Workin on Workin It

By Adam BarrAugust 22, 2008, 4:00 pm

Workin it for a living isnt what it used to be.
 
Whether the living youre working for is really your daily bread or just the life of your game, the importance of working the ball ' hitting shots that purposely curve right-to-left or left-to-right ' has declined even at golfs top levels over the last two decades. Time was, in the persimmon and small-iron era, when every good player moved the ball in huge cuts and dramatic hooks, navigating around obstacles and controlling landings near flags placed close to hazards. No less a ball striker than Ben Hogan said of Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth that a straight ball on that course would kill you. Workin it was the mark of a master.
 
But as golf ball manufacturers got good at making low-spinning distance balls that also worked well around the green, players at all levels couldnt afford to miss out on the extra yards. Recreational players especially benefited from models that reduced overall spin, including sidespin. And one sure way to increase distance is to keep spin down to a reasonable level, so the ball stays in the air but doesnt balloon into a yardage-robbing trajectory.
 
However, a ball that spins less also cant be worked as easily. So there was a tradeoff on the table, and when that happens, more yardage off the tee is always going to win. Elite players started curving the ball less, and less often.
 
Even so, the skill of working the ball is not extinct. Indeed, theres no way to remain at the elite level of the game if you dont know how to do it. And many recreational players dream of being able to hit controlled fades and draws on demand.
 
The good news is, it can still be done, and its not as hard as you think. Of course, the basic technique of bringing the club face along a path that will promote the proper controlled sidespin takes practice ' lots of practice. And if youre going to do it, you need to first see your PGA professional to learn how. You also need to make sure youre using the right tools. To coin a phrase, Whats Workin In Your Bag?
 
Generally, from the club point of view, workability is tied to the mass properties of the clubhead, says Jeff Colton, senior vice president of research and development at Callaway Golf. So you need a neutral center of gravity, not significantly toward the heel or toe.
 
Thats because a CG closer to the heel effectively enlarges the toe of the club, promoting draw spin ' the so-called gear effect. Its a common feature of game improvement clubs (drivers especially) whose users tend to miss right. Conversely, a CG closer to the toe effectively stretches out the heel, promoting cut spin, a feature helpful to those whose death move is hooky.
 

I know what youre saying ' so game improvement clubs are anti-workability? Well, the top-line answer is yes. Workability depends on spin, notably sidespin. And game improvement models tend to push down sidespin to prevent wild shots. But dont despair. Its a matter of degree.
 
Yes, as an iron becomes more forgiving, it becomes less workable, says Scott Rice, director of research and development for Cobra Golf. It is possible to draw or fade a game improvement iron, but it is more difficult. Many game improvement irons have a lot of offset which will promote a draw, but make it harder to hit a fade.
 
But there is a middle ground for skilled players who want more forgiveness than a traditional forged blade, but still want to be able to work the ball. Cobras Carbon CB iron is one example of this middle ground. The head is slightly larger than a traditional blade and more mass is moved out to the perimeter of the head for more forgiveness, but it is still a very workable iron. Cobras FP iron is another example of an iron design targeted at the better player; it has a larger head and a wider sole than the Carbon CB for even more forgiveness, but the sole design features a chamfer on the back edge which allows the club to have workability characteristics of a narrower sole.
 
Aha. So you can move some weight outward in a head and have some of the best of both worlds: a little forgiveness on off-center hits combined with some sideways mobility. Lets check on some other important design characteristics of workable woods and irons and see what matters and what doesnt (and how much):
 
Moment of inertia: MOI plays strongly into workability, says Colton, because high MOI drivers are supposed to reduce twisting on off-center hits. Theres game improvement again. Colton tells the story of Ernie Els experiments with Callaways square-headed FT-i driver ' since it works the ball less, Ernie had to relearn his aiming points to account for the clubs ultra-straight performance.
 
Bigger is betterfor some things:That brings up the issue of head size, especially now that consumer drivers of any shape generally push the 460-cc size limit. Bigger heads usually have mass properties that hit the ball straighter. The same physics apply in irons.
 

The closer the center of gravity of the head is to the shaft axis, the easier it will be for the golfer to manipulate the club into the required position to hit the particular shot he or she wants, says Cobras Rice. In general, the smaller the head size, the more workable the iron.
 
Down to your sole: Drivers, of course, dont contact the ground. But irons do, and how they strike and get through the turf naturally influences the balls ultimate direction.
 
While a wide sole prevents digging for the mid- to higher-handicap player, a narrow sole makes it easier for the expert player to open or close the club face, Rice says. A cambered sole from heel to toe is more versatile from a variety of lies, and reduces the amount of sole that contacts the turf, especially with larger game improvement heads.
 
The ball: Of course, urethane covered tour-level balls will spin more than 2-piece, large core models with ionomer and Surlyn-type covers. Thats how many pros can keep some workability in their games. Tiger Woods, a habitual shot carver, plays a Nike ball that has a ton of spin ' he estimates he uses the spiniest ball on tour.
 
What doesnt matter: The shaft. Torque [the degree to which the shaft twists at impact] is a feel feature, says Callaways Colton. Impact is so short ' about 500 microseconds ' that there cant be much influence. Also, face thinness or thickness and the degree of bulge and roll in the face shape dont have much to do with workability, Colton says.
 
How about forged versus cast? The materials may be different densities, and designs have to account for that. These design variations may have an affect on workability, says Rice. But, a forged and cast club of identical design will have the same level of workability.
 
Whatever the technical requirements and pitfalls, working the ball remains one of the games eternal fascinations. Its a kind of danger zone: when it works, youre a hero. When it doesnt, youre in the field munching cans with the other goats.
 
Its a long and straight game these days because its so hard to work the modern golf ball compared to the old days, says Colton. So in a sense it is dangerous, because you have to risk a larger swing variation.
 
And his advice for a modern ball-worker afraid of a straight drive at Colonial?
 
Hit 3-wood.
 
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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.