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Equipment game changers: Best innovations of the last 50 years

By Al TaysJanuary 25, 2017, 12:30 pm

There was a balata ball in my range bucket the other day. A Titleist. I wouldn’t have noticed it, except I always check the Titleists in my bucket and keep the Pro V1s.

This particular ball got me wondering. When was the last time I saw someone using a balata ball? Or hitting a persimmon driver? Or wearing metal spikes? These were all common sights for most of my golfing life, and now they’re gone.

The other side of the coin is this question: What replaced them? Balata balls, which good players could “work” and bad players could hook and slice, gave way to multilayer balls such as the Pro V1. Metal spikes got banned most everywhere and gave way to “alternative cleats,” not all of which are Softspikes but that doesn’t stop anybody from using that name generically. And persimmon? It’s a curiosity, either lovingly preserved by collectors or unceremoniously dumped into a barrel at the local driving range. And woe be unto any unsuspecting novice who picks one up thinking that’s what you’re supposed to hit range balls with.

As the PGA Merchandise Show begins today in Orlando, Fla., we identify 10 “game changers,” innovations of the last 50 years that have become integral parts of the game today. And by “the game,” we mean two varieties: the one played by pros and good amateurs, and the one played by the rest of us hackers. Hybrids, for instance, really haven’t taken over the pro game. Hybrids are designed to replace long irons, and good players can hit long irons just fine. For the rest of us, though, hybrids have been a godsend.

Click here for the complete list of golf's game-changing equipment

Our 10 innovations were designed to provide the things we most want as golfers: more distance (metal woods, graphite shafts); better accuracy with all clubs, including putters (perimeter-weighted irons, heel-and-toe-weighted putters); clubs that are easier to hit (hybrids); a way to know exactly how far we need to hit the ball (distance-measuring devices), and help with stopping the ball (high-lofted wedges, multilayer golf balls). Two innovations – alternative cleats and modern grasses and maintenance equipment – deal with improving the turf on the courses we play.

So what’s next? What will be around 50 years from now that isn’t today? That’s hard to tell, at least in part because it’s hard to identify any fundamental needs of golfers that haven’t already been addressed. Sure, we could all use still more distance, but the governing bodies are trying to keep a lid on that. Personally, I’d welcome something that would help read greens, because I’m sick of saying “I read that putt completely backwards.” I’m sure the technology already exists for a handheld computer to read slopes, but I’m equally sure the USGA and R&A are not about to allow it.

Perhaps the next game changer will come in the field of instruction. Frank Thomas, the former USGA technical director, thinks so. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Thomas says. “Equipment has sort of reached its potential, or very close to it. But I do think that we need to re-look at how we can introduce people to the game."

Thomas, who markets putters on his website, believes golf is dropping the ball when it comes to selling clubs. “Every product you buy in a retail outlet, you get instructions for use,” he says. “Golf, we have no instructions for use attached to the golf club.” Putting, he says, “is where we can make a significant difference by introducing a method of how to use [a putter] most effectively.”

John Solheim, chairman and CEO of Ping, whose father, Karsten Solheim, was responsible for two of the biggest innovations – perimeter weighting in irons and heel-and-toe weighting in putters – says “There are a lot of small things happening that are going to add up to larger things. To me, it's probably the most exciting time as far as technology goes. One, we have the tools in the Trackman [quick aside, Trackman just missed making our list] to analyze things like never before. But then at the same time, there are all sorts of new materials coming out that you couldn't get before, and they can experiment with materials a lot easier than they could in the past.

“There are other materials out there, but are they manufacturable in a golf club? Not at the moment. Will they be? Yes. It's an exciting time, especially for a gearhead like me. You see what they're working on, and it's mind-blowing.”

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

They had a one-shot lead over Grayson Murray (69) and Andrew Landry (67).

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots behind. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, had a short stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.

Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and missed the cut.

It was the first time since 2010 that Garcia missed the cut in successive starts. That was the PGA Championship and, 10 weeks later, the Castello Masters in Spain. This time, he missed the cut in the Masters and Texas Open three weeks apart.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

The cut was at 1-over 145, and because 80 players made the cut, there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.