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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hot Stix Fix

I’ve always suspected it, but now I know—my golf clubs are costing me strokes. Yes, despite the oft-heard adage that it’s the carpenter, not the hammer, who bends the nail, I now have confirmation that my clubs are responsible for at least some of my errant shots.

The truth was confirmed by a trip to Hot Stix Golf Performance Center at the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, NY. I took my irons in for a check-up and was shocked by what Steve Grosz and Chris Marsh found when they put the clubs to the test. Then I was delighted by what they did to fix them. My irons, by the way, are Ping i-3’s that were fitted to me four years ago and seemed to work just fine at the time. But that was then and this is now and, despite a better swing thanks to many lessons and much practice, my approach shots seemed to be getting more and more erratic.

Hot Stix club fittingIt turns out that at least part of the problem is the clubs. Grosz explained that, once the basic lie angle is determined by your body and your swing (which is what used to happen during a normal fitting), each one of a matched set of irons should have progressively shorter shafts (by a half-inch each) and a one-half degree more upright lie angle. When they measured my irons, some of them were as much as three times more upright than they should be.

Does it matter? Only if you want to hit greens in regulation. Each degree an eight iron is off, for example, sends a 150-yard shot 15 feet off-line unless your swing somehow compensates for it. As you can imagine, it’s almost impossible to consciously or sub-consciously adjust every swing if the clubs aren’t right. So what’s the big deal about 15 feet? If the hole is cut five paces from the edge of the green (which would be a generous position), your approach is going to land somewhere other than the putting surface.

Grosz and Marsh measured all my irons and reset the lie angles. Now the same swing should produce the same line with each club—assuming I swing the same way twice. Considering that my pitching wedge was a whopping 1.5 degrees off, I expect to be looking at a lot more birdie putts instead of hoping for a sand save.

This is just one facet of the complete testing and fitting service Hot Stix provides. They also measure the ideal loft and shaft frequency for your irons (and woods) and determine the proper weight and bounce for each of your wedges. If you want, they’ll also apply their technological skill to your putting stroke, measuring impact, launch angle, skid, follow-through, and consistency. Services are available individually (an iron fitting lasts about 90 minutes and costs about $200), or you can go the whole route and get a “Tour fitting” that includes a session on the course where the experts will observe your swing under varying conditions. That lasts four to six hours.

The biggest single advantage Hot Stix offers, in my opinion, is that all testing is done outdoors on a full range, so the GPS and vector analysis is complimented by seeing the actual ball flight. I think I swing differently outdoors than I do in a testing booth, too.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tillinghast at Saxon Woods

A.W. Tillinghast is renowned as the creator of dozens of world-class golf courses. I was delighted to learn that he also designed my favorite local muni course, Saxon Woods in Scarsdale, NY. It's not likely I'll ever become a member at Winged Foot (although hope springs eternal), but for $25, I can tee it up at Saxon Woods whenever I want.

I'd heard rumors about Tilly's involvement with the Westchester County-owned course, but had poo-pooed them along with everyone else until a friend, Ken Sojka, brought me a copy of Philip Young's limited edition book, A.W. Tillinghast, Creator of Golf Courses. Saxon Woods is mentioned several times and listed as one of Tilly's original designs. The year was 1930, and it was apparent the great man needed the work as depression gripped the country.

Many of the holes at Saxon have been altered, of course, but there are clear marks of Tillinghast's genius throughout the course. The third hole, a long "three-shotter" as he would have called it, has an obviously artificial mound cramping the fairway at the landing area for the second shot as well as two steep-faced bunkers squeezing the green. The fifth hole, my favorite on the course, is a dog-leg par four that offers two strategies off the tee--a well-placed straight drive to the left half of the fairway that leaves a mid iron over another mound, or a long fade to a narrow alley next to the mound that rewards the perfect tee shot with a wedge. The green, too, is highly contoured and protected by a bunker on the right. The 17th hole is one of the best par 3's around, with a steep narrow green set at an angle, surrounded by bunkers, and fronted by a stream. The real Tilly touch is the tee box, which points not at the green but to the right of it.

Another interesting fact is that a well-struck three-wood (or two) would carry your ball from Saxon Woods over the Hutchinson River Parkway to Quaker Ridge. From there, a seven-iron over Griffen Avenue would get it to Winged Foot. I love playing golf in good company.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, May 12, 2008

Would Tiger Beat Harry Vardon?

A favorite topic for discussion among golfers is how cross-generational matches would turn out. Would Tiger beat Jack Nicklaus? How would he fare against Ben Hogan? or Bobbie Jones? After reading The Vardon Invasion by Bob Labbance and Brian Siplo, I'd like to throw Harry Vardon's name into the mix.

The book tells the tale of how Vardon came to America in 1900 and energized the game in this country. He not only won the U.S. Open that year, but played 90 matches against the best amateur and professional golfers from Maine to Florida and west to Colorado. The book recounts many of those matches and is filled with interesting sidebars about his opponents and the courses they played.

I found descriptions of the courses themselves fascinating. Instead of the billiard-table greens and manicured fairways we play today, Harry and the boys teed it up on nine-hole tracks where irrigation was unheard of and greens might be "browns" of oiled and rolled sand rather than grass.

Vardon, of course, is best known here for his defeat in the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline by Francis Ouimet. He won the British Open, though, six times--a record that stands to this day. He won 75 of the 90 matches in the 1900 tour covered in this book--most of them played against the best ball of two top amateurs or pros. A record like that would be envied by golfers of any generation.

Bob Labbance and Brian Siplo compiled The Vardon Invasion through countless hours of pouring through newspaper accounts and club records. Their work has paid off with a highly readable tribute to the man against whom all future champions should be measured.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Other Island Green At Sawgrass

TPC Sawgrass 17th hole
There are actually two island greens at the TPC Sawgrass Resort. One is the famous 17th hole on the TPC Sawgrass Course. The other is a tiny replica floating in the lagoon outside the Marriott Sawgrass Resort Hotel. Rumor has it that no one has ever successfully hit a shot that held that second green. You can see why. It just bobs serenely at there on the lagoon, flag flapping lazily in the Florida sunshine, taunting you.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Pete Dye's Excuse For Sawgrass 17

Every time a golfer complains to Pete Dye about how many balls he drowned at the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, Pete just refers them to his wife, Alice. "It was her idea," he swears while making every effort to look innocent.

The way Billy Dettlaff, TPC Director of Golf told the story to me, Dye found a great deposit of perfect sand where the 17th hole was supposed to exist as a perfectly normal, medium length par 3. He kept hauling sand away from the spot to lay the foundations for the other fairways on the course until one day he realized that if he took away any more, there wouldn't be anything left except a huge crater where the 17th hole was supposed to be.

When he recounted the problem to Alice, she told him to fill the hole with water and put the green on an island. Voila--one of the most recognized and reviled holes on the PGA tour.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sawgrass 17 - A Shotmaker's Hole

The 17th at Sawgrass epitomizes a shot-maker's hole. At 138 yards, brawn doesn't matter. With a 6,000 square-foot green, accuracy is everything. Just as important, though, is your ball's trajectory and spin. If it doesn't come in high and soft, it can easily bounce off the tiny target.

A couple of other things make the 17th even more challenging. One is the wind, which can put anything from a wedge to a six-iron in your hand or even force you to aim out over the water if it's blowing hard from right or left.

TPC Sawgrass 17th Hole
The other factor is the crowd. Even though you probably won't be playing in front of packed galleries like the pros in the Players' Championship, I can guarantee there will be at least one and probably two foursomes behind you waiting for their turn on the tee. The club also encourages non-playing tourists to visit the spot, too, so there are often a handful of gawkers watching your swing. Every atom in your body screams "Don't chunk it! Don't dunk it!" when you stand up to the ball. Your soul would shrivel up and expire should anyone chuckle. It's a grand game, ain't it?

The hole is full of stories. The last time I played it, everyone in my foursome drowned their (USGA-unapproved) practice shot from the back of the pro's tee. When we moved to the real tee, two players hit the green, then both sank their birdie putts while the other two (including me) reached for another sleeve of balls and headed for the 18th tee. The birdie boys are still chirping about it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Free Golf Lessons In May

One of the best deals to come around every year is a free ten-minute lesson from participating PGA teaching professionals. Think you can't learn anything in ten minutes? Then you must have a perfect repeating swing, hit every fairway, get up and down out of every bunker, and never miss a putt. Try it! It's free and I guarantee you'll save a stroke or two on your next round.

If you're anywhere near Westchester County (NY) where I live, you can get a great bonus: a chance to win a free swing analysis in the state-of-the-art studios of GolfTEC, a recent addition to the golf scene here run by well-respected PGA Professional Tom Sialiano. GolfTEC White Plains features four coaching studios and a putting studio, each one equipped with the latest technology to tell you more about your swing than you can possibly imagine. Add in their PGA teaching staff, and golfers of all skill levels can improve their performance.

All golfers who sign up for the free 10 minute lesson in May will participate in a drawing for a free evaluation from GolfTEC valued at $195. How can you beat that?

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the