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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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”