A Tale of Two Demo Days

By Adam BarrApril 22, 2005, 4:00 pm
Your ball speed was140 mile per hour.
Apparently we have entered the age of the talking launch monitor.
Launch angle10 degrees.
Behind me, just down the tee line at a recent Orlando-area demo day, a robotic voice tinged withwell, it could only be sympathetic politeness announced the swing parameters of a hapless amateur.
It was a standard launch monitor, displaying on a screen under the nearby Nike tent the usual yardsticks of club performance: clubhead speed, initial ball velocity, backspin and launch angle. But this one was the first I had ever heard withwell, ever heard, period.
I couldnt resist the implied challenge.
When the current victim was finished (the announcements had only made him try harder, which of course diminished his clubhead speed, sapped initial velocity, clobbered his launch angle and backspun him into oblivion), I stepped up.
Your ball speed was134 miles per hour.
Well, thats about right. My clubhead speed was about 90 mph, and ball speed is usually about one and a half times clu '
You need to commit to the swing.
I looked at the boxy machine. Did it just gokinda all human on me?
And how about tennis?
Now look here, I sputtered.
Just kidding. [meep] Excuse me. I am resetting myself. You must commit to the shot.
I looked around to see if anyone would see me addressing a gray plastic box on the ground. Then, in a half-whisper:
Sure. Youre really not that bad. Dont read the discussion boards.
O.K., maybe that last part was a daydream. But the talking launch monitor was the real thing, and it put me in mind of how this so-ancient game continues to reinvent itself, always stretching away from its past ' but never breaking away.
Take the demo day. Its a relatively recent invention, a practice range demonstration of one or many manufacturers wares, out there in bags, just waiting for the most effective test: Your swing. Time was, and it wasnt so long ago, when fitting was just something for tour pros and every club purchase was a risk. It worked for Joe in your foursome last Saturday, so it should work for you, right? Every golfer over 30 remembers the pit-of-the-stomach disappointment when the same club felt like a broken tool in your hands. Returns? Forget it.
Now that theyre big ticket items and competition is so fierce, the marketers have their way: You get to try clubs before you buy, and so it should always be. You may even run into a talking launch monitor along the way. Talking or not, demo days are getting launch monitors, hybrid clubs, the latest drivers, fitting technology and more to consumers ' and in the end, theyll be happier golfers for it. Time spent searching manufacturer websites for demo days is well spent ' so is going and hitting the gear.
What you find when you get there improves every year. From composite-and-metal combinations to moveable screws to light density metals, some of the best engineers in sports are working with the weight budget in ways we couldnt have imagined just a few years ago.
Case in point: Cleveland Golf is shipping its new GC4 game improvement iron June 1. This cavity back club is made of a lighter density metal, which Cleveland says will improve feel for any kind of player. (It also allows designers to drop the center of gravity even lower and push it back, which of course helps get the ball airborne.) The material is called carbon metal matrix steel, which has 17 times more carbon in it than the kind of steel often used for iron heads ' and much of this carbon shows up in the head as about 20 million tiny nodules, which absorb much of the vibration of impact, Cleveland says. (The company uses a similar material in its CG10 wedges.) Cleveland is after a soft but solid feel with this club, and claims CMM Steel is to titanium what titanium was to stainless steel drivers.
The CG4 is just one of many innovations coming down the premium pike, proof that although rounds played are essentially flat year to year over the last half decade, golfs big designers are trying to be ready for an upsurge - -all while keeping the current avid player interested.
Modernity reigns.
Or does it govern by consent? In all the years I have covered golf equipment, I have never gotten tired of watching golf minds innovate, create, work around, and solve. The eternal puzzle, though, never goes away. Two puzzles actually: getting the ball to and in hole, and enjoying the effort.
But as exciting as modern technology can be, the history of golf equipment is never far away. That might explain why I get such a kick out of playing hickory clubs. The set I ordered arrived in the mail the other day, and I rushed over to my club, went up to the forward tees, and went low-tech. Well, 70-year-old tech. Those who have read my rhapsodies about hickories will understand why I enjoy this kind of golf. It feels like another game, but one you know ' a bonus game, the charm of Old Timers Day at the ballpark whenever you want.
I wont bore you with tales of my birdie the first time out (niblick, 26-footer, draino), but I will tell you about another demo day I saw recently.
Peggy Kirk Bell, the smiling octogenarian hostess at the fabled Pine Needles Resort in Southern Pines, N.C., had a cold the other day when we were shooting a Whats In The Bag? episode there with local LPGA star Donna Andrews. But Ms. Bell wouldnt think of letting us off the property without saying hello.
Now heres someone who actually played with hickories for money for part of her career. She remembers Glenna Collett Vare on a first-name basis (she played on the two Curtis Cup teams Vare captained). She is still tall, upright, unassuming, friendly ' in short, a delight, and we were all quite taken with her insistence on coming by, despite being under the weather.
Course is coming along, isnt it? she said as we surveyed the right-to-left slope of the stunning 18th fairway at Pine Needles. These ridges ' can you see them? ' thats the direction of the washout. We had such a wet spring. But well aerify a bit more, and that will smooth out nicely.
It was already fine golf turf, but Ms. Bell is a perfectionist about her Donald Ross gem. And she is in love with it, and golf, after all these years, balls, shots and technology under the bridge.
After the days shooting, I returned to my room to clean up for dinner. My veranda overlooked the practice range. And there in the gathering twilight was an older woman in a golf cart, driving across the range from target to target, flag to flag, with a little Corgi dog running ahead. I recognized her immediately: it was Ms. Bell. Evidently a cold has no chance against this woman.
She would from time to time get out, wedge in hand, and start hitting long, low shots into the targets ' over and over, as long as the light lasted, always one more shot, one more try, the fluidity of love and habit gracing every swing.
After awhile, she whistled loudly enough to be heard in Raleigh, and the little dog jumped up on the cart, and off they went.
I liked that demo day too.
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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.