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It seems only natural to investigate how our great golfing heroes set up their gear.  After all, it is safe to assume that touring pros have tinkered with a wide range of setups, eventually settling on a makeup that is optimal for performance at the highest level.  The problem for us onlookers is that on those rare occasions when a touring pro’s full specs are published, they are usually characterized relative to “standard”.  For instance, when one hears that Bubba Watson plays his irons “2 degrees upright”,  it doesn’t provide a lot of useful information without clarification of what standard is for that particular frame of reference.

I went ahead and did a little research to identify what exactly “standard” has been throughout the years.  It is generally accepted that in the last 50 years, manufacturers have offered increasingly strong lofts, increasingly upright irons, and increasingly longer clubs.  But how much?  When?

I used Titleist as a baseline.  Their website offers a history of club specs going back to their earliest irons in the 70′s.  I plucked out the data for their standard set makeups and plotted it up.  In the later years when more than one iron model was offered per year, I chose the “blady-est” iron.  In this way the chart tracks the specs for a standard Titleist blade.

The right side of the chart shows a few random sets (non-Titleist) for which information was available.  I also added in Tiger’s 2012 specs (somebody published  a screen capture from Nike) and Arnold Palmer’s specs from the early 60′s (somebody measured the limited edition Palmer irons that were built to match his specs from the 60′s).

In general, the commonly accepted trend is shown to be true.  Lie angles have moved upwards (for the same club) as many as 4 degrees although the change has been greater in the longer irons (shorter irons have only moved a degree or two more up).  This has tended to bunch the lie angles together in a much tighter dispersion for the 8 club iron set in recent years relative to early on.  Titleist’s 3-pw now cover the range of 60 to 64 degrees (4 degree spread) whereas 8 club Titleist sets in the 70′s covered 57 to 64 degrees. [Click to enlarge]

Lofts have gotten stronger (decreased) over time.  The change comes out to be about 2-3 degrees per club across the board.  For this reason, a standard set of 2-9 in the 70′s is now roughly equivalent in loft to a 3-pw. [Click to enlarge]

Lengths have gone up about 1 inch, corresponding to the change in lofts (turning a 5 iron into a 6 iron, etc.) [Click to enlarge]

I hope you find these charts useful, either as references for setting up your own sets or as context for understanding how great players through history have modified their gamers relative to standard.

For those who like tables better than charts, here’s the full spreadsheet I used to compile this data[Excel format] –> Standard Specs Spreadsheet

Happy (flag) hunting!

Happy US Open week everybody! Being the nerd that I am I decided to peek into the bags of the very best players in the world today and see how they set things up. You’d have to be oblivious to miss the trend in modern bags away from long irons and towards hybrids and extra wedges. There’s nothing wrong with that… despite my love for traditional golf and gear, I don’t blame pros for taking any means necessary to score the lowest. There also isn’t too much different between the mindset of using some extra hybrids and adding some lofted persimmon woods (4 and 5 woods). We must not forget that being a top touring pro is like no other job in the world. There are hundreds of guys looking to knock you off and take your place. You don’t have a contract like a baseball or basketball player.. If you lose it, you’re gone within a few years. Just ask Anthony Kim.

A corollary of that line of thought is that those few top players who do play the long irons (think 2 or 3 iron) must do so because they believe it gives them the best chance to score well. They wouldn’t do it for style point. And that’s just what I set out to identify – which of the top pros still play long irons? It wasn’t that hard to pull up the “What’s in the Bag?” for each of the top 100. Keeping in mind that everybody changes up their bags from time to time, I pulled out the information for the longest iron currently in their bag (this info is listed at the bottom of this post) and while I was at it I went ahead and noted whether their iron sets were full blades, a mixed set of blades/cavity backs, or all cavity backs. It’s a pretty interesting and even split – there appears to be no consensus on how best to set things up.

Please note that I crunched these data about a week ago so rankings and setups may have shuffled a bit. I also tried to take the most WITB that I could find. Most are from The Masters for those players who qualified to play there.

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The first award to dole out is the “2-iron Award”. Here are the list of winners that are packing a butter knife in their modern set. An important thing to remember is that with the delofting of modern irons, these 2 irons are somewhat analogous in terms of length and loft to old school 1-irons. I think this percentage of modern players (16%) using 2-irons might be somewhat similar to the number of guys in the persimmon age who carried 1-irons but that’s just a guess. Here we go!

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The second award is the “Full Blade Award”, given to those golfers who are packing a full set of muscleback blades. This group tallies at 23% (23/100). A lot of strong ballstrikers is this group!

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And lastly, the composite award, given to those few players who game both a 2-iron AND a full set of blades. A paltry 6 players out of the top 100. Interesting to note that there are no Americans in this group. Cheers fellas!

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The full list and some other plots are shown below. Only 2 players with 5 iron as their longest iron!

Modern Sets – Top 100

Hello again!  Not many updates lately as I’ve been having more fun playing golf than thinking or writing about it.  Having finally found a weekend morning to myself I thought I’d download some thoughts on a variety of random subjects.

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Thoughts on Playing a Short Set

2014 is my first ever golf season playing with a “short set”.  For those who may not be familiar with the terminology I’m talking about a bag with anywhere from 7 to 9 clubs (I’m sure others have their own definitions).  They way I usually set it up is Driver, 3i, 5i, 7i, 9i, 54 deg wedge, 58 deg wedge, putter.

The advantages of the short setup are numerous.  For one, you are much less likely to have approach shots from your “stock” yardage.  This forces you to hit half shots or really step on it in order to get the necessary distance.  If you are “clubbing up” (taking the longer club when between yardages) then you might need to hit a fade in order to hold the green.  When clubbing down, a penetrating draw could be called for.  This adds just the right amount of incremental challenge that you will be pressed to get better without getting frustrated.  Many club golfers will have played a “4-club” event which is the extreme of the short set variation.  Feedback from those events generally indicates that golfers don’t suffer as badly as they expect to.  My experience playing with 8 clubs has led me to the same conclusion – I score the same as with my full set – but only if the following guidelines are followed:

-The strongest iron should match the yardage of the longest par-3.  There are a couple of 200 yard shots at my home course.  I need to hit my longest iron to reach these holes (2-iron with a vintage 2-9 set; 3-iron with modern).  If I try to take 4i, 6i, 8i, pw… then I will almost always lose a stroke per hole on these par-3′s because I can’t reach with my 4-iron and a soft driver will come in too hot.

-Take 2 wedges.  I know, I know…  It seems to make sense that if you are just practicing you should take only one wedge and learn to hit all the shots with that one club by opening and closing the face, varying ball position, etc. I get that and it is sound advice if you are just practicing.  But if you are playing a short set and still want to post scores you need at least a couple of wedges.  I play 54, 58 with my normal set so I just bring both along.  Modern golf (even with traditional gear) requires scoring when you are within birdie range with a wedge.  Additionally, you will miss some greens given your every-other iron setup and you will want a couple wedges to help you get up and down.

One final note on playing with a short set that actually inspired me to start doing it – your bag is much lighter!  I absolutely love my leather Eliott bag but the one downside is that it is heavier than my old, canvas Sunday bag.  By going with a short set one can 1/2 – 1/3 of the weight from the bag and make it very manageable.  This is important if you have a carry bag with no stand.  If I’m playing a full set I’ll take my old Ping 5-pocket stand bag.  If I have the Eliott bag then it needs to be a short set.

Give it a try, I think you’ll enjoy it!

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Thoughts on a Failed Experiment

I just haven’t had much luck with Mizuno.   I had only 1 golf purchase last month (since the Wood Arts driver) and it was a set of Mizuno MP-29 irons circa 1993.  I was lured in because they were cheap and their former owner was a tour player.  The fellow who was selling had acquired them from a caddy friend who in turn  got them from either Robert Damron or Daniel Chopra, both members at Bay Hill where he looped.  The wear marks don’t lie either – whoever was wielding these things was flushing them.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chrome loss pattern as precise as on the 8-iron:

They were shafted with hard-stepped X-100′s which is way too much shaft for me.  I had some extra S-300′s sitting in the garage so I went ahead and reshafted them with something I could handle.  Unfortunately, when I brought them out to the course they were underwhelming.  I really liked the headshape and the feel was OK but my distance was inconsistent and the offset really threw me off.  The amount of offset is not that much but they are setup with “reverse progressive” offset where the long irons have very little and the short irons have a lot.  As somebody who plays a draw mostly I found it a challenge to keep the short irons from going left and my distance control was sketchy.  I could probably tinker with the offset and try to bend some out of it without disturbing the lofts too much but I didn’t want to make it any more of a project than it already was.  Bottom line – these ones aren’t going into the regular iron rotation.  If anybody wants some MP-29′s for cheap with both s-300 and X-100 shafts let me know.  Otherwise I’ll probably throw them up on Ebay in the near future.  C’est la vie.  

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Thoughts on Shotmaking and Working the Ball

This is a repost from another forum but I really like it and I think it covers a lot of ground. A bit divergent but success with shotmaking comes from feel and the same feels don’t work for everybody. I like how this post covers a variety of options for setting up your technical strategy for working the ball with confidence. Originally posted by EA Tischler at Gotham Golf blog:

I believe most great golfers that learn to work the ball develop a variety of techniques for doing so. This may be because golfers that work the ball with their imagination and athleticism simple do so reactively instead of mechanically. For some, they also express that it is easier to work the ball if they think of the different shots as a totally different technique, at least in their minds, so that they can easily differentiate what needs to be done. And that approach tends to be easier for more accomplished players than for the average golfer.

There are some very standard ways to work the ball and to use your standard stroke pattern while simply changing alignments. You can simply change your exit. For example, toe-release the exit for draws and heel-though exists for fades, exit the shaft more vertical for higher shots and exit out with lower extended arms and club for lower shots. You can learn the exiting technique by simply setting up in a constant alignment on the range and then practice exiting and see how the ball reacts to your primary target line. The exiting technique allows you to make the same backsttroke and downstroke, while simply changing your exit with will change your actual delivery action. Fred Shoemaker would have me aim at a target and swing to the top and when the stroke reached the top he would say something like “Draw” and I would react and play a draw. On the next swing I would aim at the same target, and at the top he might say, “fade” and I would react and play a fade. Thorughuot the training he might say, “high” or “low” or anything that would come to mind as far a working the ball. He alwasy wanted the ball flight to begin on the primary aim line.

The exiting method tends to be great for working the ball in all directions. Its limitations come when needed to either hook or slice a shot on purpose. It is great for the more subtle and moderate draws and fades, and is great for working it higher and lower.

When working the ball it is often good to have a primary aim line, so that you know how the ball will work off the line. Once you have a command over how the ball reacts, you can adjust your primary aim line to play draws and fades to the same target.

Some golfers, like Jack Nicklaus simply change the clubface alignment in relations to the grip, and will make the standard swing and see how the ball flight changes, then the aligment is adjusted to play that shot to the target. This tends to be better for slight draws and fades, because the more you open or close the clubface in relations to your grip the more out of balance it becomes and the more strange it seems to feel for many golfers. It is also limited in its effect on trajectory. Though the draws will tend to be slightly lower, and the fades slightly higher, the trajectories will be closer to the standard trajectory when compared to other working the ball methods.

Other golfers change the angle of the wrist set action, setting it more closed for draws and more open for fades. Besides the set angle they can make their standard swings and simply adjust alignment to play the shots to the target. This method is most successful with moderate draws and fades for golfers that have generous range of motion in their wrists. It creates subtle draws and fades for golfers that less range of motion in their wrists. It is limited in the ability to Hook and Slice when needed, and it also has trajectory limitations with the fades being higher and draws lower, more so than with the Nicklaus method.

As far as those that change their swings, some golfers use more forearm roll to work the ball for draws and fades. Nick Faldo had a version of this technique. The forearm rollers will use a little extra, or earlier forearm roll-over, during delivery to play draws, and either holding off the roll, or reverse roll for fades. This in essence seems like you can make your same standard stroke and just adjust the roll, however because of the dynamics of the action many golfers need a slower pivot action to manage the draws and a more accelerating pivot action to play the fades. This technique, in practice, renders a varying technique. This technique makes it easier to work the ball to greater degrees, however seems to be more limited in the more subtle draws and fades. Historically it also has more timing issues which can be viewed as a limitation. It also seems to have limited trajectory control, with lower draws and higher fades.

Some golfers will change the angle of body rotation to work the ball for draws and fades. For draws they will rotate more flatter like a Merry-go-round and for fades more vertical like a Ferris wheel. Of course the Merry-go-round and Ferris wheel images are exaggerations, so they just trend their angles of rotation in those directions. This techniqe tends to render lower draws and higher fades.

One might think that, “Of course draws will be lower and fades higer!” However, with the exiting method you can exit with a toe-release and a more vertical shaft, or earlier rehinge of the wrists and you can play very high draws. You can also exit-out with lower extended arms and club and heel-through the exit for low fades. The exiting method tends to be the most versatile method. However, even it has limitations.
In practice, golfers that seem to be able to work the ball in all directions with all trajectories and all degrees of workability will generally have at least a couple of methods under their belt. Sometimes they will even combine methods.

In my view, the key is to first understand your standard technique and to own it along with its inherent limitations. Once you have a command over your standard stroke pattern, your next goal becomes finding one of the basic methods of working the ball. Find a method that is comfortable for athleticism and mind-set.

Once you have a basic way of working the ball and understand its limitations you can learn another method that will allow you to eliminate the remaining limitations in your arsenal.

For example, Nicklaus’ method always felt funny to me. I always wanted the club perfectly balanced in my grip. Changing the exit was the most comfortable way for me. Changing the set action was the next most comfortable. And changing the body rotation was the next most comfortable. However, for all of those it was harder to work the ball for hooks and slices, so for those I would use more forearm roll.

Keep in mind, as I say comfortable I mean what felt manageable or controlled in an athletic manner for myself.

You will also find that some of the methods tend to play the shots hotter, some softer, some land and spin more, some will roll out more, some will work better on harder and faster greens and some will work better on slower and softer greens, as far as receptability is concerned.

So, keep in mind that all stroke patterns have limitations. For example, even once Trevino developed a command over working the ball, he still had limited power applications compared to his contemporaries, and he struggled in the harder, faster, and hilly conditions of Augusta. He won 2 US Opens because his fade and high level of accuracy worked to his advantage in US Open conditions. He won 2 British opens where his lower trajectories while working the ball worked well for him. And he won 2 PGA championships where the softer conditions and the easiest set-up of the majors allowed his abilities to excel. However, at Augusta he felt he was at a disadvantage because at least something about his arsenal was limited to the needs of winning there. And Trevino himself said that Augusta never fit his method of play.

Well I suppose since it’s because I can’t afford the rare, highly sought after classic gear that I’ve turned to the funky and obscure stuff.   Here we have my latest find – a Wood Arts Gleneagles 1985 Commemorative Driver.    When I first saw this one I thought maybe it was one of Dave Wood’s pieces from before his Wood Bros days.   Not the case.  Wood Arts is a totally separate entity.   Dave Wood was nice enough to fill me in:

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Your Driver was made in the 1980′s by “Wood Arts”. This was a Houston, Texas based company that produced some very beautiful custom woods. Their business was mostly directed towards high end, corporate promotion and custom products. 
 
They may have produced some woods from persimmon, but most of their woods were crafted from very exotic and rare, tropical hardwoods from south America and Asia. The beauty of exotic and rare hardwoods was the main selling feature of their business. One of their retail products that reached some regional success was branded “Beauwood”. It was a very dark, marbly and beautiful hardwood from the Amazon.

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I don’t know if this model was made from any of the exotic woods described above but it certainly has a few features that I would describe as high end:

  • The Insert – It’s a a rare gamma fire red!  Not only that, but the glass/fiber layup was manufactured in such as a way as to yield a “bulls-eye” looking pattern of concentric circles that provides unique look and frames the ball well.

  • The Grip – A golf pride “Traction-Action” underlisting with a leather wrap on top.  But this isn’t a standard Neumann or Lamkin leather wrap.   It’s a slightly frayed, untanned (?) thin leather wrap with no “tack” or stain.  The finish looks frayed – it’s hard to explain but the pictures tell the tale.  I’ve never seen one quite like this before.

 

  • The Whipping – It’s gold!  Nothing more to say.  I didn’t get a good shot of the whipping up close but I have this action sequence of my dog stealing my golf ball.  Anyone seen gold whipping before?


As for the Gleneagles decal, Google tells me it’s  a country club in Plano, Texas.  They opened in 1985 so this was likely a limited run of custom drivers commissioned for the first year of the club.   Whoever ordered them must have wanted some very high end clubs because I haven’t seen another driver from the 80′s with more bells and whistles.   There is a stamp on the bottom that reads D-040.  Perhaps this was #40 out of 100?  Who knows.  It’s fitted with a dynamic stiff shaft and sits slightly open.  Not a very deep face but a lovely pear shape, no weight port.

We give a lot of love to the classic MacGregors and Wood Bros drivers and they deserve all the accolades they get, but there are some neat finds that can be had for cheap if you happen to get lucky!

 

 

 

Another long work week is over and I’m pumped to watch The Masters this weekend!  Bummer about the big cat’s surgery but the world keeps turning.  I don’t really have any poignant analysis that you haven’t heard anywhere else.  As usual for the Masters, the top notch ballstrikers are the ones who have risen to the top of the leaderboard.  I love that there are some 50 somethings out there grinding their way around too – Mize, Langer, and Lyle!

I’ve really enjoyed the online coverage that Masters.com has provided.  The wide variety of channel options and minimization of sappy player-profile vignettes makes for a great blend of pure golf with modern technology.  If you haven’t had a chance to check out the “On the Range” channel, I highly recommend it.  I grabbed a few videos from Saturday’s warmup.  I thought the crew here might enjoy this commentary on Brandt Snedeker’s driver:

Whenever I talk to somebody trying persimmon for the first time I tell them to try a bunch of drivers and then once you find the one that fits your swing you should hold onto it for dear life.  It sounds like Sneds is doing that with his modern driver, just like Snead did more than 60 years ago.  Just goes to show – modern era equipment companies love their pros to switch to the latest and greatest model every year.  Some players can do this and see no ill effects while others will struggle to adjust to the subtleties of each new set.  I recall Steve Stricker hung onto his 755′s for many years despite sponsor pressure. I remember this old video where Stricker is trying to think of some reason why the new cavity backs are better than his 755′s. He eventually thinks of something for Titleist to post but reading between the lines  I’m pretty sure he would have been just fine staying with his old set.

 

Here’s some more videos from the range, take em or leave em. I find it an interesting look at modern golf instruction.

Final thought: It’s worth checking out Robert Hunter’s piece on the Augusta short course (9 hole par-3) that MacKenzie designed but never built. It’s a unique design with no hazards, no fairways, just 9 large mowed areas that serve as both greens and the next tee box. Superb research and better writing than I could offer on the subject :)

Enjoy the weekend and hit em straight!

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Credit:
Watercolor plan: Neil Crafter
Short course plan: Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Having shrunk my collection considerably over the last year, I’ve found myself suffering vintage club purchase withdrawals. In an effort to satisfy my rectangular-box cravings I made a small exception a few weeks ago.  It’s not a full iron set, or a fancy vintage driver, but rather a unique wedge which offers up more in the way of intriguing possibility than established value.

At first glance it appears to be a standard Wilson JP (Joe Phillips) pitching wedge. For the uninitiated, Joe Phillips was one of Wilson’s master clubmakers when they were thriving in the 1980′s. The Illinois Golf Hall of Fame offers this regarding Mr. Phillips:

For more than 40 years, Phillips worked for Wilson Sporting Goods and during that time came to be recognized as the face of Wilson Golf to tour and club professionals alike. As vice-president of golf promotions, Phillips’ responsibilities included negotiating and signing golf professionals on both the PGA and LPGA tours as well as researching and developing new club designs, including Wilson’s JP wedge series. The list of touring professionals Phillips worked with reads like a virtual who’s who of golf, including Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Patty Berg. A native of Philadelphia and an accomplished saxophonist, Phillips attended Granoff School of Music. He is a past president of Golf Manufacturers and Distributors Association, and former chairman of the National Golf Foundation. In 1984 Wilson Sporting Goods established the Joe Phillips Cup in his honor, with Sarazen the first recipient.

During the 80′s JP custom grind wedges were top-of-the-class and were featured prominently in the bags of Seve, Tome Kite, Jerry Pate, Nick Faldo, and Payne Stewart, amongst others. In fact, I have it on good authority that this famous chip was executed with a JP wedge (Hole 18, Open Championship, 1988, Lytham).

With such popularity, EBay is strewn with JP wedges of all makes, models, and grinds.   Even so, this one caught my eye based on several surprising features:

  1. The sole is stamped “PITCHING WEDGE” but there is a loft stamp of 56 degrees on the back (standard sand wedge loft)
  2. There is another custom stamp on the back reading: “SHARK”
  3. It’s one of the heaviest wedges I’ve ever swung
  4. There is a black leather wrap grip which I don’t think was offered as standard
  5. Shaft is unlabeled but feels super-stiff

 

So, the obvious question:  Could this be a wedge made for Greg Norman’s personal use?  Did he request a pitching wedge head bent up to 56 degrees loft?  Is the black leather grip consistent with The Shark’s preferred specs from the late 80′s?

I scoured the interweb but cannot find any mention of The Shark using a JP wedge.  Did this belong to Greg Norman or some random insurance salesman in Ohio who liked to call himself “Shark”?  I doubt I’ll ever know for sure, but for $10 the mystery is well worth the investment!

 

Plenty of happenings in the world of traditional golf lately – today is the day we try to catch up. None of the material below is “breaking” these are the things I’m keeping my eye on and I feel should be of interest to traditional golf connoisseurs.

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First up: Tour winner Patrick Reed highlighting one of the more under-rated benefits of playing smaller headed, traditional drivers – the game improvement factor. The nostalgia and appreciation of craftsmanship is undeniable in the boomer generation, but “millenials” will probably be more attracted (at least at first) to the idea of a persimmon club as a challenging tool that can be used to refine your swing. That’s the reason I started.

“It teaches you to hit the center of the clubface, especially with the driver,” he said inside Callaway’s PGA Tour trailer Monday.

Asked how far he can hit a modern ball, such as his Callaway Speed Regime 3, Reed said, “I can still hit it out there about 290, maybe 280. I’ve noticed that you don’t lose distance with it if you hit it in the center of the face. If you don’t hit it in the center of the face, you’re going to hit it 230 and the ball is going to be head-high and either slicing or hooking. It really gives you feedback quickly.”

So, add Patrick Reed to Fowler

and Tiger who both know how beneficial persimmon can be to honing your technique.

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Next Up: Ben Hogan’s playing set from the magical 1953 season can be yours! And there’s a back story… Courtesy of Green Jacket Auctions, who seem to get their hands on all the best stuff these days. Current bid at the time of this article: $15,692. Will this be the most expensive set of irons ever? We shall see.

These are Ben Hogan’s actual set of MacGregor irons from his magical 1953 Season – when Hogan won all five official events that he entered, including the Masters Tournament, U.S. Open and British Open.

And this isn’t just any Ben Hogan iron set that he may have used once or twice. These are Hogan’s actual “working” set from 1953, when he not only won 3 Majors, but was fine tuning his idea for the perfect golf club. Hogan fulfilled his lifelong goal by forming the Ben Hogan Golf Company in late 1953. Once the Ben Hogan Golf Company was formed, Hogan, of course, never used MacGregor clubs again. Therefore, since all of Hogan’s used MacGregor clubs date to 1953 and before, they are coveted by collectors.

The offered set is one of only three Ben Hogan-used MacGregor iron sets known to exist, and the only set in private hands. Those two other sets are owned by the USGA Museum and Merion Golf Club – the site of Hogan’s 1950 U.S. Open victory.

We were most interested in the USGA Museum set, as it also dates to the 1953 Season. According to the USGA Museum, that barely-played set was used by Hogan to win the 1953 U.S. Open. The USGA recently granted us access to their 1953 U.S. Open set, which is displayed in the Ben Hogan Room at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, NJ.

So what happened when we closely inspected the USGA Museum set? Well, let’s just say that we were in for the shock of our collecting lives!

The USGA Museum set of Ben Hogan irons attributed to the 1953 U.S. Open was actually a partially mixed set – it was missing the original 9 iron that matched the rest of the set (Ben Hogan Personal Model 1037). Well, guess where that 9-iron resides? YES! – the missing 9 iron from the USGA Museum set is in our possession and is included with our set of Ben Hogan’s 1953 irons.

Quite significantly, while the USGA Museum set shows little use, our irons (with the exception of that 9 iron, which also doesn’t show much use) are without question Hogan’s actual “working” clubs from one of the greatest seasons in golf history. You want to know how Hogan came up with “the Secret”? It was by pounding thousands of balls on the range and at the course with clubs like these. Just inspecting these irons brings back the memory of Ben Hogan; the well-worn irons exhibit a extreme amount of use, and underwent an extraordinary amount of the Hawk’s famous tinkering. Every amount of custom clubwork imaginable has been performed on these clubs – the soles, heels and bounce have been ground, the hosels bent, the lofts and lies altered, and a substantial amount of lead weight added. Most of the grips appear to also contain the reminder wire for which Hogan was known to use on occasion.

These Ben Hogan irons are attributed to Hogan’s magical 1953 season. Six of the seven clubs (3 iron through 8 iron) are identical Ben Hogan “No Series Number” Personal Model irons exhibiting an extreme amount of use, and the seventh club is a Ben Hogan Series 1037 Personal Model 9 iron exhibiting light to moderate use.

Hogan’s 1953 irons are being offered today by former PGA Tour player Jimmy Powell. They have been Powell’s most cherished possession for well over 35 years, and originally belonged to Hogan’s best friend Dennis Lavender.

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Moving on…

Sharp Park in Pacifica isn’t the only classic track in California under threat – the Center City Golf Course near San Diego (lovingly known as “Goat Hill”) was, until recently, at risk of getting repurposed into a soccer facility. Goat Hill, like Sharp Park, is an easy target because it is a city-run course and not of “championship” length or condition. While it may be tempting to proclaim such courses obsolete, discerning golfers will instead see the perfect venues for quick, cheap, beginner/vintage friendly tracks – the lifeblood of the “public” side of the game. Now there’s nothing wrong with receiving alternate proposals for use of public land, but the shocking aspect of this case was that the Linksoul team, headed by John Ashworth, appeared to already have the green light to proceed with a restoration led by the great Tom Doak. Here’s the full back story from the Linksoul Blog:

In the Summer of 2012, The Oceanside City Council put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek alternate uses for the Public Land including Center City Golf Course (Goat Hill) and its surroundings.

Linksoul, in partnership with several parties, formed Goat Hill Partners, LLC and submitted a proposal that would keep the golf course in tact, while giving it a much-needed facelift, and cultivating the land into what would be Oceanside’s version of Central Park. (Downloadable here)

World renowned golf course architect, Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes), signed on to oversee the course improvements. The grounds would include a public amphitheater, community supported agriculture, a sculpture garden, and days when the course would be closed to golf and open to the public for recreational use.

At the workshop, our proposal was praised by the public and members of the council. And we began talks toward a lease agreement.

Days before the scheduled lease signing in December, the signing was put on hold by the council for 90 days, with no explanation as to why. And for the past four months, we were left in the dark.

Within the last week, we became aware that the council was courting a new developer (while working out our agreement), a minor league soccer owner from Utah. And then we learned of his plan (all through third parties).

The proposal includes:
-The golf course would be turned into a 9 hole kids course.
-6 soccer fields built for a private soccer academy.
-A minor league soccer stadium with 5K capacity.
-2 Hotels.

Thankfully, community support for the Linksoul proposal was strong (over 40 people spoke at the decisive city council meeting and multiple PGA tour players wrote in with written support) and negotiations with the soccer group were directed to end. Here is a nice writeup of the finale.

Two big battles and two big wins. Golf needs more courses like Goat Hill and Sharp Park. Three cheers to Linksoul (who also happen to be great supporters of traditional golf) and the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance for leading their respective charges.

One more summary article in GolfWorld


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Finishing on a sad note – former USGA Executive Director and ABC announcer Frank Hannigan passed away last week. Aside from bringing the open back to Shinnecock, Hannigan knew the score when it comes to state of the game and shepherded Geoff Shackelford into credability where he now carries the torch. I have been catching up on Mr. Hannigan’s writing and have been very impressed. Here is my favorite edition of “letters from Saugerties”, a somewhat regular feature on Geoff’s blog.

Dear Geoff,

There are no words to express my gratitude for your posting of The Crazy Swing of a man in Egypt. I wonder what happens when he finds himself in a bunker?

Peter Thomson ran for the Australian equivalent of our Congress. His politics? Let’s just say he was not a man of the left. He came here in 1985 to play on the senior tour for only one reason: to beat Arnold Palmer like a drum. He told me not to pay much attention to his scores since “we are playing from the ladies tees.”

He is also memorable for his speaking the ultimate truth about instruction which is that neither he nor anyone else could teach a newcomer anything useful other than how to grip the club properly and to aim. Peter once covered a US Open at Oak Hill in Rochester for an Australian newspaper. I asked him what he thought of the course. “It’s too good for them” was his response.

Slow play by the women in the Solheim Cup, with 4-ball rounds approaching 6 hours, could be cured immediately by the simple device of sub-letting the role of the committee to officials not employed by the LPGA or the European women’s tour. I would put USGA alumnus Tom Meeks in charge and tell him that if any given round takes 4 hours 45 minutes to transpire that he would not be paid.

Corey Pavin’s average driving distance on the Tour today is 260 yards, or 8 yards longer than he was in 1999. You figure it’s the mustache?

Comparisons of some other short drivers: Jim Furyk 278 now, 268 then. Paul Goydos is up 12 yards in a decade to 276, Billy Mayfair has become a brute at 284 but was only 269 a decade earlier.

In the early 1990s I was a consultant (unpaid) for a golf course project at Liberty State Park – the site of this week’s Tour event. It required the blessing of then New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, herself an enthusiastic golfer.

She wouldn’t help us because the mayor of Jersey City said that golf was inherently elitist and that none of his city’s precious land should be wasted on the rich. Never mind that the land in question was poisonously polluted. My idea was for a daily fee course supplemented by renting the course out once day a week for huge fees from Wall Street firms who would arrive by boat. What’s happened is the creation of a $500,000 private club that is out of the reach of anybody who isn’t loaded.

Liberty National is a design of the architectural pair of Tom Kite and Bob Cupp who survived the misfortune of designing a 2nd course at the Baltimore Country Club. It’s adjacent to the wonderful Five Farms course created by AW Tillinghast. There were to be 36 holes as routed by Tillinghast. Because of the Great Depression the second course was put off for 50 years. The contrast between the two courses? Let’s just say that the Kite-Cupp course concludes with a double green.

I twitched whenever I heard the name “Solheim” on television last week. Remember the great U groove wars of the 1980s when Ping sued both the USGA and the PGA Tour? There were endless meetings in attempt to resolve the matter without litigation. One took place in our USGA offices in New Jersey. Karsten sent one of his primary technicians. The man recorded the meeting secretly with a device hidden in his briefcase, hoping I or my colleague Frank Thomas would be caught saying something that might be useful to Ping in the suit to come.

Never mind how we found out. The tapes are stored in Mayer Brown, the USGA’s Chicago law firm. Pity the
meeting did not take place in New York where such bugging is a crime. Anything goes in New Jersey.

Frank Hannigan
Saugerties, New York

And a really important article on A.W. Tillinghast from the July 1974 edition of Golf Journal that, according to Shackelford, “motivat(ed) others to dig deeper into the lives of all the master architects”.

—> HANNIGAN ARTICLE

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I took a day off work Thursday and the local crew got back to doing what we do best: playing golf on classic tracks with traditional gear. Northwood was again the destination but this time we had a special guest star rounding out the foursome – the globe-trotting, jet-setting, sweet-swinging legend known as “Blade Junkie”. Persimmon and blades with steel shafts were the orders of the day and Geoff came prepared, packing a crispy set of frequency matched Golden Rams with Brunswick 5.5′s and a walnut Texan. I brought out a “special occasion” set – the Al Geiberger personal model Bird-on-Balls by Spalding. John and Newman rounded out the team with Titleist Blades / Mac 925w and Apex Blades / Cleveland TC-15, respectively.

Newman was designated cameraman and beer-drinker, John provided the color commentary, long drives, and the first birdie, while Junkie and myself provided most of the video subject matter. Somehow, we came away with no videos of drivers off the tee (!) but we did get some good footage to remember the round.

Northwood is a course that would get overpowered with modern gear. Playing with traditional gear ensures a nice balance of challenge and enjoyment with several short holes alternating with long two and three shotters. We had perfect weather and the course was in great shape. As a bonus, John sweet talked his way into some deeply discounted greens fees… can’t say exactly how cheap or he might get in trouble when this post goes into the public record.

Here are a few highlights that made it through Newman’s editing room. Disclaimer – I have been going with a little walk-through move to take pressure off my old-man back when the ball’s on the turf. Not exactly Fred Couples pretty but low impact.

First off: here’s a shot of my setup for the day. Should probably be a marketing shot for Eliott.

In no particular order:

Junkie has one of those swings to make you jealous – steps right out of the car onto the first tee and stripes it. This one may have gotten the award for best sounding iron shot. It was a long iron off the tee on the short 4th.

Yours truly putting the Spaldings to work on the par-3 3rd – this one scared the hole:

And the putt to finish that birdie:

Geoff on the same hole – I believe this found the green for a birdie try as well (commentary by John if you have your sound on):

A short iron approach flushed by John:

Fairway wood from about 220 – 2nd shot on par-5 6th. It was a low screamer from my Hogan 3-wood ending up just short of the green (failed to get birdie).

Playing a 1-iron (!!!) down the same fairway. That white dot on the tree behind him was the sign for “HIT IT HERE” off the tee which is precisely what he did. The man can golf his ball folks!

Short wedge on the par-3 8th, cozied up nicely.

And the finishing touch!

One more from the guest of honor:

Bottom line: anyone can play traditional golf today and probably find just as much fulfillment as with the modern stuff. There are people, courses, and gear to support it. No, every shot wasn’t struck purely. Everybody scuffled at times and everybody had a few highlights – just like any other day on any golf course in the world. But who cares? Play what you want, when you want. Respect the course, smile, strive to do your best and get better while you’re at it.

Can’t wait to tee it up again!

I think it’s worth posting this 2nd part of Tom Doak’s feature on shotmaking from the standpoint of a course architect. If holes are not created with the intention of rewarding skillful manipulation of the ball’s flight then golfers are left with no reason to hit anything other than “stock” shots. In this section Doak walks us through some notable holes and shares his thoughts on why they stimulate imagination in highly skilled players. I just hope I have the chance to someday play these great holes!

The following is an excerpt from The Anatomy of a Golf Course which merits a full read, especially if you’re still stuck in snow!

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Many links feature greens laid across the ground in a spot where they are flat or fall slightly away from the line of the shot, and on firm ground this shot is no easier to judge with a short iron approach than a wooden club, which is why the links have maintained their challenge in the face of modern improvements in equipment. Garden City Golf Club is one of few American courses featuring the fall-away green prominently.

A variation of the same principle is the green sharply tilted from side to side, exemplified by the short par-4 10th hole at Riviera, or the longer 5th hole at Merion. In both cases the slope of the green is so severe from right to left that an approach hooked into the green will almost certainly release and roll off the green on the left. The only approach is a fade finishing below the hole. But at Riviera the bulk of the fairway is to the right of the axis of the green and the green almost within reach from the tee, luring the golfer away from the best approach line. At Merion the fairway tilts sharply from right to left; the stance makes it difficult to play a fade except from the low side of the fairway, which is closely guarded by a narrow brook.

Another such hole is the dogleg 4th at Myopia near Boston, the site of four U.S. Opens at the turn of the century. In the old days, its 392 yards required a long approach for the best players, played in the same manner that the club member must approach the hole today: a low draw to the right-hand entrance of the green, judged to lose speed at just the right moment, then to turn sharply left down the slope of the green. But the same tilt of the green has given the hole a fine defense against today’s long hitter: It is so sharp that he must beware his standard high approach spinning back down off the front left of the green. He must try to place his tee shot near the corner of the dogleg and fade his second shot up against the slope of the green if it is to stop predictably.

The ingenious designer may occasionally create a long hole where judgement of approach is more important than length of tee shot. My own 3rd hole at High Pointe is the best I have so designed to date. The small green is perched on a knob well above a valley of fairway, with almost-level ground mowed at fairway height to the left of the putting surface, but with a fairly steep fall both in front of and behind the green. For the short hitter, the incline at the front of the green is little problem; his long iron or fairway wood approach will readily climb it, but since he is unlikely to consistently hit such a small target from so far away, he typically plays a fade at the left-hand edge of the green to give himself the easiest chip if the shot does not come off. The player who has hit a long drive does not have it much easier. If his short-iron approach is short it will likely not bounce up onto the green, and the crowned green is quite small to hit and hold without going over and down the hill in back. the hole gives the greatest champion a chance to show his full arsenal of shots, but for most players it is a question of a four or a five and the short hitter often has as much chance of saving his par as the stronger man.

Other times a hole will reward shotmaking skill not by giving the player the option between two different kinds of shots, but by forcing him to choose between trying to make a specific shot or laying up. On such a hole, an advantage should be gained by the golfer executing the requisite shot, but ideally the golfer who admits his weakness should be rewarded for his discretion. A good example is the 2nd hole at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach. Trees on the left off the tee and a quick dogleg allow a tee shot of only 220 yards, unless the golfer can produce a controlled draw off the tee, a tough assignment so early in the round. The player who brings off the shot is rewarded with a short-iron approach, but the hole is of a length that the golfer safely laying up to the corner can get home with a long second; the golfer who hooks into the trees surely cannot.

The tee shots at both the 10th and 13th holes at Augusta National employ the hilly contours of the site to give a distinct advantage to a hooked tee shot. At the 10th, a properly hooked ball catches a severe slope in the fairway and runs well down the hill tot he left, while a straight tee shot stays on the higher ground, leaving a much longer approach from a tougher angle. At the 13th, both the azaleas and Rae’s Creek encroach upon the ideal driving line along the left. Only a hooked tee ball can fly around the corner of the dogleg and find a relatively flat lie for the second shot. In both instances, the shot values of Augusta are more exacting than that of the 2nd hole at The Dunes, as befits a championship course. Both holes are of such a length that the player who does not produce a hook from the tee will have to strain to get home with his 2nd shot.

Finally, there are occasionally good holes where only one type of approach shot will get the ball within reasonable distance of a birdie putt. In fairness, I believe such holes should be used sparingly, for two reasons. This first reason is philosophical: It is the point of golf architecture not to dictate tot he golfer how a hole should be played, but to create a situation where the player’s ingenuity can be exercised. There is much more to admire when the idea for the shot is the player’s rather than the architect’s. For this reason, an architect hates to have to explain his holes to frustrated players unable to figure out the best method of attack. Sometimes even I cannot figure out the best way to attack one of my holes until I have played it several times. That’s when I know I have hit upon something really interesting.

The second reason is more practical. If playing conditions are severe, then there may be times when the one shot the holes was designed around will not work, and the hole is impossible to play. A hole with a long forced carry over water to a shallow green is a common design failure. What is the player to do when a gale is blowing from behind, or his drive has unluckily found a lie in a divot scrape? The same holds true for a forced carry from the tee when a gale is blowing into the player’s face, or for a sharply canted green designed to receive a run-up shot after ten straight days of rain (although in the latter case it is difficult to imagine a green so severe that the ball could not be pitched near the hole under soggy conditions).

The type of holes where a “tricky” approach is most often acceptable are the between-length holes: a very long par-3, a driveable par-4, a long par-4, or a short par-5. The strong player would otherwise have an almost insurmountable advantage over the short hitter. In such a situation, it is arguable that the stronger player should have to show unusual skill as well as strength if he is to take the hole easily.

One of the finest examples of such a hole is the short par-5 9th at Westward Ho! in southwestern England. It still plays as it was described in 1910:

The ninth green lies in a hollow on top of a small plateau at the range of two very full shots from the tee, and the superlative virtue of the hole consists in a little unobtrusive pot-bunker in the face of the hill. We can hardly hope to drive far enough to carry the bunker in our second, and if we could it would scarcely be possible to stay on the green. Therefore, we must drive well out to the right, and hope to reach the green with a subtle hook. The ground breaks in toward the hole from the right, and so a perfectly played shot, with just sufficient hook , will keep turning and turning towards the hole, till it totters with its last gasp down the last slope and lies close to the hole. Often, of course, it will be out of the question to get home in two, but the hole will still be interesting, and our approach shot anything but a simple one.

-Barnard Darwin, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, 1910.

The same type of shot can be designed into a long par-3 hole. The 4th at Riviera is just such a hole, although the bunker guarding the green is a hundred times as large. Even the famous Redan, in spite of the big green that allows scope for alternate methods of play, rewards the same type of approach shot.

Most every British links features at least one long hole with a very tricky approach, although we often find that the same hole called a short par-5 at the turn of the century is now considered a long par-4. (Ironically, the fact that these holes are now somewhat easier to reach in two makes them more controversial, simply because the par has changed on the scorecard.) The Road hole at St. Andrews is the most well-known example of such a hole, but tow others that come to mind are the 14th at Royal Dornoch, known as “Foxy”, and the 13th at Preswick, the “Sea Headrig” hole. The two holes have only one bunker between them, but in each case the green is set at an odd angle tot he fairway and requires a special degree of shotmaking to land the ball short of the green and get it to bounce up and stay on. The 14th at Royal Dornoch is a high plateau green too shallow to hit and hold with a long iron, while the 13th at Prestwick angles off to the right behind a low hummock of fairway which either stops an approach shot dead or sends it skittering over the green. By the same token, both greens make for supremely interesting short play, rewarding every yard the short hitter can muster with his first two shots. In both cases, too, it is noteworthy that the golfer who goes for the green with his second, and falls short to the right, leaves himself a much tougher pitch than the golfer who admitted he could not make it and played to the left for the best angle into the green for his third shot.

The 12th on the Old Course at St. Andrews also requires an unusual approach. It is a short two-shotter that features a shallow shelf of green only twelve paces deep, with lower levels both in front and behind. There is no room to land and stop the ball on the higher level; even the best shots bounce once before spinning back to the hole, and the first bounce would likely take the ball to the lower level in back of the green. the standard plan of attack is to drive as close to the green as one can, flirting with a handful of unseen fairway bunkers in the process. If this is safely accomplished, the ideal approach shot is a short running ball clambering up the tier in the green and coming to a stop.

Shotmaking can also be called into play in the short game. The same contours that create an interesting approach will also cause havoc for recovery shots, especially where they are mowed as fairway so the golfer does not necessarily have to pitch back to the green on the fly. The most original example is the famous “Dell Hole” at Lahinch in Ireland, a blind par-3 hole to a shallow green wedged between massive sandhills. The hole is often vilified as nothing more than a matter of luck, since there is only a marker stone on the hill in front of the green to indicate the location of the hole, and often both short and long shots sometimes bounce off the sandhills and come down onto the green. But the same hills provide scope for fascinating “carom-shot” recoveries for the smart player who has missed the green, as I discovered one day while observing play.

Holes like these are rare or nonexistent on modern courses, but the game would be much more interesting and fun if there were more. As Robert Hunter concluded in The Links,

“Great golfers would find the game stupid if no occasion arose to use the most difficult shots in their repertoire.”

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Opening photo by David Scaletti

Lest we forget, golf has long been a shotmaker’s game. The era of perfect putting surfaces, solid core distance balls, and 46 inch shafts / 460cc clubheads is still in its infancy. The greater annals of golfing history are filled with men and women who distinguished themselves through the quality of their striking, breadth of imagination, and mental fortitude to physically create what once existed only in the mind’s eye. The ability to work the ball – left, right, high, low, off sidehills and downslopes, tight lies and hardpan, different grass types and in varying weather conditions – was of paramount importance to championship caliber golf. Classic courses of the persimmon age demanded it. Shotmaking Corner will serve, I hope, to preserve a few bits and pieces of the once great body of knowledge of the great shotmakers should the next generation express a desire to direct the game back towards a more traditional form.

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Shotmaking: The Lost Art by Tom Doak

Normally I use this feature to collect the various specialty shots perfected by the master shotmakers of the game. As it turns out the most poignant shotmaking insight I’ve recently come across is not from an elite shotmaker, but from an accomplished modern architect. I started reading Tom Doak’s The Anatomy of a Golf Course with the goal of improving my course management. I was not expecting to find such an eloquent summation of the shotmaker’s status in the modern game of golf. The interesting thing is that this book was written in 1992. Even then, Doak predicted the general obsolescence of the great shotmakers before the dawn of the ProV era.

There are a couple distinct parts to this shot feature. The first covers the history and nature of shotmakers in the game with discussion of turf and environmental factors. The second part (that I’ll present later) gets into the details of some great holes that offer shotmaking options to expert level players. Enjoy!

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An alternative concept of architecture is to reward the player not just for hitting long and straight, or for correctly planning his attack, but for his ability to control he flight of the ball through swing technique. This was an important component of golf in the early days, because golf links in Britain were not designed for the playing of specific shots. The holes were cut in “sporting” locations by the players, and it was up to them to get the ball close to the hole with whatever sort of stroke served the purpose. The inventive player who could play the widest variety of tricky approaches was the champion of the early days.

The science of golf may have come a long way in the last 100 years, but in many respects, these “improvements” have taken away from the art of shotmaking. Golf courses have become relatively standardized in their demands and hazards, and the science of golf course maintenance has advanced to the point that the golfer seldom encounters a bad lie in the fairway or bunker, or a bad bounce on his approach. Clubs and balls have been scientifically designed to help correct the average golfer’s hooks and slices, making it more difficult for the skilled golfer to deliberately play these same shots. the modern champion has perfected his swing full-throttle on the practice range, knows the yardages and the true distance value of each of his clubs, and repeats the same swing with machine like precision with every club in the bag.

The few real shotmakers found in golf today, such as Trevino, Ballasteros, and Chi Chi Rodriguez, are probably the last of a dying breed, because there isn’t much need for shotmaking on modern courses.

While all other factors are working to eliminate the art of shotmaking from the game, I believe it should be the highest aspiration of the golf architect to design holes giving the greatest scope for the shotmaker’s skills. His credo should be as John Low professed in 1903:

Every fresh hole we play should teach us some new possibility of using our strokes and suggest to us a further step in the progress of our golfing knowledge. -John Low, Concerning Golf, 1903

Modern golf architecture has fallen woefully short of Low’s ideal. But there are golf holes still in existence that reward the shotmaker’s special talents, and I would like to concentrate on these for the remainder of this chapter.

I must emphasize that while holes can be designed to reward shotmaking skill, playing conditions-the wind and the firmness of the ground-can accomplish the same thing. In regions where the wind does blow, its intensity adds an urgency to nearly every shot, for it affects either the distance value of the shot or its flight pattern, and it forces the golfer to allow for this effect. The expert player, on the other hand, devises a way to use the wind to his advantage: He may hit a high ball downwind, work the ball with the wind to gain extra distance, or work the ball into a side wind so it will stop quickly.

One paradoxical effect of the wind on British links is that it can make short shots more difficult than longer ones. The standard play on the Postage Stamp 8th hole at Royal Troon would be a high nine-iron shot, but when the wind is howling, its effect on the high flying shot is impossible to judge. the gofer is compelled to produce a low, punched three-quarter shot on such a hole, a difficult prospect when the green is small and well-guarded.

Another shot called for on the links is the approach that bounces short of the green and rolls forward to the hole, a necessity if the ground is hard and there is not much forward tilt of the green to help stop the ball. When soggy conditions prevail, the
the standard aerial approach stops so quickly that a good player is never tempted to play a trickier shot to get close to the hole. When the ground is firm, the golfer much be able to control not only how far his shot is going to fly, but what it is going to do once it lands. That’s the shotmaker’s realm.

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to be continued…

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