Hip to Be Square

By Adam BarrOctober 14, 2006, 4:00 pm
By thinking outside the box, two of golfs most powerful companies may have thought themselves right back into one.
 
And that may be a good thing ' especially if you like straighter drives.
 
Both Callaway Golf and Nike will be introducing drivers with decidedly square head shapes. The weight distribution and geometric benefits of adding corners to the traditional teardrop shape will help the very large clubheads resist twisting, say the manufacturers. And short-grass lovers the world over know what that means.
 
Nike SQ SUMO2
Nike's new SQ SUMO2 square-headed driver.
Nikes club, the SQ SUMO2 , whose name stands for SUper MOment of Inertia Squared, will be an extension of the successful SasQuatch driver line, which already has a reputation for stretching golfers notions of driver size and shape.
 
The 460-cc SUMO2 head will be multi-material: titanium body, composite crown. The lightness of the composite accentuates the weight distribution and furthers the mission of the large head, Nike says, which is forgiveness and high moment of inertia (MOI), better known as resistance to twisting (even better known as that feeling of relief when your ball finds fairway).
 
Another model, the SUMO (not squared), will have an all-titanium head, also 460 cc. Both models will continue the use of the PowerBow (the expanded rear portion of the clubhead) and the Max Back CG (weighting and design to move the center of gravity lower and farther back) technologies, which we first saw with the original SasQuatch drivers. The clubs are due in shops by February 1. The SUMO2 will have a manufacturers suggested retail price of $480; the all-titanium SUMO will have an MSRP of $360.
 
Callaways version of a square meal will be the FT-i, a multi-material head with the titanium cup face and carbon composite construction found in the companys Fusion FT-3 driver. The club will also be available in February, and the price to consumers will be around $500.
 
Unlike Nike, Callaway will not be offering an all-titanium model.
 
[The square design] is best used with our Fusion technology, said Dr. Alan Hocknell, vice president of innovation and advanced design for Callaway. We tried it in titanium, but realized there is not much benefit to it. You lose the benefits of the squareness because theres more weight, and you cant redistribute it as effectively as you can in a multi-material head.
 
The shape of all the new clubs is arresting, to be sure, and the heads are large. But the big story here is not about big, even though larger clubheads and their built-in forgiveness are now firmly implanted in the industry. The leading innovation ' and the vanguard of an increased focus for top club designers ' is the MOI.
 
Extreme slow-motion video has shown club engineers for years that a clubhead can move widely during the swing, both up and down (droop) and around the shaft axis (twist). Efforts to update designs of both clubheads and shafts have led to great advances in resistance to twisting ' and therefore reduction in stray shots for people who dont hit the center of the clubface or return it to square every time. But the square drivers represent a substantial step forward in the campaign to straighten long shots, experts say.
 
The shape allows us to reach places we cant go to in a traditional head, to put weight there, said Hocknell, adding that the extra heft tends to stabilize the head through impact. Weve put 44 grams of weight in the corners and back of the head, corners that dont exist in a traditional design.
 
Tom Stites, Nikes director of product creation and the chief of the companys Fort Worth club facility, learned much of his craft from another Fort Worth native, the great Ben Hogan.
 
I learned that it was O.K. to be a traditionalist and a wild inventor on the same day, Stites said. So, for the last 20 years I have tried to guide my work this way. We make clubs that are pure for look and traditional performance. These clubs have won over one hundred PGA (TOUR) events and every major several times. We also work hard to craft new techniques and technologies that might be unconventional, but add performance for those that are less skilled.
 
Callaway FT-I Driver
Callaway's new FT-i square-faced driver.
The question that arises every time a new shape comes out is, will the market accept it? Top-Flites Magna driver, from the late 1990s, which was essentially just a face and a sole, never caught on, nor did Wilsons post-modern Invex driver, despite its association with John Daly.
 
Stites admits that acceptance (or not) by the golf public is never far from a designers mind. But sometimes, you just have to forge ' or cast ' ahead.
 
The look of our new radical geometry is a big jump from the pear-teardrop shape, Stites said. If there was ever a time to do this, it is now. Geometry has quietly been used throughout history to make clubs better. To really improve clubs under the rules, we must venture in this direction. This time, however, Nikes geometry change is not so quiet.
 
Weve done a lot of homework over the last two years on shapes alone, Callaways Hocknell said. Weve done many sketches and mock-ups, and weve gotten a lot of consumers involved, to get their feedback. We also asked tour players, and checked into the equipment regulations pertaining to plain in shape.
 
Despite its straight-shot producing properties, Hocknell and his team insisted that the FT-i be seen as more than just an MOI driver. They kept in mind throughout the design process a principle they call Complete Inertial Design, that is, no performance benefit shall be elevated above another. MOI is as important as a large face to reduce mishits is as important as every other feature, Hocknell said.
 
Cleveland Golf, undeterred by the checkered history of unusual shapes, came out with the HiBore line last year. Its slope-backed shape, also designed to optimize center of gravity and weight distribution, has done better than the aforementioned experiments, even though it has not made it into every Cleveland staff players bag.
 
One player who liked it right away was Jerry Kelly, who discussed the HiBore with me at Bay Hill last March, soon after putting it in his bag.
 
I can spin anything, Kelly said, shaking his head at the thought of yards lost to excessive RPMs. This driver, though, helps me keep my spin numbers down. Much better flight for me.
 
And just to show that driver choice is not all about the yardage, both Scott Gutschewski (303.3 yards average driving distance) and Skip Kendall (280.4 yards) both use HiBores. There are similar examples on other tour staffs of players with differing physical gifts and swing styles using the same head shape.
 
Which bodes well for acceptance of golfs latest shape shift. If it goes straight, a lot of people wont care what it looks like. Nike has tested it with about a dozen tour players already.
 
The early positive response surprised me, Stites said. A number of these folks did not react negatively to the unique square shape. The new SUMO shape was actually preferred to our old SQ. It was very encouraging. We will have some more to say on this subject next week [at the PGA TOURs Funai Classic at Walt Disney World Resort].
 
Innovations like these dont come along easily or quickly. Hocknells group began daydreaming about putting weight in the air around the back of traditional driver shapes more than five years ago.
 
We had the physics down about five years ago, Hocknell said. But we were striving for a new beauty and elegance in the shape. Were not being defensive about it; were celebrating its squareness.
 
We hope the shape will almost transcend golf, to be talked about outside golf.
 
Oh, it will be talked about. Be squarely assured of that.
 
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
Getty Images

Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

Getty Images

Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

Getty Images

10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

Getty Images

Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”