June 30, 2008

A Good Play?

golfworld-2008-07-gwar01_080704austin.jpg

Who needs a tee? Not Austin, who eschewed one on a pair of drives.

On the final nine at last week's Buick Open, Woody Austin employed a rarely seen weapon: Driver. Off grass. Three times.

The cool factor of hitting driver off the deck is undeniably high. The odds of pulling off the shot off (twice he did it from the teeing area, once in the fairway) are, well, not very good. Yet both times Austin eschewed a tee in favor of a small, kicked-up tuft of turf, he found the fairway. Still, why would a player in contention heading down the stretch of a tournament intentionally make things more difficult?

Ironically, for Austin, it made things less complicated. While he was sacrificing distance (the hot spot on most modern drivers is actually slightly above the center of the clubhead), he also eliminated one side of the golf course. Hitting the large-headed club without the added height of a tee decreases the chances of the ball going left—something Austin noted after last year's PGA Championship when he also went sans tee on the 72nd hole and promptly sent his ball sailing wide right into the trees.

Some folks might think this is Austin being his nonconformist self. A driver off the deck, however, is a shot the pros practice—and use—more often than you think.

"If I can do it I know my swing is in good shape, because you've got to be very still to pull it off," said Sean O'Hair prior to this year's Memorial. Vijay Singh also is a fan of the shot, using the big stick frequently for his second shot on par 5s, including at the 12th hole in the final round of last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational. Singh didn't hit the green with the shot but came close enough, made birdie and won by two.

"I like hitting drivers off the deck," said Singh, who not only practices drivers off fairway grass, but from the rough as well. "It makes one really aggressive when you do that."

Aggression is one thing, physics is another. Tour players are talented enough to pull off the shot, but what about the everyday golfer?

According to Benoit Vincent, chief technical officer for TaylorMade, you might steer clear unless you have a reserved parking spot at a tour event. "It makes little sense," he said. "It spins more. That's not such a problem for tour players who hit it fairly straight, but for average golfers who impart more sidespin, it could lead to trouble." Vincent also noted for most players, hitting driver off the turf delofts the launch angle by 3 to 7 degrees. Coupled with today's lower-spinning golf ball, the odds of keeping the ball airborne long enough to get the distance benefit are small for all but the fastest of swingers.

In other words, there's nothing cool about hitting driver off the deck if you're hitting grounders.

Spotted

Ping's next player's iron made its debut last week on the PGA and European tours. Designed by former tour pro Mike Nicolette, the S57, expected to be available later this year, boasts a similar dual-depth cavity and tuning port as the S58 model, but also features a tungsten weight in the toe area similar to the company's Tour W wedges.Angel Cabrera finished T-13 at the French Open with the irons while Daniel Chopra, who led for 54 holes before finishing T-17, played the clubs at the Buick Open.

Bag Room

Bo Van Pelt came into the Buick Open averaging 1.829 putts per GIR (ranked 163rd), leading him to change putters. At Warwick Hills Van Pelt used a T.P. Mills Pepi, a compact mallet with a curved top line to good effect. With the redesign of the Mills Softtail model in hand, Van Pelt finished T-17. … Titleist's prototype 909D2 driver got plenty of attention last week as 11 players used the 460cc, pear-shaped club at the Buick Open including Dudley Hart, who finished T-9.

You are using an unsupported version of Internet Explorer. Please upgrade to Internet Explorer 11 or use a different web browser.