The Long and Short of My Long-Putter Days

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Photo courtesy of onlyagame.wbur.org 

         We’re nearly nine months out now from the day the ruling bodies of golf decreed the ban of the anchored putting stroke, which currently takes effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

I bring this up because I recently completed some reporting on a piece you’ll see in the coming weeks about what’s transpired in equipment and teaching since then.

Among other things, Dave Pelz has a video circulating online that proposes four or five legal uses of the long putter, including anchoring it inside your forearm and using it croquet-style, which is legal because his method doesn’t straddle the line.

If I recall right, I believe Pelz claims that current long putter poster boy Adam Scott is experimenting with the forearm method to attempt to keep the long putter in his bag as long as he can. Can you blame him?

Anyway, there’s more of an equipment take in my story that I’ll leave alone for now, but when I was working on the story, I recalled me own – brief – experience using the long putter. I thought I’d share it since everyone I tell on the golf course seems curious, especially those who use the long putter and love it and will be most affected by the ban.

A couple months after starting classes at the Golf Academy, we had a putting guru from Chicago named Todd Sones in to look at our putting strokes and have us properly fit for putters (yes, there’s a process to do that).

When my stroke was evaluated, I was identified as a long-putter candidate. My speed control was good, but my path and over club control needed work. Thus, it was deemed that having something to stabilize my stroke, namely anchoring, would allow me to focus on path and a proper takeaway.

I threw a long putter in my bag and practiced with it off and one for a few weeks, in particular doing drills along the edge of a mat, which would let me know if I was taking the club inside again.

While cumbersome to get used to, I wasn’t entirely dissatisfied with it and actually pretty pleased with it from close range. The shorter stroke I used did seem to be quite effective from close range. The farther out I got, however, the worse I got, especially on long putts, where I to pick up the putter head on the take away.

The on-course putting strategy I devised was to use my long putter on short putts – say 10 feet and in – and my standard putter on the rest.

Well, besides sacrificing a club for an extra putter of all things, my plan proved fairly flawed, partly because the weight difference between the two clubs left me without touch in either.

I’d baby the long ones and crush the short ones. I had lip outs galore with the long putter and soon after my putting was a total shambles.

I tried a few rounds exclusively with the long putter and mostly just got to endure ribbing from my foresome and another parade of missed putts.

Mostly I dropped it because I never got used to the weight. It’s a lot of golf club, too much for my liking.

I use a conventional putter now, a used Cleveland I pulled out of a bargain big, and I’m the best putter I’ve ever been. I wouldn’t dream of changing.

The combination of the right club and a few sound lessons that have stayed with me have made me a very competent, and  sometimes streaky-good, putter.

I won’t get into my personal feelings about whether the club, or the stroke rather, should or shouldn’t be in the game, but this whole issue doesn’t bother me the way it seems to many other people.

I’m for anything that makes the game easier and more accessible for people (seriously, isn’t it hard enough for us non-pros?), and the long putter is keeping some of these people in the game.

I don’t scream “cheater!” and get up in arms over the anchored stroke because I don’t play the game competitively other than with myself and the course.

I don’t relish the little side bets or games that many seem to, nor do I currently play in a league. I’m a competitive person at many things, but not golf. I view it as more social and cheer anyone’s success, knowing, like running and many other sports, it’s all hard-earned if done by the rules.

Yet, I will still watch with interest as to how this all plays out, because I’m sensing the long-putter crowd is retrenching and not going quietly on this.

But for me, personally, my long-putter journey has long been over. I’ll be anchored to my conventional putter for many, many years to come.

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A 2014 Golf Resolution Suggestion: Get Fit

ImageA sample photo of a club-fitting session

What are your golf goals for 2014? Have you started thinking about them yet?

If you’re a golfer in the majority of the country where they’re experiencing that unfortunate season called winter, I’m guessing the answer is no.

Well, when you do, I’m guessing thoughts will turn to bucket-list courses you want to play, possibly coveted golf purchases to be made and target scores to be shot.

To that list, I’d like to suggest you add one more: If you haven’t done so already, get fitted for your clubs.

This post was originally going to recount the fitting experiences I had in 2013 and how my game benefitted from them, but then I got a better example: my longest golf playing partner.

It was funny how it turned out, but he actually benefitted from my driver fitting more than I did by way of being introduced to a new driver shaft that put him on a path to a dramatic transformation.

Let me back up a little and explain.

I started golfing with Ted about 10 years ago when we met by chance on the first tee box of a golf course in Omaha.

For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been one of the better drivers of the golf ball I know. He’s long had that eye-level, boring ball flight that, as a former sky-baller, I’ve always envied. Then a year ago, something changed.

After I moved out to California and we resumed playing on a more regular basis, I noticed my friend wasn’t the same player off the tee. And the more I learned about the golf swing at the Golf Academy, the more baffled I became as to why.

I suspected a lingering toe injury was partly to blame and that the resulting pain was somehow hindering his weight shift. But then that cleared up and his drives were still taking nasty high and right detours into other fairways.

Finally one day when we were playing last fall, and he was hitting it worse than ever, he asked if he could hit my driver.

After being fitted at Fujikura, I was carrying a demo driver with a new shaft that had started to give me the desired trajectory he used to have.

I’ll never forget his first swing. We were playing a long, slightly uphill par-4 in Costa Mesa. He took his usual backswing and unleashed a 320-yard rope down the right side of the fairway.

Jokingly, I told him I’d need to hold his ID and a credit card if he wanted to use my driver again because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back.

Anyway, Ted played my driver on the back nine and proceeded to hit all seven fairways and knock eight shots off his front-nine score. It’s the most dramatic turnaround I’ve ever seen on a golf course.

He come off the course ready to toss his old driver in the trash and go buy a new one. I told him it wasn’t a new driver he needed; it was a new shaft. Even after a dramatic 10-hole testimonial, he still didn’t quite get it.

I made him promise to come by and undergo a club fitting at Fujikura and let the pros weigh in before consigning his driver to the scrapheap. But before he left, I actually held his driver for the first time and realized it felt like a paper weight being swung by a piece of spaghetti.

I had him hold his driver and my demo driver simultaneously to feel the weight difference.

“Oh my God is my driver light” was his response.

For those of you that haven’t been fit before, here’s basically what happens: they put you on a swing monitor and have you hit shots that produce an array of visual and numerical feedback on everything from trajectory to swing speed/ball speed and, most import, spin.

The more you work with swing analysis equipment, the more you realize the role of spin in the golf shot and how it influences trajectory and shot shape. Usually reducing and controlling this spin is largely what a fitting aims to do through improving the relationship between the shaft and the clubhead, which sometimes means changing one or the other, as it did for me.

Before I continue, I’m going to out my friend here a bit and tell you that when I told him about how working with this equipment in the past had improved my game, he was less than interested. I especially recall telling him, “You hit a ball and get 20 readouts on what just happened.”

“I don’t want 20 readouts,” he replied.

I countered, “Here’s guessing you want at least five.”

And this is where a big knowledge gap exists in golf right now. We’ve never known more about ball flight, the swing and how the two really work together, yet most of the golfing public continues to know less.

My gauge for this is talking about it with people on the course and watching them stare blankly when I use terms like TrackMan and Flight Scope. If you don’t know those terms, get to know them because you will encounter them in your golf future if you desire to get better. (And, yes, I’m happy to do a future post explaining what they’re all about and how to understand the results.)

Anyway my skeptic friend stepped into a simulator for the first time in December and started discovering the truth about his swing gone wrong.

His old driver, as predictable as ever, replicated the exact results he was having on the course. Right, right and really right where his only swing outcomes.

Among other things, the swing monitor showed Ted’s driver was imparting incredible amounts of side spin on the ball and spin in general.

John Hovis, the fitter that day for Fujikura, processed in the results, took the specs on my friend’s driver, and then made a few insightful observations about Ted’s driving.

The one that wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years was that Ted had unusually long arms, which was making it difficult for him to get the club through.

To increase his club speed, John took an inch off Ted’s old driver and then added weight to the clubhead to give it a little more heft and feel.

The results were dramatic. We played a round that afternoon at Twin Oaks and my friend found fairway after fairway, even on the toughest driving holes on the tree-lined course. His old swing was back and actually better.

And, for my part, I’ve gained 15 yards more from the new shaft I was fitted for that reduced my driver’s trajectory, tightened my draw ball flight and gave me more roll-out.

So that’s two very positive outcomes with two very different swing solutions.

I’ve now been fitted for everything in my bag, and the results show. I just had my best golf year ever and am looking to improve on that in the new year.

So before you dump more money into rounds that will produce the same results, much less invest in new equipment, considering getting fit and discovering the real truth about your golf swing.

Better golf in 2014? That’s what I call a happy New Year.

Equipment Insider: Talking Golf Shafts With Marshall Thompson of Fujikura

This is the second post in our occasional series, in conjunction with world-renowned Vista-based golf shaft manufacturer and supplier Fujikura, about golf shafts, the fitting process and fitters. In this installment, we profile Fujikura fitter Marshall Thompson, who talks about some of his famous fits from 2013, including the LPGA’s Michelle Wie, and looks back on the year in fitting and what’s ahead.

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Name: Marshall Thompson

Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ

College: Two years at Palomar College followed by two years studying abroad at the University of London.

Playing experience: After being introduced to the game by his dad, Marshall quickly became hooked and started playing junior tournaments. He then played all four years at Rancho Buena Vista High before walking on at Palomar College and playing two years. His parents were members at Shadowridge CC in Vista. “Golf has been my passion for a long time.”

Career at Fujikura: Five years. Marshall started out as an intern under Pat McCoy and John Hovis. “They taught me everything about fitting.” He’s now runs the Fit-On studio with John Hovis and did fitting the past year on the Web.com Tour. He also works with tour departments of OEM’s and is involved in prototyping and design and testing of new product.

Years of fitting experience: 8. He started out doing demo days in San Diego and North Country for TaylorMade while at Palomar.

Fit philosophy: Everyone comes in with a swing fingerprint. That’s what we work with to get your head to square on time and for the shaft to load properly.

How to maximizing your fitting: Coming in with an open mind, ready to learn and trust the process. Too many people come in and say, “My swing speed is this, so I need an X flex.” That’s not always the case. Come in ready to experience the process, digest the data and learn how shafts really affect launch and spin.

Biggest fitting development in 2013: I think it was just a greater overall acceptance of fitting, which in itself is huge. I think people are really starting to listen to the message we’ve been really trying to ingrain of going to get fit. Spend the money, spend the time to get into the right product. It’ll change your game. It seems more people are seeing the results of that and it’s helping them play better. And I think the process is getting easier, and more fun, too, because of the technology.

Fitting challenges for 2014: Our challenge, as always, is to design for what the equipment companies are producing. Right now, that’s low spin and that might mean moving back toward a higher spinning type of shaft rather than what we’ve been doing the past few years. It’s always a counter-balance to whatever the manufacturers are doing.

Fit insight: We’re a shaft company, but a fitting is a head and a shaft. We’re here the find the perfect marriage of the two.

Famous fits: Michelle Wie. She was a real highlight. She came in this year and was phenomenally nice – and tall!

She has a great swing and a great personality. She was a lot of fun to work with. She’s a hard swinger by lady’s standards (104 mph) and we put her in a very stiff shaft (a 7.2 Tour Spec X flex).

We decreased her spin by 400-500 RPM’s and actually flattened her trajectory and got her a little more rollout, distance. And her dispersion stayed tight. It worked out well.

She’s fundamentally sound and her swing is as good as it gets.

On the men’s tour side, we had Jason Gore come in from the Web.com Tour. He’s a character and a really funny guy.

He’s a high-launch, high-spin guy, but we got him into a driver with a new CG, a little bit more forward and high. He was able to launch it low and get his spin down around 2,200-2,300, which he hadn’t seen before. He needed a new head and shaft combination. Sometimes it’s not one or the other; it’s both.

He really got the benefit of some of the new technologies with heads and shafts.

Outside of the tour, we had former baseball player Jermaine Day. We got him another 15 yards. He swings about 112 mph so he comes at it pretty hard. We decreased his loft and gave him a stout handle. He was a lot of fun to fit.

With baseball players, it’s always curious to see how much of their baseball swing is reflected in their golf swing, but, as a group, they’re all very fast from the top down.

Equipment Insider: Talking Golf Shafts With John Hovis of Fujikura

This is the first of what will become an occasional series, in conjunction with world-renowned Vista-based golf shaft manufacturer and supplier Fujikura, about golf shafts, the fitting process and fitters. In this first installment, we profile Fujikura’s John Hovis, a veteran fitter and manager of Fujikura’s Fit-On Studio. John provides his insights about the shaft-fitting process and what can be gained for your game.

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Name: John Hovis

 Hometown: Phoenix

 Family: Lives in San Marcos, Calif., with his wife and four kids, including twin daughters

 College: Golf Academy of America and entered the PGA apprentice program at Kapalua after graduation

Career at Fujikura: He started in 2003 in product development and as a tour rep. John currently works in product development and manages the fitting studio in Vista and continues tour-related responsibilities involving product supply and repair.

 Years of fitting experience: 21

How to maximizing your fitting session: Know what you want to work on and what club(s) you want fit – driver, woods, irons. Be prepared to answer questions about tendencies, ball flight, misses, etc. What’s the change/improvement you’re seeking?

Fitting philosophy: We work with the swing that walks in the door. We want you to walk out very confident that you can take to the golf course what we produced indoors.

Fit insight: We test our designs on tour first, but if it works there, we know it’s going to work for every flex down the line.

Famous fits: A lot of former and current football, baseball and hockey players. They mastered their sport and then were humbled by golf, and they like that challenge. We’ve had LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk, but Leslie O’Neal (former Chargers defensive end) was an interesting fit.

His swing was all force, all big muscles, and we used a very stiff handle to handle his very hard down swing. Then we needed to help him time it at the bottom with a softer shaft tip so that so he’d deliver that clubface squarely.

 Future of fitting: The advancement of materials, particularly graphite, is really exciting. In the grand scheme of things, graphite iron shafts are still relatively new. There have been huge strides the last five years to make them play like steel.

Graphite iron shafts have gained in popularity on tour, but the benefits are great for the amateur player as well. The dampening effect of graphite is great for joint pain, arthritis, back pain, etc. Graphite can decrease the amount of stress on every shot for all of that, and maybe that allows someone to play a little longer, practice a little longer.

The stigma of inconsistency graphite used to have is gone. It’s miles beyond and really where amateurs should seek to make a change.

Equipment Review: JetSpeed by TaylorMade

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TaylorMade unveiled JetSpeed last week, which is its update to the RocketBallz line and includes the first driver to utilize Speed Pocket technology.

I’ve pasted portions of the company release below, but if you’re up to speed on JetSpeed and just want to read about my experience, then scroll about halfway down.

The word from the source:

TaylorMade, the No. 1 played driver brand on the PGA Tour, has announced the release of JetSpeed, a breakthrough line of metalwoods that includes the company’s first driver to feature Speed Pocket technology. In addition, JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs combine an enhanced Speed Pocket, an extremely low-forward center of gravity (CG) location and extremely light overall weight to promote faster swing speed, clubhead speed and ball speed for more distance.

“We expect ‘low and forward CG’ to represent the next great innovation in metalwood performance,” said Sean Toulon, Executive Vice President. “With our SLDR and JetSpeed products, we’re giving golfers of all types the opportunity to increase their launch angle and reduce their spin-rate, which ultimately leads to more distance.”

  The First Driver with a Speed Pocket

The Speed Pocket was originally designed to increase the speed at which the clubface flexes and rebounds to promote faster ball speed.  Why put a Speed Pocket in a driver, since the face is already as fast as the USGA will allow? TaylorMade engineers discovered that incorporating a Speed Pocket into the JetSpeed driver promotes less spin, as well as greater ball speeds on shots struck below the center of the clubface. Research suggests 72% of all golf shots are hit below the center of face, so the JetSpeed driver is designed to minimize the ill effects of shots struck below center.

“With most drivers, low impact generates too much spin, making the ball fly too high and land short,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s Senior Director of Metalwood Creation. “JetSpeed’s Speed Pocket is engineered to dramatically reduce that added spin to promote more distance on that very common type of mishit.”

 JetSpeed Fairway Woods and Rescues

JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs each incorporate a radically redesigned Speed Pocket that’s smaller and accounts for less weight, while remaining just as efficient at boosting the speed of the clubface.

The improved Speed Pocket is filled with a polymer that keeps debris out, improving turf interaction while absorbing unwanted vibration without slowing down the clubface.

The weight saved by the new Speed Pocket design is redistributed strategically within the clubhead to move the CG lower and more forward, a location that TaylorMade has proven promotes faster ball speeds and lower spin. JetSpeed fairways and Rescues reduce spin by 200-300 RPM compared to previous models to promote more distance.

JetSpeed fairways and Rescues also feature a low-profile head design that makes it easier to make contact with the clubface below the ball’s equator, making it easier to launch the ball on a high, long-carrying flight and easier to get the ball in the air off the turf. The combination of low-profile head design and Speed Pocket work together to make JetSpeed fairway woods the longest and most playable fairways TaylorMade has ever created.

The driver retails for $299; the fairway wood, $229 and the rescue,  $199. They go on sale Dec. 13.

My experience:

I was fortunate enough to preview JetSpeed last week during a prescheduled round with Tony Starks of TaylorMade that just happened to coincide with the product launch.

First, I should say here that I own the RocketBallz Stage 2 3-wood, and it has been an absolutely revolutionary club for me. It has more or less replaced my driver. I get easy distance with it (260, 280) and, to use a “Star Wars” phrase, an occasional “jump to light speed” when it’ll push 300 yards and beyond.

That said, when I heard the JetSpeed driver employed the same technology, I was intrigued and not surprised when the driver felt familiar and comfortable to me. The photo below is the result of my very first swing with it on a 364-yard par-4 at Shadowridge Country Club. I was inside 80 yards after hitting an easy draw down the right side.

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I played the JetSpeed driver for the majority of the round and found the driver and 3-wood easy to hit, long and forgiving on off-center hits. Most likely from teeing the ball too high, I got under a couple, but my drives still flew a decent distance and held the fairway.

I was amazed at the number of quality shots I hit given I had zero range time with the club. It immediately felt comfortable to me in that I could feel the head, but the club managed to remain light. For comparison sake, I’ve been unable to hit the R1 in the past because the head has been too heavy for me. My 3-wood, much lighter by comparison, has always swung like a breeze for me, and my playing partners tell me it evokes my most natural swing.

JetSpeed felt the same way, and I look forward to having a go with it again and it becoming a permanent part of my bag. Hello, Santa? …