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I’m going to step outside the short end of the set this morning, and talk about the “first scoring club” – your driver. Good drivers of the ball have a much easier time of this game, as it is a huge advantage to approach greens from the fairway than the rough, even if you are not that long. I have advised many times that if you have to drop back to a 3-wood off the tee to keep it in play, your scores will invariably come down. So, check the testosterone and play better . . . if you can.
But a big part of hitting good drives is the tool you use to do it, and unfortunately, off-the-rack drivers are not “tuned” to optimize their performance. Let me explain.
If you purchase a driver from one of the top brands, realize that you got one of 250-400,000 – or more – that they made that year. Knowing that production is ramped up for the spring season, these companies build 30-50,000 drivers per month, or 1,500-2,500 per day, 250-400 an hour. These are assembly line clubs, (the only way to produce that many) and as such, they have some procedural tolerance built into the process. One of those is that shafts are installed with the graphics up, down or sideways on every club. That’s the standard.
The problem with that is that graphite shafts all have a “spine”, where one side is thicker than the others. That spine determines exactly how the shaft loads and unloads during the swing. And no shaft company aligns their graphics with any orientation to the spine, so you have no idea where it is on the shaft.
When we build a driver for ourselves or friends in our custom shop, we always locate the spine so that we know the club will load and unload in a straight line as the clubhead approaches impact. If it is not located that way, the club can actually “jump” in that final unloading, as much as 1/2-3/4 of an inch. That’s half the effective impact zone.
That’s been a puzzling thing to me about these drivers that have the adjustable hosel where you can rotate the shaft to achieve various “specs”. We’ve tested them, and when you rotate the shaft, you also change how that shaft will perform in the swing. So, finding the “right spot” is almost impossible.
Think about your driver this way. What other mechanical device on earth accelerates from 0 to 100+ miles per hour in less than 10’ of travel and .2 of a second? Even the most minute glitch in that club’s specifications and performance can have a major impact.
So, there’s the “problem”, but I’m not going to leave you without a solution. If you have a driver that you like the looks of, take it to a qualified independent clubfitter to have it measured and evaluated. He can pull the shaft and re-orient it into the head to improve your club’s performance dramatically. It’s like having your tires balanced or wheels aligned – it just works wonders.
Today’s post is kind of a follow-up to last week’s article about the transition. In that, I explained that one of the most common errors I see golfers make is that they start the downswing too quickly, trying to gain clubhead speed too soon. I suggested that most golfers would improve their ball-striking consistency immediately by making a smoother transition from the top of the backswing and letting the club accelerate all the way to and through impact.
So today I’m staying “on topic” a bit and want to address the overall swing speed when you are hitting chips and pitches, even putts.
IMHO, one of the most overused and abused pieces of golf advice is that which tells us to “accelerate through the ball”. Not that this is a bad thing . . . all teachers agree that the club should be on a constant acceleration from the start of the downswing to and through impact. But from my observation, the vast majority of golfers are taking the whole bottle of that advice, instead of just one or two pills.
Think of it like this. You pull up to a stop light next to a little old lady in her 1978 Cadillac. You, being a young guy in your hot car, punch it when the light turns green and leave her in your dust. But she, who gradually pushes the accelerator and takes a full block to get back up to the 30 mph speed limit also accelerated the entire way. That’s how I see the proper acceleration of the clubhead when you are chipping and pitching.
The short game is precision work, and when you do anything else in your life which requires precision . . . . you work S- -L- -O – -W. The short game should be no different. If you throttle your entire swing speed way back . . . slower backswing, slower transition, slower downswing . . . you will find that you can be much more precise in your contact and distance control.
Just a short practice session, even in your backyard, will show you what I mean. Take a few balls and see how slowly you can hit some short chips and pitches. Try to create a tempo that feels like a turtle or snail. Slow motion even. Practice swinging the club slower and slower and watch what happens. Then take that to the practice area at your course.
If you work on slowing down your entire tempo around the greens, you will be much more precise in your technique and results. And then, the bonus comes from the fact that this new slower tempo will find its way into the rest of your game and all shots will begin to get better.
I promise you.
In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood areas of the golf swing is the transition from backswing to downswing, but I don’t read much on this in the golf publications. So, here’s my take on the subject.
Whether it’s a short putt, chip or pitch, half wedge, full iron or driver swing, there is a point where the club’s motion in the backswing has to come to a complete stop – even if for just a nano-second – and reverse direction into the forward swing. What makes this even more difficult is that it is not just the club that is stopping and reversing direction, but the entire body from the feet up through the body core, shoulders, arms and hands.
In my observation, most golfers have a transition that is much too quick and jerky, as they are apparently in a hurry to generate clubhead speed into the downswing and through impact. But, just as you (hopefully) begin your backswing with a slow take-away from the ball, a proper start to the downswing is also a slower move, starting from this complete stop and building to maximum clubhead speed just past impact. If you will work on your transition, your ball striking and distance will improve, as will your accuracy on your short shots and putts. Let’s start there.
With pitches, chips and putts, your primary objective is to apply just the exact amount of force to propel the ball the desired distance. In order to do that, you move the club slower, as that allows more precision. I like to think of the pendulum on a grandfather clock as my guide to tempo and transition. As the weight goes back and forth, it comes to a complete stop at each end, and achieves maximum speed at the exact bottom of the arc. If you put that picture in your head when you chip and putt, you will develop a tempo that forces a smooth transition at the end of the backswing.
The idea is to achieve a gradual acceleration from the end of the backswing to the point of impact, but the whole swing is likely much slower than yours is currently. Do not be in a hurry to force this acceleration, as that causes a quick jab with the hands, because the shoulder rotation and slight body rotation cannot move that quickly from its end-of-backswing rotation. Drawing on that grandfather clock visual, hold your wedge or putter by the very end of the grip with two fingers, and get it moving like the clock pendulum – back and through. Watch the tempo and transition and try to mimic that with your chipping tempo. No faster, no slower.
A great exercise is to have a friend hold a club in this manner right in front of you while you are practicing your chipping stroke and try to “shadow” that motion with your swings. You will likely find that your transition is much too fast and jerky to give you the results you are after. But practice this and your short range transition will become really solid and repeatable. From there, it’s just a matter of extending the length of the swing to mid-range pitches, full short irons, mid-irons, fairway woods and driver – all while feeling for that gradual transition that makes for great timing, sequencing and tempo.
One of the driving forces behind the development of our new SCOR4161 line of precision scoring clubs is the current state of the golf equipment industry, specifically irons. The way the manufacturers have played with lofts and shaft lengths over the years — driven by the almost maniacal quest for added distance with every club in the bag – has made it practically impossible to assign any meaning at all to the numbers on the clubs.
One of our principals of the SCOR4161 concept is that every golfer should have consistent full-swing distance gapping throughout their set. What that means is that you should be able to make a reasonable full swing with each club and rely on a distance that is 12-15 yards longer than the next shorter club, and shorter than the next longer club. But for most golfers, when they get to the shorter end of the set, this gapping becomes inconsistent, because their wedges are not synchronized with their irons. Here’s why:
In the early 1970s, lofts and lengths on irons were pretty much standard across the various brands. 9-irons, for example, were generally 44-45 degrees and about 35.25” long. Pitching wedges were 49-50 degrees and ¼” shorter. You “pitched” the ball with your “pitching wedge”. And you could change from one brand of irons to another and get pretty much the same distance from your clubs.
But, as perimeter-weighted irons made their way into the marketplace, and the equipment companies found that “longer, farther, faster” would sell golf clubs, they began to take liberties with these “standards”. Lofts slowly crept downward for any given number, moving 9-irons down to the low 40-degree range in many models. As “P-clubs” moved down to 47-48 degrees, the popular “gap” wedge of 52 degrees became popular to fill that gap between this and the sand wedge. What it really did was put a true “pitching wedge” back in the bag.
Fast forward to 2011, and the number on the bottom of the club has lost nearly all its meaning. We built a database of specifications on over 300 iron models as a foundation for our SCORFit process to calculate the right prescription for scoring clubs for any golfer. And the results were astounding.
In today’s marketplace, you can purchase sets of irons with a 9-iron ranging from 38 degrees of loft to 44 degrees of loft. “Standard” lengths of that club can range from 35.5” all the way up to almost 37”! So, the fact that you hit this new 9-iron nearly as long as your old “8” . . . is because this new 9-iron IS your old 8!
So, if you hit all your new irons longer than the old ones, what do you hit from those shorter distances that used to be a “P-club” shot?
The point is that unless you know what your 9-iron IS, you have no way to put together the right set of wedges to optimize your short range performance. But once you do know what your “9-iron” is, then you can seek out the right arsenal of wedges that will complement the specifications and full-swing distance.
If you are serious about your golf, you should know your equipment. This off season, visit a qualified custom club shop and have them build you a chart of your entire set, from driver to highest-lofted wedge. Know the length, loft, lie angle, shaft frequency, swingweight, overall weight . . . everything. Then sit back and chart your comfortable full-swing yardages with each club. Be honest! And light bulbs will go off as to where you can improve your arsenal to improve your scoring.
My money is on the fact that it’s the short end of the set.
I’m going to start today by congratulating Rickie Fowler on his first tour win. It wasn’t on the PGA Tour — it came in the Korean Open – but he beat the likes of Open Champion Rory McIlroy by six shots. A win is a win. Kudos, Rickie!
The interesting story to me about his win was that he made a significant change in his wedge selection in the weeks prior. For most of his brief career, Rickie has played a 47, 53 and 59 degree wedge. With his power, those 6 degree gaps left him with 20 yards or more between clubs. I’m consistent in expressing my belief that’s just too much to leave to chance and feel in prime scoring range.
Well, maybe he read a few WedgeGuy articles, because he recently added a fourth wedge to close up those gaps. His new configuration – which he used to win his first tournament – is 47/51/55 and 60. Those 4-degree gaps (except for the last) had to give him much better distance control inside 140 yards or so – however far he hits that 47.
I’m consistent in my preaching that most golfers are carrying too many long clubs and too few scoring clubs. No matter what your handicap, you’ll beat the golf course with your high-lofted clubs. Yet I see the strongest players carrying 5-6 clubs that go over 200 yards and only 2-3 that go under 135-150. That just doesn’t make sense, even on the long courses they play. If you will build your gaps to be consistent, so that your full swings deliver distance differences of not more than 12-15 yards between clubs, you will be much more effective in scoring range. Period.
And you do that by playing the exact lofts that will blend from whatever your iron lofts might be. In the market today, we see 9-iron ranging from a low of 38 degrees to a high of 44. You have to know what you have in your bag in order to build the exactly right set of wedges for you. In addition, having the right shafts in them will optimize your feel and performance and you should demand precise custom-fitting to your own personal specifications for length, lie angle and grip size.
If you will give the same attention to your scoring clubs that you’ve given to the drivers and putters you’ve purchased the past ten years, your handicap will come down. Guaranteed.
WARNING: Shameless Plug to Follow!
And I’m sorry, but I just cannot help noting that the article that shared this information about Rickie’s wedge change went on to say that he got those lofts – from the leading wedge brand in the market – by bending a 48 to 47, a 50 to 51 and a 54 to 55. Avoiding that kind of compromising of wedge designs is a core principle of our new SCOR4161 precision scoring clubs. We make every loft from 41 to 61 degrees, so you’ll always get exactly “what the doctor ordered” in the way of loft precision. No bending, no compromising. I invite you all to visit our website – www.scorgolf.com – to see what this revolutionary approach to scoring club set make-up is all about.
Thanks for letting me slip that in. Gotta pay the bills occasionally.
As I observe many golfers around the greens . . . including myself . . . one of the most glaring errors in short game technique that I see is the collapsing left arm at and through impact – the dreaded “chicken wing”. Whenever I hit an awful short shot, it invariably ends up in this unsound breaking down of the left side firmness through the impact zone. And it is something you NEVER see in a tour level player.
I collect photos from the golf magazines that illustrate the position of the best players just after impact and into the follow-through on their greenside scoring shots. I think there is a huge amount to be learned by these photos. But the two things that always stand out to me the most are 1) the consistent angle formed by the clubs and forearms – impact copies address – and 2), the firmness of the left arm well into the follow-through.
As for the former, that angle formed by the arms and shaft at address is what puts the club in the proper position so that the sole can work to its best design advantage as it makes contact with the turf or sand. If the angle is allowed to shallow out as the club is brought into the impact zone — i.e. the arms and shaft form more of a straight line – then the angle of the club’s sole changes in relation to the ground and the entire “geometry” of impact is compromised.
The principle that ensures this angle remains constant is the firmness of the left arm until well after impact. Try this practice tip. Set up to hit some soft chip shots and focus on the left arm only. Lighten your right grip so that your fingers are barely feeling the golf club – it’s just along for the ride. Take the club back and through with your left arm totally in control. Make the left arm take the club back and return exactly through its address position, hanging naturally from your shoulders.
And don’t let that left arm break at all through impact. Just feel the left arm swinging the club back and through, like a pendulum. Forget “accelerate through the ball” – put the picture in your mind of a grandfather clock’s pendulum . . . back and through . . . back and through.
What you’ll find is that to keep the left arm firm through impact demands that you also rotate your body core through impact. Poor short game shots occur when you stop your core rotation prior to impact, the right hand takes over, which in turn forces the left arm to break down. The results are not pretty at all.
Take a few balls into the backyard and practice this. Get the feel for the firm left arm being totally in control of your delicate greenside shots and you will see immediate improvement.