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Opinion & Analysis

The Magic of Heavy Metal in Golf

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OK, it’s time to come clean. I know the clean cut image of a child of the ’80s and a serious golf nut don’t exactly go hand in hand with playing bass in a rock band and being a metal-head, but that’s in fact what I was. Now, you won’t be able to Google any images of me sporting leather pants, spiked wrist-bands, or God-forbid a mullet. And while my band, The Air-Flow Souls, did churn out one cult hit (Y.A.A.), we never made any official recordings. And the only truly big gig we had the opportunity to play, opening for the then wildly popular hardcore punk band 7 Seconds, we turned down due to our lead singer’s realistic fear of having things thrown at us while onstage. So just in case you’re looking, you won’t likely turn up any golden footage of us on YouTube either.

Ahhh, the good old days, though. Driving my ‘74 Plymouth Duster to golf matches and listening to the classics of heavy metal by the likes of The Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Y&T. Or standing on the range or the putting green, hour after hour, hooked up to that old Sony Walkman while the metal anthems of Judas Priest, Saxon, and AC/DC kept me company (and out there) despite my father’s insistence that it was nothing short of rotting my brain. There are some who might think the head-banging rhythm of one of popular music’s more aggressive inventions wouldn’t seem an inherently natural thing to want to be bombarded with while you’re trying to putt for birdies and pars, but the fact was it worked for me and I know I’m not alone.

So I bring this up, not simply to take a stroll down memory lane, but because there is now actual evidence that heavy metal not only wasn’t contributing to any decline in gray matter, but it might actually have been at least partially responsible for some of my finer moments on the links. If you’ve been paying attention, you’re likely aware of the USGA’s decision a couple of years ago to ban the playing of music during competition based on an interpretation of an existing rule. Rule 14-3 states that a player may not use any artificial device or unusual equipment that “might assist him in making a stroke or in his play.” In its interpretation, the USGA claimed that listening to music or a broadcast while making a stroke or for a prolonged period might assist a player by eliminating distractions or promoting good tempo. Really?

When I first heard this, I, like a good number of my members, thought, “Here were go again. Under the guise of protecting the game, The USGA, golf’s occasionally cantankerous governing body, seems at times bound and determined do away with about just about every non-traditional invention that comes along and adds a bit more fun to the game (square grooves, belly putters, long putters, driver heads as big as Volkswagens, etc.), and here was just another prime example. And in my mind, at least, this was where they’d finally crossed the line. So I had to go in search of evidence, because I needed to know whether or not there was any research backing up their decision to pick on my precious metal anthems.

We often witness professional athletes in other sports using music to pump themselves up, calm themselves down, or even help to synchronize their movement. But since most of these athletes are pretty young, I’d instinctively written that off as an affectation of youth. Either that or savvy business-folk are seizing an opportunity to get their products into the public eye with the aid of all-too willing (and compensated) accomplices. As it turns out, though, there is a mounting body of research highlighting the benefits listening to music can have on performance in areas ranging from running and cycling to weight-lifting. Certain music can increase arousal levels, raising your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you to lift more, push on, or train longer.

Fast and loud, bass-driven music, with a tempo range somewhere between 170 and 190 beats per minute, is perfect when gearing up for a workout. It has been proven particularly effective with running, where synchronizing your stride pattern with the tempo has been found to increase endurance by as much as 15 percent. The results of this research lead Costas Karageorghis, one of the leading researchers on the psychological and ergogenic effects of music, to claim music as the one “legal performance-enhancing drug.” When it comes to golf, though, the current interpretation of rule 14-3 means that it isn’t legal, at least not while you’re playing. And elevated arousal levels aren’t always ideal when it comes to some activities that involve fine motor skills, so was the mean old USGA actually barking up the wrong tree?

Well, at least one recent study attempted to measure whether or not music could enhance a golfer’s performance. Researchers examined the effects it had on putting, and in the end they concluded that most music had an almost magical effect on performance, with smooth jazz being the most effective. In the study, 22 Division I college golfers listened to five different types of music (country, classical, rock, jazz, and hip/hop), as well as no music, while putting 20 times under six different conditions. Both male and female golfers scored best when listening to jazz and worst when listening to rock music, hip/hop, and finally no music at all. Men scored almost two putts better listening to jazz versus no music. They averaged their poorest scores while listening to hip-hop. And the ladies?… Well, they performed worst with no music or rock playing and best with jazz as well.

So as much as I didn’t like it, when you consider this, I had to conclude that maybe just this one time the USGA had a point. But since I wasn’t about to just do away with my Whitesnake collection, I figured I had to find a legal way to keep enjoying it while employing the magic of it for myself and others. As it turns out, music has a couple of other nifty little side-effects, and they have to do with all that reminiscing I forced upon you a few paragraphs ago. There are many studies out there now highlighting music’s ability to both enhance the storage and recall of memories while affecting mood. Now I’m not going to get into the neuroscience of it in this short space, but if like me you’ve ever remembered an exact time, place, or event and how you felt when a certain song comes on the radio, then you know how well it works. So when I considered these things, alongside it’s now proven performance enhancing abilities, I saw my opportunity, and I decided to develop a training tool to augment my competitive students’ preparation for events.

I call this tool an enhanced visualization video. It’s a highlight reel of clips that I film of players hitting full shots, shots around the green, and putts (putts that go in) of varying distances that I pair to a favorite song or two that they have to both the mood and tempo we’re striving to attain during competition. Players are instructed to watch them a few times a day during a quiet moment and, if they listen to music during practice, listen to the same songs and/or songs of a similar mood and tempo that they enjoy. If you have an iPhone and the included iMovie app, they’re really quite simple to make. They’re also incredibly effective once you start employing the practice regularly. Many players find that they even start to incorporate the replaying of these songs in their heads, or even quietly humming them during their pre-shot routines (a practice I encourage) once they’re actually in competition. Try to stop that USGA!

So while that old Duster ended up being donated to the high school auto-shop when its engine finally gave out, and the Walkman fell out favor for a Discman (and ultimately an iPod), fortunately my affinity for that classic music never died. And though we can’t use it during competition, we can all use music to help enhance our preparation and increase the level of enjoyment we get out of the time we spend doing so. The key is to match the mood, tempo, and intensity to the activity and what you are hoping to achieve… and to make sure it’s something you enjoy. For me, much to my wife’s dismay, The Magic of Heavy Metal evokes memories of a time when I enjoyed some of the best golf of my life. And so despite the fact that studies might first suggest a bit of smooth jazz, when I want to really roll the rock, there’s nothing like some good old fashioned Rock’N’Roll.

See if it works for you.

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work? Part 1

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Of all the clubs in our bags, wedges are almost always the simplest in construction and, therefore, the easiest to analyze what might make one work differently from another if you know what to look for.

Wedges are a lot less mysterious than drivers, of course, as the major brands are working with a lot of “pixie dust” inside these modern marvels. That’s carrying over more to irons now, with so many new models featuring internal multi-material technologies, and almost all of them having a “badge” or insert in the back to allow more complex graphics while hiding the actual distribution of mass.

But when it comes to wedges, most on the market today are still single pieces of molded steel, either cast or forged into that shape. So, if you look closely at where the mass is distributed, it’s pretty clear how that wedge is going to perform.

To start, because of their wider soles, the majority of the mass of almost any wedge is along the bottom third of the clubhead. So, the best wedge shots are always those hit between the 2nd and 5th grooves so that more mass is directly behind that impact. Elite tour professionals practice incessantly to learn to do that consistently, wearing out a spot about the size of a penny right there. If impact moves higher than that, the face is dramatically thinner, so smash factor is compromised significantly, which reduces the overall distance the ball will fly.

Every one of us, tour players included, knows that maddening shot that we feel a bit high on the face and it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s not your fault.

If your wedges show a wear pattern the size of a silver dollar, and centered above the 3rd or 4th groove, you are not getting anywhere near the same performance from shot to shot. Robot testing proves impact even two to three grooves higher in the face can cause distance loss of up to 35 to 55 feet with modern ‘tour design’ wedges.

In addition, as impact moves above the center of mass, the golf club principle of gear effect causes the ball to fly higher with less spin. Think of modern drivers for a minute. The “holy grail” of driving is high launch and low spin, and the driver engineers are pulling out all stops to get the mass as low in the clubhead as possible to optimize this combination.

Where is all the mass in your wedges? Low. So, disregarding the higher lofts, wedges “want” to launch the ball high with low spin – exactly the opposite of what good wedge play requires penetrating ball flight with high spin.

While almost all major brand wedges have begun putting a tiny bit more thickness in the top portion of the clubhead, conventional and modern ‘tour design’ wedges perform pretty much like they always have. Elite players learn to hit those crisp, spinny penetrating wedge shots by spending lots of practice time learning to consistently make contact low in the face.

So, what about grooves and face texture?

Grooves on any club can only do so much, and no one has any material advantage here. The USGA tightly defines what we manufacturers can do with grooves and face texture, and modern manufacturing techniques allow all of us to push those limits ever closer. And we all do. End of story.

Then there’s the topic of bounce and grinds, the most complex and confusing part of the wedge formula. Many top brands offer a complex array of sole configurations, all of them admittedly specialized to a particular kind of lie or turf conditions, and/or a particular divot pattern.

But if you don’t play the same turf all the time, and make the same size divot on every swing, how would you ever figure this out?

The only way is to take any wedge you are considering and play it a few rounds, hitting all the shots you face and observing the results. There’s simply no other way.

So, hopefully this will inspire a lively conversation in our comments section, and I’ll chime in to answer any questions you might have.

And next week, I’ll dive into the rest of the wedge formula. Yes, shafts, grips and specifications are essential, too.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Amazing Session with Performance Coach Savannah Meyer-Clement

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In this week’s episode, we spent some time with performance coach Savannah Meyer-Clement who provides many useful insights that you’ll be able to implement on the golf course.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 RBC Heritage betting preview: Patrick Cantlay ready to get back inside winner’s circle

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Just a two-hour drive from Augusta National, the PGA TOUR heads to Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Hilton Head Island is a golfer’s paradise and Harbour Town is one of the most beautiful and scenic courses on the PGA TOUR.

Harbour Town Golf Links is a par-71 that measures 7,121 yards and features Bermuda grass greens. A Pete Dye design, the course is heavily tree lined and features small greens and many dog legs, protecting it from “bomb-and-gauge” type golfers.

The field is loaded this week with 69 golfers with no cut. Last year was quite possibly the best field in RBC Heritage history and the event this week is yet another designated event, meaning there is a $20 million prize pool.

Most of the big names on the PGA Tour will be in attendance this week with the exceptions of Hideki Matsuyama and Viktor Hovland. Additionally, Webb Simpson, Shane Lowry, Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner have been granted sponsors exemptions. 

Past Winners at Harbour Town

  • 2023: Matt Fitzpatrick (-17)
  • 2022: Jordan Spieth (-13)
  • 2021: Stewart Cink (-19)
  • 2020: Webb Simpson (-22)
  • 2019: CT Pan (-12)
  • 2018: Sotoshi Kodaira (-12)
  • 2017: Wesley Bryan (-13)
  • 2016: Branden Grace (-9)
  • 2015: Jim Furyk (-18)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Harbour Town

Let’s take a look at key metrics for Harbour Town Golf Links to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach is exceedingly important this week. The greens at Harbour Town are about half the size of PGA TOUR average and feature the second-smallest greens on the tour. Typical of a Pete Dye design, golfers will pay the price for missed greens.

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.27)
  2. Tom Hoge (+1.27)
  3. Corey Conners (+1.16)
  4. Austin Eckroat (+0.95)
  5. Cameron Young (+0.93)

Good Drive %

The fairways at Harbour Town are tree lined and feature many dog legs. Bombers tend to struggle at the course because it forces layups and doesn’t allow long drivers to overpower it. Accuracy is far more important than power.

Good Drive % Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Brice Garnett (88.8%)
  2. Shane Lowry (+87.2%)
  3. Akshay Bhatia (+86.0%)
  4. Si Woo Kim (+85.8%)
  5. Sepp Straka (+85.1%)

Strokes Gained: Total at Pete Dye Designs

Pete Dye specialists tend to play very well at Harbour Town. Si Woo Kim, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Webb Simpson are all Pete Dye specialists who have had great success here. It is likely we see some more specialists near the top of the leaderboard this week.

SG: TOT Pete Dye per round over past 36 rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+2.27)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.24)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+2.11)
  4. Brian Harman (+1.89)
  5. Sungjae Im (+1.58)

4. Strokes Gained: Short Game (Bermuda)

Strokes Gained: Short Game factors in both around the green and putting. With many green-side bunkers and tricky green complexes, both statistics will be important. Past winners — such as Jim Furyk, Wes Bryan and Webb Simpson — highlight how crucial the short game skill set is around Harbour Town.

SG: SG Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Jordan Spieth (+1.11)
  2. Taylor Moore (+1.02)
  3. Wyndham Clark (+0.98)
  4. Mackenzie Hughes (+0.86)
  5. Andrew Putnam (+0.83)

5. Greens in Regulation %

The recipe for success at Harbour Town Golf Links is hitting fairways and greens. Missing either will prove to be consequential — golfers must be in total control of the ball to win.

Greens in Regulation % over past 24 rounds:

  1. Brice Garnett (+75.0%)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+69.9%)
  3. Corey Conners (+69.0%)
  4. Shane Lowry (+68.3%)
  5. Patrick Rodgers (+67.6%)

6. Course History

Harbour Town is a course where players who have strong past results at the course always tend to pop up. 

Course History over past 24 rounds:

  1. Patrick Cantlay (+2.34)
  2. Cam Davis (+2.05)
  3. J.T. Poston (+1.69)
  4. Justin Rose (+1.68)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (+1.59)

The RBC Heritage Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (24%), Good Drives (20%), SG: SG (14%), SG: Pete Dye (14%), GIR (14%), and Course History (14%)

  1. Shane Lowry
  2. Russell Henley
  3. Scottie Scheffler
  4. Xander Schauffele
  5. Corey Conners 
  6. Wyndham Clark
  7. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
  8. Matt Fitzpatrick
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Ludvig Aberg 

2024 RBC Heritage Picks

Patrick Cantlay +2000 (FanDuel)

With the exception of Scottie Scheffler, the PGA Tour has yet to have any of their star players show peak form during the 2024 season. Last week, Patrick Cantlay, who I believe is a top-5 players on the PGA Tour, took one step closer to regaining the form that’s helped him win eight events on Tour since 2017.

Cantlay limped into the Masters in poor form, but figured it out at Augusta National, finishing in a tie for 20th and ranking 17th for the week in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. The former FedEx Cup champion will now head to one of his favorite golf courses in Harbour Town, where he’s had immaculate results over the years. In his six trips to the course, he’s only finished worse than 7th one time. The other finishes include three third places (2017, 2019, 2023) and one runner-up finish (2022). In his past 36 rounds at Harbour Town, Cantlay ranks 1st in Strokes Gained: Total per round at the course by a wide margin (+2.36).

Cantlay is winless since the 2022 BMW Championship, which is far too long for a player of his caliber. With signs pointing to the 32-year-old returning to form, a “signature event” at Harbour Town is just what he needs to get back on the winning track.

Tommy Fleetwood +3000 (FanDuel)

I truly believe Tommy Fleetwood will figure out a way to win on American soil in 2024. It’s certainly been a bugaboo for him throughout his career, but he is simply too talented to go another season without winning a PGA Tour event.

At last week’s Masters Tournament, Fleetwood made a Sunday charge and ended up finishing T3 in the event, which was his best ever finish at The Masters. For the week, the Englishman ranked 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 10th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 16th in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Harbour Town is a perfect layout for Fleetwood, and he’s had relative success at this Pete Dye design in the past.  In his four trips to the course, he’s finished inside of the top 25 three times, with his best finish, T10, coming in 2022. The course is pretty short and can’t be overpowered, which gives an advantage to more accurate players such as Fleetwood. Tommy ranks 8th in the field in Good Drive % and should be able to plot his way along this golf course.

The win is coming for Tommy lad. I believe there’s a chance this treasure of a golf course may be the perfect one for him to finally break through on Tour.

Cameron Young +3300 (FanDuel)

Cameron Young had a solid Masters Tournament last week, which is exactly what I’m looking for in players who I anticipate playing well this week at the RBC Heritage. He finished in a tie for 9th, but never felt the pressure of contending in the event. For the week, Young ranked 6th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 6th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Despite being one of the longest players off the tee on the PGA Tour, Young has actually played some really good golf on shorter tracks. He finished T3 at Harbour Town in 2023 and ranks 20th in the field in Good Drive% and 16th in Greens in Regulation in his past 24 rounds. He also has strong finishes at other shorter courses that can take driver out of a players hand such as Copperhead and PGA National.

Young is simply one of the best players on the PGA Tour in 2024, and I strongly believe has what it takes to win a PGA Tour event in the very near future.

Corey Conners +5500 (FanDuel)

Corey Conners has had a disappointing year thus far on the PGA Tour, but absolutely loves Harbour Town.

At last week’s Masters Tournament, the Canadian finished T30 but ranked 20th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach. In his past 24 rounds, Conners ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 3rd in Greens in Regulation % and 24th in Good Drive %.

In Conners’ last four trips to Harbour Town, his worst finish was T31, last season. He finished T4 in 2021, T12 in 2022 and ranks 8th in Strokes Gained: Total at the course over his past 36 rounds.

Conners hasn’t been contending, but his recent finishes have been encouraging as he has finished in the top-25 in each of his past three starts prior to The Masters, including an impressive T13 at The PLAYERS. His recent improvement in ball striking as well as his suitability for Harbour Town makes Conners a high upside bet this week.

Shane Lowry (+7500) (FanDuel)

When these odds were posted after Lowry was announced in the field, I have to admit I was pretty stunned. Despite not offering much win equity on the PGA Tour over the last handful of years, Shane Lowry is still a top caliber player who has the ability to rise to the top of a signature event.

Lowry struggled to score at The Masters last week, but he actually hit the ball really well. The Irishman ranked 1st for Strokes Gained: Approach on the week and 7th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. As usual, it was the putter that let him down, as he ranked 60th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Harbour Town is most definitely one of Lowry’s favorite courses on the PGA Tour. In his six starts there, he’s finished in the top 10 three times, including third twice. Lowry is sensational at Pete Dye designs and ranks 7th in Strokes Gained: Total in his past 36 rounds on Dye tracks. 

Lowry is perfect for Harbour Town. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 2nd in Good Drive% and 5th in Green in Regulation %. If he figures it out on the greens, Shane could have his first win in America since 2015.

Lucas Glover +12000 (FanDuel)

This is one of my weekly “bet the number” plays as I strongly believe the odds are just too long for a player of Glover’s caliber. The odds have been too long on Glover for a few weeks now, but this is the first event that I can get behind the veteran being able to actually contend at. 

Glover is quietly playing good golf and returning to the form he had after the understandable regression after his two massive victories at the end of 2023. He finished T20 at The Masters, which was his best ever finish at Augusta National. For the week, Lucas ranked 18th for Strokes Gained: Approach and 20th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Over his past 24 rounds, Glover ranks 9th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 13th in Good Drive %. Harbour Town is a short course that the 44-year-old will be able to keep up with the top players on Tour off the tee. He’s played the course more than 20 times, with mixed results. His best finishes at Harbour Town include a T7 in 2008, but recently has a finish of T21 in 2020.

Glover has proven he can contend with the stars of the Tour on any given week, and this number is flat out disrespectful.

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