Friday, May 30, 2008

Can A 10 Handicapper Break 100 At The Open?

I think it was Tiger who made the comment last year that a 10 handicapper couldn't break 100 on a U.S. Open course under U.S. Open conditions. Right now I'm playing to a 10 and I confess that, at first blush, I fantasized I could do it. Then I heard Phil Mickelson give a more detailed explanation of why it would be near impossible; too much length, too narrow fairways, too tall rough and too fast greens. How might that really play out for a 10 handicapper?

Let me try the fantasy on for size. On average, I guess an Open course at an extra 1000 yards from what I usually play. Using 180 yards as an average shot, that equates to 6 more swings.

Extremely tight fairways and tall rough mean it's an extra shot every time I miss a fairway. All I'll be able to do is hit out 90 degrees with a wedge. Give me 9 more shots.

In order to not go too deep into the rough, I'll probably have to leave the driver in the bag. I'm giving up a good 40 yards with a 3-wood. If I do that on all but the par 3's, that's 14 times 40 for 560 yards. 560 divided by a 180 average club equals another 3 shots.

Because of hard greens and me having to hit longer irons due to the added course length, I'll miss a lot of greens. Then, because of the tall rough and faster greens I'm going to miss more up-and-downs. Give me 6 shots here.

How about those polished marble 13.5 on the stimpmeter putting greens? If I average 3 putts a green, that gives me 54 putts. Even at 48 putts, that probably adds 12 more putts than normal.

Let's tally:
- 6 shots for overall distance
- 9 shots for fairway rough
- 3 shots for using 3-wood instead of driver
- 6 shots for longer irons into the greens
- 12 shots for more putts on fast greens

That's 36 shots without counting any penalties. 36 added to 72 equals 108. And that assumes I'd be playing without anyone watching and no cameras going off during my back swing. The more I think about it, the more it appears that Tiger and Phil are right.

Look at it another way. 100 minus 72 equals 28 shots lost to par or about 1.6 shots lost per hole. Wouldn't it be very easy to lose a stroke and a half per hole given the added length, taller rough, narrower fairways and faster greens. Would even a 'best round of the summer' be good enough? Don't think I'd want to bet my paycheck to find out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nick Is Right On Golf Broadcasting

I like a good deal of The Golf Channel's coverage of pro tournaments, but there are a few places they could definitely improve. Like the blue imaginary putting line. The first time I saw it, it was interesting. By the third time it was a nuisance. If you have to keep this doodad, then at least lose it before the player actually putts. Listen to Nick Faldo. Behind his politeness he's trying to help you improve your broadcasts.

Gary McCord sounds like a nice guy. I'm sure he'd be great to live next to - funny and lot's of interesting golf stories. But when he's running the show, I feel like I'm tuned into the 'Gary McCord Hour', playing between Oprah and Ellen. Sometimes the commentators should let the play speak for itself.

And then there's the music that has become mandatory when showing the 'on screen' scoreboard. I thought we were done with Muzak about 15 years ago. Now it seems to be on a vicious comeback. It's at the mall, in the airport, at the bookstore and recently on TV anytime there's a 'data' shot. I've got enough lunacy running around my head without having more piped in.

That's not to say that I'm not thankful for The Golf Channel and all the tournament coverage they provide. In most cases I wish they had the rights to more Saturdays and Sundays. Now, with the networks, we're lucky to get 3 hours of coverage. Take away the commercials and talking heads, that doesn't leave much time to watch real play.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Slow Play

Is it just me, or is play becoming slower? I thought last year was a deterioration from the year before. Now this year seems to be even worse. Golf is not growin. Could slow play be part of the reason? 4 hours for 18 holes is plenty of time. More than once I've thought about playing at a particular course and then passed when remembering that it usually takes 5 hours there. Only a few years ago there were rangers on the course making sure everyone stuck to the 4 hour time limit. Nowadays I don't see rangers anywhere. Is that because golf courses figure they can't afford it. If that's the case, then I think they're missing the bigger picture. With slow play they are apt to lose more in greens fees than they'd have to pay a ranger.

Slow play isn't about crowded courses from what I see. I played 18 holes in a threesome last week and we played through three groups. The course wasn't crowded by any means. There were vast expanses of open holes in front of each group. They were taking in excess of 20 minutes per hole. In my definition that's not golf. Do they enjoy taking that long? I just don't get it. It's a game and it has to be fun or people will give up the sport. Waiting 3 or 4 minutes before taking every shot isn't fun.

The slow play I've seen is not because of a physical handicap or beginners' playing skills. Many golfers just don't seem to know how to play a hole as a group. In one instance last week, two golfers in a cart came 100 yards backward for a shot after playing the farthest shot first. My wife and I played behind two young men who looked to be in their early 20's. We literally played a circle around them. We finished ahead of them and played 6 extra holes in between. I have no idea why they were taking so long. They were competent players, but they agonized over every stroke as if it was worth their pay check.

Male, female, young, old, beginner and 15 handicapper - it doesn't seem to make a difference. Slow play cannot be attributed to any one group. Are golfers being effected by the slow play they see on the pro tours? Or are we, as a society, less concerned about others? A foursome can finish a round in under 4 hours without rushing a shot. It requires 'ready golf' and, except in tournaments, that should be the norm. With 'ready golf' you take your shot when you're ready to play, not standing on ceremony that the player furthest from the hole goes first.

Part of slow play may be more golfers looking for lost balls. If you hit a lot of errant shots, don't play Pro V1's unless money means nothing. Is it just me, or does it seem that most new courses are made as difficult - read long and tight - as possible. This doesn't help slow play. I predict that course design logic will change in the coming years to save the game. More modern designers should take a page out of the old Scottish designers' books. You can make a course challenging and difficult without requiring a golfer to lose balls. A pot bunker is a wonderful hazard and though you may wish you couldn't find your ball once it's rolled in, it will be lying in plain sight. Well placed trees and shrubs are challenges that don't usually eat balls.

It would help slow play if all golfers were educated on etiquette and rules, and if courses used rangers. It shouldn't take more than a few months of enforcement to 'train' players to 4 hour rounds. Beginners sometimes have to 'pick up' on a hole to keep from slowing play. Learning this is as important as learning how to hit a shot out of the sand. The U.S. could take a few pointers from the Europeans on how to keep rounds speedy. Courses in many countries require a particular handicap for play and sometimes for each tee box as well. New players are required to pass a 'playing' test with a pro before getting their first handicap card. This insures everyone is on the same page on rules and etiquette. And remember, it's no sin to let faster players through. A par 3 is a convenient place for a pass.

One last word to golfers that want to play the classic courses from the same place the pros do. If you don't hit 300+ yard drives, you aren't really playing the same course. Think about it. Even if your drives are 270, you won't be in range of the hazards, like bunkers and narrowing fairways, that the pros face. Play the tees that force you to negotiate the same hazards as the pros and your experience will more closely approximate theirs.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Alpha V5 Driver Review

Back in February I received a brand new Alpha Golf V5 driver and wrote a blog about my intentions to review it. The weather in New England finally eased up in April and I have completed my tests.

Initial Impressions and Unique Head Cover
First, let me recap my initial impressions; it's a gorgeous club, elegant but not showy and comes with the best head cover I have come across. It's important to protect the graphite shaft on a new driver, but trying to put the long necked head cover on can try your patience enough that you decide to leave it in the car. That's great for the short term, but bad for the long term. It only takes a small nick on the fragile shaft to weaken it enough to break in the middle of a round. For my money, Alpha has solved the problem with a slick design that uses magnets to control the opening in the head cover. It's so easy to use that there's no excuse for not protecting your driver. Even if you don't need a new club I encourage you to check out these great head covers.

Now on to the club test. I compared the Alpha V5 to my current driver. I have a range where I can hit my own balls. I used the exact same balls, marked red and black and hit both drivers in alternate sets of 5 over numerous practice sessions. I also took the club out on the course to try it where it actually counts.

It's not easy to test drive a new club and really know whether it's right for you or not for a number of reasons. A new club is usually setup differently - you are looking for something different aren't you? Accordingly it's going to feel different while you learn how to swing it. If you can't test it over an extended period against what you're currently using, how do you know the results aren't colored by your swing on that particular day.

The Alpa V5 came in the same length as my current driver and with a similarly configured stiff shaft. They sent it with a normal size grip. While I use mid size grips on my clubs I wanted to test it first with the normal size as this is what you're going to find on most demo clubs. I found that it definitely affected my ability to hit the ball. So be careful in evaluating a new club if the grip is different from what you normally use. After a few days with the normal grip I replaced it with a mid size Golf Pride Decade Multi-Compound Cord grip. (I not reviewing grips here, but I have to say that these grips are incredible-though expensive.) I noticed a difference immediately. Without the change I don't think I would have given the club a fair evaluation.

Let's look at aesthetics for a moment before getting to the results. I've talked about the great look of the club which is important for building confidence. I also want to mention sound because this is important to many golfers when considering metal woods. When I first hit the V5, the sound was a definite surprise. It wasn't bad, but it was just different from what I am using. Where my current club makes a clank, this club makes a clink. The more I hit the club the more I got accustomed to the sound, to the point where I actually forgot about it. If you find the sweet spot the sound almost disappears, which is quite pleasing - in a biofeedback sort of way.

At The Range
What about the results? On the practice range I found the Alpha V5 to be, on average, between 15 and 20 yards farther on solid center hits. I didn't check off center hit distances as carefully, but my impression is there was little difference there. The results can't be an absolute number because this was not an exact scientific experiment. I'll leave it to the physicists and Iron Byron to come up with absolute performance figures. Golf clubs are hit by humans and this brings in a lot of variations, even with an individual golfer. I noticed that the biggest differences in distance came in the later tests. Maybe I was learning how to swing the club. Or maybe my confidence was increasing due to the results of the earlier tests.

On The Course
Finally, I took the club out on the course. After all, this is where any club has to perform. No two days on the golf course are ever the same, but when you've played a course enough you have a pretty good idea of how far your drives go. I was definitely hitting the ball at least 10 yards past my normal landing spots and this in cooler spring conditions. There's a 292 drivable par 4 - at least for some - on the course I used for my test. My previous best there was about 10 yards in front of the green. I don't remember the conditions, so I can't say if mother nature helped or not. I'm delighted to say that I was able to put one of my drives with the Alpha V5 on the front fringe. It's important to note that the last 15 yards of the fairway rise about 12 feet up to the green. There was no helping wind with the V5 and the ball ran up the slope. Regardless of what happens on the practice range, it's those kind of results that 1) make it easy to covet the club and 2) get you psyched up to try it on your favorite driving holes. Now I'm anxious to see if I can repeat my 'longest drive' on a few other short par 4's that I've never been able to reach. It would also be great to reach the par 5's in two that have been impossible up to now.

After testing it myself, I whole heartedly encourage anyone who's looking for more distance in a new driver to give the V5 a try. Though it's not as universally carried in golf stores the way the most advertised brands are, you can buy it on line with a risk-free 30 day guarantee. Just a couple of last remarks. The club has customizable weight ports which I didn't mess around with. For those of you who want the club to help you change your ball flight, the option is there. I don't think the average amateur is really working his drive intentionally. I don't try to move mine much as the results can get scary. My natural shot is a draw. On the course, I was able to fade the ball a little with the V5. Hopefully it wasn't just luck, but I'm confident this club will not hold any skill level player back.

As soon as it stops raining here, I'm going to go out and play some more with the V5. I'll keep you updated on how the club performs. Right now the old club is confined to the trunk of my car! It's no wonder that Alpha Golf has won 6 ReMax World Long Drive titles.