2008 The Year of Game-Improvement

By January 31, 2008, 5:00 pm
Adam Scott won the Qatar Masters last Sunday, shooting a final round 61 which featured a flawless 18 greens in regulation. What is even more interesting is that Scott accomplished this remarkable feat with the new cavity back Titleist AP2 irons. Scott was previously a dedicated muscle back iron player. Whatever the reasons were that precipitated the change, Scott must have liked the new irons and felt tangible advantages since he claims to never change a club unless it is broken. But Scott is not an isolated case. Titleist is predicting the AP2 to be the most popular choice among their PGA Tour staff in 2008. In fact, all across the PGA Tour, more players are beginning to switch to more forgiving clubs, but will 2008 be the year of the game improvement club?
This trend hasn't happened overnight. Changes in golf ball designs have significantly reduced spin over the wound balls of yesteryear. In order to maintain the same ball flight, something must be done to increase spin. Almost every club has had to adapt to accommodate this desired change. Drivers now have more loft than ever before, the center of gravity in irons is placed lower and farther back, and wedges now have grooves milled to the maximum dimensions, all to increase the amount of spin that has been lost over time. Hybrid clubs have now replaced long irons, increasing launch angle, spin, and distance which was previously unattainable through traditional long irons.
From recent tournaments, PGA Tour players are moving toward game improvement models. In addition to Adam Scott, K.J. Choi won the Sony Open making a mixed set between Nike's game improvement Ignites as his long irons and traditional blades as his short irons. K.J. also had incredible success in 2007 with Nike's high MOI Sumo Square driver, winning twice with it. Even Tiger Woods himself has made some changes, frequently rotating his two iron with a five wood depending on the course and conditions.
But will the average golfer take note? Traditionally, forgiving clubs have had a distinctive 'look,' thicker top lines, wider soles, and more offset. With many cavity back irons, the cavity is visible in clubs with the lowest lofts. However, that is now changing. In 2008, they might well be hard pressed to not add some forgiveness into their bags perhaps without even knowing it. Companies are becoming incredibly adept at incorporating things like perimeter weighting, wide soles, and low center of gravity into shapes even the most ardent traditionalists can accept. Titleist's AP2 is a perfect example. At address, the cavity is invisible and is filled with a rubber compound giving it the look and soft feel of a traditional blade. Bridgestone has also worked hard to introduce a better looking, more forgiving iron the J36 Pocket Cavity. Similar to the AP2, the Pocket Cavity features a channel cut into the cavity which increases perimeter weighting while still giving the iron a clean look with a thin top line and sole.

Among drivers, the geometry driven MOI craze has gained a lot of publicity. However, even traditionally shaped drivers are becoming incredibly forgiving to off-center hits. Engineers are coming up with new ways to redistribute weight around the club head to help increase forgiveness. Ping's G10 features a newly designed crown which has thinner areas to save weight which can be repositioned lower and further back in the club head. Other companies are looking to composite materials to help minimize weight and move it lower and further back. Some golfers have tried new high MOI drivers, but found them to have unpleasant sound and feel. Companies are paying close attention and are refining previous designs to provide traditional feel golfers are used to. Cobra has added internal baffles to their new 2008 Speed LD driver to give it a more muted, solid sound rather than the loud, high-pitched tone the previous model had. So if the tin can sound of high MOI models has been scaring you off, there is now good reason to give them a try in 2008.
However, forgiveness is alive and well on the greens as well. Many people think putters are one place where they don't need forgiveness. However, attach some impact tape to the face of your putter and you might change your mind. Companies are addressing this in a variety fo ways. TaylorMade's unique Spider may not win any beauty contests. However it is beginning to win over players on the PGA Tour. Twelve Spiders were put into play in last week's Buick Invitational. The putter's ability to move weight far back and to the outside allows for excellent distance control on off center hits. Many golfers struggle with lag putting and more often than not, it is their contact on the face which causes them to struggle with speed. Moving to a higher MOI putter can help since hits toward the heel and toe don't lose energy they travel closer to their intended distance.
If you're considering adding clubs into your bag, chances are good you can find a model with more forgiveness than what you're currently using. Its still very early, but signs are pointing to a strong year for game-improvement clubs in 2008.

Getty Images

Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

Getty Images

Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

Getty Images

Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

Getty Images

Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”