Saturday, July 21, 2018

All-NorCal final a possibility in 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

A week of “June Gloom” fog delays for the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the NCGA’s Poppy Hills Golf Club peaked on Friday, when the completion of the last Round of 16 matches, and tee times for the Quarterfinal matches were eventually pushed back six hours from their original 7:00 a.m. starts.
When the fog had cleared and play was completed, the semifinal matchups are down to a quartet of American players, including two from NCGA territory – Yealimi Noh, 16, of Concord; and Lucy Li, 15, of Redwood Shores. Noh will face off against Gina Kim, 18, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the semifinal round; and Li will play Alexa Pano, 13, of Lake Worth, Florida.
Yealimi Noh, of Concord, is one of two NorCal players in the semifinals of the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, being played at Poppy Hills Golf Club this week. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

Noh, who is fresh off of a record-setting 24-under win in the PGA Jr Girls’ Championship last week, is particularly strong on the par-5s at Poppy Hills, though she has yet to see the par-5 18th in match play (she birdied all three of the par-5s that she played in her quarterfinal match) – her matches have finished on 16, 16, 17, and 13.
Li, who played in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open as an 11-year-old, will face a tough opponent in Pano, who has only played past the 15th hole once in the match play portion of the tournament, when her Round of 16 match against Stephanie Kyriacou of Australia went to the 18th hole. Li has been played down to the wire in two of her matches, but closed out her opponents in the Round of 32 and Quarterfinal matches with late birdie runs.
Semifinal matches are scheduled to start Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m., with Li/Pano, followed by Noh/Kim at 7:15 a.m. – weather permitting. The 36-hole championship match will be split: 18 holes on Saturday, after the conclusion of the semifinal round, and the final 18 on Sunday morning.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Is Pebble Beach as good as they say it is?

Each year at the beginning of January, Golf Digest magazine publishes its Top 100 lists for golf courses. Some of the local courses from the Bay Area and Northern California make those lists each year, and it should come as no surprise that Pebble Beach Golf Links is the highest-ranked public course in this area.
Pebble Beach is one of only 24 courses in the United States which has appeared in Golf Digest’s rankings every year since the first list, The 200 Toughest Courses in America, was published, in 1966. Pebble is currently ranked No. 7 in the America’s 100 Greatest Courses list, and the classic layout on Carmel Bay enjoyed a brief stint atop the overall listing in 2001-2002, when it ousted Pine Valley, an ultra-exclusive bastion in the Pine Barrens country of New Jersey, from a long run in the top spot. Pebble Beach also occupies the No. 1 spot in the America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses ranking—a position it has held, unchallenged, since the public courses list was introduced in 2003.
Views like this, looking down Pebble’s ninth fairway toward the tenth hole, with the sweep of Carmel Beach in the background, are part of what makes Pebble Beach Golf Links a must-play destination for golfers all over the world. (photo by author)

As with all rankings lists, there is a degree of subjectivity involved, and there is disagreement among golfers and golf writers about the relative merits of the courses which are named. I encountered some disagreement about Pebble Beach from a colleague—an experienced golf writer based in the Northwest—who posted the following comments in a conversational thread on Twitter:
Sound list sure, but always surprised by Pebble Beach’s ranking.
“I know it’s sacrilege but I’m not American so feel I can say it safely enough... PB is the most overrated course in the world.”
“It’s incredibly beautiful and has 5 [or] 6 of the best holes in the world. But there are too many bland holes to be top 10.”
“There’s nothing wrong with 1, 2, 3, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 but they’re not that special. 11 is terrible and 17 is a huge waste.”
To a golfer who is a native of the Monterey/Salinas region and a lifelong resident of the Central Coast/Bay Area, those are fighting words. To characterize any of the holes at Pebble Beach as bland, let alone terrible, demands a response, and to describe No. 17 as a huge waste—this, the iconic oceanfront par-three where two of the greatest moments in the history of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach have played out—is beyond the pale.
Amazing on another course is only average at Pebble Beach
The problem, as I see it, is that the most spectacular, most memorable holes at Pebble Beach are so good that they overshadow the rest; the holes cited by my colleague suffer only by comparison with their more glamorous peers. The landward holes at Pebble—1-3 and 11-16—while lacking the spectacular vistas of their seaward cohorts, are far from bland.
That is not to say that the holes which hug the coast are great solely because of their locations and the views—far from it. Even the simplest of them, the short par-3 seventh, poses a strategic conundrum because of the elevated tee box, the bunkers which almost totally encircle the green, and the rocks and water right and long. Throw in windy conditions and even this short par-3, the 18-handicap hole on the course, can be a daunting prospect.
There is little question, however, that 4 through 10, the magnificent stretch of coast-hugging holes which contains three of the four toughest par-4s on the course—8, 9 and 10—comprise the heart and soul of Pebble Beach, with 17 and 18 the dramatic denouement (despite my colleague’s misgivings about 17.) The fact is that the less-renowned holes which are dismissed as bland or unremarkable are anything but.
Underrated opening trio — anything but bland
Take No. 1, a simple-appearing but potentially nerve-wracking par-4. Part of its distinction comes, admittedly, from being the opening hole at the top-ranked public golf course in the United States. You step up to the tee well aware of the hole in your wallet where the $495 green fee once lay, and are now faced with the reality of making golf shots that are worthy of the expenditure. 
A dogleg-right par-4 of about 345 yards from the gold tees, No. 1 tempts you to cut the corner, but the fairway narrows past the bend, and the inside of the dogleg is heavily forested. The elevated, back-to-front slanting green will hold a long approach shot, so there is just no upside to taking on the corner to gain a few yards. It’s guarded by a pair of unwelcoming bunkers flanking the entrance, but is generously sized from front to back, so mind your distance and stay below the flag.
While Pebble’s first hole lacks the visual drama of the famed cliff-top trio of par-4s that come later—holes 8, 9, and 10—it is certainly a hole which requires your attention if you are going to get your round off on the right foot.
The second hole is the first par-5 on the course. At just 460 yards from the golds, No. 2 presents an inviting tee shot to a fairway that slopes away. As welcoming as this hole is off the tee, once on the fairway, even in good position, the player is presented with a daunting approach to the putting surface—a yawning tank-trap of a bunker, flanked by trees, bisects the sweep of the fairway about 75 yards from the green. This looming trench and its arboreal guardians are a visually arresting obstacle which has cowed more than one golfer into laying up to the end of the fairway for the easier 90-odd-yard approach.
The long, narrow putting surface at No. 2 is subtly contoured, requiring a deft touch and a good read to get close to the hole if you’ve left yourself a long putt. I’ve seen many a potential eagle end up as a routine par on this green—including one of my own—so even if you are safely past the big bunker and on the green in two, there’s no letting your guard down on No. 2.
Pebble’s third hole is the last of the inland opening stanza, and while it does offer a first teasing glimpse of the ocean from the fairway, its real distinction lies in the shape of the tee shot it requires. While No. 1 tempts you to work your drive around the corner from left to right, and No. 2 just says “Boom it straight!”, the third hole, a downhill 337-yard par-4, demands that high, arcing, right to left shot that most of us see more often in our dreams than from the tee box. The 3rd fairway turns 45° downhill from a straight line off the tee boxes, so that sweeping high draw is required not so much to hit the fairway—a straight 250-yard pop from the gold tees will hit the center of the short grass—but to hold it.
The third hole’s fairway is topped by a generous landing area at its inland end, but unless downhill approach shots of 170 to 185 yards are your idea of fun, you don’t want to be there. Painting a high draw against the California sky to a spot well down the fairway is the best way to assure yourself of good position on this hole. The kidney-shaped green pitches front-to-back but has a subtle drop-away at the back edge that will allow an over-zealous approach to run down the steep seaward bank. As always at Pebble Beach, this green’s diabolically subtle contours are best attempted from below the hole.
After the seaward stretch – then what?
Of course there is no question about the quality or distinction of the next seven holes. Holes 4 through 10 combine spectacular vistas with outstanding design to create a stretch of the best-known and most-revered golf holes on the planet. After the 10th hole, the course turns inland for holes 11 through 16, which, according to my opinionated colleague from the Northwest, range in quality from “not that special” to “terrible”.
These holes get little of the respect that they deserve, even among folks who should know better. During a recent discussion on social media that began with folks ranking a list of six great California courses, which included Pebble Beach, in their order of preference, another golf writer stated that “…11 at PB exists to get you from 10 green to the resort course stretch, where the most interesting things are the audacious homes that line the fairways.”
As the first hole of the inland stretch after a run of seven visually stunning oceanside holes, the 11th hole at Pebble Beach occupies an unenviable position, and it does lack the visual drama of its immediate predecessors. The fairway is generous in size, which may lull you into thinking the hole is a pushover, but the shape, configuration and bunkering of the green dictate the shape of your first shot from 349 yards away.
The skinny, steeply slanted green runs left to right, with a narrow entry, so for the best angle into the putting surface your position in the fairway should be as far to the left as you can get without being in the rough. The steepness of the green and the bunkering left, right, and long dictate a high, drop-and-stop approach shot—or if you managed a drive into the “A” position on the left side of the fairway, a low pitch that hits short and stops below the hole is your best play. Either way, below the hole is the place you want to be. Play this hole once and you will recognize the strategic genius underlying its undramatic first impression—fairway position is everything.
The twelfth hole is the first par-3 on the back nine, and yet another hole which has a subtle genius underlying its design. At 187 yards from the gold tees, No. 12 is the longest par-3 on the course, and the wide-but-shallow green with its massive front-left bunker and narrow entry poses a strategic conundrum for the golfer. The trees to the left of the green, and left and forward of the 13th tee box, will lift and swirl the usual onshore breeze above No. 12 without affecting the flag, giving little clue to the havoc they can play with a high ball flight. Running the ball up onto the green is a risky proposition at any time—the entry to the green is less than seven yards wide, and being offset to the right, is little help for a low-left hole position. This is another benign-looking hole for which layout and environment dictate the best approach at any given time. 
The thirteenth hole, a 376-yard par-4, is probably the most benign hole at Pebble Beach. The initial flight of your tee ball is shielded from the wind, if present, by some of the trees which also affect the drop into the green at No. 12. The generous width of the fairway is a blessing, but it necks down considerably past the landing zone. Stray right or left and fairway bunkers—three individual ones on the right, and one long bunker complex to the left—will make getting onto the green with your second shot problematic, and even from a good position in the fairway you will be faced with a slightly uphill approach to what was for many years one of the steepest, fastest putting surfaces on the course.
“…13 is a great driving hole and the second shot takes so much geometry and touch.”
Golf magazine’s Alan Shipnuck, on Twitter
Renovation of the 13th green after the 2017 AT&T Pro-Am added added 400 square feet to the top right, reduced some of the more severe contours, and added a sub-air conditioning system to control moisture. The new green has more available hole positions, but the added lobe brings the right bunker into play when the flag is located there—so 13 green is still no pushover.
#14: Longest, hardest—and only the third-best par 5 at Pebble
Then comes No. 14, a dogleg-right par 5 which is the longest (560 yards from the gold tees) and meanest (No. 1 handicap) hole on the golf course. As part of the aforementioned discussion on ranking California courses, GOLF magazine’s Alan Shipnuck wrote, “Fourteen is better than any par-5 at (Cypress Point), and it’s only the third-best at Pebble Beach.”
Tee shots at #14 should flirt with the inside corner of the dogleg, but too big a bite will bring a pair of fairway bunkers into play. The fairway bends again, just slightly, about 100 yards from the elevated green, demanding precision in your second shot.
The green at No. 14 has probably the smallest usable area of any at Pebble Beach, despite the reshaping which was unveiled at the 2016 First Tee Open, and the green is fronted by a bunker which looks like nothing so much as a huge standing wave of sand guarding the direct line to the flat top of the green. Stray right on your third shot and you’re likely to catch the drop-away front slope that has deposited many a poorly placed approach shot back on the fairway. It’s a kinder, gentler green since the rebuild, but is still not to be taken lightly.
The 15th hole at Pebble Beach, a medium-length par-4, could be bland, but the blind tee shot/forced carry lends it spice. Throw in a middle-of-the-fairway pot bunker, OB left and right, and a tricky bunker complex on the left (added by Arnold Palmer in 1999), and “bland” might not be the word that comes to mind when you get to your tee shot. Even if you land in the short grass off the tee, there is a tricky swale in the fairway about 250 yards out which can leave you with an unwelcome downhill lie.
“The second shot into 16 is sooo much fun.”
Golf magazine’s Alan Shipnuck, on Twitter
Number 16 tempts you off the tee with a generously sized fairway, and a middle-of-the-fairway bunker that is rarely in play. The trick here is to put the ball in good position in the fairway without catching the downslope 235 yards out and leaving yourself a downhill lie. Similar to #2, there are trees flanking a trench-like bunker fronting the elevated green, another putting surface whose slope and contouring demands vigilance, and respect.
This brings us to the 17th, denounced by my Seattle-area colleague as, “…a huge waste.” The hourglass green, though opened up and reshaped in 2016, remains a severe test even in mild conditions. Bring in the wind and this 150-odd to near 180-yard hole (depending upon hole location) is nerve-racking as a penultimate test in Pebble’s 18-hole examination of your golf game.
And of course, there’s the history attached to #17. Who can forget Tom Watson’s chip-in from the rough in the 1982 U.S. Open, the called shot that led to his victory over Jack Nicklaus? And speaking of Jack, there was his pin-rattling 1-iron in the 1972 U.S. Open, another shot that clinched the Open, this time for Nicklaus over Australia’s Bruce Crampton.
The answer to the question is… YES!
No one questions the quality of the oceanside holes at Pebble Beach, for shot qualities or scenic value; and the inland holes, taken on their own merits and not just in comparison to their sister holes along the water, deserve more credit than they are usually given.

The truth of the matter is that the question, “Is Pebble Beach as good as they say it is?” has a simple answer, and that answer is “Yes.”

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Putting, Part IV: Harvey Penick was right…

Scrolling through my Twitter feed the other evening, I came across a tweet from the British golf magazine National Club Golfer (@NCGMagazine) with a video featuring golf coach Gary Nicol (@GaryNicol67) explaining how in putting pace determines line, and gives you options for how to deliver the ball to the hole.
Now, I have insisted in the past that pace and line are of equal importance, because they are co-dependent. There are multiple combinations of line and pace that will get the ball to the hole – a higher line requires a faster-moving ball (more pace), and a lower line requires a slower-moving ball (less pace) – but a change in one always requires a commensurate change in the other to get the same result.
But that’s where I was wrong – in thinking about “…the same result”  – because as I watched the video clip I realized that while my assertion is accurate, it is only true in a limited-case scenario; pace and line are of equal importance and precisely co-dependent only for getting the ball to the same position at the hole – like in the illustration below:
Slower pace (in blue) requires a higher line; faster pace (red) requires a lower line. Pace & line are directly related, and of equal importance – if you want to get the ball to the same target on the cup.

As Gary Nicol explained in the video clip, there is a usable target width at the hole that is essentially three balls wide, as shown in the next illustration. Recognizing this fact, you can give yourself a wider target line to aim at, essentially the full area shaded in green, instead of thinking that you have to hit a narrow, very specific line at just the precise speed. Keep reading and I’ll explain how this opens up your possibilities for making more putts.
The size differential between the hole and the ball allows a target area that is about three balls wide, giving the golfer a wider selection of line than they might think at first. Higher line still takes a slower pace, but learning to recognize the wider target area will help you make more putts.

Why pace rules in putting
I touched on this concept, a bit, in my June 23rd post, Putting is hard – but you already knew that, right?, in which I wrote:
“…(T)here is a minimum ball speed that will get the ball to the hole, and a range beyond the minimum within which the ball will go into the hole and not bounce or lip out.
To further complicate matters, this speed varies depending upon how close to center the ball is when it gets to the hole. A ball traveling at a speed which allows it to fall into the hole on a dead-center hit may lip out if it arrives at the hole off-center. The more off-center, the slower the ball must be moving when it encounters the edge of the hole.”
Right there you have the basis for pace having the edge over line in importance: There is a minimum ball speed which will get the ball to the hole (“Never up, never in” as the old saying goes) – and if the ball comes up short, it doesn’t matter if it was on the right line.
Further backing for stressing pace over line is the fact that pace also determines whether the ball will actually drop once it gets to the hole. Even if the ball hits the hole dead-center, it can hop out if it is moving fast enough (≈ 5 feet per second or faster, by my calculations); that max-allowable pace drops off dramatically as the ball’s interception point with the edge of the hole moves off center and the dreaded “lip-out” comes into play.
So, from the minimum speed that gets the ball to the hole, to the maximum speed at which it will actually drop into the hole and stay, there is a range of speeds which you must keep the ball within if you want to make that putt. And for every speed increment within that range, there is a target window within which the ball will actually drop – and if you haven’t figured it out by now, the slower the ball is moving when it gets to the lip of the hole, the bigger that target window is.
Wait, there’s more…
I started looking at the dynamics of the interaction between a moving golf ball and the rim of the hole – as in how to avoid the dreaded lip-out – and I started getting dizzy before I had even finished listing all the variables; so let’s just go with the broad concepts, without getting mired down in the math: A ball that skims the edge of the hole, with the center of the ball just inside the apex of the rim, has to be moving pretty slowly to drop into the hole – but at that low speed it will drop into the hole from any point at which the center of the ball is inside the diameter of the hole. In other words, at the minimum speed that gets the ball to the hole, the target window is pretty much the full diameter of the hole – 4-1/4 inches.
Conversely, the faster the ball is going the narrower the window gets. A faster-moving ball’s greater momentum increases the likelihood of the ball lipping out or just plain skimming over the edge of the cup, because it passes over the free space beneath it before it has had time to fall the distance required to let it drop.
Bottom line: the slower the ball is going the more options there are for the line that will allow the ball to drop – which means that pace rules over line when it comes to making putts.
Harvey was right
There is one caveat to this discussion. Since the putting green is a highly variable surface, with grain, and bumps, and small irregularities – not to mention the dimpled surface of the ball itself – the ball tends to wander and not hold its line if it is moving too slowly. 
“I like to see a putt slip into the hole like a mouse.”
  – Harvey Penick
This factor dictates a minimum speed – which puts me in mind of the putting maxim of Harvey Penick, the revered Austin, Texas golf pro who taught such greats as Tom Kite, and Ben Crenshaw, who was one of the greatest putters the game has ever seen. Harvey said, “I like to see a putt slip into the hole like a mouse.” Harvey knew what he was talking about.
There is another putting maxim which defines a reasonable upper threshold for ball speed on the green: Get the ball to the hole at such a speed that it will roll no more than 18 inches past the hole if it misses. There are two reasons why this is good advice: 1) that 18-inches-past speed is not so high that you will have squeezed yourself into a narrow target window; and 2) if you do miss the putt, you have a short comebacker.
Speed rules
So there you have it. Pace dictates line, and the lowest speed that gets the ball to the hole on a steady course gives you the best chance of making the putt. Practice hitting your putts with consistent speed, and when you are warming up on the practice green before a round, do some distance drills and get a feel for the speed of the greens you’re going to be playing on. It will pay dividends on the course that will show up on your scorecard.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Tom Coyne’s “A Course Called Scotland” charts a physical and metaphysical journey around the Home of Golf ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tom Coyne is the author of the novel A Gentleman’s Game, and two previous non-fiction books – Paper Tiger, about a year spent pursuing a plus-number handicap and a toehold in professional golf; and A Course Called Ireland, which chronicles a journey, on foot, around the coast of Ireland, playing every course that he encountered along the way. Now he has returned with another book about another journey through golf, this time in the ancestral land of the game, Scotland. The book is A Course Called Scotland.
It would not be unfair to say that Tom Coyne is obsessed with golf, though in that characteristic he is far from alone. Where he stands out is in acting on his obsession, and then bringing us all along for the ride through his words. His lofty goal, this time around, was to play his way around the links courses of Scotland, 111 rounds of golf in 57 days, logging 36 and often 54 holes per day – and on one memorable occasion, 72 – on a quest for the Secret of Golf, and incidentally, a chance at qualifying for the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews.
He expanded his quest beyond Scotland in order to tick off all of the courses in the Open Championship rota, six of which are in England, and shoehorned in some non-rota tracks in the south – in Cornwall and Wales – before heading north. Accompanied along the way, for a few rounds here and there, by a rotating cast of friends and strangers-who-became-friends, Coyne pursues his quest for golf’s secret through a string of well-known, not-so-well-known, and virtually unknown links courses – always links, or at least coastal, courses – in fair weather and in foul, under sunny skies and through wind and rain (of course, this is Scotland, after all), carding scores ranging from 82 to 62 (full disclosure: it was a par-62 course.)
The book chronicles not only the physical journey, but also a spiritual or metaphysical journey as Coyne, who strikes me as a restless soul, sought to find a match between his inner feelings for the game and their outward manifestation. I think that he found it, in the end, with little pushes along the way from his playing companions, and the serendipity that is an inevitable part of epic quests of this kind.
Coyne is candid, along the way, about his up-and-down relationship with the game of golf, and about other issues. A promising player as a teen, he self-destructed during a tryout for his college golf team, then, in his late twenties pushed himself to achieve the pinnacle of his game on a quest to make it through PGA Tour Qualifying School (a quest chronicled in his 2006 book, Paper Tiger). A couple of years later he undertook a four-month-long walking journey around the coast of Ireland playing links courses along the way (see his 2009 book, A Course Called Ireland) and in the interval between that journey/book and this one, lost his golf game, and almost lost his life as an addiction to alcohol overtook his addiction to golf.
There is a somber moment or two in the book when the latter subject comes up, but they pass with a quiet solemnity followed by a light-hearted comment as the conversation returns to golf.
The cavalcade of playing companions who joined the author along the way is a fascinating cross-section of people with the time, spare cash, and inclination to take part in this eccentric journey. My favorites among them are Paddy the Caddie, an ex-pat Philadelphian who lives in Kinsale, Ireland, and who featured in A Course Called Ireland; and Garth, a Philly local, new to the game but newly married into a golf-mad family, who accompanied Coyne along the stretch from Aberdeen to Inverness. Garth of the 38.4 handicap, who greeted every day on the trip with, “Guess what, Tom? We get to golf today.” Garth, who broke 100 for the first time on his last round of the trip and proudly texted his wife back home to report the feat – only to have his 2-handicap brother-in-law ask him what he shot on the back nine.
The variety of courses that Coyne pegged-up on ran the gamut from the near-holy ground of St Andrews Old Course itself to literal sheep tracks in the outer islands – places that in my mind’s eye I pictured as looking something like Luke Skywalker’s refuge in the Star Wars re-boots. He had the good grace to be unimpressed by the two courses he played which are owned by the current POTUS – or as he is known in my household, “He Who Must Not Be Named”–  both the travesty which he has foisted upon the Aberdeen coast in a formerly protected dune-lands preserve, and the unfortunate Turnberry, which he has befouled with the vulgar trappings of his other properties – outré fountains, a faux crest, and his name writ large, and first, at every opportunity.
The heart and soul of this book, however, is Coyne’s running commentary about the sights, sounds, and experiences of his golf vision-quest, and his inner monologue as he flirts with the highs and lows of the game; swings that sometimes rival the amplitude of the Highland hillsides and valleys that he encounters. Golf is a game that can beat you down, if you let it, with lost golf balls and missed birdie (or par) putts, and in the next moment lift your spirits at the sight of the soaring flight of a golf ball fairly singing its way to a brilliant position on a distant green, and Coyne has a gift for describing all of those highs and lows. (My only niggling complaint about his prose is the constant use of “golf” as a verb – a Midwestern, and I suppose, Philadelphia, usage that grates on my California ears.)
Coyne communicates that range of experiences and emotions beautifully in this jewel of a book, and never better than in the ultimate culmination of his journey – which I will not describe any more than I would give away the ending of a much-anticipated movie.
Buy this book; read this book. And even if you never make your own pilgrimage to the ancestral home of the game we love (and in my case, the literal home of my ancestors) you will get a glimpse, a wee taste, of the beating heart, and maybe the secret, of the game of golf.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Counterweighting: What it is, and how it will help you make more putts

Welcome to Part III of my totally unplanned three-part series on putting – counterweighting.
After the introduction to my review of the Stability Shaft turned into its own article on why putting is hard, and after spotlighting how counterweighting the putter I had rebuilt with that fancy new shaft helped bring back the feel I was accustomed to, I figured I owed it to my audience to expand on the advantages of counterweighting.
In this article I will explain, without, I hope, sounding too much like a science fair exhibitor, the physical effect that counterweighting your putter has on its performance, and why adding weight to the grip of your putter can help you make more putts.
First, let’s talk about MOI
MOI, or moment of inertia, refers to an object’s resistance to rotation, and is a function of the distribution of mass. It is measured with respect to an axis of rotation, which is an imaginary line that passes through the object’s center of mass (commonly referred to as center of gravity, or CG.) The higher an object’s MOI, the greater the amount of force required to make it rotate; and the greater the force that is required to rotate an object, the more stable it is. As you can imagine, stability is a desirable trait in a putter.
MOI is a term that is bandied about quite a bit in connection with the design of putters, but it is usually spoken of in connection with the club head, not the entire club. The MOI of a putter’s club head is measured with respect to a vertical line through the club head’s CG. Move material away from the CG and the MOI goes up, reducing the club head’s tendency to twist around the vertical axis; that is, making it more stable.
Stability about the vertical axis is a good thing in a putter because it helps to ensure that the face remains square to the swing path, which in turn helps to ensure that the ball comes off the club face in the intended direction. Putter designs have been taking advantage of this physical property ever since Karsten Solheim hit upon the idea of moving material to the heel and toe of a conventional blade putter, creating the ubiquitous Anser-style putter.
Coming to grips with moment of inertia
Stepping away from the putter’s club head, let’s look at the other end of the club – the grip. Putter grips typically range in weight from 50-55 grams to upwards of 124 grams – a fraction of the weight of the club head; the shaft connecting the two weighs, on average, about 110 grams or so.
In a hypothetical “typical putter” – thirty-five inches long, with a 350-gram Anser-style head, a shaft that weighs 110 grams, and a mid-range grip of about 60 grams – the total mass comes to 520 grams; a little over a pound. Nearly 70% of that mass is concentrated in the club head – the last inch of the total length of the putter – skewing the balance point, which is the CG of the full club, well down toward the head.
Add some weight at the opposite end of the club, in the grip, and the balance point moves closer to the grip – not by a lot, but it only takes a small amount to make a noticeable change in the way the club feels in your hands, especially in motion. But… while adding weight to the grip end of the club does affect the balance point, it is the effect on the club’s moment of inertia, its resistance to rotation about that balance point, that is the point.
It’s all about that mass – and where it’s at
Think of it this way: if you took a plain putter shaft and put the combined weight of the head and the grip of our hypothetical “typical putter” in the middle of the shaft, it would require little effort to rotate the shaft in a circle, like a propeller, by holding it in the middle and rotating your wrist. Take that same mass (equivalent to about ten golf balls, by the way), divide it evenly in two and put the two masses at the ends of the shaft, like a barbell, and it would take much more effort to rotate that configuration – by my calculations, a bit over 10 times as much. 
Now think about what happens when mass is added to the grip end of a putter. With the mass more widely distributed toward the ends of the club, it has less tendency to rotate about the center of balance; it is more stable – like the “barbell” configuration in our example. Imagine hanging the “barbell” vertically by one end, and moving it through a putting stroke – with the mass so widely distributed to the ends of the shaft, the ends of the shaft move together, almost as one.
By spreading the main mass concentrations further apart along the length of the putter, increasing the moment of inertia, the putter moves more uniformly both backward and forward in the stroke, with less tendency for the grip to lead the club head. More stable, more consistent, motion means less lag, less head wobble, a more consistent strike in terms of both direction and speed – and as a result, better control of both line and pace.
When I transplanted the counterweighted shaft from my Odyssey Tank Cruiser into the club head of my bargain-bin Tight Lies putter, that 30-gram weight (plus a bit more for the threaded fitting in the end of the shaft) transformed a pretty good putter into a really good putter – more stable, and more consistent. Similarly, when I fitted the Stability Shaft in the re-shafted Odyssey putter with the 50-gram Super Stroke weight kit, I regained the smooth consistency that I had missed when the putter first came back with the new shaft. 
What’s the bottom line? Counterweighting works
The change in moment of inertia that is realized by adding 50 or even 30 grams of weight to the grip end of a putter makes a noticeable change in the feel of the putter in your hands – and has a positive effect on the level of control you have over the strike you put on the ball.
The result? Better control of ball speed, better control of direction – and all other things being equal, more putts made.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Stability Shaft – how good for your game is a high-tech, multi-material putter shaft?

As I mentioned in my previous post – Putting is hard – but you already knew that, right? –  I bring years of experience as a mechanical engineer, and a naturally skeptical nature, to the task of reviewing and evaluating golf equipment. I am very critical of the performance claims that equipment manufacturers make for their latest design innovation, and I subject them to close scrutiny. Putters seem to be the worst offenders when it come to gibberish tech-speak, but many golfers still seem to eat it up.
Because of the difficulty of putting and the irrecoverable nature of poor performance on the greens, club manufacturers seem to be constantly introducing some new high-tech innovation that will help golfers improve their putting. Sometimes it’s a training aid, sometimes it’s a design tweak to the putter itself, but it seems as though there is always something new coming down the pike when it comes to putters.
The latest high-tech innovation to come to putters is the Stability Shaft, from Breakthrough Golf Technology, with the involvement of well-known golf club pioneer Barney Adams, the inventor of metal fairway “woods” – the original Tight Lies clubs. While I will admit that this is a fairly new approach – little has been done with putter shafts over the years – the needle of my skepticism meter started twitching as soon as I read the ad copy on their website.
Wait, it does what?
The four-part, multi-material Stability Shaft is made up of a carbon-fiber composite tube, which forms the grip end and most of the length of the shaft; an aluminum insert placed inside the carbon-fiber tube at its lower end to “reinforce flexural rigidity”; and a 7075 aluminum alloy connector which adapts the upper end of the shaft to the conventional stainless steel tube which mates with the putter head.
The main structure of the shaft is described as “Eight layers of high-modulus carbon fiber specifically layered, wrapped and widened, with a no-taper design to greatly reduce torque.” This statement makes little or no sense in terms of mechanical attributes of the structure, or the functional requirements of this portion of the putter shaft. The little loading, either in bending or in torque, that a putter shaft experiences is concentrated at the other end of the shaft, where it is joined to the putter head.
Regarding the aluminum insert, their ad copy says, “Through finite element analysis a light-weight, 22-gram aluminum insert was developed and precisely located to reinforce flexural rigidity.” If the high-tech “high-modulus carbon-fiber” main body of the shaft is so precisely designed to resist deformation due to torque loading (which is what they really mean by “…a no-taper design to greatly reduce torque”), why are they adding half the weight of a golf ball near the middle of the shaft to increase rigidity?
Another claim for the Stability Shaft is that it “…delivers the face squarer at impact for improved accuracy and solid feel…”. The forces acting on a putter are low at impact, even lower during the swing. The rigidity and stability of a putter shaft is concerned with forces that are substantially less then those encountered in a full swing club, so what forces do the designers of this shaft feel are acting to deform the shaft of a putter during the swing? The only rotation experienced by the putter face will be the result of rotation of the entire club, caused by variability in the player’s grip, and arm and hand movement.
Fancy data says what?
The website for Breakthrough Golf Technology offers a pair of graphs which are said to show the velocity of the heel and toe of a putter with a standard steel shaft and with the Stability Shaft. Represented as showing toe and heel velocity at a data rate of 2,500 frames per second, based on the “Frame Number” scale along the bottom of the graph, they depict a little over 1/10th of a second in the motion of the putter, about 3/4ths of which is before impact. The lines for toe and heel are fairly uniform preceding impact (though apparently offset, which must be for clarity, to differentiate between the two, because unless the putter is moving through an arc, they should be moving at the same rate), but after impact the graph for a “Standard Steel Shaft” shows significant deviation of the two lines from each other, represented as a difference in velocity between the heel and toe. The graph for the putter with the Stability Shaft shows much more uniform velocities for the heel and toe, ramping up again evenly after the expected drop at impact.
Putter with a standard steel shaft

Putter with the Stability Shaft

Leaving aside the other questions which these graphs raise (the unlabeled velocity scale, for example, and the lack of information about how the data was gathered), what value is there in uniform velocity between heel and toe, if indeed that is what is actually being depicted, AFTER impact? If the ball is no longer in contact with the club face, no movement that the club face undergoes has any effect on the motion of the ball.
The amount of time represented in the graphs after impact, again, based on the frame number scale along the bottom, is approximately 4/100ths of a second. The changes in velocity depicted on the graph – which are not quantified – occur in a very short timeframe, and there is no information offered as to the magnitude of the displacement which these “velocity changes” represent. If the concern is the squareness of the club face, it is obvious that the relative displacement, therefore the relative positions, of the heel and toe of the club would be of concern.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means
The more I looked at and thought about the data that these graphs are supposed to represent, the more I came to be convinced that these graphs must depict vibration in the club head measured at the heel and toe ends, not the velocity of the heel and toe of the club head.
The graph for the steel shaft before impact shows tight, consistent data for the heel and toe, with after-impact data that is consistent with undamped vibration in a rigid material, such as a high-strength stainless steel shaft. The graph for the Stability Shaft depicts slightly less-regular behavior before impact compared to the steel shaft data, and a well-damped behavior afterwards. The latter is consistent with a system which contains a vibration-damping component such as a wound carbon-fiber tube.

How I evaluated the Stability Shaft
My experience with the Stability Shaft is based on the conversion of my Odyssey Tank Cruiser blade putter. Before sending it off to the people at Breakthrough Golf Technology, I swapped out the counterweighted original shaft (because I would not be getting it back) for the plain steel shaft from (ironically…) an old Tight Lies stainless steel blade putter. The Tight Lies received the counter-weighted shaft from the Odyssey.
Needless to say, when I got the Odyssey back with the Stability Shaft installed, it felt much different. Not bad, necessarily, but different. The balance was off, for instance, without the counterweight, and I noticed that the head was a bit wobbly in the take-away as a result. In order to make this as complete a test I could, after a few weeks of using the club as-is I decided to remedy that situation.
A trip to a local golf shop netted me a 50-gram counterweight kit for Super Stroke putter grips. Even though I don’t use that type of grip, I was able to install it securely in the grip end of the re-shafted Odyssey – and it transformed the putter’s performance.
Counter-weighting increases the inertial moment of the putter (its resistance to rotation) along the long axis from grip to club head, stabilizing the club during the takeaway and the down swing (such as it is with a putter.) I had noticed the difference with the Odyssey when I first got it, installing the grip counterweight after having used the club for over a year with no weight in the grip, and I noticed it in the Odyssey Mk II (as I am referring to it) with the Stability Shaft. I now own two counter-weighted putters – the Odyssey Tank Cruiser with the Stability Shaft, and the old Tight Lies which inherited the Odyssey’s original shaft – and frankly, it has become a toss-up which one I put in the bag when I play.

In conclusion
Unlike the folks at BGT, I don’t have high-speed video, or sophisticated data-gathering equipment of any kind, at my disposal with which to evaluate clubs – only my eyes, ears, and hands. What they told me over a few weeks of using my re-shafted Odyssey putter is that the Stability Shaft is not a miracle solution to anyone’s putting woes, whatever they may be.
My knowledge and engineering experience told me that the claims that are made in their advertising copy are suspect, and the time I spent with the re-shafted putter showed that, at best, after becoming accustomed to the altered swing weight of the putter, I was no worse off than I had been before. Further modifying the club with the grip end counter-weight improved the swing stability of the “Odyssey Mk II” – which reinforces what I had previously learned about counter-weighting, but did not substantiate any of BGT’s claims.
So – if you have the spare cash to drop $200 on a putter shaft, and really want to explore the option, you may find that the Stability Shaft feels right in your hands, and with your swing; but if a putter with the Stability Shaft works better for you, it’s more about balance and feel than it is about any of the performance claims that Barney Adams and the people at Breakthrough Golf Technology are making.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Putting is hard – but you already knew that, right?

I am a mechanical engineer with 37 years of experience in mechanical design, analysis, and test. I am also a born skeptic – and I bring both my skepticism and my engineering experience to bear when I review and evaluate golf equipment.
One of the prime targets of my skepticism is putters. I believe that there is more hype, misinformation, wishful thinking, and utter nonsense attendant upon the design and use of the last club in the bag than the other 13 clubs put together. You know why? Because putting is hard, and as it is the end of the process of getting the ball from the tee to the hole, errors made with the putter are unrecoverable.
Think about it. Hit an errant drive, and as long as you can find the ball, and play it, you have a chance of recovering with a good second shot. Dump your approach shot into a greenside bunker, and if you are handy with a wedge you still have a chance at getting up and down for par. But blow a putt, or two, and your score on the hole is heading into “plus” numbers – no quarter asked, none given. There is no recovery from bad putting – it’s do-or-die, make it or go home.
“The devoted golfer is an anguished soul who has learned a lot about putting, just as an avalanche victim has learned a lot about snow.”
   – Dan Jenkins
And putting demands a level of precision that is not required from tee-to-green shots. Sure, you want good placement in the fairway off the tee, and you’d like to be able to do better than just get it somewhere on the green with your approach – but your target with the putter is 4-1/4 inches in diameter – just over 2-1/2 times the size of the ball. Which means that the level of accuracy that is required when putting is orders of magnitude greater than with any other shot on the course.
Consider this: When facing a 10-foot putt on a dead flat, level surface, a deviation of only 1° in the face angle of the putter at impact introduces an aiming error equal to half the diameter of the hole – the difference, all other things being equal, between missing and making the putt. 
A successful putt requires the golfer to match ball speed with the proper line, and then deliver the ball properly on that line. Given the “speed” of the putting surface – that is, the level of resistance it offers the rolling golf ball – there is a minimum ball speed that will get the ball to the hole, and a range beyond the minimum within which the ball will go into the hole and not bounce or lip out.
To further complicate matters, this speed varies depending upon how close to center the ball is when it gets to the hole. A ball traveling at a speed which allows it to fall into the hole on a dead-center hit may lip out if it arrives at the hole off-center. The more off-center, the slower the ball must be moving when it encounters the edge of the hole.
And then there’s slope. Greens are rarely flat, so the ball must be started on a tangential vector which will allow it to follow the curving path that ends at the hole. The faster the ball is going, the less it responds to the curvature of the putting surface, so when determining the aiming line for a putt, the golfer must decide what combination of ball speed and path will deliver the ball to the hole within the range of speed which will allow it to fall into the hole.
Add to the equation the fact that to get the ball into the hole you have to roll it across a living, and highly variable, surface. It’s not flat, and the amount of resistance which it offers the ball can differ from green to green, even from yard to yard on the green, and throughout the day as weather conditions change.
Suffice it to say that the difficulty, variability, and unforgiving nature of putting drives golfers a little crazy. The average golfer owns from one to five putters (and not a few own ten or more), and there are probably more different kinds of gadgets designed to improve your putting stroke and your ability to read line and speed than there are for any other part of the game.
Manufacturers sense the desperation that golfers feel when it comes to putting, and regularly introduce new innovations that are ballyhooed as game-changers, accompanied by testimonials, plaudits, and masses of quasi-technical lingo that is often just marketing bumf. Different face materials are touted to “improve feel” or “increase responsiveness”. Tweaks to the placement of the alignment mark promise to help you zero in on your preferred line better, or grooves on the face are claimed to put correcting spin on the ball and actually curve it back toward the hole.
The bottom line on putters, as far as I am concerned, is that it all comes down to what feels good to you. Try before you buy. Try every putter in the store, then go to another store and try some more. Get fitted by one or another of the high-end custom putter makers if that suits you, but in the end, figure out what putter feels best in your hand, and works best with your natural stoke. That’s the putter that will work best for you.
And then all you have to do is master the art – and it is an art – of reading line and speed, and you will start making more putts. Simple, right?