On the tee…

Welcome to The Golf Lab.

Weekly posts will emerge on current golfing news, equipment and course reviews as well as general opinion from time to time. Let’s talk all things golf.

Please feel free to get in touch thegolflab@hotmail.com

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Titleist Bring Back a Classic

‘If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.’

Lee Trevino

To me this is a bittersweet time of year. The golf season is on the way out, although the FedEx Cup comes to an end this weekend, but we get a glimpse at the new offerings from companies for next season. Now I know I had a rant at TaylorMade recently for releasing too much hardware, I’m not going to apologise for that, but this week Titleist released their 2016 line and something grabbed my attention.

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In the last decade there was a huge movement of players, pros and amateurs alike, away from long irons and over to hybrids. These clubs are easier to hit and, due to the much higher spin rates and ball flight they produce, easier to stop on greens. The biggest benefit of them was the versatility. These small-headed clubs cut through rough with great ease giving them the alias ‘rescue’ clubs.

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So what am I talking about with the new Titleist line? Well, to start they have released hybrid clubs (the 816 H1 and H2), I believe these are incredibly useful clubs and I don’t think dropping them from the product would have been a good idea. However, they have brought out a line of what they are calling ‘utility irons’. The T-MB 716 is, what I’d describe as a beefed-up blade that will give the playing features of a hybrid but with the more classical looks of a bladed iron. This is the follow-up to the 712U that was a very similar type of club and should build on its success. More importantly these can come as a full set of irons.

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You may have noticed this club in the bag of one Jordan Spieth this year. He has been using a 3-iron with a Graphite Design Tour AD DI shaft to great effect throughout this incredible season of his. I think sometimes the big golfing brands are too quick to try and bring out groundbreaking equipment when sometimes this isn’t required. Personally I prefer looking down on a long iron than a hybrid, in fact I still carry a 2-iron. I feel that this new option is more versatile and will be a great success for the company.

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If you’re looking for a new option for tee shots but one that can also be used from the fairway then I think this is something to seriously consider. To me it’s the kind of club that once it’s in your bag it’ll be used constantly. Have a look and thanks, as always, for reading.

Easy Does It

‘The first time I grabbed a golf club, I knew that I’d do it for the rest of my life’

Michelle Wie

For this post I want to change things up a bit. My articles for The Golf Lab have, thus far, been centered on the men’s game. This week I want to look at the ladies game. Lydia Ko, the young phenomenon from New Zealand, has just won the fifth and final major of the ladies calendar, The Evian Championship. To add to this the Solheim Cup, the ladies equivalent of the Ryder Cup, starts this week so let’s strike while the iron is hot and talk ladies golf.

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In my opinion there is a great deal that can be learned from watching the world’s greatest female golfers plying their trade. There is a distinct difference between ladies and gents golf and this is always most evident when watching these athletes from the tee. Players on the LPGA and LET very rarely try to kill their drives. Watch ladies golf and you will see relaxed fluid swings with great tempo. Now don’t get me wrong, watching Rory or Bubba bomb one over 400-yards is incredible however this is a different thing altogether. Here you’re seeing an emphasis on hitting fairways rather than gaining distance. For example the leading driving accuracy on the PGA Tour is 76.88% (Francesco Molinari) whilst on the LPGA it’s 89% (Mo Martin). The same trend holds true on the European counterparts.

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This, in my view is something that the average golfer can learn an awful lot from. If you stand up on the tee and try to boom one then that’s great, you’ll maybe catch a handful of them and it will look great. You will, however miss more than hit, this I can guarantee as I’m talking from experience. Try this though, take it easy, swing it smoothly and deliberately from the tee. Concentrate on tempo and you’ll strike more out of the middle, you’ll probably hit it as far if not further, and you’ll rarely find yourself in trouble.

Alex Fortey at ‘The Art of Simple Golf’ (www.theartofsimplegolf.com), has some great drills to work on this very thing and are drills I have used to great effect. My performance coach, Scott Garrett (@garrett_golf) is frequently telling me to slow down my swing with the long stick. It really is one of the best things that you can do to improve the amount of fairways you hit and I promise you won’t lose much, if any, distance.

So what are the take home messages that you can learn from the world’s greatest female golfers:

  • A slower more deliberate swing with good tempo will always work better than a ‘power swing’, especially from the tee.
  • Taking time to pick a really specific target and aim will increase your mind’s focus and make you more accurate ‘aim small, miss small’.
  • Don’t be afraid to take an extra club! No one will care if you took more club when you put it close rather than short. This is one of the most common mistakes amateur golfers make.

Watch the Solheim cup this week. It’s in Germany so it won’t interfere with your watching of the BMW Championship, and you’ll learn how simple smooth mechanics can really help your game.

Enough is Enough TaylorMade!

“I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.”

G.K. Chesterton

The more astute golfing viewers among you may have noticed that the TaylorMade staff players at The Deutsche Bank Championship were missing their ‘M’. The hats they wore and the staff bags their caddies carried all said Taylor ade, see a missing ‘M’. Now either this was an amazing coincidence of biblical proportion and the glue/stitching on all of these pieces of equipment failed on that one letter or there was marketing wizardry afoot.

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Well, would you believe it, it was marketing. This week saw the launch of TaylorMade’s clubs for 2016. Yes the most prolific club makers in the industry launched their new irons for next season and the new ‘M1’ driver (that accounts for all of the lost m’s, those scamps). First impressions of the driver is that it looks very much like it’s predecessor the R15 but gives more options for adaptability.

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Now, that’s as nice as I’m going to be about this new club because I am just so fed up of this company and their constant stream of new clubs. Taylor Made release hardware more often than football (soccer for the international audience) clubs releases strips. I am sorry but to me this is utterly ridiculous! The amount of money this company must spend on research and development then on marketing must be phenomenal. Is it any wonder that TaylorMade-Adidas Golf is a company that is starting to struggle?

Most brands release a new set of clubs every couple of years. This, to me seems sensible. It gives time for technology to move forward enough to bring genuine benefit to the customer. To me TaylorMade just slap a new paint job on the old club, maybe, in the case of the M1 they have thrown a new weight slider in but that’s as much as I can see.

Let me let you in on a little secret ladies and gentlemen. These companies want you to buy new drivers, they are sexy and they have a high profit margin. They are the ideal product for these companies to push. Here is the secret though; they won’t actually make you that much better as a golfer. See the £400 you have burning a hole in your pocket, buy some wedges and get really good with them. Get some lessons with a good pro that will teach you how to play the game as well as how to swing a club! Do all of this and yours is the course and everything in it, and- which is more- you’ll be a better golfer my reader. See what I did there? Swing well my friends.

Golf: Is it a Game or a Sport?

‘Hockey is a sport for white men. Basketball is a sport for black men. Golf is a sport for white men dressed as black pimps’

Tiger Woods

Anyone who knows me knows that one of the fastest ways to draw me into a ‘debate’ is to say that golf is just a game. This dismissive comment always riles me up so today I am going on writing with my definitive rebuttal to this statement.

To me the answer is clear, and without appearing to sit on the fence, I think it’s both a sport and a game. Now I must say, I feel like I’ve stepped down a bit by admitting that it can be a game but having weighed up the evidence I think this is common sense so I can see people’s confusion. Cleary you wouldn’t say that John Daly or Shane Lowry were cut from the classic athlete mould. However, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy could play one of many sports.

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Let’s start with why it IS a sport. Firstly a round of golf burns over 700 calories and it makes little difference whether you carry or pull your bag. Surprisingly, riding a cart still burns over 400 calories. The average driver swing speed on the PGA Tour is 112mph whilst long drive pros can swing at over 150mph! Bubba Watson delivers his driver to the ball with over 1300kg of ‘force’! Now tell me that isn’t explosive athletic power.

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In fact, generating power in a true athletic golf swing is much the same as generating power in throwing a punch or hitting a tennis ball. These actions and many more all fit into the ‘kinetic chain’ power building concept. More simply it is that the power comes from the ground up. If you watch Tiger or Rory hitting a driver you’ll see this in action most obviously.

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Now I can see why people think golf is a game. You walk between shots, your heart rate doesn’t really increase, and old fat guys can play the game well. I get it, but over the last few decades the shape of the archetypal tour golfer has gotten fitter and more athletic. The hours on the range are supplemented with hours in the gym working on flexibility, power, core stability and strength.

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Fitness in golf is here to stay and more than ever this has to be considered a sport. However, I will forgive those of you who still think it’s a game, you obviously have the misfortune not to have tried golf and for that I feel truly sorry for you. Keep on swinging!

The Doppler Effect

‘Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated’

Arnold Palmer

Whether you’re aware of it or not, we have all heard the Doppler effect in action. You know when an ambulance speeds past you and the tone of the siren changes as it gets further away from you? That’s it, that’s the Doppler effect, what has that got to do with golf though?

Well have you heard of Trackman? Go to the range at a tour event these days and behind many of the world’s top players you will see a small orange and black box. This, golf fan, is Trackman, a Doppler radar system also known as a launch monitor. These small orange beauties, and other similar products (GC2 and Flightscope) are revolutionising golf and how it is taught. These, by the way, are military grade systems that were originally designed to monitor how missiles would fly after being fired!

Through the years I would say there have been two main types of golfer and they tend to be quite distinct. On one hand you have the golfing scientist (the type that would definitely love this particular brand of golf blog) such as a Tiger Woods-type. The other type is the artist, the kind of golfer who cares not for Leadbetter-type instruction and uses flair and imagination to tackle the course. The best example of this golfer is the late and great Mr. Seve Ballesteros. This new wave of technology would definitely suit the former, the scientist. These are guys that crave data. They want to know about spin rates and attack angles and how best to optimise these.

So how is this changing golf? Well, in my opinion, there has been a huge shift in the last decade to almost purely data-based instruction. There is also a sentiment that if a coach doesn’t have a launch monitor then he/she may not be the best. I need to argue that this is not true. Whilst the data that Trackman et al. can provide you with are important, if you cannot make the swing changes needed to improve your numbers then it’s pointless. How do you make these changes? You need a teacher that can get you to make the right move through impact and this is feel-based. My argument here is that, although data is important, feel is more important. In my humble opinion, of course.

This technology has given us many insights into how a golf ball reacts in those precious miliseconds after impact and what the club is doing to cause this. They are clearly fantastic bits of kit (as they should be, Trackman will set you back $25,000!) and there’s no coincidence that the best players in the world use them frequently. My point here is that these have to be used to augment your practice and game development. Golf requires that artistic touch and flare to be played at it’s best, let’s not completely forget that. Thanks for reading.

Jack and the Chasing Pack

‘I like trying to win. That’s what golf is all about’

 

Jack Nicklaus

 

A fitting quote from the most successful golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear was born in 1940 in Ohio and is renowned for his 18 major championship victories. What is possibly less well-known is that he also had 19 runner-up and 9 third place finished to go with these 18. Jack is the benchmark.

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In 1997 a golf prodigy, named Tiger Woods, captured his first major. When Tiger slipped on the coveted green jacket the speculation started in earnest. Would this be the start of the journey to the breaking of Jack’s record? In 1999 he took his second major but things really started to heat up when he completed the ‘Tiger Slam’ in 2000/01 by holding all four majors at one time. Tiger was on the prowl and it this point looked like breaking 18 was inevitable.

Well, we all know what happened. An Escalade being chased by a Swedish woman wielding a 9-iron and the tremendous cringery of a press-conference later and Tiger was in trouble. The major victories dried-up, and turmoil ensued. He’s now in the longest ‘majorless’ streak of his career and is at risk of missing his third straight major cut today at Whislting Straits. Tiger is now at 14 majors, is he done?

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 06:  Tiger Woods of the United States gestures during a practice round prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

I don’t think he is. Maybe I’m hopelessly optimistic about my golfing hero, the guy I grew up watching and emulating, but I remain hopeful. I was taught in school that even if you’re wrong, if you show your working you can still pick up some marks so here I go. Like many of the greatest athletes in history, success is a constant driver. Tiger, no matter what you think of him, belongs in the company of people like Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams and Michael Jordan. I believe, like in his 2013 season, if he wins one major he will win more. I for one want that, as do a host of Hollywood movie-writers I’m sure.

However, is Tiger the only threat?

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I’m not one for jumping the gun but over the last two years I’ve seen the kindling of a fire that looks like it could become a raging blaze. Jordan Spieth is pushing for his third major of the 2015 season this week and finished T4 in The Open Championship. His golf this year has been incredible. He dominated the Masters and equaled Tiger’s lowest aggregate score but he’s a completely different beast. Jordan’s game is built on finesse and putting of the like I don’t think I have ever witnessed. This guy seems to be the real deal and he’s great for the sport. He seems like the archetypal all-American kid and he is incredibly grounded which is great to see. It’s very early days but he certainly looks, to me, to be the best candidate for challenging Jack. I, for one, hope he get major number three this weekend.

Golf Needs Change

‘Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at it’

Jimmy Demaret

To me it’s the greatest sport in the world. It’s unique and more than just a sport I endeavour to play at the highest level possible, it’s an obsession. There are many like me out there, we can go through the worst of streaks but still get out onto that 1st tee any time it’s possible with relentless optimism that today will be the day it all comes good. However, people like me aren’t the problem. I know that many try golf they dabble in it, and that’s great the more the merrier, but it is within this group that there is a huge decline in participation.

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In the UK we are fast losing golfers to cycling. The London Olympics, Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, and Chris Froome have created a tidal wave of golfers-turned-cyclists and all of this at the worst possible time for golf clubs. You see the economic recession hit clubs hard. Golf memberships are obviously seen, by the non-addicted, as money that doesn’t need to be spent. During this time the waiting lists at many clubs evapourated faster than the morning dew on the greens. This left clubs struggling for money and now they’re facing a second sequential challenge. The Scottish Golf Union released figures saying that club membership dropped 14% between 2004 and 2013 to 227,292. It would seem that the ‘Tiger effect’ nor the ‘Rory effect’ are had that much pull.

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Now I’m under no illusions. To many golf isn’t a cool sport. It’s not as exciting as say football where watching 22 men with perfectly manicured finger nails and hair styled to within an inch of it’s life rolling around on the floor half-dead because the wind changed direction too quickly is (apparently). So we need to come up with some ideas to reinvigorate the sport.

A good example to follow, for me, is cricket. There are now three forms of cricket, two of which are abbreviated versions of the five-day test. So what is golf doing?

One format I enjoyed watching was PowerPlay Golf. This game was devised by Peter McEvoy and David Piggins and saw an abbreviated version of the game where a player can play to different flags with increasing difficulties for increased points. After a launch event at Celtic Manor with many European Tour stars, including Ian Poulter, this failed to gain momentum. Speed golf is another, and one that I have played, that is great fun. This involves playing your round as fast as possible with your score becoming a combination of strokes and your time. This may not be for everyone but it certainly is good fun.

It’s time we started having more 9-hole competitions at golf clubs. As much as I am all about the 18-hole round, I can see that this takes up time and people need to get back to their families. Clubs should offer medal tournaments in both the 9- and 18-hole option so people can decide what suits best. This will make them more likely to come down and play. Let’s also get strict on slow play. I love playing ‘ready golf’. None of the traditions of furthest away goes first, just go when you’re ready. This makes a huge difference.

Finally, there is one tool that I think could be key to strengthening participation in golf and that is social networking. A new app has been launched which aims to do just that. All Square Golf is an app made by golfers for golfers and aims to get people talking golf and importantly playing golf. It encourages guys to share their experiences at new clubs they’ve visited and I believe is a step in the right direction to get more people playing. This is a project that I feel strongly about and it seems to be growing in popularity by the day. If you’re not already on it I strongly suggest you download the app.

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We are in difficult times in golf. It’s time that the powers that be got together and came up with some ways to make our sport more accessible and exciting for the younger audience. If you have any ideas please do feel free to share them. Thanks for reading.

Whistle While You Work

KOHLER, WI - AUGUST 14: The 494 yards par 4, 4th hole 'Glory' on the Whistling Straits 'Straits' Course venue for the 2015 PGA Championship on August 14, 2014 in Kohler, Wisconsin.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Here it is, my first blog post on this site and it’s about the final major of the season. So we’re back at Whistling Straits the site of one of the most controversial finishes to a major in recent times. In 2010 Dustin Johnson was coming down the 18th, as part of a three-man playoff with Bubba and Martin Kaymer, when the golfing gods looked down and thought ‘not today son’. Thinking he was on trampled dirt he grounded his club, however he was in a bunker, this cost him two penalty shots and ultimately the tournament which went to ze German. If you have seen the rugged and dramatic design of the course it is an understandable mistake to make, however I’d say if he was in doubt he should have asked an official or just not grounded his club.

Anyway…it’s 2015 and the PGA Championship is back on the shores of Lake Michigan for another 72 holes around the Pete Dye designed course. So who are we looking at getting the win this week? Well let’s just start by getting the obvious choice out there first. Jordan Spieth has had the greatest major season I have ever witnessed. He is two for three with T4 in his only loss. The key to Spieth’s game is his short-game and particularly his putting. He holes more mid-length putts than anyone and is unstoppable on the dance floor. Look for him to be in contention this week for sure.

Another close call for DJ came at the US Open this year. The controversial event held at Chambers Bay drew many comments about the poor putting surfaces. It was a short putt that ended up resulting in Spieth taking the win and DJ getting another ‘nearly’ to his name. I expect him to be out to make amends for both of these close calls this week and think he’ll get close. He’s playing some great golf and I think he’s drawn a line under his problems (pun very much intended by the way).

My third and final choice this week is going to be the world’s greatest major-stalker. Mr Jason Day has been slowly creeping up on a major championship for a few years now and he just has to take one soon. Another close call at The Open Championship this year (how could he leave that putt on 18 short?!) but it’s close. He won the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey a couple of weeks ago too so he’s going to be feeling good too.

We also have other stories this week in the return of Rory McIlroy to competition. I sincerely hope he knows how stupid that ‘kick-about’ was. He says he’s feeling good and I expect him to put in a decent showing this week. We also have Tiger playing this week and with his much-improved showing at The Quicken Loans National he’ll be feeling pretty good. He says he’s not focused on winning this week but it would certainly be nice to see him make another cut and put some good scores together.

Sit back, grab a beer and take in the final chapter of major golf in the 2015 season. It’s been another good year for major golf and I’m expecting some good stuff.