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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things To Keep In Mind During Golf Club Fitting

My last post about my great experience at Club Champion for my iron fitting got a little wordy (like Encyclopedia Britannica wordy), so I wrote this separate piece about some of the key takeaways I had from the session.  There are a number of things that you should keep in mind going into a fitting that will help you get the most out of the experience.

1) Keep an open mind:  I think this is the most important thing you can do when you go in to buy new equipment.  In getting new gear, your goal should be to get the best equipment you feasibly can that fits your game and will help make you better.  If you go in and say, "I only want you to fit me for Mizuno or Titleist clubs," you are restricting your options for improvement.  Be open to trying everything you can to see what really works best for you.

2) Be realistic about your own game:  Blades are great, look incredible and feel fantastic when you pure them, but they are not for everyone.  If you play three times a month and are an 11 handicap, blades probably aren't the way to go.  Be honest with yourself and your fitter about the state of your game and how much you will be playing.  You might not love the look of "super game improvement" irons, but if they are the best fit for you and will improve your game the most, they still might be the right choice.  If you overreach for clubs that look great but that you will only hit well half the time, you could end up detracting from your enjoyment of the game, and that is not what you want.

3) Ask questions:  This is very important if it is your first time going for a fitting.  There is usually alot of technical jargon thrown around, such as lie angle, spin rates and launch angle.  If you don't understand what is going on, ask!  It will help increase your knowledge of the process and allow you to be an active participant.

4)  Focus:  When you are in there trying different clubs and getting different data readings, there is a risk of sensory overload.  It will be helpful for you to try and concentrate on each club you hit to see how it feels in your hand.  The differences will probably be subtle, so the more in tune with the club you are, the easier it will be for you to notice those differences, and that will help your fitter get you on the right path.

5) Listen:  You have to check your ego at the door.  These fitters know what they are talking about, and you will be far better off in the long run if you sit back and listen to what they have to say.  They are the experts - let them impress you with their knowledge and use it to help your game!        

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review of Club Champion Golf Iron Fitting

Billy Beane revolutionized the way that baseball front office personnel evaluated ballplayers. Rather than rely on the old school methods of a scout getting to know a player and watching how they play, Beane brought in some ivy leaguers who built statistical models that told him which players would be more likely to generate runs for his team. This allowed him to find value where others didnt. I loved the scene in Moneyball where Beane is around the table with all of his scouts, and one scout, while talking about a prospect, made the judgment that a guy would not be successful because he lacked confidence - the scout arrived at that conclusion because the guy had an ugly girlfriend. Beane, on the other hand, believed that by getting a deeper understanding of the numbers, he could find guys that would create better results.

Getting new golf equipment is similar. For many years, people relied on the ever elusive concept of "feel" to figure out what equipment best suits their game. Unless you are Bubba, feel is great, but data - raw numbers tied to your golf swing - are going to be more reliable in getting you set up with the equipment that you need to improve your own game.

I recently wrote aboutClub Champions fitting philosophy. I got to experience that philosophy first hand last Monday while searching for the perfect irons, and it did not disappoint. A fitting is a marathon, not a sprint (so is this article), and I am here to take you through it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bubba Ball! Bubba Watson Wins The Masters

Getty Images
One of the oldest adages in golfing lore is that the Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday.  The reason sayings like this become "old adages" is because of days like yesterday.

Much of the talk going into the tournament was that this was going to be one of the greatest Masters ever.  I think it was, albeit for different reasons than the prognosticators originally predicted.  The much anticipated Tiger-Rory showdown turned out to be the battle for 40th place, as both men ended the tournament at +5.

The real battle on Sunday was between Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.  What makes the Masters so great is the roars that reverberate through the course on Sunday afternoon.  There was no shortage of them yesterday, and they got started early.  King Louis pulled off one of the greatest shots in Masters history, holing out for a double eagle 2 on the par 5 second hole - the first time that has ever been done on that hole during the Masters.  But after that epic shot vaulted him into the lead, the British Open champion could not pull away from the field, because guys like Bubba, Kuchar, and a late charging Westwood would not let him.

Crowd favorite Phil could never get it low enough after taking a painful triple bogey on the fourth hole.  Kuchar briefly shared the lead after playing the 12th through the 15th in four under, but a bogey on 16 sunk his battleship.  And the putter - long the bane of Westwood's existence - let the Brit down again on Sunday, foreclosing his chance at that elusive first major.

That cleared the stage for Bubba and Oosthuizen.  Bubba, like Chal Schwartzl last year, ran off four straight birdies on the back nine to get to -10, and a share of the lead standing on the 17th tee.  After trading pars on the 17th (including a fantastic recovery shot from the trees that would foretell things to come), the two men stood on 18 and both ripped drives down the fairway.  Oosthuizen's approach landed 20 feet above the hole, and he couldn't make the slick putt, leaving Bubba a putt to win the Masters, but it just slid by the cup.  Bonus golf!

After both making pars on the first playoff hole (18), Bubba pulled his tee shot on 10 badly into the trees on the right.  It looked dead.  There were trees, patrons, and a TV tower all over the place.  After Oosthuizen played to just short of the green in two, all Bubba did was hit one of the greatest shots in Masters history, a 40 yard hook shot with a gap wedge around the trees to about ten feet.  It was an impossible shot except for maybe Tiger, Phil, Seve, and Bubba.  After Oosthuizen made bogey, Bubba two-putted for the Green Jacket.  And then the tears came.  A refreshingly emotional Watson embraced his caddie, his mom, fellow Tour players Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley, and certainly thought of his wife and his new adopted son waiting for him at home in Florida.

This was a great Masters with a truly deserving winner, and it is a fantastic win for the game of golf.  It was so much fun to watch a guy with a homemade swing (he's never had a lesson) just go out and hit shots that previously existed only in his imagination.  While the ratings may have been down because Tiger was not in contention, those that did not tune in missed one of the best finishes ever.  Bubba is the kind of original character who the everyday golfer (and non-golfer) can identify with, and I was pleasantly surprised at how widespread the coverage of the win was in the non-golfing media.  For instance, in Philly, the sports radio talk shows were dominated by chatter about Bubba's win (especially "the Shot") - and that was true even though the Phillies home opener was today (incidentally, the way the Phillies' offense is this season, I would be happy to see Bubba hitting fifth and playing first base, but I digress).

Bubba is a great character who wears his heart on his sleeve and plays the game with a reckless abandon that is truly entertaining to watch.  An easy guy to root for, he went a long way to capturing the hearts of golf fans around the world yesterday, and I certainly hope (and truly believe) there is plenty more where that came from!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Welcome to the 1992 Masters - I Mean the 2012 Masters

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Twenty years after one of the most popular Masters victories ever, Fred Couples is holding off the inexorable onslaught of time to give golf fans hopes for one of the all time greatest major victories.  The 52 year old Couples is the 36 hole leader, at the course and tournament he loves the most.

This is similar to when you buy a ticket for the powerball lottery, and spend the rest of the day dreaming about what could be if you win.  Having last night and this morning to think about how incredible watching Fred Couples putting on the green jacket on Sunday is almost as fun as the actual victory would be.  Couples could actually deliver what Tom Watson nearly did a couple years back at the British Open, and it would certainly be another victory for the ages at Augusta National.

But Couples is being chased by some high powered pursuers.  The leaderboard beneath Couples has no shortage of blockbuster storylines.  Lee Westwood, one back, is seeking to shed the long held title nobody wants to have - Best Player Never to Win a Major.  Tiger Woods' heir apparent Rory McIlroy is looking for Masters redemption and is only one behind.  How about Sergio Garcia, also one behind, who has had a meandering golf journey but is back on track and trying to win his first major.  And  then of course there is fan favorite Phil, only three behind, who seems to have righted the ship after an erratic first round and is looking to build on the momentum from another closing birdie at 18.

This is shaping up to be another epic Sunday finish, and I can't wait to see what happens.  But count me among the people hoping to see Couples shock the world and finish off what would be one of the best golf stories ever written.  Who is with me on Team Boom Boom?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Masters Moments: Fuzzy Zoeller Wins In First Masters Start

This week you will hear many people explain how important local knowledge is at Augusta, and how difficult it is to win as a first timer, because learning to read those slick greens, handle the pressure, and master the swirling winds in Amen Corner is a tall order.  But one man who was able to put it all together and win in his first trip to Augusta National was Fuzzy Zoeller.

One of the games largest personalities, Zoeller gave alot of credit for the 1979 win that week to his Augusta caddie, Jerry Beard.  That was back in the day when players were not allowed to bring their own caddies to the Masters.  Fuzzy said that Beard really pulled him around the course that week.

The leader heading into the final round, Ed Sneed, bogeyed the final three holes to shoot a closing 76, which landed Zoeller in a playoff with Sneed and Tom Watson at -8.  It was the first sudden death playoff at The Masters, and it began on the 10th hole.  All three players made par on the tricky downhill par 4 (where Rory's final round really collapsed last year).  The playoff then moved to the 11th, the first leg of Amen Corner.  Zoeller knocked his 8-iron approach to about four feet, and made the putt to win the Green Jacket. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Understanding The Value Of A Club Champion Golf Equipment Fitting

If you are anything like me, you not only love to soak up as much Masters coverage as possible, but this is the week where you really get the itch to get out on the course and start sharpening your own game. Masters week is the official opening of the new golf season, at least for those of us thawing out in the usually chilly Northeast.

With the beginning of the season upon us, it is a great time to evaluate your equipment and see if there are changes that would benefit you on the course. One of the things that you know I preach on this blog is the importance of getting fit for your equipment. That focus on fitting is what makes me so excited that club fitting experts Club Championareopeninga new store in Bala Cynwood, PA, just outside of Philadelphia.

This week, I had the chance to speak with Matt Siegel, Club Champion Vice President for Marketing & Sales, about the Club Champion experience and the value of a fitting. Matt explained that you need four things in order to do a Tour level fitting - all four are available at Club Champion:

Marquee Masters Pairings

Here is a list of some of the pairings to watch over the first two days at Augusta National.  All times indicate the players' Thursday tee time:

8:45 a.m.:  Adam Scott, Bo Van Pelt, Martin Kaymer
8:56 a.m.:  Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink
9:18 a.m.:  Kyle Stanley, Jason Day, Bill Haas
9:29 a.m.:  Trevor Immelman, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose
10:24 a.m.: Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Kelly Kraft
10:35 a.m.:  Tiger Woods, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sang Moon Bae
10:46 a.m.:  Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari, Nick Watney
11:41 a.m.:  Luis Oosthuizen, Mark Wilson, Graeme McDowell
11:52 a.m.:  Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter, Patrick Cantlay
12:58 p.m.:  Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk
1:20 p.m.:  Fred Couples, Darren Clarke, Ryo Ishikawa
1:42 p.m.:  Angel Cabrera, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson
1:53 p.m.:  Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Peter Hanson   

Johnson Withdraws From Masters

Dustin Johnson has withdrawn from the Masters because if his back.  Johnson has been dealing with some back pain all year, having to previously withdraw from the Humana Challenge because of it.  He tweaked the back last week lifting a jet ski, according to his agent.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Masters Moments: The First Masters Tournament

America's greatest amateur, Bobby Jones, had a vision.  He wanted to build a course that would stand the test of time, and could be a place that his friends could come and play away from the glare of the public spotlight.  He teamed up with successful businessman Clifford Roberts, and they formed a partnership that laid the foundation for both the building of Augusta National Golf Club and the golf tournament that would eventually become the best in the world.  Jones co-designed the course with renowned course architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie (with an assist from Roberts - not much went on at Augusta without his knowledge and approval).

The course opened for play in 1933, and in 1934, the first Masters tournament took place for a select field.  That first tournament was actually called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament.  Roberts suggested renaming the tournament The Masters, and the tournament took on that famous moniker in 1939.

72 golfers teed it up at Augusta that first spring (although it was quite cold that March, when the tournament was held).  The biggest draw of the week was Jones himself, who came out of retirement every year until 1948 to play The Masters - Jones retired from competitive golf in 1930 after being the only player to win the Grand Slam (at that time winning the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs).  Jones finished the tournament ten shots behind the winner, Horton Smith, who carded a -4 total score.  Smith pocketed a cool $1,500 for winning that tournament, which would not even cover the practice balls used at Augusta for today's pros.  Smith was quite an accomplished player in his own right, winning 32 PGA Tour events, and capturing a second Masters title in 1936.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Masters Week Begins!

It truly is a tradition unlike any other.  Masters Week is finally here, and you have to do some hard work to conjure up memories of a Masters tournament that has more storylines or generated more excitement than the 2012 version.  Rory looking for redemption for his 2011 Sunday swoon.  Tiger, coming off his first PGA Tour victory since his fall from grace, looking to get back on track for his assault on Jack's record.  A current (Luke Donald) and former (Lee Westwood) world #1 looking for that elusive first major.  Young guns like Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and Rickie Fowler looking to continue to establish their presence on Tour with a major victory.  This is as good as it gets.

This is the best sports week all year, and there is not even a close second.  We get to see the NCAA championship game, baseball Opening Day, and then 4 rounds at Augusta with the azaleas in full bloom.  If there is a sports heaven, you have to believe this week is featured prominently there.

What makes Augusta such a special place?  There is the man who made it, Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur to ever the play the game.  It is fitting that we all pay homage to him every year, since he helped make golf what it is today.  Then there is  the unsurpassed beauty of the course, where colors always look a little brighter and the lush, the manicured fairways look nicer than the carpet you can put in your living room, and the greens - oh those greens - are like putting on a sheet of ice with breaks that you can't see without having some insider knowledge.

Even though the first three months of the PGA Tour season has produced great golf and even greater champions, make no mistake about it, the golf season starts on Thursday morning in Augusta.

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