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Archive: May 2008

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May 27, 2008

Mickelson's winning clubs and modified blade putter

Posted at 12:18 PM by David Dusek

Philcolonialbag Few players on the PGA Tour have been as willing to tinker with their set makeup as Phil Mickelson. The two-time Masters champ has played with two drivers in his bag at Augusta National and added a 64° wedge while playing in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

So it was interesting to see how Mickelson modified his arsenal last week en route to winning the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. In what was clearly an attempt to overpower the venerable 7,054-yard course, Mickelson elected to add a fifth wedge and take out a 6-iron during the first two rounds and his 3-wood on the weekend.

By hitting his driver off the tee on many of Colonial's short and mid-length par 4s, Mickelson took many hazards out of play. Even if he landed in the rough, having five wedges at his disposal meant he could attack tucked pin positions.

The tactic certainly was effective, because while Phil ranked 33rd in driving accuracy, hitting just 57% of the fairways, he was fifth in driving distance (317 yards) and tied for fifth in greens in regulation (72%).

But in the end, Mickelson's putting was the key to his win. And he credited two things for his improved performance.

Philputterline_6001. In a Golf Channel interview Friday, Mickelson said, "The biggest thing was going to the Callaway Test Center and getting on the putting monitor and making sure the stroke was what I wanted and the face angle was what I wanted Because once I was reaffirmed that things were the way they should be mechanically, then all I had to do was start worrying about the speed." 

2. In the same interview, he also said, "They have never been able to put a line on a blade putter. But with the way they can grind it now, they were able to put a line in it. I can align it so much better." Click on the photo for a better look.

Mickelson ranked 11th in putts per round last week, averaging a scant 27.8, and ranked third in putts per green in regulation with 1.673.

Phil Mickelson's Weekend Clubs
Driver: Callaway FT-5, 8.5° (I-MIX)
Irons: Callaway X-Forged (3-4) and  Callaway prototype (5-PW)
Wedges: Callaway X Forged Chrome Mac Daddy (52°, 56°, 60°, 64°)
Putter: Odyssey Phil Mickelson blade prototype
Ball: Callaway Tour ix

(Photos by Mark Feldman/Getty Images)

May 23, 2008

Limited Edition Vokey Wedges Sell Out

Posted at 9:53 AM by David Dusek

Vokeyscreengrab_600x364 This week, Titleist announced that it will sell a limited number of special Vokey Design wedges on the newly launched vokey.com every month.

According to the site, "Each month a new wedge or wedges will be offered through Vokey Wedge Works in limited quantities. The special wedge designs and sole grinds found in Vokey Wedge Works come straight from Bob's work on the PGA Tour. Many are inspired by the work Bob does with specific players to meet a certain shot requirement or playing style. Each wedge will be described in detail to provide its motivation and reason for being."

This month, 600 TVD 60° wedges were offered. They featured a special crescent-shaped sole, designed to allow players to pick the ball cleanly off a tight lie but avoid digging the club into the sand on bunker shots.  The face of the TVD 60° is milled like the Vokey Spin Milled series wedges. The measured bounce on the wedges is 14°, but the effective bounce is 8°.

Unfortunately, they sold out ... fast. Within hours. So if you are into wedges, or collectible golf equipment, keep a close eye on the site.

May 21, 2008

Secretive putter grips

Posted at 2:40 PM by David Dusek
Woodspinggrip_2
Elspinggrip_4

Tiger Woods is synonymous with Nike's swoosh. Thirteen of his 14 clubs are made by Nike, and he's outfitted by the company from head to toe. The lone exception is his Scotty Cameron putter. But the grip on King Arthur's Excalibur isn't made by either company, it's made by Ping. (Woods used a Ping Anser for years as a junior golfer.) 

While going through images of Ernie Els recently, I noticed the Big Easy, who uses an Odyssey putter, is also using a Ping grip. (Click on either image for a closer look.).

If you want to get the same look on your flat stick, consider buying a Ping Blackout. As the name implies, the logo on this replacement grip matches the black color of the grip itself, so it's barely visible.

At $4.99 on golfsmith.com, the price of this grip is well within your reach. 

(Photos: Travis Lindquist/Getty Images (Woods), Jerome Delay/AP (Els))

May 19, 2008

Ryuji Imada's Winning Clubs

Posted at 8:45 PM by David Dusek

Imadaputter_600 There are two interesting things to note about the clubs Ryuji Imada used to win the AT&T Classic last weekend.

First, Imada was not using the Titleist 907D4 prototype driver he had in his bag at the end of last season and this spring. Instead, he switched to a Titleist 905R, a model that has been available for a few years. For the week, in soggy conditions, the former University of Georgia star hit 75% of the fairways.

Second, Imada's putter has some serious customization. It started its life as a Scotty Cameron Del Mar 3, but the circular areas on the face near the heel and the toe are tungsten weights added especially for Imada. To see them more clearly, click on the photo on the right. Increasing the weight in these spots makes a putter more stable on off-center hits, but Imada's weights also reduce the effective hitting area on the putter face.

Given Imada's skill, reducing the hitting area on his putter might not matter. For the week he ranked first in both major putting stats, averaging just 27.3 putts per round and 1.636 putts per green in regulation.

Driver  Titleist 905R (9.5°)
Fairway Woods  Titleist 906F2 (13°, 18°)
Hybrid  Nickent 4DX (20°)
Irons  Titleist 695 CB (3-9)
Wedges  Titleist Vokey Design (53°, 60°)
Putter  Scotty Cameron Del Mar 3 prototype
Ball  Titleist ProV1x

(Photos by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Buy a driver, get free gas

Posted at 6:09 PM by David Dusek

Callaway_fti So you want a new driver, but money is tight. Callaway and American Express are teaming up to help you justify shelling out your hard-earned money on a new club: Buy a driver, get free gas.

Here are the basics:

1. Buy a Callaway FT-i, FT-5 or Hyper X driver before July 15 from an authorized dealer.

2. Complete a claim form by registering at callwaygolf.com/gascard

3. Send Callaway your original receipt, UPC bar code, the claim form you received after registering and the serial number of your new driver by July 31, 2008.

4. Await your gas card, which according to Callaway is usable almost everywhere you can buy gas with an American Express card.

The value of the gas card is based on the driver you buy:

Callaway FT-i = $100
Callaway FT-5 = $75
Callaway Hyper X = $50

For more information and complete rules, go to the promotion's special Web page.

Here's to hitting more fairways and freeways this summer!

May 15, 2008

Old-School Allenby Swings Special Irons

Posted at 8:06 PM by David Dusek

Allenby_2 Don't let the air-pillow brace on Robert Allenby's right forearm fool you. This Aussie is no easy-swinging plinker. Behind his visor and trademark sunglasses, Allenby is one of the PGA Tour's premier sharpshooters.

"I'm always hitting a fair amount of greens," he said on the range at TPC Sawgrass last week. He is one of the leaders in greens in regulation this season, hitting 69.72% and ranking fifth in the category on Tour.

"I’m not really finicky about my irons, but I love what I've got," he said. However, the irons he has -- Srixon Forged I701 Tour irons -- are unique for two reasons.

First, while it's not uncommon for Tour pros to have their irons custom-made, Allenby's irons have additional metal added to the toe to make the heads three millimeters longer than standard I701s. Three millimeters is .118 inches, or about the length of the lead on a sharpened pencil. "It's enough so that when I look down at it, the club is the way I like it."

This adjustment is done to the irons in their raw state, before they have been sanded and chromed. But as minuscule as the adjustment is, it shifts the center of gravity (CG) of Allenby's irons subtly toward the toe. "In most forged irons, the CG is in a little, toward the hosel, from the center," says Srixon's Dean Teykl. "What this does is push it out more toward the center."

Second, Allenby's current set has slightly less offset than his previous set. And for a player who likes to maneuver the ball, that makes a big difference.

"I've noticed that I hit these irons a lot straighter," he said. "I used to draw the ball a lot, and I think it was because of the offset."

The more offset a club has, the more it promotes a right-to-left ball flight for right-handed players. Golfers who battle a slice, like many mid- and high-handicap players, benefit from offset because their shots tend to fly straighter. But as Allenby explained, that offset works against players who want to work the ball from left to right.

"I found it hard to hit a cut with offset clubs, which is only natural because when you open it up the clubface is still a little bit shut. Because these clubs are a little more onset, I think it's easier to hit a cut or a fade, which is great because I feel like I can bring the ball down a little softer into the greens by hitting it with a cut. I feel like I am hitting them just a little bit higher."

Allenby is old school, and when the topic of hybrids comes up, the classic Aussie tough guy in him really comes out. "S--- no, I don't carry a hybrid. Those are the worst clubs. I've got a 5-wood."

Because the rough on the Tour courses is so thick, Allenby admits that hitting a 4- or 5-iron is tough, but, "You can choke down on the 5-wood and get it down in there. With a 5-wood, it doesn't matter. It can be sitting in a hole, it can be sitting in a divot in the fairway, and you can still hit a normal shot."

And this marksman's normal shots find the dance floor.

(Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

May 12, 2008

A look in Sergio Garcia's bag

Posted at 10:40 AM by David Dusek

Garciakissandylyonsap Statistically speaking, Sergio Garcia did not putt especially well at TPC Sawgrass last week, and he missed a short birdie putt in the playoff against Paul Goydos. But his circa-2000 Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter will be in the bag for a while. You just don't kiss a putter after winning the Players Championship and $1.71 million and then go look for a new one.

Don't look for any changes in his woods or irons either. In swirling winds, Garcia ranked first in both fairways hit and greens in regulation for the week.

El Nino has been one of TaylorMade's marquee players for years. According to the company, this is what the Spaniard had in his bag at the Players:

Driver TaylorMade Tour Burner TP (9˚)
Fairway Woods TaylorMade Burner TP (14.5˚) and r7 TP (17.5˚)
Irons rac MB TP (3-PW)
Wedges rac Z TP (54˚ and 58˚)
Putter Titleist by Scotty Cameron Newport 2
Ball TaylorMade Red LDP

Garcia's performance stats for the week (rank):
Average driving distance —  283 yards (41st)
Fairway percentage — 76.8% (1st)
Greens in regulation — 77.8% (1st)
Putts per round — 31 (tie for 69th)
Putts per green in regulation — 1.786% (tie for 39th)

(Photo: Andy Lyons/AP)

May 10, 2008

No magic bullets for Howell as he adjusts to his new irons

Posted at 9:15 PM by David Dusek

Ch3markhumphreyapAs he practiced on the range at TPC Sawgrass Wednesday, Charles Howell continuously checked his alignment using a shaft that lay in front of his toes. One after another, he took dead aim and hit short irons at the flags.

Anthony Kim is the young gun of the moment after an impressive win at the Wachovia Championship last week, but not too long ago Howell was pegged as the next can't-miss kid. A two-time All-American at Oklahoma State, he'd won the NCAA championship in 2000 and was the PGA Tour's rookie of the year in 2001. The skinny kid had a swing that made his coach, David Leadbetter, gush with pride. His power seemed effortless, he hit laser-like irons and some prognosticators even thought he could give his buddy, Tiger Woods, a run for his money.

Over the past six years, Howell has won twice and made two Presidents Cup teams, but the 28-year-old from Augusta, Ga., has never been a factor at a major. His best performance is a tie for 10th at the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

Last December Howell signed an endorsement deal with Bridgestone and ended a long relationship with Callaway Golf. When asked why he switched, he very politely refused to explain. "I really can't answer that one," he said. "I mean, I know you've got to ask, but ..."

After plenty of testing at Bridgestone's facility in Covington, Ga., and on the range at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando, where he lives, Howell now plays the Bridgestone J36 cavity back irons (3-6) and J36 blades (7-PW).

"Honestly, it's just a whole lot of trial and error. Bridgestone opened up their doors to me and said, 'What do you want? What are you looking for?' We sat down and talked about the look I'm after, and then what I want the clubs to do. They built a lot and I hit a lot."

One unique aspect of Howell's irons is that they have more bounce than standard. "I have quite a bit of lag in my golf swing, and I take pretty large divots," he explained. By adding bounce to his irons, the leading edges do not dig into the turf through impact. It's the same principal that allows a high-bounce sand wedge to work easily in bunkers.

But for Howell, like most pros who switch manufacturers, the mental adjustments are the toughest part of an equipment change. "It's just trusting that the golf ball is going to do what you want it to do. Trusting what the irons are going to do and trusting the distance it's going to go." Only time, hard work and good results can create that.

Howell's only top-10 finish this season was a tie for eighth at the limited-field, no-cut Mercedes Benz Championship at Kapalua.

"Obviously when you've played with another company's stuff for eight years, there is a learning curve," he said before shooting 79-74 and missing the cut this week. "My golf game is getting a little better, but I just haven't scored very well so far this year."

The stats indicate that Howell's new irons have not been a magic bullet for his game — he is hitting 64.42% of the greens in regulation in 2008, up just 1.05% from last season.

But when the subject of his putter came up, Howell seemed more upbeat.

"I'm using the TaylorMade Spider putter and it's been good. It's a little different look, but man, it's extremely stable."

Howell's Spider has a small amount of toe-drop, meaning it's not completely face-balanced like other large-head or mallet-style putters. "You would think that it would want to go straight back and straight through, but it really wants to go on a little arc," he noted. "The other thing about the Spider is that no matter where I hit it on the face, it always rolls out the same. You don't have to hit it dead-nuts in the center."

Howell is capable of winning again. He is still young, his work ethic is solid and his swing still looks great. As he and his new irons get more acquainted, there is no reason why he can't still fulfill all those lofty expectations.

(Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP)

May 09, 2008

Swing changes mean driver changes for Ernie Els

Posted at 3:30 PM by David Dusek

Elsfriplayers PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — After working for three days last week with swing coach Butch Harmon in Las Vegas, Ernie Els is in contention at the Players Championship after shooting a two-under 70 Friday.

Els started using Callaway equipment in 2007 after having previously played with Titleist and TaylorMade clubs. He has been experimenting with several drivers this season, including the square-headed FT-i and the new  FT-i Tour Low CG, which features interchangeable shafts.

However, after talking with his caddie and taking a peek into Els's bag, I learned that he's using an original version of Callaway's FT-5 (8.5˚) this week, not the new i-Mix version.

When asked why he'd chosen this particular driver, Els said, "The FT-5 launches the ball a little higher. I started playing the softer ball Callaway makes — the Tour i ball* — and that ball launches lower. I needed something to get the ball up in the air, and it didn't quite work for me with the FT-i driver, the square driver, so I went to the FT-5."

In extremely windy conditions, Els used his work-in-progress swing and the FT-5 to officially hit eight of 14 fairways for the second day in a row at TPC Sawgrass. However, today's number is deceiving because Els hit just two poor drives Friday — his opening shot of the day went well right on the 10th hole, and his drive on the fifth hole went straight right and into the pond. Els missed the fairway by less than two paces on three holes.

But if the winds continue to blow, will Els switch drivers? "No, I'm hitting good with this one," he said.

(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

*According to Callaway's Web site, a new Tour i ball will be available in July.

May 08, 2008

Garcia using an old Scotty Cameron to regain putting touch

Posted at 3:37 PM by David Dusek

GarciacameronPONTE VEDRA BREACH, Fla.-- Thanks to an old putter, Sergio Garcia seems to have found a little new magic on the greens. El Nino made 17 of the 18 putts he faced from inside 10 feet Thursday, as well as a 48-footer for birdie on the 14th hole.

"It's a putter that I used back in 2000," he said in his post-round press conference. "I'm just trying to get those good sensations from the past when I was comfortable with my putting. I really like the way I'm striking it."

Garcia averaged 1.733 putts per green in regulation during the 2000 PGA Tour season, ranking him 4th in putting average. He is currently ranked 131st, with a 1.816 average.

The putter is a Scotty Cameron by Titleist, but when he was asked which model, Garcia was vague. "The putter looks a lot like a Ping Anser 2," Garcia said. "It's very similar to the kind that Tiger uses." Woods uses a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Newport 2.

It's not surprising that Garcia wasn't very forthcoming with his answer because he is currently paid to endorse and use TaylorMade equipment. However, in 2000 Garcia was endorsed by Titleist, so it makes sense that he might have several Cameron putters at his home in Borriol, Spain.

Earlier this season, Garcia had tried several different TaylorMade putters, including a belly-putter version of the new Monza Spider.

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Different strokes for two great putters

Posted at 8:57 AM by David Dusek

Curtisputter_3 PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Ben Curtis and Stewart Cink have both been putting lights out this season. Curtis, from Columbus, Ohio, has made a gaudy 91% of his putts from inside 10 feet, ranking him third on the PGA Tour in the category. And Cink, from Huntsville, Ala., is no slouch. He has made 89% from the same range. Where they differ is in their preferred tool of the trade.

Curtis uses a classic, heel-toe weighted putter. "Every few years Scotty Cameron comes out with a new head," says Curtis, who has won twice on the PGA Tour since his 2003 British Open victory at Royal St. George's. "This is just a new version of the same putter I've been using for five or six years." To be exact, it's a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Studio Select Newport.

"The look of the putter to me is more important than the specs," he said Wednesday. Looking down in the address position, Curtis's old Newport and his new putter look identical.

But Curtis's putter is not the same one you'd find in your local pro shop. He's modified it. All Studio Select putters have adjustable weights, but Curtis has lead tape covering the entire bottom of the putterhead (click on the image above for a better look). "I like heavier putters in general," he says. And because Curtis added a thicker, heavier grip to his 34-inch putter, the lead tape helps to maintain the ideal balance.

According to Titleist's Web site, the suggested retail price for a non-customized version of the putter is $325. The center-shafted belly-putter Cink uses is a Never Compromise Sub 30 M3 (below).Cinkputter_2

On the range at TPC Sawgrass, Cink said, "I have three putters that are almost exactly the same, and I change back and forth sometimes because they are a little different length."

Cink, who is 6-foot-4 and switched to a belly putter in 2002, most often uses a 47-inch putter. 

"I'm not finicky about which particular one it is, but I like how heavy that particular model is. I like the feel of the ball as it comes off the face. It's just been hard to duplicate that with other putters." And that's a problem for Cink, because Never Compromise doesn't make the Sub 30 M3 anymore. The good news? When you find one, it will be affordable. The putter has an estimated trade-in value on the PGA.com Value Guide of $11.81.

Unlike Curtis's putter, which is made completely from stainless steel, the face of Cink's has a gel-like insert that softens impact. Similar to Curtis, weight was added to the head of Cink's putter when the Never Compromise reps made it for him. "I just like the way that it came out, and now I've been sort of stuck with that one."

That's a problem Ben Curtis can't relate to.

May 06, 2008

Golf's biggest banger is a 'feel' guy

Posted at 6:32 PM by David Dusek

Watsondrivercannon_550x600PONTA VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- There is no point in talking physics with a guy named Bubba. So it should come as no surprise that Bubba Watson, the PGA Tour's leader in average driving distance, doesn't have a clue about what makes his driver tick.

"I don't know what my launch angle is or my spin rate," he said Tuesday while on the range at TPC Sawgrass. "You know, the Ping guys out there at the factory know. They say my numbers are good."

Indeed, Watson's numbers are good. And Donald Trump knows a few things about self promotion.

The 29-year-old Watson regularly swings his Ping G10 at more than 120 miles per hour. His ball speed often tops 190 miles per hour, and he routinely produces drives longer than his 310-yard average. In the second round of the Buick Invitational this season he nearly put his tee shot on the fourth hole into orbit, whacking the ball 391 yards.

But stunningly, Watson considers himself a touch player. Keeping his orb under control is the main concern. "When it comes to my driver, the priority is if I can maneuver the shots, if I can hit them in certain ways that I want to hit them. Right now, I want to hit everything with a cut."

For the left-handed Watson, that means he needs a driver that allows him to easily hit shots that fade from right to left. Tour pros who are naturally long tend to hit a fade because it stops quickly, unlike a draw, which tends to roll after it lands. That makes it easier to hit fairways.

Chance Cozby, Ping's director of tour operations, says Watson's sense of touch makes him a low maintenance ambassador for the company. "I'd almost say that Bubba is one of the easier guys out there to fit. Because he has such good feel, he knows what he likes and knows what he doesn't like."

However, there are still three things that makes Bubba's bat unique:
1. His shaft is old. Watson has used the same shaft — a pink Grafolloy BiMatrx — since 2002 and has no intention of changing. When Ping releases a new driver, their fitters optimize a new head to work in conjunction with Watson's preferred shaft. It's like a driver insisting that an automobile manufacturer put the sleekest new chassis around his favorite engine.
2. It's a tree. Under the left hand of Watson's cord grip are 12 wraps of tape; under the right hand are 10 wraps. Holding the club is like gripping an oak.
3. It doesn't see a lot of use. Watson is wary of breaking his game driver, so he avoids hitting a lot of balls with it on the range. "I carry one back-up driver with me at all tournaments because, you know, it could break at any time."

Watson's Weapon of Choice:
Ping G10 (7˚)
44 1/2 inches, Grafolly BiMatrx X-Stiff shaft, 77 grams, tipped 1/2 inch

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)




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