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The Man Behind the Putter

I’ve been toying with my putter grip and changing out putters during the last couple of years. I owned only one putter for many years, a classic Wilson 8802 blade – it has a name, “The Great Santini” – I still have him. I was always an “it’s the man, not the putter” believer. I don’t know when exactly that changed, but now I own several putters (and a PING putter collection to boot) and have switched game putters out about 6 or 7 times in the last 4 years. What’s going on and why did I stray?

I have only started playing real tournament golf the last few years. Before that I basically stayed at my home course and played the same greens throughout a season. They tended to be of average speed, not fast but sometimes slow. It is easy to become accustomed to conditions and comfortable with putt speeds when you play the same course all of the time. As I graduated to tournament golf I found myself putting terribly because routinely I was playing greens much faster than I was used to. Putting stroke faults seem to really amplify on fast greens. I would blow putts by 4 or 5 feet or leave them alternatively well short. My feel for fast greens was not there, so naturally it couldn’t be me…it must be the putter!

I’ve used a PING iN half mallet for awhile, a PING Crazee (my wife calls it Mickey Mouse), a Rife two bar mallet, a Rife Martinique (Anser style), and now a Scotty Cameron Laguna. I have also moved to a course that has fast greens as the norm, and sometimes they are REALLY fast. I am working on my putting faults and I have committed to a single putter – the Rife Martinique. So, how do I fix my faults? Both speed (pace) and direction have been suffering – nice. I have been missing an inordinate number of 3 and 4 footers! It has not been uncommon for me to have 3 or 4 lip outs a round. Man!

I don’t have the yips, I feel comfortable over the ball, but my putting has not been working well. So, I did a little research about putting basics to include the putting grip. Seems there are as many opinions on the grip as there are putter styles. I keep finding that putting is an “individual thing” and that I should improve upon what feels comfortable to me. OK. Not so much help. Then I found an article by Joe Sullivan on GolfLink.com that resonated with me and I am trying it out, so far with pretty good results. The article (http://www.golflink.com/golf-tips/tips/sullivan018.aspx) suggested that one might consider Corey Pavin’s style of gripping the putter. It is simply and essentially to hold the putter in your hands with the palms facing out (away from you). This makes it impossible for your wrists to break down and creates a nice “Y” for you to use your shoulders to move the club head. Combining this with good fundamentals such as eyes over the ball, forearms in line with the putter, and more thoughtful green reading and it is getting better.

I have taken it out on the course a couple of times and find my distance control has improved dramatically. Direction is coming, but I am still making some subtle adjustments to the grip to get it “locked in.” First I had both thumbs down the center of the grip, but now I have my left thumb over my right hand middle fingers and my right thumb down the centerline. Also trying less right index finger trigger, seems to inadvertently steer at times. I need to eliminate that. And finally, for the first time, my putting grip has an interlocking grip.
I am at a stage now where repetition and practice must take over. I am excited about my improved distance control and improved 3-4 foot putt accuracy. My goal is to eliminate three putts – a round killer every time! I will probably not reach the 100% accuracy on 3 foot putts Luke Donald managed to execute the 2011 season, but I think I should make at least 8 or 9 out of 10 anyway.

Interestingly, in light of the long/belly putter these days, it’s not for me. I have toyed with them at golf shops and they never felt “right.” In addition, I am of the opinion that you should not be allowed to affix the putter against your body. Besides, if you believe the data derived by Marius Filmalter (great name) in his article in the Jan 2012 Golf Magazine, the results of a switch from short to long putter wouldn’t make much difference anyway. His “long-standing teaching philosophy” is that “every golfer has a signature stroke pattern that’s so hard-wired it’s impossible to change it with a simple putter switch.”

So, “thumbs up” to the Pavin grip. It is, in fact, the man not the putter. And, Santini, you may be back in the bag someday, but I’m not ready for you yet.

Poor Man’s Club Fitting

When I was young and drinking (I quit when I turned 50 last year), I came up with a cocktail that is perfect for hot summer afternoons, I call it the Poor Man’s Margarita.  Great for those moments right after mowing the yard in 90 degree heat.  It’ll take the edge off the pending heat stroke, take your mind of the chigger bites, and give you another reason to be dizzy.  Oh yeah… it’s good.  The drink is made by mixing a shot of tequila in a glass of iced Fresca.  Sometimes a little more tequila than that, it depends on how many you’ve already had prior to mixing this one.  As you probably know, Fresca is a carbonated lime aid drink of sorts and tastes somewhat like, well a little like anyway, a margarita mixed with 7 up.  Yes, Fresca is still available, but you have to look for it.  Throw in an optional slice of lime and you have a perfect and easy drink for a hot afternoon, but never use salt.  Why do I bring this up?   Well, like making a real margarita can be a bit expensive and getting the right mix of ingredients can be tedious, club fitting can be expensive and tedious as well.  Like I usually opted for the Poor Man’s version of the drink, in club fitting I have also opted for the poor man’s version for my irons.  I’ll explain.

I have been doing a bit of research into the variables involved with proper club fitting.  I am not an expert, but I am a weekend golf warrior and know just enough to be dangerous and this is what I know.  Follow me here…  You’ll contact your local pro or fitting expert and get a quote for an iron fitting, driver fitting, putter fitting, or all of the above.  The costs can range from $300 down to about $100 depending upon the technology used and the fittings desired.  I’m sure there are those who will fit you for more $, but I have a place I trusted and $300 is what they charge now for the ‘full monty.’  Let’s just say you go for an iron fitting.  When you go for the fitting they will measure your height, arm length, wrist to ground distance, and the span of your hand to start the process.  This will give them a starting point for a grip size, shaft length from standard, and the appropriate lie angle.  You’ll get a couple of clubs – say 7 irons of differing makes – and hit some balls from a lie board.  Based on the marks on the taped sole of the clubs from the lie board he will refine a lie angle to your swing (assuming there is a club with the length shaft you require!).  Now that you have the right lie angle and length shaft, you’ll hit some balls to determine your swing speed which will give the pro an idea of the shaft type you require.  By shaft type, I mean should it be a regular flex shaft, a stiff flex shaft, and so on.  It can also be either graphite or steel, but for the purposes here, let’s just say steel.  Here’s where the technology comes in.  He may have a custom sensor golf simulator package that when you hit a ball will tell him club speed, launch angle, ball speed off the club face, spin rate, distance, shot shape, shot dispersion, which testicle hangs lower in the follow through, and the list goes on.  Now the pro will tell you that there are no industry standards to shaft flex.  A Ping stiff may not be a Mizuno stiff (if they are different shaft makers), that is, one may be subtly softer than another .  So, if you are getting fitted because you are looking to reshaft an existing set or order new,  he will recommend you get the shafts frequency matched and spined.  Oh yeah, you’ll also of course need shafts with the correct kick point (oh I am sorry we call it ‘bend profile’ now) so that you get the correct shot trajectory.  So now we have chosen the maker and flex of the shafts and will frequency match them.  The pro (or company you order from) will individually fit the shaft on an apparatus that attaches to the butt end extending the shaft horizontally so that the tip is free and unattached.  He will then put a standard weight on the tip, pull it down a standard distance and it will begin to oscillate.  The oscillation rate is measured on each shaft to determine stiffness.  Depending on the rate of oscillation and desired stiffness, the pro will then enter into a process called tipping.  He will cut the correct amount of shaft to length from the butt and the tip to establish the desired oscillations which will translate into the desired frequency or stiffness.  Once that is complete, he then spines the shaft.  Spining is accounting for inaccuracies in manufacturing of the shaft where stiffness may be different depending upon the side of the shaft that must bend during the swing.  He is effectively finding the spine of the shaft so that when the club head is attached, the spine is in the appropriate position.  Does your head hurt?  Do you want a stiff Poor Man yet?

Now, let me give you the poor man’s version.  You already own a set of irons, but you are not quite sure they are right for you.  Let’s take a look at a website that will help us out.  A great site for this is the PING website: http://www.ping.com/fitting/default.aspx.  They have a terrific web fitting program you can use to get you into the ballpark for grip size, shaft length, lie angle and stiffness for all of your clubs – irons, driver, etc…all you have to do is get someone to assist you in the measurements (it can be difficult to get accurate measurements by yourself).  Based on these measurements the program will recommend shaft length, grip size, and will give you a color code for lie angle –  the associated lie angle is available on the site that follows..ie…white is equal to 3 degrees upright and so on (http://www.ping.com/pdfs/PING_Color_Code_Chart.pdf).  Now if you were like me, you took the advice of a friend, bought irons off the shelf several years ago and have been playing with them since.  I bought a set of PING i3’s, black dot and standard length.  It turns out I require white dot (+ 3 degrees upright) and plus a ¼” to ½” in length.  That my friends is a great deal of difference.  Okay, so I sent my PING i3’s to PING and had them bent to a white standard (they can bend them max about 3 degrees because they are cast, not forged).  I did not change the shafts.  I have JZ Stiff which are correct for me, but a little short.  I went to the Golfworks website, purchased some simple shaft…don’t laugh…butt plugs and added ½” in length and regripped them myself with standard size golf pride New Decade Multicompound (half cords) – the size grip PING recommended.  Now I haven’t had the shafts spined, oscillated, frequency matched, tipped, dipped, or slathered in rattlesnake oil (although the rattlesnake oil sounds kind of cool) and I have been hitting these irons unbelievably well since the changes.  These i3’s are so much more satisfying to hit, and the extra length of the shaft and better fit has translated into added distance for every club!  Nice.  One other thing to note.  For every ½” you add to the shaft length, you will also add a couple of points of swing weight.  Most modern irons come off the shelf at about a D1 swing weight.  Add ½” and they will be at about a D3.  I found the difference to actually feel better.  If you are buying new clubs, but do the fitting yourself, then you can specify swing weight desired and they will manage it. 

Maybe someday I will have a more detailed fitting done and shafts frequency matched for my swing…maybe… someday.  But for now, I will try and do it or arrange for club changes myself.  So, I would at this point when I was about 28, fix myself a Poor Man’s and sip it in celebration of a poor man’s fitting well executed.  But alas, I am not 28 and no longer a drinking man so I will merely bask in the pungent odor of Golfworks’ environmentally safe grip tape solvent and dream of birdies to come.

2011 PGA Merchandise Show: Great Expectations

I had the great pleasure of attending the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida this year, a first for my wife and me.  This year was the 58th PGA Merchandise Show and it was very exciting and absolutely huge!  I have attended many major defense industry shows during my 28 years in the military and this rivaled all and outdid most.  There were companies there from the very largest to the newest start-ups.  In addition to the merchandising, there were also seminars, media opportunities, demo opportunities, and much more.   

“Nearly 42,000 PGA Professionals and industry executives from every U.S. state and 88 countries filled nearly 10 miles of aisles while previewing the latest products and writing orders from nearly 1,000 golf companies and brands, Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 27-29, at the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.   All of golf’s best names in golf manufacturing joined with its brightest stars for equipment introductions, product testing, fashion presentations, industry announcements, a series of education seminars and networking special events to set the tone for golf business in 2011.”  (PGA Merchandise Show Press Release)

We arrived late Friday and stayed through Saturday afternoon.  Our plan was to go and just check things out – I had no great expectations.  I wasn’t sure what story line I would take for this blog, so we just waded in.  The PGA Merchandise Show was a first class event – from the constant running shuttle busses to and from nearby hotels to the extremely well organized system of assistance and credentialing of attendees and everything in between.  The floor layout made sense, organized categorically with apparel at one end to the indoor range facilities on the other.  My wife and I were mesmerized by the size and scope of it all…well, I was mesmerized, she was just curious and hoping I wouldn’t want to buy anything for myself. 

As I said, we attended without a specific plan except to know that there would likely be lots to talk about here in the blog.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew there would be all the new golf technologies available to inspect, hold, and talk about first hand with industry representatives.  While all that was interesting, as I wandered the aisles I found myself particularly drawn to the booths of some small companies with some great, interesting, and wonderfully simple ideas. 

I have always been a gadget guy.  When I walk through a store and see a gadget I haven’t seen before, I will stop and take a look.  There were lots of gadgets to be seen at the PGA Merchant Show.  But there were a few that stood out for me. 

Get SQRD Up!  As you may imagine, there were all manner of alignment tools on display at the Show.  The gadgets designed for alignment could have been a show unto itself!  Alignment sticks of every imaginable color and style – how many ways can you market a stick?!  There were also alignment tools to attach to your putter or iron.  There were alignment tools with lines, plastic boards, and mirrors.  Then I happened upon the one that struck that “why didn’t I think of that” cord in my mind.  Mike and Randy Bowman of SQDRUP have developed an alignment tool that integrates portability and simplicity with laser technology.  (Photo)

SQRD Up - Portable Laser Alignment

SQRD Up - Portable Laser Alignment

Mike told me he was using the crossing lines in his driveway to work on his set up and alignment one day when he realized that he could create something with lasers that he could take and use on the practice range to achieve the same kind of sight picture.  He built the prototype in Randy’s basement and they created the business and website just in time for the PGA Merchandise Show.  Tap on the top to the T-Shaped device with your club and the lasers come on.  They stay on for a period of time and then automatically turn off.  Another tap on the top of the device with the club and the lasers are back on.  The key word here is SIMPLE.  No bending over to adjust sticks, just set the device down and align it with your target and you’re swinging away.  Does it work in the sunlight – YES.  Mike and Randy will make them available on their website very soon.  From the interest I saw at the show, you may see them available retail right away!  (www.sqrdup.com)

Look for “the Mully!  As I was walking through the labyrinth of products this thing just jumped out at me.  Brothers Jeff, Rick, and Matt Mullen and their pal Darrin say “Don’t Play Dirty!”  They have, within the past month, fine-tuned a terrific product and managed to debut it at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show.  The product – the Mully – is a small golf towel attached to a thin retractable cable that you can attach to your belt.  You merely reach back for it, pull it forward, wipe off your club and let go.  It retracts back into position and away you go onto the next thing.  What a simple yet elegant idea for golfers.  (Photo)

The Mully

The Mully

Born from recurring discussions on their annual golf trip together through the years, the brothers finally created the product and established the company.  The Mully’s debut has created great interest from a major retail sporting goods chain.  There are also companies at the PGA Merchandise Show who showed interest in the product as a company logo’d gift for golf outings and marketing at other events.  The bottom line is this is a product that I know I will use on the golf course and I believe most golfers will like it as well.  The key word is SIMPLE.  Check out the website for more information on purchasing and logo/color options.(www.themullytowel.com)

Hang onto your head cover with CoverGuard.  Alan Codkind, Founder and CEO of Visioneering Sports Products has developed a very simple, yet effective method for preventing accidental loss of your head covers.  The product clips to the head cover(s) and tethers them either together or to hardware on your golf bag.  There is another clip mechanism to detach a single cover from the tether if you like.  (Photo)

CoverGuard

CoverGuard

I, for one, have been the victim of the falling putter cover.  How frustrating is it to be walking the course only to find you must walk back a few hundred yards to recover your putter cover?  Worst yet, you find it is missing, retrace your tracks in your cart and can’t find it at all.  Just peak behind your local pro shop’s counter and you will probably see a box full of lost head covers.  I have the clips on my bag now.  It is a great idea and again, the key word is SIMPLE.  Check out the website – you may purchase the clips in different numbered sets and many different colors to match your bag’s color scheme.  (www.visioneeringsports.com)

It appears that I have succeeded in my quest for a theme for our visit to this great show this year.  If you haven’t figured it out, I am a champion of the underdog and the little guy.  Heck, I think of myself as one of those guys.  But you know, however small these ideas may seem on the surface, you have to admit that they are the kind that make you wonder “why didn’t I think of that?!”  I like smart and simple and these products are certainly smart and simple.  These entrepreneurs have proven that there are still untapped opportunities out there in the golf industry, amazing as it may seem.  Yes, there are lots of golf gadget ideas that get introduced that are crazy or in the “what’s the point” category.  But, at least in this PGA Merchandise Show’s world of big companies and high technology, these guys have proven that there still is a place for the little guy with “great expectations.”

EBAY and Golf Equipment

OK – Ebay can be a bit risky.  I ordered the Cleveland CG1’s with the “Tour Issued” heads and “Tour Issued” shafts I talked about in the last post and received them fairly quickly.  They are beautifully set up with near perfect heads (marks only on the sweet spot – a great golfer had these heads), beautiful silver graphite shafts with a blue Project X logo, and blue and black half cord grips from Golf Pride (the kind I use now).  I was excited to hit them!  I went out to the range the next day (yesterday) during lunch prepared to make an objective assessment of them.  I already own the Hogan APEX’s with wonderful Graphite Design GAT 95 shafts – but they launch a little high.  I was looking for a little lower trajectory.  I hit the 7 iron 3 or 4 times…lookin’ good.  I then hit the 5 iron 3 times and the head flew off!  As I walked the 40 yards or so into the range to retrieve the head I was beginning a slow burn.  Calming myself, of course then I began the second guessing game…were these the real shafts?  Who is this guy anyway? 

The guy I bought the irons from seemed genuinely surprised when I told him about my experience with the irons he sold me.  He told me admittedly that he had kept them in the garage the last 6 months in the cold (Georgia).  He is refunding my money.  I am sending them back today.  Happy ending except for time and a little expense with postage.  I will use the process at EBay to ensure all know how this went down. 

I have had a lot of luck with EBay in both selling and buying golf equipment.  They do an excellent job of keeping people honest and structuring the process so that people police themselves.  They also have process and means to arbitrate when – if the deal goes bad for some reason – the buyer and seller get together and cannot come to an agreement to settle.   I have never had to go through this process myself, but my wife has.  I believe she was happy with the outcome. Someone had agreed to buy a product, the highest bid, and then did not pay.  The problem with that is that there were people this person outbid who would have paid.  Through arbitration, EBay allowed the next highest bidder to pay the high bid price if they desired and they did…everyone was happy in the end, but not without a little angst.

You can find some really terrific deals on EBay, but you have to know details about what you want to buy.  I always back up information with some internet research prior to pressing the “Buy It” button.  I also try and provide detailed background information, precise condition information on the specific product, and detailed photos when I sell.  To be truthful, I had a little voice talking to me about these irons.  Project X does not illustrate iron shafts in graphite on their website, however, there are some recently fielded models of irons that come with Project X graphite shafts – Nike is one of them.  Since they are “Tour Issue” I suppose I gave the benefit of the doubt that they were pre-fielding shafts…but of course, they could be “pulls” put into CG1 heads.  Likely, the case is the latter since I had the experience I did with the 5 iron.  A well mounted shaft should never let go of the head like that…even if it sat outside in the elements of Rhode Island, let alone in a garage in Georgia.  Lesson learned and little voice – I’ll try and listen to you next time.

Hogan Radial Irons (Circa. 1983-89)

I recently bought a set of Hogan Radial irons (1-E or Wedge with APEX 4 Shaft) on EBay for $200.  They looked to be in great condition.  The primary purpose was to simply have as a collectable and hit occasionally.  When they arrived I was pleasantly relieved to see the ad for the clubs was accurate – they were like new!  On a practice round for the Virgina Senior Open, I took out the 7 iron and hit twice from the fairway.  To my astonishment, I hit that forged iron perfectly both times landing within 15 feet of the pin the first time and 5 feet the second.  I began wondering about putting them in the bag immediately, but didn’t.  It was too soon.

What a terrific and beautiful set of irons! I have always been a PING man – Eye2’s, I3’s, and I10’s, but wanted to try my hand with a forged iron.  I have played a couple of rounds with them after spending a little time with them on the range. What a treat! Since they are ‘vintage’ the lofts aren’t quite what I am accustomed to in more modern clubs. I had the lofts checked and the gaps weren’t consistent and weak by modern standards, so I had them bent to modern lofts and with consistent gaps. No problems with that process. I couldn’t get past the number on the club, I want my numbers to match what I am used to…I know, I know, but there it is.  The grips were like new, but too large so I changed them to smaller half cords for about $100.  I am excited to test them with the adjusted lofts tomorrow at Bide-A-Wee and then again on Sunday in a VSGA single-day tournament.  I have hit them at the range since the changes and they still feel great!  More later…

I love the weight of these clubs, although I do not know the exact swing weight. I can really feel the clubhead throughout the swing. Reviews I have read have it right, the irons feel great, the long irons are relatively easy to hit…I even found myself hitting 1 iron after 1 iron on the range with great results…it was just FUN. 

I did a little more research on the irons and found a terrific website and link that provides the history of all of Mr. Hogan’s irons. 

My Set:  1987-89 Forged Radials (Underlined) (2-9), 1 iron and E are 1983-86 Forged Radials (no Underline). 

http://www.callawaygolfpreowned.com/ben-hogan-clubs/ben-hogan-clubs,default,sc.html?gcid=s006

 

Chips and Putts

–  Congratulations to “Roar-y” McIlroy on his win at Quail Hollow in Charlotte!  That was the kind of finish I think we all love to see.  A terrific talent, I have his swing sequence on power point (and a few others).   As I turn 50 this summer, I doubt I can get his full turn in, but his move to the ball is spectacular.

–  Update on Hogan instruction and my progress.  I am going out most days at lunch and either hitting balls, chipping, or playing nine.  Marked improvement since my “epiphany” last post.  My key swing thought is Hogan’s shoulder to chin key.  You may recall he stated in his book that it got so that he would wear out the left shoulder of his golf shirts.  When I am doing that, I am really striking the ball.  I am finally getting a turn in that means something.  I was having real issues with my 3 wood, but since the swing key I have been killing it.  I am letting the swing happen and it feels great!

–  Trying out a new ball.  Srixon Z-STAR.  I was previously using the Pro V1x.  The Srixon ball feels markedly softer, yet it is at least as long as the Pro V1x  and even seems a bit longer…it may be the swing improvement though.  It seems to spin more, I get more zip on short wedge shots (100 yards and in) than my Pro V1x.  Srixon’s website has the following to say about the Z-STAR:

  • Contains a large, varying stiffness core (Energetic Gradient Growth Core Technology), providing high ball speed and low spin off the driver, resulting in longer drives
  • The Z-STAR’s enhanced Powershear® dimple technology keeps ball flight straight and long even in windy conditions
  • Iron impacts feel soft and pure, providing a tour-proven response
  • Players wanting more spin on approach shots will benefit from the Z-STAR’s thin, soft urethane cover

I concur with the soft feel, wind play, and more spin.  The length may be attributable to a better swing, but maybe not.  The price is right, about $10 less a dozen than Pro V1x has convinced me to switch.  Uh oh, just got a notice that Andy Giles, the pro at Bide-A-Wee (number 1 Muni in Virginia!), is sponsoring the Bridgestone people in a couple of weeks for “ball fittings.”   More later on that!

–  The Players this week.  Chris’ prediction – “Young gun” week again…Mickelson…another second…Tiger…favorite on the Golf Channel…wild card in my book until he fixes “getting stuck.”

–  We all love weddings, don’t we?  I missed playing golf this past weekend because I traveled with my wife and daughter to a wedding Saturday in Pennsylvania.  OK…I took some “executive time” Friday afternoon to make up for it (and shot 75 – thanks Mr. Hogan).  We are friends of the bride and her parents, the lovely girl she is, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the extended family, the groom, and his family.  It seems, that on that day like on the golf course, I met some terrific people.  Lots of baseball coaches, tennis players, and guys who just want to hit a golf ball better.  Funny how in a conversation with athletes these days, no matter their age and no matter the venue, the talk eventually moves toward golf.  It is a common theme these days.  Like “how ’bout those Bears” in times past.  Our best to AJ – the Groom and Jill-Bean – the Bride…what a wonderful adventure you have before you.  AJ, I think you need a lesson on the course…1 a side in a $5 nassau sounds about right.