This week St. Martin’s Press issues Arnold Palmer’s final book: A Life Well Played: My Stories. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Meantime, in the days since his passing, I’ve been tearily commemorating that well-played life by spending time with several of the King’s other books. Two of them—The Arnold Palmer Method (1968) and Situation Golf (1970)—are old friends of mine; they were basically my instructional library, in my earliest years of playing. But it seemed fitting, with the last at hand, to give special attention to the first: Arnold Palmer’s Golf Book: “Hit It Hard!” It was written, with the help of Bob Drum, at the end of 1960, which was unarguably Palmer’s greatest year.
Under the circumstances, the personal reminiscences, as well as the black-and-white swing-sequence photos of the 31-year-old then-reigning Masters and U.S. Open champ, tug at the heartstrings. But Palmer’s playing tips and advice on mechanics are also still worth pondering, since they reflect his life-long focus on the fundamentals and on keeping the game as uncomplicated as possible.
In heartfelt memory, then: a round of 18 quotes (lightly edited, in a couple of cases) from the pages of Hit It Hard!
1. I have read only one book on golf — the story of Bobby Jones, for it has been my ambition to try to be as good as he was — but I have friends who read every golf book that comes out. And they get something from each book: a tip on the stance or a new way to get at a shot. One fellow I know showed me a book that guaranteed to take 10 shots off your game. He read it three times, explaining, “I need to take 30 shots off my game.” I guarantee no such thing from the following pages. But I do think there is help in them for every golfer.
2. I’ve been swinging a golf club since I was three years old—just fooling around at first, then hitting balls around the house. Pretty soon I played from the yard outside the house (right at Latrobe Country Club) to the third green. Then I tried the fourth hole, and so on. By the time I was seven, I had some idea what the game was about, tried nine holes and also broke 55 for the first time. Next I went after 50, then 45, and finally, when I was 12 years old I broke 40. One of my first big thrills was shooting a 71 in my first high school match at age 14.
3. To me, the three most important things are the grip, the slow backswing to set up the hitting position, and the determination to hit the ball hard without trying to overpower it. I have found that proper execution of these three fundamentals helps the rest of the game fall in line.
4. Nobody should attempt to play the game without getting some instruction from a qualified PGA professional. Taking advice from your friends, who are usually trying to help, is like looking for a hat in a grocery store. You may find one there, but the food is better.
5. Pretend you are about to sit down in a chair. The first movement you make before actually sitting down is the same as the stance used in addressing a golf ball. The knees are flexed, the weight moves from the balls of the feet toward the back, and the body relaxes—just what you are striving for in the stance. I have the feeling when I’m taking my stance that someone has just pulled a chair from behind me and I’m waiting for him to put it back.
6. On my drives I concentrate on moving the left shoulder under my chin with a slow, deliberate action until I reach the top of my backswing. Now is the time to turn on the power. I have the feeling that my left hand is pulling the club down. You should be able to feel the weight leaving the right side before you start thinking about hitting the ball. This prevents a quick uncorking of the wrists at the top of the swing and the resultant loss of all power. It also helps avert a slice, which takes all the distance from the hit. When the swing has started through and the hands are moving down, let the clubhead fly, making certain the effort seems late to insure the last-second break of the wrists.
7. Nothing robs you of power more than hitting from the top. The wrists are uncocked high on the backswing, and all that is left at contact is a stiff-armed motion that wouldn’t knock a glass off a slippery table.
8. A lot of players I know are constantly complaining about not getting distance off the tee. From the five-iron to the wedge, they hit perfect shots. But the rest of the time, the ball doesn’t move. I have noticed that all these players unconsciously strive for distance with the big clubs and accuracy with the shorter ones. On the shorter shots, when they are not intent on power, their backswing is a slow thing of beauty and their timing is excellent. Off the tee or with a long iron, they all start fast, trying to slug the ball.
If you have been having trouble with your tee shots—and the rest of your game is adequate—take a tip and try for accuracy instead of for distance. That way you might get both, since you’ll go back slow automatically.
9. Slow down that backswing and stay out of trouble. Either that or bring an adding machine along in the bag.
10. There is no way you can stop at contact with the ball and not follow through, unless you started putting on the brakes before the hit. That’s why there must be a follow-through—to insure that you move the club forcefully throughout the downswing. The natural momentum continues the club up and toward the line of flight.
11. Don’t let the long irons scare you. The biggest mistake most golfers make is hitting these clubs harder than the others. Let me repeat—let the club do the work. The longer irons have little loft and provide distance. If you hit a seven-iron and four-iron with the same swing, the four-iron will go 30 or 40 yards farther. Let the manufacturers of clubs worry about the distance. You worry about keeping your swing the same.
12. The most common mistake made by the high-handicap golfer is that he babies these short-iron shots. The poor guy has been swinging from his heels, trying to get distance all day. Then, when faced with a short shot, he feels he must ease it to the pin.
Hit it crisply. Let the club get the ball the right distance.
13. The object of the game is to try to hit the ball straight; that will put you in the least amount of trouble. Trying to “fade” the ball on medium-iron shots or to “punch” it into the green are shots for experts who have developed special techniques. Some of these, I might add, don’t always produce the best results. And if these men, who do nothing but play and practice golf, have trouble making the ball behave, what chance does a sometimes golfer have?
14. Make every shot a full one and you won’t timidly let up on your downswing. You may hit over a few greens, but even this has its good points. It builds up your ego when you overshoot the putting surfaces and still chip back for occasional pars. You feel a lot better than approaching the hole a foot at a time.
Slow down on the backswing and pull to the ball with the left hand. Then finish high and watch it fly. It’s a good feeling.
15. The ability to get in trouble is inherent with every golfer. The ability to get out of it without taking too many strokes and then to be able to forget it is the mark of a good player, to my way of thinking.
16. At one time or another I have putted every possible way, I think, except standing on my head. Some of them worked, some of the time. Some never worked. When I first went on tour, I travelled by car. They joked about the trunk of my car, but it was no gag. When I opened it I had to be alert because there were 25 putters jammed in the back and they might come tumbling out.
17. The rules and courtesies of the golf course are more essential to the game than a slow backswing or a new set of clubs. The backbone of golf is to play the game as a sport in the right way so as not to bother your fellow competitors or cheat them, intentionally or not.
18. That’s another thing to remember about golf. After you have done the best you can on a shot, you walk up to the ball again and face similar problems all over again.
It does you no good to remember the last shot, good or bad. The next one is the most important one now.
The Wedge Guy: A defense of blades
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!
2022 Open De France: Betting Picks & Selections
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.
Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama make big gear changes in Napa
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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