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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Rahm Bomb

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Jon Rahm nearly had to spend the week kicking himself over a mental error that is rare, especially for a tour pro. Early in the third round of the BMW Championship at Chicago’s Olympia Fields Country Club, Jon Rahm forgot to mark his ball on the green before picking it up to clean it, incurring a one-shot penalty. He realized his mistake immediately and called in a rules official to properly assess the situation. After the round, he was proud of himself for bouncing back and staying focused to post a 66. Rahm played his way into contention, but almost foreshadowed Sunday afternoon when he said he would be kicking himself if he lost by one.

Fast forward to late Sunday. Jon Rahm hit 17 of 18 greens on his way to an outstanding final-round 64, the best round on the course. Rahm stayed warm and waited on the range for Dustin Johnson to finish. Johnson needed a miraculous birdie on the final hole to force a playoff and found himself in the rough 180 yards away. From this position, an average PGA TOUR pro will take approximately 3.3 strokes to get down. DJ needed to do it in just 2. He hit a fantastic shot from the rough to 44 feet and then sank the putt to do just that, gaining 1.3 strokes for those two shots and forcing the playoff.

In the playoff, both players found themselves on the green in regulation. However, the advantage went to Johnson who had just 33 feet remaining, compared to Rahm’s 66 feet. A PGA TOUR pro makes a 66-footer less than four percent of the time. More than 12 feet of break down a steep slope made Rahm’s putt even more of a long shot. Rahm was more focused on a manageable come-backer to stay alive in the playoff. Instead, he hit a perfect putt that tracked down the hill and hit the flagstick dead center as it dropped for birdie. This added 66 feet of putts to the 103 he made in regulation (seen on the above scorecard). Interestingly enough, it was the first putt of over 50 feet that Rahm faced all week. Looking at the Putting by Distance plot from V1 Game, we can see that Jon Rahm putted beautifully all week with just a single three-putt. He gained strokes from all distance buckets inside 20 feet, but we also see that he did not have a putt over 50 feet in regulation. He gained 1.3 strokes on the average tour pro with his heroic playoff putt.

Alright, rewind to the forgotten marker debacle. This is the second time this season that Rahm has put me in a difficult position when tracking his rounds. In his win at the Memorial, he had a shot on the 16th hole in which he inadvertently moved his ball before chipping it in. It was difficult to determine whether the penalty strokes for his mental blunder should be applied to his chip or to the approach shot that put him in the heavy rough. Unfortunately, the PGA Tour and V1 Game do not currently have a ‘Strokes Gained Mental’ category for this situation. In a similar blunder, forgetting to mark his ball on the fifth hole on Saturday, resulted in a one-shot penalty. Technically a mental error, this one got added to Strokes Gained Putting for the purposes of tracking. Still, Rahm gained 1.7 strokes putting on the day.

Diving into Rahm’s performance on the week, we find that Rahm improved day-by-day throughout the tournament.

Using V1 Game’s new Virtual Coach to analyze his performance for Strokes Gained gives us several insights:

  • His best round was his final round, gaining 7.3 total strokes with a 64.
  • His worst round was his first round, losing 3.8 strokes, total, with a 75.
  • Rahm was most inconsistent with his putting, losing 1.9 strokes at his worst and gaining 2.2 strokes at his best.
  • His worst strokes gained area on average is Approach.
  • He was most consistent gaining strokes with his driving.

Rahm gained strokes with his driving in three of the four rounds, despite only averaging 8.2 Fairways. This is largely due to his distance, as he hit many drives over 340 yards. He averaged 304 yards per tee shot on the week and favored the left hand side with his misses. All this can be easily seen at a glance from his Analysis profile in V1 Game.

The trendline for Strokes Gained Total shows Rahm peaking at the right time. Winning this week, vaults Rahm up to the number-two spot going into next week’s Tour Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Country Club. He secured critical points toward winning the FedEx Cup. This week, the main takeaway is resilience. Several times, Rahm could have been frustrated and lost his focus. He could have cratered after his mental blunder on the green, or when Johnson dropped a bomb on him on the last hole of regulation, or when he found himself out of position in the playoff. Instead, Rahm stayed persistent and spared himself the torture of losing the tournament over a forgotten marker.

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Opinion & Analysis

The future of club fitting is going virtual

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Thanks to technology, you can buy everything from custom-made suits to orthotics online without ever walking into a store or working in person with an expert.

Now, with the help of video and launch monitors, along with a deeper understanding of dynamics than ever before, club fitting is quickly going virtual too, and it’s helping golfers find better equipment faster!

What really took so long?

The real advancements started in the coaching world around a decade ago. What used to require heavy cameras and tripods now simply requires a phone and you have a high-definition slow-motion video that can be sent around the world in a matter of seconds.

Beyond video, modern launch monitors and their ability to capture data have quickly turned a guessing game of “maybe this will work” into a precision step-by-step process of elimination to optimize. When you combine video and launch monitor elements with an understanding of club fitting principles and basic biomechanics, you have the ability to quickly evaluate a golfer’s equipment and make recommendations to help them play better golf.

The benefits of virtual fitting

  • Any golfer with a phone and access to a launch monitor can get high-level recommendations from a qualified fitter.
  • Time and cost-saving to and from a fitter. (This seems obvious, but one of the reasons I personally receive so many questions about club fitting is because those reaching out don’t have access to fitting facilities within a reasonable drive)
  • It’s an opportunity to get a better understanding our your equipment from an expert.

How virtual fittings really work

The key element of a virtual fitting is the deep understanding of the available products to the consumer. On an OEM level, line segmentation makes this fairly straightforward, but it becomes slightly more difficult for brand-agnostic fitters that have so many brands to work with, but it also shows their depth of knowledge and experience.

It’s from this depth of knowledge and through an interview that a fitter can help analyze strengths and weaknesses in a player’s game and use their current clubs as a starting point for building a new set—then the video and launch monitor data comes in.

But it can quickly go very high level…

One of the fastest emerging advancements in this whole process is personalized round tracking data from companies like Arccos, which gives golfers the ability to look at their data without personal bias. This allows the golfer along with any member of their “team” to get an honest assessment of where improvements can be found. The reason this is so helpful is that golfers of all skill levels often have a difficult time being critical about their own games or don’t even really understand where they are losing shots.

It’s like having a club-fitter or coach follow you around for 10 rounds of golf or more—what was once only something available to the super-elite is now sitting in your pocket. All of this comes together and boom, you have recommendations for your new clubs.

Current limitations

We can’t talk about all the benefits without pointing out some of the potential limitations of virtual club fittings, the biggest being the human element that is almost impossible to replicate by phone or through video chat.

The other key factor is how a player interprets feel, and when speaking with an experienced fitter recently while conducting a “trial fitting” the biggest discussion point was how to communicate with golfers about what they feel in their current clubs. Video and data can help draw some quick conclusions but what a player perceives is still important and this is where the conversation and interview process is vital.

Who is offering virtual club fittings?

There are a lot of companies offering virtual fittings or fitting consultations over the phone. One of the biggest programs is from Ping and their Tele-Fitting process, but other companies like TaylorMade and PXG also have this service available to golfers looking for new equipment.

Smaller direct-to-consumer brands like New level, Sub 70, and Haywood Golf have offered these services since their inception as a way to work with consumers who had limited experience with their products but wanted to opportunity to get the most out of their gear and their growth has proven this model to work.

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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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