Thursday, November 9, 2017

Law of diminishing returns

Every once and a while i get thinking about golf club pricing again. I see new things coming out, i see the products come and go, and watch them get bought and sold daily. I wonder what goes through the mind of some manufacturers when they go to price a product. Do they really think a towel is worth $40? A hat is worth $50?  If you're unfamiliar with the phrase, Law of diminishing returns, the definition is as follows: 1. used to refer to a point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.  I'm sure the manufacturers look at this from their perspective all the time - afterall, it's what keeps a product going BUT i'm willing to bet they rarely look at it from the consumer's end.... and I think it's time they did. 

This is not just money, but time - energy - and performance.  Recent newcomer to the golf club industry, PXG, has a saying "nobody makes golf clubs like we do.. period".  Certain lawsuits may shed light on how true or untrue that is, but the question posed is:  Is that a good thing? Are they efficient enough? is their special elastopolymer really THAT much better than something that's a fraction of the cost to use?
Law of diminishing returns applies to consumers in this way - At what point do you stop paying for a product and start paying excess. THAT is the diminishing return.  In golf you have a club, call it a 4 iron.  That 4 iron is made of some sort of metal, or a composite. It has a job to do. There are non-quantifiable variables like feel, look, finish, and desirability that are based on what the person using the club thinks about that club and that can move the point of diminishing returns (PDM) one way or the other.  Marketing speak and industry claims aren't helping the matters either. 

The chart above can always hinge at the first point. Some technology is really good, some, not so much. It depends what the technology does to the playability of the club, the looks of the club, and the feel of the club. Take these three players as an example.  

Player A only looks at performance. He/She doesn't care about the name on the club, where it's made, or that it might look campy or weird. They test out clubs for themselves and may look online for reviews from noted sources on the subject.  When two products meet the same requirements, they will likely choose the less expensive product. They would look at the chart below and say  "I'd definitely take the pink product. There's not enough difference in performance to justify that kind of cost"

Player B is interested in status and performance. As with Player A, they care about how the club performs BUT it also needs to be something well-known and not something from the local Wal-mart bargain bin.  They will do their research and testing and normally come out with something that's in the mid to high price range. Very much where OEMs price the "off the rack" selection of clubs.  Occasionally they will upgrade a component and spend a little more - because you know, tour players do it.  Player B would look at the chart and say "There's room for improvement, i wonder if there's another name brand in between that offers something as good or better.

Player C gives affluent a new meaning.  They might be playing great but something new or better came out and they've gotta have it.  The best of it too - upgrades, special finishes, everything extra that you can imagine.  To them, it's worth it to spend $3500 on a set of $1500 irons because it's a "limited edition black set" even though there's no difference in the performance of the club.  Player C wouldn't care if the blue club was better or worse than the pink club. It's name brand and it's expensive. Sign me up. x

There's all sorts of mashups between these players, but they represent the beginning middle and end of the spectrum pretty well. I'm sure we can all see a little bit of each of these in our own selves and figure out where we land. I'm sure we've all been guilty of Player C once or twice. Damn that special edition looks awesome - i'm gonna get it. Still - the only thing in my mind that's WORTH paying for is technology.  The club HAS to do what the technology is meant to do and it has to help in some appreciable way - not just be different. Likewise that cost has to match the performance enhancement over the next competitor.  I talk about wedges a lot because i have some of my own. The reason they're priced the way they are is based on this system.  The materials, the time, and the base cost lends itself to that price in an effort to keep the product going.  The performance against other wedges speaks for itself and justifies that price. 

In putters we can see the same story play out - There are many different brands of putters - all have the same sort of styles but they range from $90 up to $350 for the same type.  Is a $350 blade putter REALLY nearly 4X better than a $90 one? Depending what's going through your head maybe, maybe not. It's hard to believe it's made of that much better quality steel.  In my days of playing blades and mid mallets, i rolled a few "Scotties".  I didn't like them, personally. I found much better feel and control in an Odyssey than I did with the SC.  Saving almost $150 was a bonus on that.  I've since moved on to what will be the last putter in my bag (unless they come out with something better) because it actually marks a difference from anything out there. I paid more than a SC would have cost, but it's worth it for the performance and the noted difference in improvement.  The same between OEM adjustable drivers and "epoxy hosel" drivers.  An M1 is justified to be more expensive than say, a Top Flite driver due to the actual technology in it - but that's where it starts to get hairy, how much more?  If you play the driver on standard - you're paying a premium for a certain look.  For irons... if you can't tell the difference between the feel of cast and forged - play cast, they're cheaper.

For me, a club has to really offer an improvement for me to spend the money.  My clubs are set up the way they are because they've hit a balance of playability, look, and performance that gives me confidence when i put them down behind the ball. There's nothing in my bag that i say "ugh, i don't hit this well" yet i will keep because of name brand, and likewise, there's nothing that i hide because it's not mainstream and i think people will make fun of it.

You've gotta do what you think is best for your game AND your wallet. NEVER buy a club because of what you think you can resell it for when you're "done with it".  Thats' the wrong reason and you're going to end up spending a lot more than you have to, thanks to depreciation and the speed at which clubs are released.

Wether it's "blue collar" brands like Bombtech, Maltby, Acer or Kirkland..... or OEM brands like Air Force One, Tour Edge, or Wilson.... even the expensive brands like PXG, Honma, Itobori and Renegar. You have to find the price point you're comfortable paying for the performance you're getting. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Is golf equipment worth what they're charging?

There are a lot of issues that people have with golf. Too slow. Courses are too hard/easy.  The game is too expensive.  All valid concerns sometimes - but I think we have ways of combatting all of them, even down to the smallest nitpick.   Still, golf equipment is at the forefront of the complaints. $500 for a driver? $2500 for a putter? $200 for a golf bag? $50 for a dozen balls that are going to get lost anyway? It's crazy!

The equipment industry has no shortage of pricey items.  From Scotty Camerons that go for upwards of $2000 to sets of irons and "fitting experiences" in the tens of thousands.  Honma even released gold plated clubs!!! Most of these things are more like collectors items than actual gear - and i get that. Everybody wants to have a piece of history or something that they can say "yea i got that" but how much of golf equipment is REALLY worth the cost and how much is a name?  Let's think about this -  is it innovative? Is it manufactured efficiently? Does it perform? Is it THAT much better than what came before it? All very valid questions.   The overwhelming answer however is NO.

Let's look at drivers.  Persimmon heads were the latest tech in the 70s and early 80s.  Thats what they had. Then along comes Taylormade with their steel head "pittsburgh persimmon".  Suddenly, the face is hotter, the weight can be positioned better, and the club LASTS LONGER.  WOW. that's innovation right there.  Worth the price of admission to be sure.  A while goes by and nobody can better the idea other than to make it BIGGER. New innovation. Showed jumps in ease of use, more distance, better sweetspot and more ability to address the club as a canon made to launch the ball as far as possible.  Then comes titanium.  Then comes multimaterial (Failed). Then comes adjustable hosels. Then comes adjustable weight and multimaterial again.  What do all these things have in common? They were innovative at the time and capitalized on new technologies to provide increases in performance.  So where are we now?  On the runway of fashion.

Drivers now are more about looking good than they are about performance. I know you feel you hit that neutron stick farther than your old driver but it's not because it's better. It's because it's FIT better. The technology has revolved around making the clubs prettier rather than getting new technology in them. Some are under the guise of "better feel" or "better sound".  Whatever man.  Is having a club that's a little more tinny sounding than last year's model worth another $399 to you? If it is - then you have too much money.  Rick Shiels recently did a comparison of the last 5 years of clubs from 3 of the biggest OEMs in golf.  The data collected showed there was less than 5 yards difference between them on average.  5 yards, in 5 years. The kicker is - it wasn't even like 5 years ago was 5 yards shorter than this year, it was all over the place.  This is because OEMs are worried about staying relevant and not about pure performance. This leads them to create clubs that underperform in the guise of something that's "revolutionary".

 In this game, you need to have something that catches people's eyes. Something that says "hey we're not just sitting back and counting money, we're actually working on new stuff".   Some come out with new clubs every 2 years, some come out with 2 new clubs every 6 months - but most are still making money and paying pros.  It's a hustle, and YOUR MONEY is the prize. Not one of those drivers is worth the premium you're paying for it. You're better off finding an older driver for hundreds of dollars less.  Still - let's look at some clubs that I think ARE worth the scratch because they're doing something different and the performance backs it up:

Air Force One Golf.  There's not much to talk about here because they don't have a huge line - and that's what makes them good.  AFO has 2 drivers (pro and MOI), fairways, hybrids, 2 lines of irons (AFX and AFX Pro) and a line of wedges.  That's it. Their business is Super Game Improvement or High performance, easy to hit. The thing they do uniquely is Nitrogen charging their clubs.  AFO makes their clubs, puts the weight where they want it, then shaves the face of their woods, hybrids, and some irons down to danger level. After that they pressurize the club with nitrogen, providing weightless support to the face and increasing the forgiveness and getting as close as possible to the maximum limits set by the USGA.  It's brilliant, because it's weightless, unlike some other brands that are pumping elastomers and polyurethane into their heads.  Using nitrogen increases discretional weight and makes a nice POP sound when it's hit. Lofts are increased and weight is lower for the same height. I've never hit a ball as far as i have with the AFX GI irons. If distance is where it's at for you - give them a look.

Directed force putters.  This company revolves around their Reno putter and the proprietary and patented system of weighting and design which allows it to remain square to the putting stroke automatically. It's a potential game changer for every player and definitely shows the technology they say is in the club.  Pricey, yes, at $400 per club but that money is directed into the club itself. Obviously it's not a name. They are very exacting with their tolerances, and obviously the technology speaks for itself as no other putter does what their putter is capable of.

PXG.  Odd to find a bigger manufacturer on my list of "worth it" clubs. Especially one that is one of the more expensive players in the business. Still, PXG has gone onto something with their irons. Specifically the weighting system. By using their Elastomer inside, they free up discretionary weight to make more ports on their irons.  This can really help dial in not only swingweight, but keep that CG where you want it - and look good doing it.  In golf fitting, there is always give and take. You add something somewhere, something else will change and you need to compensate for that.  PXG has done that and kept the club smart looking. I admire that. No wonder it appeals to so many. I wish i had that capability when building and fitting.

Taylormade.  OH shit, OEM #2.   The reason TM is on this list is because of their M1 weighting system.  There have been iterations of what is ultimately one of the most adjustable driver systems in golf over the last 10 years.  The SLDR, the R11/1/15, R7 -  everything revolving around changing the weights and CG of the driver.  It's my personal opinion that the M1 has done it the best so far.  Even with PXG and their circular weight ports, the capability of the M1 to adjust to the golfer is amazing.  One drawback being the single cog sleeve where the entire shaft has to change orientation.  The M1 has the capability to be the lowest and most forward CG of any driver -relative to neutral axis (independent testing)  and still has the capability of being changed to the most forgiving - almost making the M2 obsolete?  They have something special with their rail weights - that most other OEMs have been trying to copy.  Couple that with the  now common multi-material construction and you have a pretty nice weapon.  Of course, it's hit or miss (no pun intended) as some people can't stand the look or the sound of the newest M1. Likewise other clubs.

It's not rocket science - it's harder.  Its' working within parameters to develop and manufacture a product that needs to both appeal physically and through performance enough to perpetuate the system in an EXTREMELY competitive environment.   People often ask why don't I design a driver, or a putter, or irons and why did I stay with wedges?   The answer - Because i don't want to get caught up in the distance races.  Wedges are for scoring. They need to feel good, launch predictably, and spin controllably.  It's a classic shape that is found in nearly every manufacturer and theres' no new technology needed.  It's a "working man's" tool and that's what i like. In my opinion, we've seen what we're going to see out of the golf club until the USGA changes it's parameters. What you see above are my pick for the best bang for your buck in the their tech department.

Gone are the days of cheaper clubs. Muscle back Blades and cavity backs - the most basic and common designs among clubs - are now often more expensive than technology packed "game improvement" irons.  They say things like "tour" and "pro"  and they're not.  They shouldn't cost more than multi-material irons with more steps and more innovation, but they do. Because they look prettier and have prestige associated with them. Truth is, they're relics.  People gravitate toward them because of "feel" and workability and that's fine, but no reason to pay an ultra premium for that. Afterall, isn't that what a golf club is supposed to be? Something that feels good and performs?    Those same people trust drivers that have more technology than their car put into them and don't worry about the pure feel and workability of the humble persimmon anymore.  Did you know - independent testing showed that theres' a 6 yard difference between a persimmon driver and a modern one when comparing apples to apples?  It's not the new materials, it's what they allow engineers to DO with those materials to create a better club. longer shafts, lighter heads, more forgiveness. Having a  big headed driver is not enough - the technology has to provide something extra or else it's just another big headed driver.  Same with irons. Same with putters. Smoke and mirrors and a new sticker on the back.  Take a good hard look at what you're getting for your money. Not just the head - but the shaft, the grip, and the service as well.  They all go together to get the best performance out of your equipment.  If it's not a jump in performance, then use the money and take a lesson - or get a bottle of bourbon. Same result right?

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Shot-Shank Redemption

"How often do you look at a man's shoes?" - the line famously delivered by Ellis "Red" Boyd during Andy Dufresne's last moments as a guest at Shawshank Prison.  I'm sure that most of you retifists lose it over a new pair of Jordans, or need to have a nice pair of going out shoes but that's beside the point.  How much do you really think about your shoes in golf? We may look at the style, name, or comfort of them - even the spike pattern since that's what matters most, right?  What if I told you the reason you shot 85 on tuesday and 99 on wednesday is laced up and matches that Ricky Fowler flat brim perfectly?

So I decided to do a little bit of scientific method throughout my season. After a few WTF rounds of golf and having my wonderful low single digit handicap turn mid, I needed to find out what the hell was going on. Not paying attention for the most part, just marking down everything about my round in the notes. What pair of sunglasses I wore, pants or shorts, how early I got there for the tee time and even the shoes I had worn after each round.  At the beginning, I thought I was honestly wasting my time. I was grasping for straws and I remember thinking to myself there's no way that any of this would be costing me strokes. I can tell you, they most certainly did. Turns out - my shoes were killing my score. No knock on the brand, because I do really like the spikes, but I use 3 pairs of footjoys. 2 pairs of FJ Energize - 1 white/ 1 black and 1 pair of FJ Contour - Brown.  I bought them like anyone would - to match my golf attire when needed. A shoe is a shoe, right? Honestly, I bought the contours because generally I wanted something that I didn't have to change at the course and could just go right out after - Thinking golf shoes were golf shoes. I looked at my notes and noticed something peculiar....

On days that I practiced with a shoe, then golfed the next time with that same shoe I tended to shoot relatively well. One of my best rounds came on the third day of wearing a particular type of shoe in a row. In each instance, I noticed that when I changed from Energize to Contour and vice versa, my score ballooned significantly. Sometimes up to 10 strokes and my ball striking went to hell. Granted, this was not at the forefront of my mind when playing the rounds. I was just playing my game and trying to score.

Slowly a pattern began to emerge.... When I switched shoes, my swing just felt out of sorts for a while. I couldn't figure it out. Nothing was different and I JUST played. I wasn't rusty, but there was no fixing it until the 10th hole or later.  There were even outliers in the rounds where I had changed shoes but my game didn't change. Was it all in my head? Am I just a crazy, neurotic golfer who blames things like shaft label placement and ball marking technique rather than his own swing? I needed a drink.

I glanced over things again and eventually I caught on. Turns out, the Energize are almost 1/2" higher than the Contours. This put my weight a little more neutral at address, since I tend to lean backwards naturally with my weight shift (Thanks, Dr. Scholl's contraption at walmart!). This means that the Energize were actually a better fit for me in terms of posture and weight transfer. It wasn't something I could necessarily feel, but it's something I could compensate for EVENTUALLY when it wasn't there - which was the case. When I changed back to the flatter, more casual Contour style, I needed to consciously change my weight displacement or at least allow for it. This is why it took a good bit of time during the round, or a practice session, to get my bearings.  But what about the days when I changed and I was ok??? I took another sip and thought harder and realized. INSOLES. 

Remember that Dr. Scholl's thing I was talking about? Well it's there to help you choose what insoles are right for you. I have back troubles and can't really walk on hard surfaces for a long time without stopping, stretching, and at the very least saying "ow".   This was because of that rearward CG of mine, and I was putting all the shock and weight on my heels, sending the feedback right up to my spine. Insoles cured that, and I had put them into the Contours when I walked the course making them about 1/2" higher (probably more like 3/8). Closer to the Energize - which felt good enough NOT to put the insoles in. I didn't put them in when I took a cart, or if it was particularly soft out. EUREKA!!! How could I be so dumb?!

Is this a complete study of the subject... no, not by a long shot - BUT you may want to do a little experiment of your own. See which shoes you play best in and what kind of specs they have. Every person will be different, just like using a particular golf club, but you might find that you can actually shave a few strokes wearing a certain type of shoe. There's a lot of talk about stability in the golf swing and the golf shoe, but how much do we really think about the height and balance of our golf shoes?

A couple years back - in a campaign that I believe continues to this day - Shoe companies like Adidas were saying you needed to be as close to the ground as possible. They touted thin soles and "more interaction with the turf".  Sounds good on paper, but we all know that there's only one thing that can keep you stable in the golf swing - balance. Proper weight displacement is 100% the key to a good setup and starting point for the swing. Perhaps it's time for the Carrie Bradshaws of the golf world to take a look in their closets and ask "Does my collection of golf shoes love me as much as I love them?"

Monday, July 31, 2017

If you play efficiently... are you a bad person?

Another week, another "rules" discussion.  This time it's the US Girls Junior Amateur Championship. On extra holes, Elisabeth Moon was faced with a birdie putt to win the semi-final match over Erica Shepherd.  Moon missed the putt and immediately raked the remaining putt of about 8 inches away, assuming it would be given. The problem was - it wasn't.  Shepherd made no mention, motion, or otherwise attempt to concede the putt and because of this Moon lost the match under rule 18-2. The internet at large is calling Shepherd a "bad sport" and questioning her integrity in the game over the win.  You would think rightly so, but is it just mis-understanding of the rules and match play that are blinding them to the way the game is played? They're rules - not a test to get your wings, Clarence.

Match play is the one time in golf where your score doesn't matter as a whole.  You are playing heads-up against your playing competitor and if you take a 10 it doesn't matter, as long as they take an 11.  In addition, you could shoot a 68 and STILL LOSE to someone who shot 82.  It's an amazing format and has a few rules stipulated ONLY for that format - and for good reason. Let's look at two that applied to the whole deal this past week....

Let's start where the hub-ub is.  Rule 2-4 Concession of Match, hole, or stroke.  In match play, at any time, a player may concede a hole or match. In addition, a player may concede their opponent's next stroke provided the opponent's ball is at rest. Once given, it cannot be taken back in any circumstance. There is a KEY word here.  The player MAY concede. It is that player's choice to do so.  Nowhere does it say that a player MUST concede a stroke at any time - for any reason - at any length. There is also no mention of "if they're nice" or "as a show of respect". Nothing about equity.  This is very important in application and use and is a powerful tool in playing a match.  Look at it this way.....

You're playing a match and your opponent hits their putts close right off the bat.  They're the type of person who rakes away gimmes so you concede 1 foot, 2 foot, maybe even a 3 foot putt for the first couple holes.  By the 7th hole your opponent hasn't putted anything inside 3 feet or longer, but now has a 3 footer to win a hole. How comfortable do you think they're going to be over that putt? Sure, it depends on the caliber of player but there's not one of you out there who hasn't yipped on a 2 footer or even a 12 incher once in their lives. Anything can and does happen in golf. In 1983 at the open championship, Hale Irwin whiffed on a 2 inch putt. 2 inches- if it was even that. Whiffed. Mental lapse. Not match play and no excuse for a misunderstanding because you have to hole everything but it still happened. He got no "pass" because it was a "gimme" length putt. Same in match play.

By the same token as my previous example - maybe you don't give ANYTHING at all. Make your opponent putt everything out for the first 9 holes? Maybe they get to thinking you're a jerk and it gets them off their game when you finally DO give a putt.  A stretch maybe - but stranger things do happen.  It's not a "gimme" until it's given. Thing is, the "gimme" in match play is as much about gamesmanship and strategy as it is a show of respect to the opponent's game.  That's not to say you HOPE for anyone to miss a shot ever, but just know that you're not a bad person for not giving them a short putt if you don't want to. Just expect tit for tat. Regardless never ASSUME something is given. Like a provisional ball, it must be voiced that a concession has taken place before it's actually good.  If you didn't hear it.. ask.

This leads us into the actual penalty rule - 18-2 Ball at rest moved by player, partner, caddie.....  This is actually the breach the lead to Moon's loss.  Because there was no concession, the officials stepped in when she moved the ball.  Under 18-2 it's one stroke penalty in match play.  Because of this, Moon lost since Shepherd was already in for a 5.  It's unfortunate but it's the rule and is there to protect  the field. In this case, the "Field" is one person. Shepherd. Concentration is key and if you lose it - be prepared for a penalty. There is no room for precedent in applying the rules of golf. If it were a 2 foot putt and she raked it back because she just gave Shepherd a 2 foot putt... is that ok? It's not pretty and you can feel how you want about it, but the rules are the rules. Sure as your ball is unplayable from out of bounds, you'll be penalized if you don't get an actual concession before moving the ball in any circumstance.

Now reading this - you'll probably think me a monster.  Playing on people's emotions and fears to try and win.  It's not that at all. In fact, the entire purpose of match play is to "Put pressure" on the other player.  Hit your shot close, force them to change the game plan. Don't give away strokes. Giving or not giving a putt is simply using the rules to an advantage - same as any other rule. This one just has another person in play directly. It should not be viewed as something noble or seen as martyrdom to give strokes away. It's a strategy, and if you're not using it as such, then you're playing a losing game. If you're going to let morality and self assessment dictate gimmies - when does it stop? how far is too far? What if the winning putt is within your very liberally measured "gimmie" circle? Do you make them putt it then? Well that's not very nice if you do...

Bottom line... It's not your fault if your opponent gets yippy over a 3 foot putt.   Nor is it a problem or malcontent to exploit that weakness. Now..... you're a bad sport if you call them names and make comments calling Mr. Lippy McYipsalot out, but simply making them (or not making them) hit a shot is no reason to think you're Mephistopheles or the angel Gabriel. It's no different than say - telling your partner that play needs to speed up because the group is behind?  Not your fault if it gets in their head.  How about intentionally hitting the ball long and into the bleachers on a long par 4 to get a free drop and take the hazard out of play when the tournament is on the line. Or say more recently - taking relief for an unplayable on the driving range where it's nice and flat so you can get a full swing and a perfect lie. Come on - man up and play it straight right?  To allow someone to get away with a blatant rules violation so you can feel good about yourself isn't noble - it's a disservice to that person. They haven't learned anything and all you've done is let everyone know you're a pushover.  Sure, you can sleep a little easier that night knowing you lost because you didn't call a penalty what it was - if you're not tossing and turning thinking about the moment that cost you the match, that is. But hey, by that point you drank yourself to sleep -  right, Champ? There's no reason to feel bad about being competitive, but there are things that exist between falling on a sword yourself and intentionally breaking your competitor's kneecaps that are perfectly acceptable. Learn to use your gimmies.......

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Did we witness blatant cheating and get a "No Call"?

I can't get away from this weekend's rules "debacle" with John Rahm seemingly placing his ball back on a different spot than where he originally marked it.  Facebook, all the golf forums, hell I swear I saw it in the newspaper and I'm pretty sure my cat was muttering about it in his sleep on the window sill.  It seems a number of weeks ago, we saw this from Lexi Thompson and she was given a swift and brutal penalty of four total strokes, whereas Rahm was basically smiled at, told not to do it again, then invited over for tea and biscuits.  Some say it's BECAUSE of Lexi's penalty that Rahm was not penalized for mis-placing the ball and that may be part of it.  I think it's a mis-application of the rules in general and it begs the question -  "Are we looking at applying the rules incorrectly this whole time?"  

The nature of the penalty is that Lexi "played from the wrong place".  OK shit happens right? She played from the wrong place by about 1 inch total if that? Let's look at the whole here..... This was snapped from a video analyzing the move with a black square placed on the video at a fixed point, showing the move.

To me, yes, it's clear that she moved the ball after marking. It could be reasonably assumed that she put the coin down, had a brain fart when aligning the ball, but then took care to put it back down in front of the coin on line with her target.  There's no arguing that this is the wrong place but does it REALLY give her an advantage.  Let's blow up her 2 foot putt....

This is the after-image.  Nowhere on this line of putt does it look like she's going to gain any sort of advantage by moving the ball left or right, even up to a putter head-width!! If anything she moves it INTO A WORSE SPOT with what appears to be a mark or dark bit right there in front of the ball now.  She also does not move the ball closer to the hole nearly as much as Rahm did, so basically she was penalized not for the intent to cheat, just for losing focus and placing the ball incorrectly.  But what about Rahm???

Looking at Rahm's video - it's raining. The greens are getting traffic and it's kind of ugly.   Here we can see that he clearly places his marker to the right side of the ball.  Everyone seems to agree with that...

When golfers routinely mark behind the ball, why this time does he choose to go right of the ball?  Sure, he has to move the marker but you can move one, two, three putter heads and not have an issue - and actually that's what the ROG says to do. But.....  If you look closer at the image... you'll see the reason, in my own opinion, that he marked to the right of the ball.....

Would you look at that? Right there, in front of his ball and right on the line of his putt... holy spike mark, Batman!!!  Clearly a huge issue in this weather, and it's a confidence building short putt to boot.  Could you imagine if he missed it? With the weather as it was and a short fuse temper - there's no amount of a lead that can predict what would happen at this point.  Rahm marks to the right, lifts the ball and moves his mark, clearing the way for his playing competitor to sink his short putt which is on a line just outside this spike mark towards the camera.  Now, let's look at Rahm's replacement of the ball.  He has already moved the mark back quite precisely if you ask me, then goes to put the ball back down......

I'm just gonna put this right here....

Ruh Roh, Shaggy! By moving the ball to the FRONT of the mark, rather than replacing it at the side, he has given himself a clear advantage by making an unobstructed line to the hole.  That friends... is motive. The video doesn't lie. 

You can't handle the truth!!!

The USGA is looking at "intent" in the rules right now.  I'm a member of a number of forums and a person on there had an interesting thing to say.  When exactly does intent stop and responsibility to follow the rules begin? You don't INTEND to hit a ball out of bounds, yet there's still a penalty for it. Bernhard Langer doesn't INTEND to anchor the putter to his chest, yet it still looks like it from an outside perspective and it surely brushes his shirt - which the USGA lets go as part of it's new initiative.  Lexi presumably didn't INTEND to move the ball either, she was just lining up the putt as some say Rahm was. Being a little too focused on one thing and not on another. Here's where I draw the line though.  

The opportunity for mal-intent exists and THAT'S where a penalty should happen.  This was backwards. If you look at Lexi's putt, there was no advantage to be had by moving the ball and in equity it could have been said that it was an accident and therefore a no-call situation would have been OK as it wouldn't be reasonable to say that she intentionally cheated when there was no gain to be had. It's entirely plausible to be a "brain fart".  In Rahm's case, you can look at it and SEE there's an issue that in fact DID IMPROVE his situation when the ball was moved. I don't for a second believe that he had that much of a fart where the ball is moved exactly enough to clear an impediment. THAT warrants a penalty.  In fact, it may be the most clear definition of cheating.  The thing is - it's over and done with and the call is made. Rahm is adamant in his explanation that he took due care in placing and replacing his ball.  Basically staying positive and not wavering. Sell it to the end, so to speak.

In either case, there will be arguments on both sides for weeks to come.  People in their weekend beer matches are going to be watching each other like hawks and ribbing the entire foursome every time someone marks a ball - all in good fun of course. Still, this raises serious questions about both the clear application of the rules, and the opportunity for creative cheating on tour and wherever the cameras aren't looking especially.  From Tiger Wood's ADMITTED incorrect drop with no penalty to the slow-mo replay of a grain of sand being touched by Anna Nordqvist resulting in a win for Brittany Lang, there are just too many instances and inconsistencies that have sent the USGA back-pedaling to try and "re-apply" the rules properly.  I think that "intent" is a good thing to look at in the case of the rules, but also keeping in mind the "opportunity for mal-intent"  (let's face it, cheating is an UGLY word until you're proven to have done it).   What do you think? 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

First Impression: Directed force ...OR... "Is there actually any innovation left in golf?"

I've posted before about new technology. Ins and outs, innovations and old hack ideas. I lie awake at night - after coming in from the shop - and think about golf. Late night and early morning TV are filled with infomercials... Hundreds of them. Everything from training aids, to the next big "technology" in clubs. Guys yelling BOOM and POW and hitting the ball 400 yards, promises of clubs "so easy to hit it's like cheating".

It hurts me to watch these things. They prey on golfers and their desire to play better golf by making promises that sound legit but are in fact nothing but snake oil meant to separate golfers from money they could use as greens fees or lessons - further diluting the equipment business and depressing the golf market more.  Even leaving the television for the Internet I find little but "reviews" of how great things are. This and that - more distance - everything that's great about the products and no reasons why other than "it helps your game'.  There is absolutely no shortage of miracle clubs with any combination of letters and numbers that boast "innovative" technology and while some of them may deliver a few gains - they're not for the majority of golfers. How much of that really CAN BE real? How much is bunk?

So a number of months ago, I came across "Directed Force Putters".   A small company with a big idea - make a better putter.  Simple. No infomercials yet, nothing blowing up my email and Facebook, just saw one out at a tournament and heard loads of people saying they love their DFP.  What the hell, man?

A gentleman by the name of Bill Presse heading up the team, and coming out of the USA, Directed Force pushes it's business based on "lie angle balancing".   Whatever dude, just another kitsch phrase... or is it? I was duly skeptical. Nevertheless, I decided to do some digging. I searched and searched online for a used putter that I could at least test and didn't find one. Are they really that good that nobody wants to get rid of one?  Everyone that I found that owned one of these franken-putters just did not want to part with it. Literally every single one I contacted. Want to sell it? "NO". ...Please?  "Get off my lawn, dude!"..... You had my interest, now you have my attention. This is something I want to get into - a club people want to play until it wears out....

Flash forward, I FINALLY got my hands on one. One of these guys walks into the shop and wants some changes to his.  Knowing there's some weird arcane magic stuff going on here, I contact DF to make sure we don't ruin his flatstick. After researching and talking the man himself, Mr. Presse, we're going to get it done, but first - "let me test it huh?" Score! I took a few putts on my carpet downstairs and immediately know this club is different from anything else I've used before.

Background:  I've used and/or tested just about every putter out there. Especially recently with some new-found putting woes. My list includes but is not limited to: (BREATH) Cure, Brainstorm, Scotty, All the Major brands, wooden putters, long putters, belly putters, extra short putters, long putters, heavy putters, ultra light putters and even mini-golf putters. Face on, face balanced, toe hang, toe up, high moi, center shafted, plumbers neck, single and double bend - every.....fucking.... putter. I can honestly say that NOTHING that has come before it is anything like what the Directed Force putter is. DEFINITELY nothing looks like it - which is what i found to be the biggest hurdle...albeit a pretty low one.

Looking down, I couldn't even totally describe it without a picture. A branding iron maybe? Metal detector? (Find me a fortune!!) Large hitting face, ample reflective sight lines with a center mounted/center BODY shaft, and a large trailing weighted head.  The shaft sets in at an angle, and the grip is drilled such that it mounts vertically on the shaft. Essentially it's something between the recent Backstryke putters and the high moi Spiders you see now yet still TOTALLY different.  It's just the strangest gosh darn thing.....and I really started to fall in love with it.

For all it's quirks and idiosyncrasies, it sets up PERFECT. I mean, spot on balls perfect. I know exactly where that ball is going when i put the head down. This is great because it's like my older Ghost Spider in that respect: Very easy to line up and once you have the line, that part of the equation is out of the picture. It's all speed and roll after that.

 The grip fits very well in my hands - and rumor has it they have a larger version - but i don't have that one to test. It's not really needed though at this point- the "Press grip" is just the right size.  The shaft lean is unobtrusive to the eye, and the sight line just makes a great shape in relation to the trailing ball-catch. One thing I'm a little put off by is the shiny nature of the aim T. Shiny. Real shiny. It seems to just glow at address which is nice, but man when the sun hits that thing directly, look out! Good news is that I spoke to the creator and this issue is solved - They're now laser etched on all the new putters  - but you can still get the milled version if you're a paint fill kinda person.

The swing. The swing is effortless. The technology they're touting actually seems to be on display.  I know that with my Spider, and pretty much most putters it's very easy to leave the face open on a putt or put a little too much oomph into releasing the putter and close it.  Even if you're stroking it perfectly by the shoulders, the putter fights you a little. The stroke has to be perfect, and there's weight that needs to be compensated for in the head. You can feel it, no matter the putter. That being said...there is zero effort needed when making a stroke with this putter. It seems to know what to do and when to do it. Literally take a neutral grip and rock your shoulders and the ball starts on line every.....single....time. One handed, either hand, as long as the club started soled flat on the lie angle, the ball started right on the intended line.  I nearly soiled my pants to be honest. Now..... does that mean you can't miss? No, not in the slightest. It's not a gyroscope. You can almost feel it fighting you though in the back swing and through swing trying to stay on line and not have your nasty meathooks ruin your chance at birdie. The club WANTS to be square to your stroke. It's like a physical being. After about 10 "getting used to it" putts, there was no part of me that felt i had to do anything to get the putt rolling... and roll it did. It was a mental block to come to terms that i had to do NOTHING to make this putter work other than set up and rock my shoulders.

Roll and feel.  The strike is hard to qualify.  It's solid but soft.  If you're a fan of urethane inserts, you're going to have a period of time to become familiar with the new non-insert feel. In addition, it takes cues from the type of ball you're using. If it's a harder cover ball - the sound is going to be more of a pronounced and harder feel. If it's a softer players ball, you'll have a more muted feel and with either type you can really hear a light "tink" type of sound resonating through the head. It's actually rather pleasant any way you hit it, but coming off of soft insert putters, it does take a little getting used to - but no more than any other putter out there.  It's a confidence building sound in my ears.

Even if you put ear plugs in and wear oven mitts, there's no denying the roll. Pure, unadulterated Velcro on the green. No bounce. The ball just tumbles and tumbles and tumbles. Over marks, across hills, just tumbles. Full disclosure, I skidded a couple in the beginning because I used the same stroke i needed on my old putter to make it roll.   Newsflash.... This is as close to a "point and shoot" putter as we've got to date. The grooves on the face are apparently a roll machine.  Set up, rock shoulders, collect winnings. *drops mic*

Credit; "Back to the Future" - Universal Pictures 1985
If you haven't seen it..... what's the matter with you?
*picks mic back up*  So what does all this mean.. Well, to me, it means that there's at least a little bit of morality left in the golf equipment business other than yours truly. There's some real thought and real innovation in this putter and from first use - it's not a smoke and mirrors marketing speak type of campaign slapped on the same old thing. You're certainly not paying for a name, but I honestly think you're going to be hearing  a LOT more of the Directed Force name in the next year or so. With a silver metal on the Golf Digest Hot List already and momentum starting to build, for the first time since metal woods initially came on the scene - to quote Doc Brown - we're about to see some serious shit....Look out, big OEMs.

 There will be a  part 2.  This is not over. A putter's true self is not brought out until you get in the pressure of a real match. Since I have this for quite some time, I'll be using it in the match play this weekend and really giving it a test. Let's see how you handle it when the cheddar's on the line Mr. Force......