Open Season for Rules
By AGA Executive Director Ed Gowan
One of the privileges of knowing the rules and serving on a USGA committee is to take a busman’s holiday working a US Open as a member of the rules committee. Barbara Douglas, chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee, Robin Farran and I had the privilege this year at Pebble Beach. In a few weeks Lorraine Thies will join us for the US Women’s Open at famed Oakmont in Pennsylvania. There are few places on earth a golfer would rather be.
Rules week officially begins the day preceding the first round, when the entire committee gathers to review the local rules, set up the course and review special conditions that might be encountered. There are six basic job descriptions we fill: starting, accepting scorecards at the end of the rounds, timing slow play, walking (one person per group), observing (walking ahead of a group to watch for unusual situations or occurrences) and roving as a rules backup for the walkers.
By far the best job is walking with a group. You have the best seat in the house inside the ropes, and occasionally have a chance to help a player out of trouble. Most players know the basic rules applications, but add in the nervousness of an Open and the quirky things that happen under such immense pressure, and sometimes a ball ends up where you would least expect. A player, of course, wants to take no chances and wants to get back to playing as quickly as possible. That’s where the walking officials come in. We’re right there when a player wants a correct interpretation of the rules to get him back into play without waiting.
A few times in each championship something will happen that is completely unexpected, and that’s when the rover will be called in to either give the player a second opinion or find an answer that may not even be covered by the rules. It would seem silly to think that with 250 years of play and 45 million golfers in the world, anything could happen for the first time. You may be surprised to find it happens several times each year, most often at one of the majors, and there is no greater pressure cooker than the US Open, especially on the last day.
Take this year at Pebble Beach for instance. There weren’t any crazy happenings, but we did have a seagull steal a golf ball. Luckily it was in plain sight so the player simply had to replace a ball from where it was lifted. Lee Westwood’s unplayable drop in a bunker touched a blade of grass on the way down. Since the grass (by definition under the rules) was not in the bunker, and a ball must first strike the course where required (ie: the bunker), the official correctly advised him to re-drop. Without the official right there, Westwood would have played the first ball and incurred a two stroke penalty.
In my group on the last day, Angel Cabrera drove into the crosswalk on the second fairway. As it was marked as ground under repair, he was permitted to drop behind the crosswalk at his nearest point of relief. Spectators and marshals loudly objected because they remembered Ernie Els not taking relief in a similar situation the previous day. What they didn’t know, and as I explained to the marshal, was that Ernie’s nearest point of relief was in the rough, not the fairway. There is no distinction in the rules between rough and fairway. They are both "through the green." Ernie chose not to drop into the Open rough, choosing instead to play the ball off the tight turf inside the crosswalk. A great choice, as Open rough is like playing from six inch steel wool.
Sergio Garcia’s breaking of a tee marker on the fourth tee wasn’t a breach of the rules since he didn’t intend to move it, but rumor has it he’s getting a bill for $147.
I was asked by one player coming off the 18th tee, "Who set up this course? Does he ever play golf?" He knew full well it was the USGA’s Mike Davis and, expecting the worst, I just smiled. The player then said, unexpectedly, "I can tell. Great job, but too much for me!" He also scored about even for the last round. Had he been just a few strokes lower in previous rounds, he might have changed history.
The course was certainly on the edge, both from the standpoint of challenge and conditioning. Few players enjoy such an experience. How can you when the slightest mistake is magnified 10 times and even the best shots can take unfortunate bounces? The putting was extremely difficult, as was noted by both announcers and some players who criticized the poa annua greens as "bumpy." Were they? A little, especially when you were putting downhill and made a tentative stroke. But I also witnessed Cabrera, Stenson and Curtis, among others, make almost all of their putts under 10 feet with few problems. Furyk, on the other hand, played marvelously on the first day, but was unable to make any putts as several five-foot birdies broke away from the hole at the last minute. Putting, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Tom Watson may have summed it up best when he described a round in the Open as survival of the fittest.
Speaking of few other places one would rather be, one would be Oakmont, though July in Pittsburgh with humidity is like Phoenix at 122 degrees. Oakmont is hosting the Women’s Open and Arizona is well represented. Barbara Douglas will oversee the event as chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee. She’ll be supported by rules committee members Lorraine Thies, Christi Dickinson, Robin Farran and myself, as well as AWGA television rules marshals Barbara Byrnes and Judi Lorenzen. While "rules work" at Oakmont will be easy – big course, rough, few problems – Judi and Barbara will have their hands full marshaling the television cameras around the lead groups with an anticipated huge gallery and narrow road crossings. If you’re watching, pay attention to the 2nd, 8th and 17th holes, all having played large roles in the previous men’s Open. Both the par four 2nd and 17th will be drivable, and the par three 8th will play at about 250 yards…again, drivable!
And, finally, The (British) Open will be played at the Old Course in July. That’s always great theater, and with Tiger’s travails leave it to the European press to create more good reading.
Cool Clubs – An Introduction to Club Fitting
–by Michael Bartlett
Golfers serious about their game need to discover the 21st-century way of buying the right club–custom fitting using computers and cameras.
As Cool Clubs founder Mark Timms points out, only a small segment of the golfing population has been properly fitted for clubs. His arguments for doing so are: 1) It’s cheaper in the long run to invest in fitting sessions rather than continue buying the wrong clubs at considerable cost, 2) the knowledge one gains from the sessions will help you swing better, specifically the putter fitting which revolves not only around your present putter but your putting set-up and stroke, both analyzed in precise detail.
Today’s 21st century testing process requires time, a relatively modest financial investment and effort by you the golfer, both physical and mental. To go through the six separate Cool Club fittings, from driver to putter, takes about seven hours. The total cost is about $600-700, or you can choose single sessions at $100-150. The effort you put in requires hitting dozens of balls with all of your clubs and mastering a short course in technical terminology. If you persevere, you’ll likely have a set of clubs that drops strokes off your game, makes you more aware of how your swing works, and guaranteed you’ll never look at a golf club the same way, from grip to grooves.
In order to help golfers of all skill levels, especially middle-to-high handicappers, we put ourselves in the hands of the Cool Clubs experts and went through the entire battery of fittings. We worked in one of the indoor testing bays and outdoors at the Cool Clubs TPC of Scottsdale facility where they perform the “Gap Fitting” analysis.
Our fitting specialist was Josiah Solberg.Solberg possesses a boundless enthusiasm for his craft that never wavered during a marathon six-hour session in which he worked his way through all clubs in our bag on 18 parameters. Solberg proved to be articulate and concise as he explained the machines used in the testing, the basic factors to be measured and what he would recommend with each club to improve performance. He even went so far as to suggest some swing adjustment, thus providing free lessons along the way.
To break down the process, here are five areas covered when you work with a professional fitter like Cool Clubs.
1) The Basics
2) The Driver
3) Irons: The Short and Long (Hybrids/Fairway Woods)
5) Gap Fitting
Cool Clubs – The Basics of Club Fitting
by: Michael Bartlett
The "Words of Art" of Club Measurement
When you start hitting balls in one of Cool Clubs testing bays, its machines record 18 distinct parts of your swing and club performance. These are organized into three areas of interest:
1) Club Path: The path your club takes away from and back to the ball as well as face angle.
2) Launch: How the club impacts the ball and how the ball comes off the club.
3) Landing: The important factors here are “carry” and “landing angle.”
Your fitter will talk a lot about the following aspects of your swing and occasionally use the pros as the standard of excellence. You shouldn’t expect to match them; the fitter will let you know where you should expect to be with your swing.
1) Clubhead Speed: Measured in miles-per-hour, it shows how fast your clubhead is moving at impact.
2) Attack Angle: This measures how the clubhead is actually delivered into the ball; a positive reading would reveal the club is ascending at impact while “0” would show it is level.
3) Club Path: The fitter will be able to show you whether you are opening or closing the clubface at impact. This may vary because of the shaft you have or your swing path.
4) Ball Speed: Just what it says—how fast your ball goes in mph. There is a correlation between clubhead speed and ball speed.
5) Smash Factor: This measures “transference of energy” between clubhead and ball. The highest number on this scale is 1.50 (Often discussed as COR, which is governed by the USGA).
6) Spin Rate: Measured in RPM’s (revolutions per minute), this is important because your ability to spin the ball can affect both trajectory as well as direction.
7) Carry: Distance from the tee to landing; more carry increases distance.
8) Landing Angle: Has big influence on control of the shot after it lands; approaches to the green require a higher landing angle to hold.
9) Side: This shows how far left or right you are from your target line.
10) Dispersion: The fitter will show you how your balls land relative to your target area; a tightly grouped cluster of balls is your goal.
11) Torque: The shaft’s designed resistance to twisting during the downswing.
12) Kickpoint: Often referred to as “flex point” or “bend point,” and is the point along a shaft’s length where it has the greatest amount of bend during the swing. A High kickpoint may help lower the trajectory of most golfers’ shots and a low kickpoint may result in a slightly higher trajectory.
The Fundamentals of Fitting .
1) Frequency Testing:
· Each of your clubs (you can bring as many as you ordinarily use) is put into the frequency machine and the results recorded on a personal data file (visible on one of three 40-inch widescreens right in front of you) that will get larger as the fitting progresses. This frequency analysis focuses on your club shafts, their flex properties (how stiff or soft) and how your clubs flow as a set. You may find out many clubs are way out of synch.
· Goal: To have your clubs flow as a set from wedges up to the woods. In our case, the major area of concern was wedges whose shafts were much too heavy for “skill clubs that should play softer.”
· Different Shafts: The fitter will explain the difference between steel and graphite shafts and discuss three key characteristics: Weight, torque and kickpoint (see “Language” above).
· Loft and Lie: These measurements are taken for each club. Loft is the angle of the club relative to the ball and lie refers to the angle of the sole relative to the ground. Both condition the quality of club impact and the shape of a shot. Loft is most important and the goal is to “step” your loft angles in a balanced progression from driver to wedge. This will be measured in more detail later in the fitting.
· Holding the Club: While this may come later, ask up front what the fitter thinks of your grips. In most cases, they are probably okay but he will ask you to grip a club just to check. A proper size grip has the “middle fingers of the top hand slightly touching the pad.” Wrong size grip: fingers don’t touch at all, or they dig into the pad.
· Size: A smaller grip gives you more hand rotation which can send the ball either too far left or right. On the opposite, a bigger grip limits hand rotation.
· Texture: This area is definitely a matter of feel and aesthetics. The fitter commented, “People sometimes get picky about color, texture and the like, things that really don’t make a difference.” But, if you want a rare color or grip that gives you increased confidence over the ball, they’ll get it.
3) Balls: While technically not part of clubfitting, make sure you ask the fitter what type of ball he recommends; brand is less important than spin characteristics that will complement your swing.
4) General Tips:
· Full Session versus One-Club-at-a-Time: Time and money may dictate that you prioritize among the six individual sessions offered, and this is fine. Make sure you take notes as you go through separate sessions in order to build a coherent picture of your club specs and swing characteristics.
· Bring the Whole Bag: Definitely bring all the clubs you use and/or own to the fitting sessions. You may find one that one is very right for you and will want to incorporate it into your new set.
· Rethink the Meaning of “Set”: Today, the underlying dynamics of club construction (and your swing) are more important than an artificial set of numbers or matching types of clubs. The fitter may recommend combinations that bust your comfort zone. Try to listen with an open mind.
· This is Work–Physical: If possible, warm up before your session. You want to start at what is your full swing speed, etc. Be ready to hit a lot of balls and don’t lose concentration. Each swing counts.
· This is Work—Mental: As you work your way from the six to your other irons, the fitter will begin to measure all 18 parts of your swing at one time. Numbers will be flashing up on the widescreen and he will start commenting on a whole range of swing and club points, which likely will confuse you if you aren’t familiar with the lingo. Don’t panic. And definitely stop him at every turn to ask questions. You will find him willing to explain anything that is unclear, more than once if necessary. Soon, you will become more comfortable with the process. The goal: To isolate those factors most typical of your swing. You will find that you score well in some areas and are weak in others. Your fitter is interested in your weak points because that is what he wants to correct with a better set of clubs. After a number of swings, the Cool Clubs software lets him “see your swing on paper,” and you will too.