Fit to be Tried

By Brian HewittFebruary 17, 2007, 5:00 pm
Eventually, and maybe not as far into the future as you might think, it will come down to dynamic fitting. Its inevitable.
There are too many smart and monied equipment companies in golf not to level the playing field when it comes to the limitations imposed by golfs governing bodies. Already we are approaching those limits, across the board, in moment of inertia, coefficient of restitution and clubhead size.
The golf ball and the golf club shaft still offer something of a new frontier. But eventually all the best club makers will have arrived in the same chapter, if not on the same page.
And when that inevitable relative parity arrives, it is my opinion that the technological battleground in equipment will be in dynamic fitting.
All of which is why I arrived at the PGA of Americas Learning Center IN Port St. Lucie, Fl. Thursday to get a look at one companys current state of the art TECHNOLOGY. And its why I asked an expert, Gene Powell about my theory.
What weve done for the touring pros for years is going to become more commonplace for the amateurs, he told me.
Powell is the Manager of Operations & Technology and a PGA Certified Instructor at the Learning Center. And he patiently put me through my paces at his facility on something called the Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade (MATT).
TaylorMade is in the forefront of making dynamic fitting available and affordable to the general public. The goal, Powell said, is to match the ability of players to perform with the ability of the equipment to perform.
Its simple, really. In theory, there is a set of golf clubs that perfectly fits Tiger Woods. And somewhere there is a set of golf clubs that perfectly fits Joe Duff, 16 handicap.
Joe Duff still has to swing the club. And Joe Duff will swing the club better if he works on his flexibility in the gym and his game on the range. But Joe Duff will never succeed with Tigers optimum set and vice versa.
Which brings us back to MATT. Using multiple high-speed cameras MATT gathers and distills important swing information. The result is an animated three-dimensional computer image of your swing from every conceivable angle. The result is also a data-driven personal club recommendation.
It takes about an hour. And the charge is $50 for a driver fitting and $50 for an iron fitting. TaylorMade currently has more than a dozen MATT performance labs scattered across the globe from Dubai to Japan to Portland, Oregon.
For a higher price, people like Gene Powell will also combine a fitting with a golf lesson. Video equipment enables the teacher, in this instance, to compare the students swing and positions with the swings and positions of the best players in the world. MATTs teaching companion is called the Motion Reality Golf System.
This ability to over-lay and compare, with exact measurements, allows the charting of movement changes, says Rick Martino, the Director of Golf Instruction at the Learning Center. In addition to the science, the system is user friendly and the students have fun watching their motions.
I can attest to that. Swinging a club, hooked wirelessly into the video equipment, I was especially interested at the end of the hitting session to view the computer data and images on a screen and discuss the results with Powell. I learned, among other things, that my ball speed is that of an avid golfer. And that MATT recommends for me a light shaft weight in a custom shaft and a tip flex of medium stiff.
The computer also recommended steel shafts in the irons. But when I told Powell that I had been using graphite shafts for more than 10 years, he didnt try to talk me out of that notion. Powell was open to discussion because he knew I knew more about my game than he did. And I liked that openness. But I wasnt there to hear myself talk and his points usually made more sense than mine. When in doubt, the computer broke the tie.
At the end of 90 minutes of testing and listening my brain had absorbed about all it could handle for one day. Powell, I think, could sense the glazed look. No problem. On my way out the door he handed my a printout of all the data of my swings (the lab is indoors) and a CD with images complete with the ability to stop any of the charted swings at any point in the swing.
The next step will be to demo the fitted clubs and report back to this website with the results. I have previously been tested at the PING facility in Phoenix and am fully aware that Titleist, Cleveland, Callaway, Nike, to name a few, and several independent brick and mortar golf studios have the ability to make magic similar to the kind MATT produces.
David Leadbetter, like Martino, one worlds most widely-recognized teachers, wrote this recently in the March issue of Golf Digest: We use a variety of state-of-the-art, swing analysis devices, including sensors that are placed on the body and the club to record energy transfer.
But the point of this report is a larger one and it is this: R&D in club fitting is, in my opinion, the next big thing in the golf equipment industry. The R&A and the USGA control the actual implements with which we strike golf balls. But they will never, and should never, place any limitations on the science of optimization that is club fitting.
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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.