The Tee Ball
The good news is that modern equipment offers more options than ever for getting the ball into play off the tee. Between drivers (traditional and new geometries), fairway woods and hybrids, the tee toolbox is wonderfully full. Herewith, some thoughts on using the latest technology to accomplish one of golfs most hallowed ' and harrowing ' tasks.
Whats the Goal? It pays to step back for a moment and think about what were trying to do with a tee shot. Anyone who has been around this highly strategic sport for awhile knows that no shot exists in a vacuum ' each one is either a preparation for the next or a reaction to the last, or both. Although the most public aspect of the tee shot is the distance it will fly, good players know that where the ball comes to rest is at least as important as how far it went to get there. Especially on good golf courses designed to challenge your second shot, placing the tee shot is paramount. It may require raw force or restraint. Thats one of the key attractions of the game.
Thats Great, Perfesser. Now Shut Yer Pie Hole and Tell Me How to Bust It. Fair enough. The best players are usually also quite long. This is where modern drivers come in. Over the last five years, a sea change ' no, an air change ' has occurred in the way we think about what a driver should do. Instead of a low, penetrating flight that bores through like a cruise missile, even the best players have come to want more air under the ball. Parabolic trajectories, once thought to invite ballooning and loss of distance, are now the rage. We have modern golf balls to thank for that. They spin less off drivers, and therefore are less subject to that annoying ballooning in the second half of flight.
So the important thing in choosing a driver head to go with modern balls is to get enough loft. Get the ball up. The longer its in the air, the farther its going to go. There is a limit to this, of course; youre not an NFL punter who needs to hang it up while the other ten guys get downfield. But in general, recreational players need to hit their drives higher. Stick with lofts above 10 degrees, and consider as much as 13 degrees. Get your local PGA pro or clubfitter to put you on a launch monitor to make sure youre getting at least 14 degrees of launch angle. (Some folks can go as low as 11, but err on the high side.) Youll find yourself getting more distance.
And yes, the shaft plays a big role in this. Most of us can benefit from a softer shaft that flexes lower (that is, more toward the clubhead), encouraging the ball to get up quicker. If you find yourself hitting it left with a good swing, consider a lower torque model, or take a step up in flex, perhaps to stiff. New interchangeable shaft systems can help with the trial process, so it will be easier to go stiffer or lower torque while avoiding a clangy or boardy feel.
But avoid copying pro specs. Most touring pros swing extra stiff (X) flex shafts, and most of us cannot make that work any more than we can pure short little forged muscleback blade irons more than once a round.
Having directional problems? This is where high moment-of-inertia (MOI) models, including the squares, could help. High MOI drivers resist twisting at impact, which could help keep it on the world. Also, dont be afraid to look into models with a face bias engineered to create a draw. It may not look very closed at address, but a degree or two can make all the difference.
Finesse at Its Best. When less than a driver is called for ' you dont want to hit through a fairway, or the shot is narrow all the way down ' fairway woods and hybrids offer some comfort. Theyre shorter, and therefore easier to control. And in the case of hybrids especially, there may be enough offset to help straighten out whatever directional risk a driver may have.
More and more recreational players are relying on their hybrids to reach long par 3s. Putting a plain ol iron swing on them ' that is, hitting down instead of trying to sweep it ' can lead to a long, high flight that holds the green more easily than, say, a fairway or 3-iron. And since hybrids are so much easier to hit than long irons, the issue should be settled.
Also, with a little practice, you can choke down on a hybrid and flatten the flight. Thats extremely useful on windy days. There will still be a bit of a humpback quality to the trajectory, but the ball will get under more of the wind.
With fairways and hybrids, watch your tee height. We have been told ' and its good advice ' that the equator of the ball should be even with the top of the driver. Get it lower for the fairway and hybrid ' fairways especially have lower profiles these days ' so that the equator of the ball cuts across the top line of those clubs ' go no higher. I stop the tee with the thickness of a finger between the ball and the ground, and that usually works well. However, this is merely a guideline. If you like, go a bit lower, especially if you do indeed hit down on your hybrids like irons. You can get the ball almost on the ground in this case. As usual, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and plenty of room for experimentation.
Now, get out there and crush it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''