Theres More to Grips Than Meets the Hand

By Adam BarrFebruary 14, 2004, 5:00 pm
The secret, we discovered, to teeing up a ball on the Great Wall of China is to find the moss between the stones.
Golf is where you find it, even in places where the grass is a bit sparse. True, we had to bring the worlds greatest game to one of the wonders of the world. But there we were, in China, on said wall, preparing to videotape my attempt to loft a Titleist into the wild lands beyond the parapets.
You can see how the shot came off on the season premiere of Whats In The Bag?, which is set for Monday, February 16 at 10:50 p.m. ET, part of TGCs Your Game Night. But theres much more to the show than my golf goofing-off north of Beijing. The WITB crew peered into the worlds least-known center of golf equipment manufacturing ' and into a particular company there ' and got a look at a big part of the future of golf gear.
First, an explanatory note about this season. There were 13 WITBs in 2003, and they were all topical: each show was about a topic, such as drivers, or golf balls, or some other subset of golf equipment. This year, we plan 24 shows, some topical, but others that are in-depth look at the companies and people who develop and build the latest in golf equipment. The first of these Whats In The Bag? Spotlight shows, which youll see Monday, is on Winn Grips, which is based in the Shenzhen region of southern China.
Its not the intent of these Bag Tags columns to give away whats in the show, but I dont want to be irritating about it either. So Ill tell you this much: turns out grips really are rocket science. Far from being a commodity item, grips are now performance enhancers for golf clubs. Its that premise, that desire to elevate grips from the dime-a-dozen reputation that once plagued them, that drove Dr. Ben Huang to found Winn.
Huang, a true rocket scientist who worked with the great Dr. Werner von Braun in the 1960s, switched to polymer science after his work with engineering doctoral candidates at Georgia Tech began to wind down. He was looking for a business opportunity, and after trying tennis and some other grip-central sports, landed in golf.
Theres much more to the story, but suffice to say, Winn brings a great deal of science to the process. At their plant in the town of Humen, Winn research engineers are using polymer technology with your hands in mind. We saw a lot of concern about and focus on how grips perform in wet conditions (from perspiration on your hand or the rain), and also about how grips should look. Youll even see some innovative ideas about how grips should be put together. But in the end, be it construction, design, or even cosmetics, the final goal is good feel in your hands.
Then there were the surroundings. China is a sensory feast for the adventurous traveler, a constant mlange of sights, scents and sounds that amaze at every turn. The Great Wall is one of those rare experiences that exceeds its own hype; seeing it snaking through the mountains in the distance, one is compelled to wonder, With terrain like this, why did they even need it? But mountains plus wall notwithstanding, the Manchurian horsemen finally got through, careening fearlessly down hillsides a man could hardly stand on, let alone a horse.
The Chinese as a people are warm and welcoming, even though they behold Westerners with a dose of curious wonder. They are not averse to laughing out loud at attempts to speak accent-free Mandarin, but they are always willing to smile, listen and help. More than once, I was certain that after I brushed against someone in the street and saying Ma fan nee, (excuse me), the brushee laughed and said to his companion, Where did that giant Westerner learn to speak Mandarin?
The most interesting golf fact, though, may be that much of the gear we all play is made by 18-year-olds from Sichuan, Shaanxi, Guangdong and other Chinese provinces. Much has been made in recent years of child labor abuses and other problems with workers in Asian countries, but we saw no evidence of that in our travels.
Instead, we saw well-fed, eager workers who are probably making more money than their families have ever seen. They take as much overtime as they can get (Dr. Huang said that in fact the company has to limit the hours so the kids dont get too tired), and they are quality freaks. Everyone has a caliper or other measuring device to make sure products are on the mark. The environment is clean and orderly. And when the work day is done, workers return to modern dorms, where they eat three meals per day, all prepared by a full-time kitchen staff. The young employees even gather every morning on the big basketball court between the dorm and the factory for a pre-work stretch.
I think youll enjoy our look around China, from the golf to the Great Wall and beyond. And for the February 23 show, its off to Japan to check out the latest in golf balls.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. Youre next on the tee.
Related links:
  • What's In the Bag - Show Page
  • What's In the Bag - Airtimes
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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    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.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."