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PGA Tour: 10 things to watch for in 2013

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Come-from-behind victories. Sunday meltdowns. Thrilling major championships. Dominance. An indescribable Ryder Cup.

To many golf fans, 2012 brought a whole new level of excitement to the game. The unpredictability and element of surprise hopefully also attracted new fans to the sport. Either way, everyone who followed professional golf this year had something draw them in.

The 2013 season is on the horizon, teeing off Jan. 4 in Kapalua, and there are tons of storylines heading into the new year. Predicting outcomes for the season ahead is near impossible, but it’s always fun to speculate on a broader range. So, what should we look forward to in 2013 in professional golf? The topics are wide and the lists are long, but here are 10 things to watch for in the upcoming year.

Structural Shake Up

In 2013, the PGA Tour will embark upon its newest schedule set-up which, in effect, alters the Tour’s structure as a whole. The 2013 season will conclude with the final event of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup , the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sept. 22. Then, three weeks later, the 2014 season will begin with the Frys.com Open, the first of the Fall Series events.

Of course, the scheduling change to the Tour also leads to changes for the Web.com Tour and Qualifying School. The Web.com Tour will now be the primary feeder for the PGA Tour, while Q-School will send its top finishers on to the Web.com Tour.

Fifty PGA Tour cards will be awarded to Web.com Tour players: 25 based on the final money list and a final 25 cards based on cumulative earnings from four Finals events. The Web.com’s Finals events will coincide with the FedExCup, with the exception of the last event, which will take place the week after the Tour Championship.

The newly formed PGA Tour Canada Tour, as well as the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Tour, will add additional playing avenues to the equation for professional golfers. The top-5 finishers on both tours gain direct access to the Web.com Tour. Also, Nos. 6 through 10 on the PGA Tour Canada will be exempt into the finals of the Web.com Tour Q-School.

Throwing the Anchor

In late November, the USGA and R&A proposed a rule change to prohibit anchoring the club during the stroke that will likely be approved this spring and go into effect in 2016. With the announcement, a range of storylines surround this topic for the upcoming year. At what point will players make the switch? Will fans support players who decide to continue anchoring? Will the PGA Tour move quickly and make a local rule, eliminating the three-year gap before the rule is changed. Will new techniques develop for putting woes?

Webb Simpson has openly admitted practicing at home with a regular putter and will put it in play when he’s comfortable. Adam Scott has already been seen without his typical flat stick. Keegan Bradley plans to keep his anchored stroke in play and has the option to do so despite already getting flack from a fan at the World Challenge.

Meanwhile, equipment makers such as Odyssey are already marketing forearm-anchored putters, giving belly-length putters a second wind.

McIlroy’s Move

As World No. 1 Rory McIlroy departs Titleist for Nike in 2013, his ability to adapt and grow comfortable with his new clubs will be closely watched. Some people downplay the move, saying equipment is similar nowadays. Others, such as Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, suggest that the change could put a lot on the line and take a lengthy amount of time to get comfortable with.

Whether it is an easy or hard transition for McIlroy, we’ll most likely see his first competitive round with the swooshes in his bag at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, Jan. 17-20. From there, he’ll have lofty-as-ever expectations to live up to, after taking 2012’s PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

Major Slump

Another majorless year has come and gone for Tiger Woods. And while Woods went oh-fer in 2012, he had his chances at getting closer to Jack Nicklaus’ all-time mark of 18 major championships.

Woods was tied for the 36-hole lead at both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and sat in third place through 36 holes at the British Open. However, a weekend scoring average of 72.83 in those three majors knocked Tiger from contention in each event. His best major finish was a tie for third at Royal Lytham & St. Annes where he still sat four shots back of champion Ernie Els.

In 2013, Woods’ best chances at majors will come early. April’s Masters present a great opportunity for Woods due to his historic prowess at Augusta National, but he hasn’t won a Green Jacket since 2005. He has never played Marion Golf Club, the 2013 U.S. Open venue, and doesn’t exactly have fond memories at this year’s British Open and PGA Championship venues. He plummeted out of contention after a third-round 81 at the 2002 British Open at Muirfield and never shot lower than 72 at Oak Hill in 2003’s PGA Championship.

Brandt Snedeker vs. FedEx Cup Curse

Ironically, each of the first five winners of the FedEx Cup have failed to return to the Tour Championship the following year. In 2013, Brandt Snedeker will look to snap that streak and be one of the 30 players who take on Atlanta’s East Lake Country Club for the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.

It seemed as if Bill Haas would end the trend in 2012, but Haas shot a final-round 78 in the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick. Haas finished 45th in the 70-man field and dropped to 32nd in the FedEx Cup points standings. Haas was positioned to move on, but he bogeyed four of the last five holes, leaving him outside the 30-man Tour Championship field.

If Snedeker wants another shot at the bonus, he’ll have to finish in the top 125 of the points list, then successfully advance on different courses than he did this year. The Barclays moves back to Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J., opening the four-event series. The Deutsche Bank Championship remains at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., as the second event, while the third leg is the BMW Championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill.

President’s Cup

Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village will be in the spotlight on two occasions during the upcoming year, as the course will host the 2013 Presidents Cup in addition to its yearly Memorial tournament. Fred Couples and Nick Price will captain their respective teams in the 10th playing of the Presidents Cup, which takes place Oct. 1-6. It will be Couples’ third-straight U.S. captaincy, while Price is getting his first attempt with the International squad.

The U.S. has dominated the cup, winning seven of the nine previous meetings. The International’s sole victory came in 1998 by a 20.5 to 11.5 margin, while the squads tied in 2003. The Presidents Cup may not ignite passion in ways the Ryder Cup does, but it has gained momentum through the years as an exciting and entertaining event.

It is fitting that the event will take place at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village, given the history behind both the man and the course. Nicklaus has captained the U.S. Presidents Cup team on four occasions (1998, 2003, 2005, 2007) and Muirfield Village has hosted the Memorial Tournament annually since 1976. The venue will become the first club in the world to host the Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup (1987) and Solheim Cup (1998).

Talented Teens

Teens took the golf world’s spotlight on several occasions in 2012, especially at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Fourteen-year-old Andy Zhang first made news as he became the youngest to compete in the USGA event. Then, 17-year-old Beau Hossler stole the show the first three days, even holding a brief solo lead Friday afternoon at 2-under-par. Unfortunately, a final-round 76 dropped Hossler from contention and the claim of low amateur. That distinction went to 19-year-old Jordan Spieth, who played the weekend in 1-under-par (69-70) and turned professional Dec. 14.

On the ladies’ side, 15-year-old Lydia Ko became the youngest to ever win an LPGA Tour event, claiming the CN Canadian Women’s Open by three shots over Inbee Park. Ko erased Lexi Thompson’s youngest age record — Thompson was 16 when she won the 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama.

We already know of one teen who will surely be in the golf news in 2013: Guang Tianlang of China. The 14-year-old won the Asia-Pacific Championship this fall to qualify for the Masters. With the youthful talent pool of golf, chances are good that many more teens will make golf headlines in the year ahead.

Furyk’s Bounce Back

Jim Furyk arguably endured a career’s worth of heartache in one season alone. The U.S. Open, WGC-Bridgestone and Ryder Cup certainly left the deepest gashes, while close calls at Transitions, Tour Championship and the McGladrey Classic were added to his list of “what ifs.”

Furyk still has years of PGA Tour experience to use as motivation and can look no further than the 2009 season for similarities. That season, Furyk had five top-five finishes before jumping back into the winner’s circle in 2010.

Rookie Impact

PGA Tour rookies have performed quite well over the past two years. In 2011, rookies claimed seven victories including major championships from Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship). Four rookies — John Huh, Jonas Blixt, Charlie Beljan and Ted Potter, Jr. – earned victories on the PGA Tour in 2012.

The 2013 class, made up of Web.com money leaders and graduates of Q-School, features a variety of heralded players. Luke Guthrie, Russell Henley, Ben Kohles, Morgan Hoffmann, Scott Langley and Patrick Reed, to name a few, have gained attention in the professional realms already and look to excel during their first year on Tour. There are also many experienced European Tour players such as Nicolas Colsaerts, Ross Fisher and Martin Kaymer who will each take up PGA Tour membership for the first time next year.

Golf on the Global Stage

Golf’s worldwide popularity has been on an upward trend over the last decade or so, and we are now seeing the effects of it being a global sport. More and more young, elite players are beginning to display their talents on the world stage and one could expect that to continue with golf being part of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The PGA Tour’s support for the global game will step up a notch during the latter part of 2013, as three of the first six events for the 2013-14 season will take place outside the United States. Most notably, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China will both be official Tour events for the first time. While each of those events have drawn the biggest names, entrants are also qualifiers from the Asian Tour or hold other special distinctions.

Additionally, the success of young talents will continue to push the game to new heights. It seems as if Ryo Ishikawa has been in the spotlight for years and years, yet he’s still just 21 years old. With other young players such as Andy Zhang, Lydia Ko and Guang Tianlang being successful on the world stage, we can only expect more to come in the future.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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GolfWRX fan turned GolfWRX contributor. Sports fan, golf enthusiast. Looking to provide a variety of content to GolfWRX.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie Reviews: L.A.B. Mezz.1 Max Putter

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L.A.B. Golf pushes the limits of putters and putting to try and help as many golfers as they can make more putts. Lie Angle Balanced putters are different because the face of the putter is always pointed towards your target. We all know L.A.B.’s famous Directed Force 2.1 putter. However, a lot of golfers didn’t like the looks and size of it. So L.A.B. developed the Mezz.1 putter that has a more traditional mallet look that so many golfers use, but with Lie Angle Balanced technology engineered into it. This year, the Mezz.1 Max putter was introduced to make a great putter even better. The Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent larger than the original Mezz.1 and offers more forgiveness and stability.

I have played the Mezz.1 this year and think it is a great putter, so to be honest, I wasn’t that excited to try the Mezz.1 Max at first. That changed pretty quickly once my putter showed up. To start, getting fit for a putter is one of the last things we golfers think about. L.A.B. has a very unique and effective remote fitting process if you cannot get to a fitter in person. You email a short video to them using your current putter and they use their internal genius to get your specs processed. The remote fitting video took me about seven minutes from start to submission.

Once you have your putter specs, you can then order a stock or custom Mezz.1 Max. I went down the custom path of various head colors, alignment aids, shafts, grips, and even a headcover to build my putter. My original Mezz.1 is black, and I wanted to go with some color to change things up and, for whatever reason, the cappuccino color kept grabbing my attention. The cappuccino color online looks more gold, and I was pleasantly surprised that in person the color is more brown and muted than I expected. The color goes well with the matte white Accra shaft and Press II 1.5-degree smooth grip.

Headcovers are now becoming big accessories, and the brown headcover I chose is kind of retro-looking while feeling high quality. Overall, I love the look and my Mezz.1 Max stands out without being too flashy and distracting.

As soon as I got the putter out of the box, I rolled a few putts on the carpet here at the office, not expecting much difference. From the first couple of putts, I could immediately tell something was a little different with this putter. The weight and balance through the stroke is more stable and you get an even better feeling of the putter wanting to keep the face pointed at the target. The other interesting find is that I didn’t even notice the 20-percent larger size that the Mezz.1 Max has over its older sibling. Maybe if I had them both side-by-side I would notice the size difference more, but the Mezz.1 Max on its own looks normal to my eye.

The first putts I hit on the carpet were great feeling and the Mezz.1 Max felt like it wanted to stay on its path regardless of how your hands tried to manipulate it. The same feeling was present on the putting green, and it was far stronger to me than the standard Mezz.1 felt. When you put the Mezz.1 Max on a target, the putter just wants to hit the ball at that target. The other interesting note is that, to me, the new Max has a softer and more solid feel compared to the smaller head. The sound at impact was more muted and had a lower pitch to it, even on mishits. Just like the original, the grooved face puts immediate forward roll on the ball and reduces almost all skipping.

L.A.B. says this Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent more stable, and I don’t think that is just some marketing talk. I have been in this putting funk where I have been making contact on the toe of the putter regularly. This miss has caused me to miss more than a few putts this year, and I hit a few with the new putter as well. Those toe misses still went straight and I wasn’t losing much speed. Those putts left the toe of the putter and either came up just short or just missed my intended line by a small amount. Those misses are a great improvement over the traditional blade that has been my gamer all summer. The biggest problem I had with the original Mezz.1 is that it took me awhile to get used to longer lag putts. This wasn’t the case with the Max, as I felt much more comfortable from long range and was able to get putts closer and reduce the 3-putt chances by a good amount.

Overall, if you’re searching for a new flatstick, the new L.A.B. Golf Mezz.1 Max putter is something to check out. You have a putter that can truly help you make more putts thanks to the Lie Angle Balanced technology, additional forgiveness, and stability.

For more information on my Mezz.1 Max putter review, listen to the Club Junkie podcast, which is available below and on any podcasting service.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses

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It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.

I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?

So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.

Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.

These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”

This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:

We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.

Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.

Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.

The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.

The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.

The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.

The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.

But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.

The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.

Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.

Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.

The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.

This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!

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In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.

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