Workin on Workin It

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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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