Unleashing the Big Dog

By Adam BarrApril 16, 2003, 4:00 pm
To some people, it's like juggling plates of egg foo yong and trying not to spill. For others, it's like sledding down an icy hill - kind of out-of-control and exhilarating.
OK, perhaps I've gone a little over the top in expressing the endless quest to find the perfect driver. But in terms of how you deal with uncertainty, how you go with the flow, how you tweak a big group of knobs, it's not all that different.
The No. 1 Lesson the What's In The Bag? crew learned in preparing our premier show on drivers is that the big stick is a big conundrum. The golfer has not been born who is indifferent to long, straight drives. But plenty of golfers have a distaste for all the ways a drive can go wrong.
Or right. Whereas it used to seem that you could reach driver heaven simply by buying a bigger one, that is clearly not the case anymore. Drivers are a multi-factor analysis, and if you want to optimize your performance, you have to confront each factor.
I can hear you: 'I have to what with my what about what?' C'mon; buck up. It's all about optimization this year, about how to dial in all the variables on the driver so it will best reward your ability. Here's the multi-factor register, and by the time I get done writing it, science will probably have discovered that it's a partial list:
Loft. The experts say that we all play too little. It makes a certain kind of sense that a low screamer will go longer. But studies of how golf balls behave show that getting the ball higher for longer periods (hang time, if you will) will usually result in longer drives for recreational players. If you play 10.5 degrees, try a 12, just for kicks. You may end up hitting your second shot last a lot.
Lie. That is, the angle of the shaft to the ground at address. It's a function of your height and stance, of course. Won't necessarily help you if it's right, but will hurt you if it's wrong. A high toe will likely send the ball left, and vice versa. A knowledgeable pro or clubfitter can help with this.
Launch angle. Ah, the holy grail. Equipment manufacturer experiments with the angle to the ground at which the ball leaves the clubface have yielded the kind of results Ernie Els saw in Hawaii this year. Monster stuff. Good news is, there's a good angle for each of us. Portable machines with high-speed cameras, called launch monitors, show the experts what's what.
The right launch angle combines with loft to keep the ball at the right height for the right amount of time, hence longer drives. Simple example, this one from club genius Barney Adams: If you need to water the plants at the end of the yard and you've reeled out all the hose you have, you can raise the hose to make the stream fall on the plants. Hold it too low, and you don't get there; hold it too high and you only water yourself. Somewhere in that 90 degrees is optimization. (For many pros, by the bye, it's between 11 and 14 degrees.)
Ball velocity. It's not all the club. New rubber recipes can help the ball rocket off the clubface faster than in years past. Trying new balls may help you find new yardage.
Coefficient of restitution. The beloved spring-like effect. Yes, it's limited in the United States, but hitting the ball on the highest COR area of the face can add yards. Many companies are working on expanding the area on the face that gives the most COR benefit - essentially, enlarging the sweet spot.
Shaft. Where does it flex? The lower the 'greatest-flex' point on the shaft, the more likely the ball will get up in the air (to a point, that is). Optimizing this variable, like most of the others, depends on the particular player's swing speed, style, and preferences.
Conditioning. Put down the Krispy Kreme; pick up a barbell. Tiger didn't get that way by accident.
And folks, that ain't all. Manufacturers are learning more every day about how to make drivers hit the ball farther. The quest is unlikely to ever stop, which offers all of us the freedom to tweak, tinker, try and enjoy to our heart's content.
And as an avid golf gearhead, what could be better than that?
Thanks for checking in. See you next week, when we'll examine the world of golf balls.
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    McCarthy wins Web.com Tour Championship by 4

    By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

    ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

    McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

    ''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

    McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.

    Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship

    Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

    Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

    ''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

    The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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    LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

    ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

    Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

    “We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”

    Final FedExCup standings

    Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

    Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

    “His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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    For Woods, is this only the beginning?

    By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

    If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

    This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

    To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

    To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

    On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

    Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

    It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

    And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

    Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

    Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

    It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.

    Final FedExCup standings

    Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

    Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

    There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

    He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

    Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

    But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

    There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

    Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

    He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

    That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

    Why go through all of that rehab again?

    Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

    Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

    Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

    Woods has put the golf world on notice.

    It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

    The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

    The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

    But that’s a talk for a later date.

    Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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    Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

    By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

    ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

    McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

    McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

    In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.

    Final FedExCup standings

    Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

    Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

    The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

    “I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

    It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.