. He only had about 10 truly competitive years, but amassed 12 wins and 73 top-10 finishes in that time, a stunning success rate. And he was also the straightest driver in the history of the game, racking up 10 consecutive driving accuracy titles on Tour. Ironically, Peete said that it was his disfigured left arm that helped him to create the most repeatable swing in the game.

But my lasting impression of Peete comes more from his demeanor off the course than his exploits on it. He never forgot that he had honed his game on the ill-kempt, often segregated muni courses that were a far cry from the manicured tracks that his competitors had grown up with. He gave his time generously to kids, volunteering with The First Tee of Washington, DC at historic Langston Golf Course, the National Park Service course built in 1939 specifically to accommodate African-Americans who were barred from other courses. Peete didn’t like to show off, but when he gave a demonstration of how to hit a golf ball it was like watching Tony Gwynn give a demonstration of how to hit a baseball. It was like he was simply born to do it.

Despite his sterling record of accomplishment and pioneering legacy, Peete was never selected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Like many others, I lobbied persistently with the sport to honor the man while he was still alive. My entreaties intensified after attending the Hall of Fame induction for the late Charlie Sifford, the man who broke the PGA Tour’s color line. Sifford died earlier this year but he had the opportunity to attend his own induction ceremony. I know for a fact that the honor changed him; he had harbored much anger from the indignities he had suffered while competing as the only Black golfer on the Tour. He told me the night before the induction that he was going to “get some back” at his awards speech, but when the waves of applause hit him, his heart melted and he spent a solid hour thanking those whom he had intended to curse. It was a cathartic moment, a public baptism that cleansed Sifford and every soul within the sound of his voice. Sifford cried, but he was probably that last one in the house to do so. 

I wanted Calvin Peete to have that moment, that magical experience of achievement and acceptance. He was not going to lift a finger to make it happen; asking him to promote himself would be like asking him to hit a drive out of bounds intentionally. Waiting for our steak to come at Friday’s that night, I asked him about the Hall of Fame. “It would be nice,” he said. Understated as always, but in his eyes was a combination of competitive fire and a longing for the respect of his peers that communicated how important it would be for him. And if his peers voted he would have been in years ago. But the votes come from those with other agendas, and so he waited.

As the old folks say, Calvin Peete is gone to glory now. His wait is over. But here in the mortal realm, the wait continues for the game to pay proper homage to the man with the crooked arm who hit the straightest ball anyone ever saw. He overcame poverty, injury and society to become the heart and soul of a game that was not ready to accept him as its face. He deserves a hell of a lot more than a steak dinner.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Alex T

    May 10, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    What an exceptional, insightful article. Sadly, in my lifetime of watching golf I haven’t been privy to witness such an apparently gifted golfer, he was gone before my time, but I’m sat here asking myself why when I watch the golf on TV and the commentators are lauding Jack Nicklaus, Arnie, Gary Player, Bobby Jones, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and all the other legends (all of whom have broken ground in some unique way or another) they aren’t also reminiscing about someone equally as important in Calvin Peete? It seems a shame…

  2. Tahl

    May 5, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    It isn’t a hall of fame without a guy like Calvin in it. Thanks for writing this article.

  3. Dennis Clark

    May 4, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Yes sir, spot on Michael. Calvin was the rare exception to the world of privilege and pamper.

  4. Jafar

    May 4, 2015 at 9:30 am

    The man is truly an inspiration, not just for golf but for anything in life.

  5. Mike d

    May 4, 2015 at 1:46 am

    Great read. Cal Peete was an amazing American success story and they don’t make them like him anymore. In addition, no one, and I mean no one rocked the kangol like Cal. Thank you for the story.

  6. BR Smith

    May 4, 2015 at 1:15 am

    Great article.
    Calvin “Pipeline” Peete drove the golf ball straighter than anyone who ever played the PGA Tour.
    In some article somewhere, it chronicles Jack Nicklaus once asking Calvin Peete for a lesson.
    Charlie Sifford, Calvin Peete, and Pete Brown. Gone but not forgotten. Rest In Peace.

  7. Jimmy

    May 2, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Great stuff!!!! Im sure someone could still find his old playing lessons from the pros during the original run on golf channel. He claimed to not have played for a few years, was around 70 years old and hit every fairway and hit every green for the nine holes. One of the most accurate drivers and controlled his distance and hit tonnes of greens. Probably the most accurate player ever, for his era.

  8. Nate Jumper

    May 1, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Well done. Thank you for the read

  9. GDP

    May 1, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Great Player. Great Article. Thanks for sharing!

  10. shimmy

    May 1, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you. He is missed.

  11. RG

    May 1, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Can you imagine someone not starting the gam until 23 and making the tour today? Well I guarantee Calvin Peete could do it. When we talk about greatest ball strkers of all time Calvin Peete belongs in the discussion. Calvin Peete not Dusty Rhodes is the American Dream. He will be missed but never forgotten….

  12. Swang'nThemClubs

    May 1, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    WONDERFUL! Thank you for sharing such an organic memory. My Mr. Peete Rest in Peace. I’ll have to go to Friday’s and have a steak now…

  13. Greg V

    May 1, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Good stuff. Great golfer.

    Thanks for a wonderful article.

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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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