The Local Knowlege

Gear & Equipment

Gap wedges, virtually a must for tour pros, can greatly benefit everyday players

By E. Michael Johnson

Adhering to expert advice is almost always a solid play. So when two of the game's more knowledgeable people agree on something, it's probably worth a listen.

bubba-watson-equipment.jpg
Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

In this instance I'm thinking of the late instructor Jim Flick and Titleist master wedge craftsman Bob Vokey. Flick once said that everyday players had such a difficult time with the half-shot that they would only hit the green one out of three tries from 40 to 70 yards. Vokey shares Flick's assessment of the half-shot's degree of difficulty and offers a solution.

"I can't begin to tell you how crucial gapping in wedges is," said Vokey. "Most everyday players have little idea about the loft gaps with their wedges. They just take a pitching wedge and sand wedge and go. In the old days that was OK because most pitching wedges were around 51 degrees. But now they're 45 to 47 degrees while the sand wedge has stayed at 56. That's a two-plus club difference because now the pitching wedge is essentially the loft of a 9-iron."

To combat that, Vokey recommends a loft gap between 4 and 6 degrees. So if you have a 46-degree pitching wedge, you would want to add wedges with either 52 and 58 degrees of loft or 50, 54 and 58 degrees depending on whether you wanted 4- or 6-degree spacing.

Related: 2014 Hot List: Wedges

Gap wedges generally range in loft from 50 to 54 degrees. In short, they are a compromise between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. At last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, only seven players (Aaron Baddeley, Robert Garrigus, Brian Gay, Danny Lee, Davis Love III, George McNeill and Rory Sabbatini) in the 120-player field did not have a wedge between 50 and 54 degrees in their bag, meaning 94 percent of the field did. A decade ago that number was about 60 percent.

Getting these clubs in players' bags, said Vokey, has not been a hard sell. Players have learned to embrace the importance of gap wedges.

"The last thing they want is that kind of space between their scoring clubs," said Vokey. "Why would you keep a 3-iron in the bag that you might use once a round when you can have a wedge you might use five times or more? In the beginning 52-degree wedges were popular, but then it started going all over -- 49, 51, 52, 54, you name it."

As players got longer, wedges became more important. A look at ShotLink data reveals that in 2004 the average proximity from the hole on fairway shots from 50 to 125 yards was 19 feet, 6 inches while in 2013 it was more than a foot closer at 18 feet, 5 inches. The number of players able to average inside 17 feet from that distance more than doubled between 2004 (13) and 2013 (34).

In recent years shots hit with gap wedges -- or shots that should have been hit with them -- have been among the more notable on tour. Bubba Watson's playoff boomerang with a 52-degree gap wedge that led to his Masters win in 2012 comes to mind. Then there's Phil Mickelson, who might own the career Grand Slam instead of the record for most runner-up finishes in U.S. Open history if he had pulled a gap wedge from his bag on the 13th hole at Merion GC during the final round of last year's U.S. Open.

"I hit a pitching wedge, and when I was drawing that shot I had too much club," said Lefty of the tee shot he hit at the 115-yard par 3. "I needed a gap wedge, and it would have been a better fit."

Related: Video: Customized wedges

All of which points to the benefit of gap wedges for tour players. But what about you, the everyday amateur? Vokey contends the advantages are even greater. "Tour pros hit 11 to 12 greens a round on average," said Vokey. "Everyday players don't want to admit it, but most are lucky to hit between two and four. That leaves a lot of shots inside 100 yards. Having specific clubs for those yardages is critical to being able to score."

In other words, if you haven't done so already, it's time to close the gap.

TOUR STORIES

matt-every-equipment.jpgMATT EVERY // A putter worth keeping

During his first few years on tour, Matt Every was like a lot of players struggling on the greens. He constantly switched putters, looking to find a "magic wand." That search included his using the memorable Orion Black Hawk to contend at the 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii -- a club with a mammoth rectangular-shaped head that weighed 440 grams (normal is between 340 and 365 grams) in an effort to increase stability through the stroke.

But like most putter changes, it was just a quick fix. Every ranked 87th in strokes gained/putting in 2012 and dipped to 120th last year. That led him to work on mechanics and setup, specifically abolishing his open stance, which often led to pushed putts, and adopting a more square setup. Doing so required him to find a putter he could release more easily. That led him to Odyssey's White Hot Pro #9 -- a semi-mallet that is 34 inches long with 2.5 degrees loft -- at the Honda Classic. The putter features a heavy toe hang that helps Every release the head through the ball. Every now stands fifth on tour in strokes gained/putting and with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his putter search may be over for a while.

NEW STUFF

callaway-mack-daddy-2-wedge.jpgCallaway Mack Daddy 2
PRICE: $120 (Lofts: 16 loft/bounce options)

The lower lofts have narrower grooves for less spin on full shots. Higher lofts have larger grooves for more spin. Matt Every used three of these wedges at Bay Hill.

CallawayGolf.com


BAG ROOM

Arnold Palmer Invitational champ Matt Every switched to a version of Callaway's Speed Regime 3 ball at Bay Hill. The five-piece ball, which is designed for those with swing speeds over 105 mph, worked well for Every, whose swing speed is 116 mph. . . . Patrick Reed has taken to using an old Ben Hogan persimmon driver as a practice tool. "It gives you good feedback on where you are with your swing," Reed said. . . . After switching to Odyssey's Versa Jailbird at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Keegan Bradley returned to the Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth belly putter he won the 2011 PGA Championship with at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bradley finished second at Bay Hill, ranking 19th in strokes gained/putting (he was ranked 96th in that stat coming into the event). . . . Paul Casey switched to Nike's VRS Covert 2.0 driver, saying the new club is "a little more forgiving" than his previous driver.


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Gear & Equipment

TaylorMade adds driving range to Times Square

NEW YORK -- Approximately 330,000 people wander through New York's Times Square each day. On Tuesday, TaylorMade hoped to make most of them golfers.

The company, which created a snowy white-out on a Manhattan street in 2011 for the launch of its first white driver the R11, constructed a driving range at the famed "Crossroads of the World" between 42nd and 43rd Streets to highlight a promotion for its SpeedBlade irons.

The "Speed Pocket World Challenge" also took place in three other cities (London, Toronto and San Francisco), with prospective customers getting the opportunity to demo the SpeedBlade 6-iron compared to other irons. A leader board captured golfers' stats and compared them to the results from events in the three other cities. A local winner will be named in each city, as well as an overall "Speed Pocket World Champion," who will receive a trip to the company's Kingdom clubfitting facility. (At noon Tuesday, the leader had picked up 38 yards over his previous irons.)

"It was really fun to try out the new clubs in a setting like this," said Jonathan Balangon of New York. "They usually only do this kind of thing at private country clubs."

Introduced last fall, the SpeedBlade irons are the company's second iteration of irons with a slot in the sole. The slot, called the "speed pocket," is designed to allow the club's thin face to flex at impact to create more ballspeed and a higher launch angle.  

Top-rated teacher Hank Haney and Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer also were part of the program. The good news is that after a rough weather start to the golf season the forecast for midday in Times Square of 50 degrees held true.
 

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Gear & Equipment

Hogan's secret? A hands-on approach to clubfitting

By E. Michael Johnson

In less than a month, some lucky collector is going to be the proud owner of a set of Ben Hogan's clubs that The Hawk used in 1953 when he won the Masters, U.S. and British Opens, because one of two sets used by Hogan that year is going up for auction (the other is owned by the USGA).

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Photo: Augusta National/Getty Images

What the winner will receive is not just a piece of history, but an intriguing set of sticks with so much variation from club to club that it might drive a modern-day player berserk.

That's because Hogan's clubs were from a time well before constant loft, lie and swingweight checks became routine. Manufacturing tolerances were almost an oxymoron. As such, Hogan worked on his clubs and whatever felt good to him is what he went with.

"He set his clubs up for feel so the specs are a little all over the place," said Tom Stites, now a consultant for Nike Golf who learned the art of club design from Hogan himself. "On today's golf courses a player would really dig into the turf with those 8- and 9-irons. Those clubs would be pretty tough to play. But back then when the turf was firmer they were perfectly good."

Related: Ben Hogan's Timeless Tips

That's because those 8- and 9-irons had zero bounce. Today, most clubs start with 1 degree bounce on the 3-iron and progressively move up 1 degree of bounce per club, resulting in a pitching wedge with 8 degrees bounce. Hogan's bounce angles, however, were all over the lot from minus-2 degrees on his 4-iron, to 5 degrees on his pitching wedge. Although only 5-foot-8, Hogan had his irons made a half-inch longer than standard.

The lofts would be considered extremely weak today. Comparing Hogan's personalized MacGregor forged irons from 1953 to current forgings reveals that, on average, modern irons have lofts approximately 2.5 degrees stronger. According to Stites, they also have more than five times the offset of Hogan's old blades. Additionally, Hogan's irons weighed nearly 5 percent more than today's clubs, although the swingweight (between D-0 and D-2.25) is similar.

One club where the swingweight definitely was not similar is the driver, which checked in at a swingweight of G-2 -- reported to be the heaviest ever measured at the USGA test center. Conversely, today's titanium drivers routinely tip the scale at a swingweight of C-8 or C-9. That heavier clubhead was also in a considerably more compact package. Hogan's driver head was approximately 145cc. Virtually every driver currently used on the PGA Tour exceeds 400cc, and many are at the 460cc limit.

Hogan preferred very firm cord grips with a "reminder" pattern. A close look reveals that the reminder (a raised rib in the back) was set at 5:30 instead of 6 o'clock -- a slightly "weak" hand position. Although Hogan never explained why, it is a reasonable assumption he did so to combat the hook that plagued him early in his career.

Many professional golfers have idiosyncrasies when it comes to their equipment, but Hogan was really finicky. He inserted two extra cleats in the middle of his left golf shoe for added traction and also inserted an extra screw in the middle of the insert of his fairway woods, believing the hard metal would propel the ball farther than the plastic insert. He also routinely soaked golf balls in salt water in order to find ones that were perfectly round. Hogan's personal quality-control test on balls also went a step further. He would inspect them by holding a magnifying glass up to each, searching for excess paint in the dimples.

Related: Ben Hogan: Resurrection Days

Hogan's quest for perfection wasn't brand-specific. Although under contract with MacGregor at the time, Hogan routinely used Spalding Dot and Titleist golf balls. In fact, Hogan won the 1953 U.S. Open with the Dot and then the British Open using specially made 1.62-inch Titleist balls.

Ultimately, Hogan's lack of satisfaction with MacGregor equipment led him to create the Ben Hogan Golf Co. in late 1953. Still, the equipment he used for that magical season holds significant historical importance. So much so that it is likely the clubs will sell for more than Hogan's single-season high in earnings of $42,556 in 1946, when he won 13 times.

TOUR STORIES

jerry-kelly-putter.jpgJERRY KELLY // What's in a name?

Small putter companies are the Davids amid golf's Goliaths. In fact, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Puerto Rico Open, five companies (Odyssey, Titleist, Ping, TaylorMade and Nike) accounted for more than 90 percent of the putters being used, leaving few opportunities for upstart or long-standing smaller companies to get their flat sticks in play -- this was a far cry from 1999 when José Maria Olazábal used a Kevin Burns 9304 model in winning the Masters. That win helped spark a run where in 2002 putters from Burns were the fourth-most-used on the PGA Tour according to the Darrell Survey 2002 Equipment Almanac.

All of which made Jerry Kelly's solid showing in the Puerto Rico Open with a Kevin Burns putter notable. "I worked with him at John Deere last year and made him a new putter for this season," said Burns, who said he first met Kelly a few years ago at the Frys.com Open. The club is a redesign of Burns' 705 model and is 33 inches long with a mid-slant neck. Kelly used it to finish T-9 while ranking third in putts per round.

NEW STUFF

callaway-speed-regime-golf-ball.jpgCallaway Speed Regime
PRICE: $48/doz. (Three models: 1, 2, 3)

Patrick Reed used a version of the SR3, a five-piece ball that features a HEX dimple pattern specifically designed for players with swing speeds above 105 mph.

CallawayGolf.com


BAG ROOM

Those spotting Hunter Mahan using a Ping Eye2 lob wedge at the WGC-Cadillac Championship can rest easy. Mahan wasn't wielding one of the old Eye2s not permitted in competition but rather a conforming Eye2 XG model. . . . Russell Henley had Nike's tour technicians check the loft and lie angle on his Method 006 putter at Trump National Doral. Henley regularly has his putter inspected because the long neck makes it more likely that the loft or lie will get unintentionally altered when traveling. . . . A Yes! C-Groove Sandy 12 putter was back in the bag of Ryan Moore in Miami. The putter is the one he used in winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last October. Moore finished T-25 at the WGC, ranking 44th in strokes gained/putting. . . . Ernie Els had some new fairway woods in Miami. The four-time major champion employed Adams' new Tight Lies model for his 3- and 5-woods (14 and 19 degrees, respectively). . . . Francesco Molinari wanted a slightly different feel with his Nike Method 006 putter so he practiced with one at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that did not have weights like his gamer. After a few putts on the practice green at Trump National Doral, Molinari put the lighter putter in the bag, eventually finishing T-25 while ranking 37th in strokes gained/putting.


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Gear & Equipment

Trimming shafts helps elite players zero in on the right stiffness

By E. Michael Johnson

Instead of asking a barber to take a little off the top, tour players are asking tour technicians to take a little off the bottom. That's because shaft tipping -- where the tip end of the shaft that goes into the head is trimmed -- is commonplace on the PGA Tour.

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Matt Every. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Talk about tipping and most folks' minds turn to the amount they leave a server rather than golf shafts. And although most people likely know more about the former than the latter, shaft tipping might put a few dollars in your pocket rather than dollars leaving it.

The reason players tip shafts is to make them slightly stiffer than they were designed. But tour players don't have to worry about paying for shafts, and the components can be swapped out in mere minutes. So why not just change shafts?

Related: Hot List 365: Shafts

Tipping instead of trying a different flex allows a player to find a shaft with a firmness in between flexes. The average tip on drivers is about an inch, although some players go to greater lengths. Back when Tiger Woods was using a 42.5-inch True Temper X-100 steel shaft in his driver, all of the extra length (more than three inches) was cut off the tip to achieve the proper flex.

Thankfully for tour technicians, one element of tipping has been eliminated in recent years. Back when some drivers such as Callaway and Titleist featured bore-through hosels, they would require little to no tipping because the shaft went so deep into the clubhead. So if a player switched from one of those models to one that wasn't bore-through, it was more difficult to duplicate the feel. Now bore-through hosels are gone, making life a little easier for those doing the work.

Also making work easier is adjustable hosels. "Players can now dial in their launch, spin rate and dispersion without tipping," said Callaway tour rep Mike Sposa. "There's not as much experimenting now as when it was all glued-in product." Still, fairway woods require shorter shafts than drivers, requiring many to be tipped. Matt Every, for example, recently tipped his Aldila Tour Blue 75x shaft in his 3-wood 1.5 inches.

Related: The hottest shafts of the year

Altering the flex is different in irons. Players will "step up" or "step down" rather than trim the tip on steel shafts with steps. That means a player seeking a firmer shaft will use a 4-iron shaft in a 3-iron and so on to make it stiffer, and use a 2-iron shaft in a 3-iron and so on to make it softer. This alters the firmness about one-half a flex.

That's a tip beneficial to everyone.

TOUR STORIES

paula-creamer-putter.jpgPAULA CREAMER // A putter with personality

Paula Creamer has always liked personalizing her putters, often using her trademark pink color, but has been known to add touches such as diamonds and other bling as well. The same holds for the TaylorMade Ghost Daytona 12 putter she used to hole the remarkable 75-foot eagle putt that won the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

Perhaps most notable about the putter, which Creamer first put in play at the start of this season, was that it wasn't really a "Ghost" putter at all because the clubhead featured a dark gray finish -- the first time in four years the company says it has made a non-white putter head for any player. The club, which is 34 inches in length with a head weight of 360 grams, has a black, steel shaft and carbon-fiber insert. The heart engraved on the toe area signifies her recent engagement. Upon receiving the putter, Creamer texted the company, "Oh my goodness that's amazing!" So was the winning putt it produced.

NEW STUFF

nike-vrs-covert.jpgNike VRS Covert 2.0
PRICE: $200 (Lofts: 15, 19 degrees)

Russell Henley had a pair of these fairway woods in the bag at the Honda Classic. The cavity in the sole of the club moves weight to the perimeter for added stability.

NikeGolf.com



metal-x-milled-versa-9ht-face-putter.jpgOdyssey Metal-X Milled Versa
PRICE: NA until April

Although it won't be available at retail until April, Odyssey unveiled this putter to tour staff at the Honda Classic. The putter combines the Metal-X face technology with the Versa's alignment stripes and comes with adjustable weights.

OdysseyGolf.com


BAG ROOM

Russell Henley started using Nike's new RZN Black ball earlier this year and while the differences between that and his old Nike 20XI are subtle, they are noticeable to the Honda Classic champ. "The biggest difference is that it flies a little flatter, not as much a spinny flight," said Henley. "So I'm able to control it in the wind well. But it checks well around the greens, too, and has a softer feel that I like." . . . Ryan Palmer had a new weapon at the Honda -- a prototype Fourteen Golf Type 7 utility iron. Palmer's club, which features a hollow head, was 21 degrees bent to 23 degrees to promote a higher ball flight. . . . Although Geoff Ogilvy didn't go the full Adam Scott route by using a long putter, he did use a 38-inch Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X at PGA National. Although Ogilvy missed the cut, he was on the plus side in strokes gained/putting (.307) for his two rounds. . . . Charles Howell III employed three different types of Mizuno irons for his set, using the company's JPX-EZ Forged for his 4-iron, MP-54 for the 5- and 6-irons and MP-64 for the 7-iron through PW. . . . Kenny Perry went back to his Ping G2i Craz-E at Honda -- the same model he used in 2008 when he won three times on the PGA Tour.


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Gear & Equipment

Oversize grips have earned the respect of many elite players

By E. Michael Johnson

jason-dufner-equipment-0303.jpgVictor Dubuisson's amazing up-and-downs from the desert during the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship opened some eyes, but equipment geeks may have been more focused on his putter grip -- an oversize SuperStroke Slim 3.0.

Dubuisson wasn't the only player in the field having success with an oversize putter grip. Jordan Spieth, who uses the SuperStroke Flatso Ultra, reached the quarterfinals. In most weeks on the PGA Tour approximately 30 players use a SuperStroke grip. Such usage is enough to possibly declare it a trend, not merely a fad.

Thank K.J. Choi. Back in 2007 he raised eyebrows and his bank account by using the SuperStroke Fatso -- a beast of a putter grip measuring approximately 1.5 inches in diameter, or roughly twice the size of a conventional putter grip -- to win the AT&T National, just weeks after having won the Memorial using a conventional grip.

Choi discovered the product while watching an infomercial and warmed to the idea of a grip that reduced the amount of wrist movement in the stroke. Still, there was hesitance.

"It was ugly, it was big," he said. "I didn't want to ... but I practiced with it, and it felt good. But I wasn't sure if I could just bring it out on tour. But I kind of gathered the courage to bring it out."

Related: The complete 2014 Hot List

Choi might have gotten on board sooner had he read Paul Runyan's 1979 book The Short Way to Lower Scoring. In it Runyan wrote, "I suggest you avoid grips that seem a bit thin in overall diameter. You will find that a thicker grip encourages a firm-wristed stroke."

Such a philosophy has been employed by numerous players over the years without going to the lengths of using a grip as wide as a golf ball. John Daly, for example, used to put three or four wraps of tape under the grip of his putter to keep his wrists from getting overly active. Bubba Watson is another who uses tape to bulk up the size of his putter grip.

Since Choi's win, more and more players have given the SuperStroke a try. The roll call includes Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner, who won the PGA Championship last year with a Slim 3.0 on his Scotty Cameron by Titleist putter.

"Several players walked up to me every week with putters in hand wanting a grip to either put into play or to practice with," said Arnie Cunningham, SuperStroke's PGA Tour rep. "A lot of tour players have big hands and it's a good fit. And now that we have more than just the really large grip, more players are open to trying it."

Converting the curiosity to usage has led more than 125 players to use SuperStroke grips across the pro tours since 2009, resulting in more than $105 million dollars in earnings (before Dubuisson's haul of $906,000 at the Match Play) in the last five years, according to the company. That's a far cry from the early days when the grips' packaging read: "If SuperStroke does not eliminate four-putts from your 18-hole score, return SuperStroke within 30 days of purchase for a refund." Four-putts?

Related: Photos from the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show

Now, instead of a respite for those suffering that kind of struggle on the greens, oversize putter grips are helping elite players win championships, with Sergio Garcia (Ultra Slim 1.0) at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and Scott Stallings (also an Ultra Slim 1.0) at the Farmers Insurance Open the most recent. As usual with tour pros, if it brings results it doesn't much matter what it looks like -- something Choi realized during his AT&T win six-plus years ago.

"It's all about business out here," he said. "If you perform well, there's a lot of money involved. I felt like I had to go with my feel and use what I feel confident in. And when I used it, it actually reduces the movement of your wrist, and you just use your shoulders and it makes the ball roll better and it gives me confidence."

And now it's not just Choi displaying that self-assuredness.

TOUR STORIES

jason-day-equipment-0303.jpgJASON DAY // New look on the greens

Match Play champ Jason Day's TaylorMade Ghost Monte Carlo putter had a different look in Marana, Ariz. Although the putter has the same grip and black steel shaft as his previous Ghost Monte Carlo, the new model features his son's name (Dash) engraved on the sole and has an additional 10 grams on the bottom that brings the club's overall weight to 360 grams. The extra heft was achieved by using two 25-gram weights instead of a pair of 20-gram ones that had been in the WGC-Accenture Match Play champion's previous gamer.

The most notable change was to the topline. Day's former putter had black alignment lines atop the white head; the current model has no alignment feature, which Day said helps him focus more on the cup than the clubhead.

NEW STUFF

taylormade-mc-hero.jpgTaylorMade Tour Preferred MC
PRICE: $1,000 (set of eight, steel)

Jason Day used these irons, which feature a muscle-cavity design, in winning the WGC-Match Play. A slot in the sole of the 3- through 7-irons boosts ball speed.

TaylorMadeGolf.com



BAG ROOM

Louis Oosthuizen made it to the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play using a new putter, Ping's Ketsch mallet. In addition to a different head shape than he was used to, the 2010 British Open champ had the putter built at 37 inches in length with a 50-gram weight at the butt end of the grip to provide a counterbalanced effect. ... Despite a pair of second-place finishes in his previous two starts, Dustin Johnson employed a new set of TaylorMade Tour Preferred MB irons at the GC at Dove Mountain. D.J. believed the softer leading edge of the new irons would work better for desert golf. ... Jonas Blixt still had a blue Cobra driver in the bag in Arizona, but it was the company's new Bio Cell model. Although Blixt had been working with the 9-degree club since last October, it hadn't seen action until the Match Play. ... Miguel Angel Jiménez has been using Ping's i25 woods and wanted a 7-wood version for the Match Play, but Ping doesn't offer a 7-wood in the i25. Instead, Ping staff adapted an i25 5-wood to 7-wood loft and length. ... Jim Furyk lowered the loft and positioned the sliding weight just toward the toe for a slight fade setting on his Callaway Big Bertha driver.


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Gear & Equipment

Why the USGA's ruling on distance-measuring devices should be applied to Open events

By Mike Stachura

The decision by the USGA Championship Committee to allow distance-measuring devices (DMDs, or laser range finders, golf GPS units or smartphone apps) in all its national amateur championships beginning this year signals a change that's at once both obvious and complicated.

lee-westwood-golf-equipment-0217.jpg
DMDs will be OK for amateurs but practice rounds only for pros. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The USGA has been OK with DMDs in tournament play since 2006, but only as a Local Rule applied by the tournament committee. Until now, using one in a stipulated round in a USGA event would have been a violation of Rule 14-3. The USGA decision aligns with a similar one by the R&A announced in January.

The rule will not be extended to the USGA's open championships (U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Women's Open). The PGA of America's board of directors announced last year that DMDs would be OK for several events, including the PGA Winter Championships, the PGA Tournament Series, section championships, the Junior PGA Championship and Junior Ryder Cup and the Playing Ability Test, but still would not be allowed at any of its major national events, including the PGA Championship. The explanation given by Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's chief championships officer, however, was not critical of the devices themselves.

"The main reasons are that at our spectator championships and national PGA member championships, the competitors are able to have one or more practice rounds at the course and also have caddies whose job in many cases is to be able to calculate yardages and distances, whereas at the vast majority of our events players are seeing the course in many cases for the first time and do not have caddies," he said. "Also, with the major tours throughout the world not allowing their use, it would create some issues with the top players if we started to use them at some events but not at others."

Related: Hot List: The top GPS devices

Indeed, the PGA Tour is steadfast about not allowing DMDs for its events. "This remains in full effect, and we are not contemplating a change," said Andy Pazder, executive vice president and chief of operations. The concern seems to be that DMDs would reflect poorly on the tour's image and would not help pace of play.

Of course, a key to getting USGA rulemakers over the hump on DMDs seemed to be that very issue. According to John Spitzer, managing director of equipment standards for the USGA, a trial run at last year's Women's State Team Championship showed that 80 percent of the players used a DMD on par 3s and 89 percent used one for their approach shot on par 4s with "no statistically significant difference" in pace of play. In its announcement the USGA referenced that experiment, saying, "USGA researchers found no evidence that DMDs had a negative impact on pace of play."

The new rule allows both laser and GPS and (in a limited way) smartphone devices, but a player cannot utilize a device that also provides information about measurements of slope or wind speed or club recommendations. A flowchart on the USGA website helps golfers understand what functions are allowable.

Several DMD industry representatives were obviously pleased with the decision. Dan Steiner, vice president at Laser Link Golf wrote in an email, "As you might guess, we think it has been a long time coming, but we're glad something finally happened. We have heard for months from many different people that this is 'a different USGA,' and this step is definitely one to illustrate that."

Paul Herber, senior vice president of sales and business development at SkyGolf, maker of the SkyCaddie GPS, believes the decision could influence consumer attitudes. "What the R&A and the USGA have done in the last few weeks has been the final endorsement we needed," he said. "Those who've wondered whether a GPS is in the spirit of the game, that idea goes away now."

Related: Video: GPS vs. Laser Rangefinders

Yet while expanding the use of DMDs to some USGA, PGA and R&A events, a large question remains: If the information and efficiency provided by DMDs is a good thing (and testing from SkyGolf suggests that it improved average pace of play by 20 to 25 minutes in tournament golf), why restrict the rule to amateur events? Why not include it for the open championships? Why not allow players on the PGA Tour to receive exact yardages from ShotLink? In a world of instant information, it seems decidedly backward that fans who go to pgatour.com are able to access more precise yardage information, let alone exact updates on the leader board and cutline, than the players competing in the event.

The game seems better when the ruling bodies embrace technology that enhances the game for all players (such as adjustable drivers) without threatening its basic principles and challenges. The DMD decision is logical, practical and overdue. Golf can only get easier with information, not only about the yardage to the hole but also diagrams and other features that eliminate indecision and confusion. Why not apply this for elite players at the best events? Doing so would likely only enhance the use of DMDs by everyday players while possibly helping the pace-of-play issues that currently plague the professional tours.

It'd be an example of a little efficiency going a very long way.

NEW STUFF

adams-pro-hybrid.jpgAdams Pro Hybrid
PRICE: $200 (Lofts: 16, 18, 20, 23, 26 degrees)

A thin Carpenter 455 steel face enhances ball speed and forgiveness. Michael Allen used a prototype of this club at the Allianz Championship.

AdamsGolf.com


BAG ROOM

Although he shot 66 during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Phil Mickelson switched to an Odyssey Metal-X Milled Versa #9 HT putter before Friday's second round. The putter was 34 inches long with a touch of offset added, which Mickelson says sets up the head better for him. The move didn't seem to work in the short term as Lefty struggled with his putting on the Poa annua greens, losing more than three strokes to the field in strokes gained/putting during the final round at Pebble Beach GL. ... Two players at opposite ends of the driving distance spectrum put TaylorMade's SLDR 430 driver in play at the AT&T. Short-hitting Brian Gay had a 10.5-degree version, saying the club produced a more penetrating ball flight than the TaylorMade R1 he had been using. Bomber J.B. Holmes opted for a 12-degree model and used the club to rank third in driving distance for the week at 294.4 yards. ... David Duval used an interesting putter on the Monterey Peninsula. The flat stick was from Kramski, a German company known for producing extremely expensive putters. The 2001 British Open champ finished T-35 -- his best finish since the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas -- and won $29,139.


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Gear & Equipment

New year, new club deals for handful of tour pros

By E. Michael Johnson

Some former major champions and many others will play new clubs and balls as well as don new apparel, headwear and gloves in 2014 as the annual rite of January that has golfers signing with new equipment sponsors is now in full gear.

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Vijay Singh has signed on with start-up Hopkins Golf. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The first 10 days of 2014 have seen plenty of signatures inking contracts. Among the more recognizable names are Ernie Els going to Adams Golf (he'll use a combination of Adams and sister company TaylorMade's equipment); Vijay Singh, who is headed to start-up Hopkins Golf to play its wedges as well as wear its hat and use its staff bag; and former LPGA No. 1 Yani Tseng, who signed on with Callaway. Among the full bag of Callaway/Odyssey clubs Tseng will play are the company's new Big Bertha driver, Apex Pro irons and Odyssey ProType #1 putter.

Related: Harris English talks about his switch to Callaway

Other notables moving on include former Masters champ Trevor Immelman (TaylorMade, which also signed Scott Langley) and FedEx Cup champ Henrik Stenson who will play Callaway this coming season. Stenson is joined in the Callaway stable by Harris English, Matteo Manassero and Lydia Ko, among others. K.J. Choi, who has been without an equipment deal the past few years, hooked up with Srixon on a contract that has him playing the company's ball, wearing its glove and having the logo on his apparel and staff bag.

Among those opting to stay put were U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who re-upped with TaylorMade while Graham DeLaet signed a three-year extension with Titleist and FootJoy. DeLaet, however, also inked a contract with Cobra-Puma to wear its hat, apparel and accessories. The company also added Will MacKenzie with a similar deal that also includes wearing the company's footwear. /p>

Some other "free agents" have yet to be signed or announced. That just means this rite of January lasts a little longer for some than others. 


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Gear & Equipment

Harris English's motto for transitioning to a new equipment company? Go slow

By Brendan Mohler

At the start of last year, Rory McIlroy's switch from Titleist to Nike Golf sent shockwaves through the industry as well as the Twitter-sphere. One reason was the sheer enormity of the deal (in the nine figures). The other was the claim that it was a huge risk for the then-World No. 1 to make a wholesale change when at the top of his game.

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Harris English testing his clubs. Photo: Erik Isakson

McIlroy's results in 2013 hardly allayed concerns, but that didn't stop a slew of players from changing clubs and balls for this year. One is two-time PGA Tour winner Harris English, who left Ping to join Callaway. According to English, it's how one goes about making a change that makes the difference.

"Not really," English replied when asked if McIlroy's struggles through much of 2013 had given him pause. "You have to have some controls. You have to keep some stuff the same. You can't switch everything at one time. That's definitely not what I'm doing. You have to change over time."

For English that process began by speaking with several staff players to get a feel for Callaway equipment and how the company works with players coming over.

Related: What's in Harris English's bag

"Chris Kirk is a good buddy of mine who switched to Callaway," said English. "I talked to him a lot. I also talked to Phil Mickelson about the new stuff. Players who switch know what it's like going through it."

A large part of which is product testing. Golf World sat in on a recent clubfitting session with English at Callaway's Carlsbad, Calif., test center. The day started with English hitting a mere 10 half-wedge shots before he started pounding drivers with Randy Peterson, Callaway's director of fitting and instruction, and Nick Raffaele, the company's VP, sports marketing, carefully looking on.

"For the driver we started with the specs of his Ping G15 and made tweaks along the way," said Peterson. "We don't want to change too much, too fast."

That's not a worry for English when it comes to drivers, as his preference for testing the big stick is to hit relatively few balls on the range to narrow down the choices and then do extensive on-course testing. One of the primary reasons is that English is not a "numbers" guy, but rather a shot shaper who needs to work the ball both ways off the tee.

"I grew up on south Georgia golf courses," English said. "You know, dogleg left, dogleg right, every hole is a dogleg. I like to get on holes where I'm teeing it up on the right side of the box and hitting a cut off the left bunker, or I have to turn it right to left and hit a high draw out there. It's hard for me to do that on the driving range."

That's not to say testing isn't useful for English, who realizes the importance of someone being able to interpret the data to make sure the club is working efficiently. It's also an opportunity to focus on small details. For example, English asked if the chevron alignment aid, which is on the company's new Big Bertha Alpha but not the X2 Hot Pro, could be added to the latter.

Related: Harris English's Chattanooga

During testing, but particularly with the irons, Raffaele constantly reminded English to "make the swing you make--don't adjust to the club." His point is simple: Tour pros are good enough to adapt to almost anything, but you want to build the clubs to the player's swing, not the other way around.

For English there was an added element to the iron testing--as a Ping staff player he had never played a forged iron before. "It feels so different but so much better," English said of the Callaway RAZR X MB irons he put in play at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. "It's a lot softer off the face. Sound is so important. I like a more muted sound."

Although English didn't require any work with wedges, having played the company's Mack Daddy 2 late in 2013, designer Roger Cleveland offered some instruction tips, leveling English's shoulders (his right shoulder was lower than his left on bunker shots) to help keep the depth of each strike in the sand equal.

For putters, English prefers mallets (his two wins last year came with Ping's Nome TR and Scottsdale Hohum models) and has no qualms about changing. "Typically, I switch every six months or so," he said. "Confidence is 90 percent of putting. If it looks good to me, that's all that matters." Still, English stuck with the Hohum at Kapalua, where he finished T-11.

Another piece of equipment English won't be changing in the near future is his ball. Subscribing to the theory that too much change at once can get confusing and make the comparison of old clubs versus new more difficult, English continued using the Titleist Pro V1x dot ball, likely switching to Callaway's Speed Regime model later this season.

Although English doesn't own the credentials of McIlroy, he too has had people ask him about switching after such a successful year.

"That's a tough question," English said. "I think getting better equipment in my hands can lead to more wins, and I feel like the guys at Callaway can do that. ... I want to be in the hunt in some majors, and really shoot towards that Ryder Cup team. I played Walker Cup in Scotland, and I loved playing for the United States. I think that's a pretty realistic goal for me, and I'm going to work hard and shoot for it."

A task he takes on both intelligently and incrementally.

NEW STUFF

ping-i25-driver.jpgPing i25
PRICE: $400 (Lofts: 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 degrees, all adjustable)

The titanium head features a pair of tungsten weights on the perimeter of the sole to boost forgiveness. A stripe on the crown assists alignment.

Ping.com


BAG ROOM

It was a busy offseason for players changing equipment companies. Perhaps the biggest name to make a move was Ernie Els, who left Callaway after six-plus years to sign with Adams Golf. Although Adams has some iconic players on its Champions Tour staff (Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer among them), the signing of Els marks the company's first significant PGA Tour player to use its equipment in more than a decade. Another multiple major winner making a move was Vijay Singh, signing with start-up Hopkins Golf to play its wedges, wear its hat and carry its staff bag. Callaway was also active, adding FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, Harris English, Matteo Manassero and Lydia Ko, among others. TaylorMade was busy as well, inking Trevor Immelman and Scott Langley after having previously signed Carl Pettersson. ... Not everybody was on the move, however. U.S. Open champ Justin Rose re-upped with TaylorMade for five years. ... After cracking the face of the Titleist 910D2 he used for three years, including during his win at the PGA Championship, Jason Dufner had a new driver in play at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- Titleist's 913D2. Dufner finished fifth in Hawaii while ranking T-3 in driving accuracy. ... Dustin Johnson changed to TaylorMade's new Tour Preferred MB irons in the offseason and had the clubs in his bag at Kapalua. Johnson finished T-6, ranking T-2 for the week in GIR, hitting 60 of 72 greens. Johnson also used the company's new Tour Preferred X ball.


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Gear & Equipment

Five questions with The Club Fix founder Bronson Wright

From the Dec. 11 edition of Golf Digest Stix:

Bronson Wright is the founder of The Club Fix, a California clubfitter that just opened locations in New York City, Thailand and Mesa, Ariz. He took five questions from Stephen Hennessey

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Fitting in: Wright's shops expanded to Asia in 2013.

Q: Are these new markets different for you?
No question. Thailand is the most interesting. We've coupled with a company over there that does 35,000 lessons a year. And they weren't doing any clubfitting. So that was a no-brainer for us.

Q: How are Asian clubfitting customers different from Americans?
To be blunt, they want quality, whereas a lot of American customers are just looking for a deal. Really, Asian golfers are willing to spend top dollar for the proper golf club to get the most out of their game. Also, I think they work harder at their game. So they can really notice a difference when something is clicking or not.

Q: Tell us a recent success story from one of your locations.
We had one guy who had gotten a clubfitting somewhere else. But they didn't custom-build the clubs. He's now hitting his driver 60 yards longer after having his clubs custom-built by us. That's beyond a Wow moment. It shows that just because you've been custom-fit doesn't mean you can't go through another fitting and still obtain more.

Q: What's the key to expanding a golf business in this economy?
There's nothing that's going to provide more quality growth than customer service and expertise. The experience a person has had better be 110-percent quality or they're going somewhere else.

Q: What's the biggest problem with most golfers you see?
They get a custom-fitting, but they're not getting a custom club. If they're not custom-built for you, you won't get optimal results.

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Gear & Equipment

Fall Forward: Rounds played, sales are up in October

By Mike Stachura

From the Dec. 11 edition of Golf Digest Stix:

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Green scene: Golfers played more in October -- and spent more, too. Photo: Norbert Schafer

Although the cool, wet start to 2013 left the golf-course business playing a difficult game of catch-up, the last few months have brought relief. The number of rounds played in October was up 4.2 percent. That was the third month of gains in a row, according to PGA PerformanceTrak, which follows golf-course revenue.

Thirty-two states in its survey reported increased play in October. The higher play also boosted ancillary revenue. Merchandise sales improved 7.2 percent in October, and food and beverage was up 8.7 percent. Still, the picture isn't entirely bright. Only eight states -- Maine, Florida, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Idaho and Hawaii -- are showing year-to-date rounds-played increases for 2013. Nationwide, the year-to-date figure for rounds played is the lowest since PerformanceTrak began its survey eight years ago.

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