On the Clock

The idea of doing something to hasten the sloth-like pace of professional and college golf, not to mention that four-ball ahead of you last Saturday, has been kicked around for some time. Golf’s pace of play has been criticized for as long as I have been playing but no one has really done anything practical at the elite level until the European Tour’s commissioner Keith Pelley decided enough was enough.

Thus, was born the Shot Clock Masters which until this year was known as the Austrian Open. Let’s not discuss how the name of Bobby Jones’s major was usurped again but look at the results of this experiment in rationality.

First the background. Commissioner Pelley (who also inaugurated the innovative GolfSixes event) made the decision to attack slow-play head-on by placing every player on the clock every shot. Unfortunately, because it took place the week before the U.S. Open and it was in Austria, this unique and revolutionary event gained only passing notice. After all there was all the hype leading up to Shinnecock and then Dustin Johnson’s impressive six stroke win in Memphis capped by a walk-off eagle on the 72nd hole.

Each group in the Shot Clock Masters for each round was accompanied by a golf cart on which a large digital shot clock was mounted. Players had 50 seconds to hit if they were first to play an approach shot and for par-3s or putts. That was shortened to 40 seconds for par-4 and par-5 tee shots plus when they were second (or third) to play on putts and approaches. If the player went over the allotted time there was no grace period, appeal or looking the other way. What he got was a one stroke added to his score.

The digital display was easy to see and the operator (the Euro Tour called them “referees”) said “time” when the clock started so everyone knew what was happening.

The question of course is what were the results?

Average time for the four rounds of the Austrian Open in 2017 was 4 hours and 40 minutes and for the Shot Clock Masters it was 25 minutes less. The average time for the final round on the European Tour is 3 hours and 57 minutes but at the Shot Clock Masters it was 3 hours and 26 minutes.

Do you see a trend?

Shot Clock players interviewed were enthusiastic (there were only four penalties meted out in four days), event officials were happy as were European Tour officials but so far, I have seen no comment from the PGA Tour nor the USGA.

Lost in all the noise though was something that turns the tables on those who say the pros play slowly because it’s their livelihood and they are playing for a lot of money. The average score for the entire Shot Clock Masters was more than one stroke less than the average for the past eight years of the Austrian Open on the same course.

It’s true the top players were missing from the Shot Clock Masters, either playing in Memphis or preparing for the U.S. Open but even so to cut off one-half hour from the previous average time AND have the field score lower is significant.

No…it’s amazing.

The PGA Tour has a pace problem with some of its players and the Tour seems to be stonewalling—a lot of discussion and few penalties. The USGA has conveniently avoided the issue resorting to inane PSAs such as the laughable “While We’re Young,” figuring out how to set up courses for the U.S. Open to embarrass contestants and rationalizing not disqualifying Phil Mickelson when lesser names would have been shown the path to the parking lot.

The problem with slow play, whether on the tours or at your club, is we don’t shine the spotlight on the offenders to embarrass them and then impose consequences.

Tackling the cause of slow play is recognizing it is not so much a problem inherent in the game but the lack of respect with players having a “me-only” attitude.

Monday after Shinnecock

In 2004, the last time our national open was played at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club at the extreme eastern end of Long Island, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by players could be heard 90 miles away in Manhattan. At issue was the course setup and particularly the par-3 7th hole where in the final round the first four contestants made a triple bogey, a triple bogey, a triple bogey and a bogey. The putting surface was so fast the ball would not stop much less stop anywhere near the hole.

On that Sunday fourteen years ago, the USGA rather than suffer further embarrassment, opted to water the 7th and a few other greens allowing the leaders including champion Retief Goosen to be able to play the hole without undue mishap.

Now that the 118th U.S. Open is in the record books with Brooks Koepka putting on a memorable performance for in second Championship in as many years here are five takeaways.

Course setup – Thursday proved that wind, 4-inch rough and thigh-high fescue can make any course into an extremely tough test even though fairway widths were generous averaging 41 yards compared with less than 30 yards in some recent Opens. The course Thursday and Friday was extremely difficult but playable. Moderate green speeds and shaved false fronts along with shaved false sides and shaved false backs meant controlling approaches was diabolically critical. Saturday afternoon however the course was unplayable to even well struck approaches and putts. A non-apology from the USGA did nothing to mitigate the fact they really messed up. They compensated by putting lots of water on the course in preparation for Sunday so that fourth round scores averaged an astonishing 3.2 strokes lower than Saturday. The USGA continues to believe they should push course setups to the point that when weather conditions don’t match weather predictions the result is a disaster.

Woods Performance – It’s 10 years since Tiger Woods last won a major and before start of play Thursday some who should know better announced he was ready to win his 15th major. From the first hole however, it was plain Woods game is not ready to take on a course of U.S. Open difficulty. Poor iron play paired with mediocre driving put too much pressure on his short game. His scrambling was passable, but he just didn’t hit enough greens and combined with a bottom third of the field in putting he had no chance to make the cut much less contend. U.S. Open’s aren’t won with three double bogeys and a triple bogey. Put another way, the 42-year old Woods has a long way to go before we see the Tiger of old not simply an old Tiger.

Traffic Was Awful –  Before the Championship began USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said Shinnecock Hills would be in the consideration for another Open in years to come. Let’s face it, one of the biggest reasons old traditional courses are not played by the Tour any longer is the lack of acreage to hold thousands of fans, parking, concessions, the TV compound and multiple corporate hospitality locations. Should an efficient way to get players and fans to the course be part of the consideration or is this another case where the USGA does what they want because they can? And besides did anyone notice Shinnecock Hills is at the end of an island with one main road? Oh well, at least the Open won’t be back here until 2026.

Lefty’s Brain Cramp: Rarely do you see a professional do something as inane as Phil Mickelson hitting a moving ball on the 13th hole during Saturday’s third round. The whole episode was ridiculous regardless of his excuse, rationalization, justification or reasoning if indeed any reasoning even existed at the time. Phil called USGA Executive Director Davis offering to withdraw if he had crossed the line of acceptable behavior but the USGA had already ruled he would not be disqualified. This however didn’t stop the postings on social media and Olympian pronouncements by certain analysts. Might Lefty’s real problem been his frustration trying to win his career grand slam U.S. Open on a course that had become unplayable…we’ll probably never know.

Two-hole Playoff: Thanks to Koepka we didn’t have to experience the new two-hole playoff which hardly anyone has a good word about. The USGA made the decision to drop the 18-hole format citing, “…everyone wanted to see a Sunday finish.” Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Fox, who have the broadcast rights, heads the list of “everyone?”

Wanna Bet?

So, let’s say you’ve found the time, endured the travel and spent the money to go a U.S. Open or Ryder Cup or Masters or for that matter any PGA Tour event. It’s the 72nd hole and Jordan Spieth is lining up an 8-footer. And, as long as we are supposing, it isn’t just any 8-footer but to win the U.S. Open or Ryder Cup or Masters, etc.

Just as Spieth starts his stroke someone tosses a cup of beer on to the green, the young Texan flinches and the ball doesn’t even touch the cup. Terrible right? Throw him or her out—preferably not gently. Or perhaps it’s just another example of why event security should be increased to curb such boorish and probably intoxicated behavior.

But what if it isn’t. What if it is someone wanting to influence the outcome of the tournament?

It is not beyond reason we may see examples such as this or worse when wagering on golf comes out of the back alleys and cross-continent Internet connections. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Congress does not have the right to legislate against sports gambling and only the individual states may allow or disallow wagering of that type.

Our society no longer considers gambling a moral issue…certainly it goes on legally and illegally and arguments against sports gambling on that basis are nonstarters.

Unquestionably at least some of the individual states will approve sports wagering in some form and the PGA Tour has already said it will enhance the fan experience and attract more interest to their events and golf in general.

Golf is one of the few sports where the gallery is literally part of the action, not confined in bleachers nor behind barriers or steel mesh. There is just a piece of rope delineating the playing ground. This is one of golf’s charms and attractions putting it in a special category but also offers lots of opportunities for those wagering large sums of money to be a factor in the outcome of a tournament.

For fans this is not a pleasant prospect and though my crystal ball hasn’t worked in years, it’s not hard to imagine even a whiff of someone influencing play for reasons having to do with large amounts of wagered money will work to our game’s detriment. Why hasn’t it happened until now with some legal and lots of illegal wagering? I don’t know but a reasonable guess would be the amount of money wasn’t worth the risk. Also, our English friends have been golf gambling for years with even kiosks onsite to place your bets.

Let’s be very clear. It’s about the money. In search of added revenue without raising taxes some states will approve wagering on golf and the lessons of 50 years of state sponsored lotteries is about to be replayed The PGA Tour has been candid about the potential of a new income stream. One can only hope golf will avoid a scandal.

Presidents Cup Needs More Help

The buildup to September’s Ryder Cup has begun and over the summer as it always does will grow in intensity. However, in news of the other international competition between touring professionals a few changes have been instituted in an attempt to achieve at least a semblance of competitiveness. The Presidents Cup has been not so much a battle between the International Team and Team USA as a glorified exhibition lacking both the intensity and excitement of the biannual Ryder Cup.

It’s not the Internationals haven’t tried just that strong U.S. teams have dominated the matches which began in 1994 under then PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The record shows 10 wins, one loss and one tie for Team USA and last September Captain Steve Stricker’s Americans beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals 19-11. After the first two days the margin was so lopsided all the Americans needed for the win in the Sunday singles matches was one-half point.

At the time I wrote, “…continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.”

The runup to 2019 started with naming two media-attractive captains, Tiger Woods for the United State and Ernie Els for the Internationals. Who the captains are by itself won’t make the Presidents Cup more competitive nor more exciting for fans, but with Woods involvement it does attract media attention.

Secondly, the rules now say every team member must have played at least once on Friday or Saturday before the Sunday singles matches. We will just have to wait and see if this helps the Internationals which of course is the reason rules are being modified at all.

More significantly, captain’s picks will be made closer to when matches begin and each captain will have four selections rather than two as at present. This could be a big deal allowing selection of “hot” players just before the start of matches. But again, presuming the rule was put in place to help the Internationals the question arises if it will at all. Presidents Cup play starts December 13, 2019 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. This is well after the finish of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour season where the best of the Internationals play and if the 2019-2020 schedule has similar timing three weeks into the holiday hiatus.

How “hot” a player can be with these gaps is open to question, so it is another instance of “wait and see.” Best guess is there will be no impact except serving to perhaps mollify the perennial naysayers criticizing the picks by any captain.

The real issue, competitive parity, needs something drastic to keep fans, the players and the media interested. Another U.S. rout in Melbourne could just about finish the Presidents Cup…”an exhibition masquerading as a real competition,” and it’s a shame since there is the potential for it to be a real “guns blazing in the middle of main street” confrontation.

Until 1979 the Ryder Cup had a similar problem when the European team was solely players from Great Britain and Ireland, but after the continental European competitors were added the Americans have had their hands full to say the least.

What then could be done to enliven and invigorate the endangered Presidents Cup?

Following last fall’s debacle, I suggested teams should be expanded to include female professionals which in the case of the International Team’s roster would include the LPGA Tour’s Asian superstars. Imagine pairings like Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson teeing it up against Jason Day and Lydia Ko. Or how about Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie fighting it out with Adam Scott and Ariya Jutanugarn?

Whew! You think anyone would watch?

The Presidents Cup has the potential to be the golf world’s premier international competition and from many aspects bigger than the Olympics. Bringing women and men together would be good for its future and golf’s future.

Anyone have the PGA Tour commissioner’s phone number?

Dad’s Day Golf Gifts

Every father who plays golf appreciates a golf-related gift on his special day. Here a few that attracted our attention and may be just what you are looking for to put a smile on Dad’s face June 17.
For years Chase 54 has been a staple in my wardrobe and the latest Unit polo is right at the top of my wish list. It is made from a breathable pinhole mesh material and Chase 54’s DryFuze fabric that pulls moisture away from the skin. Bottom line, Dad will stay dry and comfortable even in the heat of summer with a fashionable look he will love. Priced at $69, you can see the Unit polo and all the other Chase 54 apparel at Chase54.com.
Purchasing any golf club for Dad is a wonderful idea but ensuring that club is the right one to fit his swing is a difficult if not impossible task without some help. That help is readily available, and the problem easily solved with a gift certificate from the premier club fitters Club Champion. Certificates in different amounts are available online at ClubChampionGolf.com in different amounts and there are 32 locations nationwide with five more opening soon.
A round of golf can be loads of fun or excruciating because of a poor golf swing and particularly if Dad’s shoes aren’t comfortable. ECCO is big on solving at least the second problem and their latest is the BIOM Hybrid 3 golf shoe, a great combination of fit, comfort and performance. The outsole is the new three zone Tri-Fi-Grip design and the Hybrid 3 has the famous GOR-TEX waterproofing. The uppers are Yak leather for breathability and there lots of color combinations with BOA lacing as an option. Retailing for $200 at ECCOUSA.com.
Galvin Green always offers a spectrum of practical and fashionable apparel and added to their line for 2018 is the Interface-1 hybrid shell layer collection. Contrary to what some Dads will tell you, it does rain on the golf course and these latest Galvin Green pieces are soft and lightweight for durable weather protection. Each is windproof, water repellant and extremely breathable plus they look good. See all the styles and colors at GalvinGreen.com.
The gift of golf balls to Dad beats another tie—after all who wears ties any more—and TaylorMade has just the ones for Dad, their Project (a) ball for recreational players. When you order two dozen ($34.99 each) they throw in a free 6-pack with classic sayings or “Dad-isms,” the things most every father has said more than once. “Go Ask Your Mother,” “Back in My Day” and “Put Your Phone Down.” All the details are on TaylorMadeGolf.com.
Probably the piece of on-course equipment every Dad will appreciate is a laser rangefinder and the TecTecTec VPRO500 is a great choice. It has all the features he needs at an unbeatable price of $149.99 for the standard model or $179.99 for the slope model. Lightweight and water resistant there are three scanning modes that provide an accurate yardage in most any situation. The carrying case is included and details of both models plus a hassle-free online purchase are at US.TecTecTec.com

Monday After the Players

The PLAYERS championship reiterated some facts about this game and as with many other things in life it is useful to identify these facts so that when they pop up again we don’t act totally surprised. Here they are in no particular order along with what passes for analysis but could just as well be labelled as opinion:

Number #1: Banning of the anchored stroke in 2016 was not as many opined the kiss of death for broomstick and belly putter devotees nor did it provoke millions to leave the game. Webb Simpson used a long putter to win the 2012 United States Open and was one of the prominent players who had to find a new way to putt. Now the method he employs is to brace the putter shaft along his left forearm with his right hand in a so-called claw grip and at The PLAYERS he found a way to get the ball in the hole with over nine strokes gained on the field for the week. At one point two years ago, Simpson had fallen to 177th in putting but has fought back with grit and determination.

Number #2: Even a penal golf course such as the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course becomes manageable—not easy by any stretch of the imagination but manageable–if the wind doesn’t blow and the greens are at least marginally receptive. Simpson won by four after rounds of 66, 63, 68 and a cautious 73. If you need proof, the most talked about 63 over the years probably has been Johnny Miller’s at Oakmont in final round of the 1973 U.S. Open. It is often overlook though that rain the night before plus uncontrolled sprinklers after lightning hit the control box turned Oakmont’s infamously rock-hard greens into the consistency of damp washcloths. Last week the Stadium course was manageable simply because the greens “sort of” held and the wind most of the time was less than 10 mph.

Number #3: The long ball is not a surefire answer to scoring so those who keep beating the drum that the ball goes too far are again missing the point…the object of the game is to get the ball in the hole not how far you can hit it with your driver. Webb Simpson’s distance for the week, an average of 280.6 yards, put him in dead last place in the field. He won because his driving accuracy and putting not to mention a mental discipline were so much better than everyone else…but then you knew that already.

Number #4: Next year The PLAYERS will be played in March when conditions in North Florida will be drastically different. Expect the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course to play longer because it will be softer and the ball won’t run out plus the temperatures will be lower, so the ball won’t fly as far. The largest change though will be in the wind which at that time of year typically is more from the north and stronger, so the players will face a test much closer to what designer Pete Dye envisioned. FYI number 16 plays to the southeast and 17 and 18 to the northwest.

Number #5: Tiger Woods may or may not win another major championship but at times he is playing some scintillating golf which at Sawgrass included a 65 on Saturday to make the cut on the number, 11 shots behind Simpson. Some took his performance as a sign “he’s back.” That would be nice, but The PLAYERS showed Woods has yet to prove he has exorcised all the mental and physical demons that will allow him to be in the hunt for his fifteenth major title. Though he managed ten under par over the weekend he couldn’t play better than middle-of-the-pack golf for the last six holes both days. He has a long way to go for his 15th major.

Image courtesy of the PGA TOUR

Criticism of Driving Distance is a Nonstarter

Television commentators often talk about how far players hit the golf ball and this prompted the thought that by looking the results of PGA Tour players who have the highest driver swing speeds we could gain some insight into the current criticism of ball distance. So, here are the “fast five” as of the Arnold Palmer Invitational–statistics provided by the PGA Tour:

Keith Mitchell 123.97 mph
Rory McIlroy 122.34 mph
Tiger Woods 121.90 mph
Tony Finau 121.90 mph
Gary Woodland 121.84 mph

The “elites,” touring professionals and top caliber amateurs, unquestionably hit the ball farther than in the past however that’s not the issue. We need to know if added distance is a detriment to the game.

By analyzing the results of those with the highest swing speeds we should see a correlation with driving distance, scoring and money won and taking the elite of the elites, average driving distance is:

Keith Mitchell 312.1 yards
Rory McIlroy  314.1 yards
Tiger Woods 304.2 yards
Tony Finau 322.7 yards
Gary Woodland 312.2 yards

But that’s not the whole story. Mitchell is only number 10 in driving distance, McIlroy is 6, Woods 36, Finau first and Woodland 9.

More interesting, in fact very interesting, is how swing speed translates into scoring average: Mitchell is number 143, McIlroy 16, Woods 5, Finau 13 and Woodland 29. To put this in perspective, this year’s scoring average leader is Dustin Johnson at 68.843 strokes per round and in 1999, prior to introduction of the “game-changing” Titleist Pro V1, the leader was Tiger Woods with an average of 68.432.

Statisticians would call that amount of difference over 19 years “noise.”

How about a correlation between swing speed and money won? Mitchell is number 170 in official money after 10 events, McIlroy number 19 and 5 events, Woods 32/5 events, Finau 10/10 events and Woodland 15/11 events. In money won per event played Mitchell is number 215, McIlroy 8, Woods 15, Finau 19 and Woodland 25.

Then there’s an oft voiced concern courses are being turned into “driver-wedge” layouts, but the percentage of greens hit in regulation should tell the story. Mitchell is number 113 hitting 64.93% GIR, McIlroy 182/60.78%, Woods 174/61.42%, Finau 32/69.29% and Woodland 3/72.76%. Again, comparing with 1999, David Duval was first with a 73.57% GIR while today Kevin Streelman the 2018 leader is at 72.83%…more statistical noise.

We could go on, but the conclusion is obvious, though the elites are swinging faster and hitting the ball farther it does not translate into results.

But then you knew that.

The question is why don’t the solons of rules at the USGA and the R&A?

There have been unsupported statements about several topics among them ball distance causing slow play, forcing layouts to add length and of course, the great old shibboleth, traditional classic tracks are unable to host Tour events. All these opinions are nonstarters and their proponents have yet to present facts in support.

We all know slow play has everything to do with the individual players not the distance they hit the ball. The problems and costs of maintaining all golf courses, not just the ones beefed up in the belief longer is better, have been addressed by greens superintendents already much to their credit. Finally, the old classic courses (usually spoken of in mystical terms) is that many don’t have the acreage for parking, corporate hospitality, television production and tens of thousands of fans. Ball distance has nothing to do with it, they just aren’t capable of holding a big-time event.

Those who want to either “roll back the ball” or split the rules into us-and-them, so-called bifurcation, seem bent on convincing themselves tee ball distance needs to be fixed and equally convinced to do so in the face of a mountain of contrary facts. Every the USGA’s own 2017 Driving Distance Report doesn’t make a case for the ball going too far. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America have stated there isn’t any problem as have Acushnet, makers of the Titleist Pro V1, and TaylorMade Golf whose drivers are the most played by professionals worldwide. The PGA Tour clearly understands they are in the entertainment business and knows Hank Haney has it right saying people don’t go a ballgame to see a bunch of bunt singles, they go to see homeruns.

What we are facing is not a problem of the ball going too far but the perception of a problem simply because a few respected industry members have beat the drum long enough that the USGA and R&A finally have said they agree.

That’s no way to decide any issue.

The ball distance discussion isn’t over. Not as long as Tour players are bigger, stronger, better trained elites playing clubs computer-fitted to their swing, hitting low-spin solid core balls onto firm, fast fairways.

The USGA and R&A have said there is a problem evidently so then they can justify imposing a solution and more importantly and more tragically is how they are clearly out of touch with the overwhelming majority of golfers.

PGA TOUR Superstore – Managed Growth in a Difficult Market

PGA TOUR Superstore hasn’t bought into all the doom and gloom used by some to describe the golf equipment industry. For them the glass isn’t half empty and in fact the Atlanta-based chain has been following a controlled plan of expansion to manage growth for the long term.

The opportunity for additional insight to this golf retailing success story came in an interview with Randy Peitsch, PGA TOUR Superstore’s Senior Vice President of Operations. Peitsch has been in the top spot guiding day-to-day operations for the past two years after a five-year stint as vice president in charge of hard goods prior to which he was in divisional management at Sports Authority.

We questioned Peitsch about how PGATSS can accomplish growth in an unfavorable golf retail environment.

“It begins with hiring really good people, training them and then backing them,” Peitsch responded. “We can then focus on the consumer experience. We are not in the transaction business. We are in the relationship business.”

Well said but it should be pointed out that for the past several years the golf equipment business has euphemistically been called a “difficult market” with several events adversely affecting both the makers and sellers of equipment.

Golf retailers of all sizes have closed including the 463-store Sports Authority plus Golfsmith shuttered most of their locations after being purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s, the sports retailing behemoth with over 700 locations, has reduced store floor space allocated to golf though recent statements by top management indicate they may be encouraged with the prospects for increases in golf equipment and accessories, particularly their private brands such as Top-Flite.

Manufacturers too have struggled with the largest, Acushnet Holding Corp (NYSE: GOLF), making a tepidly received public stock offering in late 2016. The former Fila Korea subsidiary, maker of several of golf’s top brands including Titleist and FootJoy, reported flat sales in 2017 but an increase in net income of $47 million.

In May 2017 TaylorMade Golf, the third largest equipment maker, was sold by Adidas (OTCMKTS: ADDY) for a bargain-basement price to an investment company and in third quarter 2016 Nike closed its golf equipment division. Niche manufacturer Ben Hogan Golf filed for bankruptcy and during its recovery has opted for a consumer-direct strategy.

On the positive side the second largest equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) finished 2017 with 20% higher sales than the previous year mostly on the strength of its Great Big Bertha Epic line of metalwoods. Midsize manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Bridgestone Golf and Cobra Golf also have said they did appreciably better last year and are looking forward to even more gains in 2018.

Many are saying we are seeing the first signs of some stability in golf retailing and certainly PGA TOUR Superstore is well positioned to take advantage. The company opened three new locations in 2017 for a total of 31 and number 32 opened in February with number 33 set for the Houston, Texas market.

Same store sales last year had a healthy increase of 15 percent plus overall sales increased 23 percent. Digging a little deeper there are even more signs of their expanding market presence:
-Black Friday 2017 same store sales up 20 percent and for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend up 15 percent
-Online sales for Cyber Monday increased an eye-popping 62 percent
-Customer club fittings topped 110,000 in 2017 and lessons hit almost 50,000
-Instore practice bays saw 100,000 participants during the year

Impressive, in fact very impressive, for a year when the number of U.S. golfers continued to decline. Golfer consumers are responding to PGATSS’s extensive inventory, competitive pricing and perhaps even more to the service they receive whether online or in-store.

A trip to PGATSS has been compared with a visit to Home Depot and it should be since the private-held PGATSS is part of the AMB Group one of the Blank family endeavors along with the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Atlanta United (MLS) and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Family head Arthur Blank was one of the founders of Home Depot, retiring in 2001 as co-chairman.

Blank said of the success his stores have had in an uncertain retail environment, “At PGA TOUR Superstore we’re using the same philosophy that drove the Home Depot’s success and revolutionized the home improvement industry.  We offer a variety of products at value prices, incredible services and employ the best associates to provide a level of customer service that keeps visitors coming back because they love the experience.”

Most consumers acknowledge a visit to a PGATSS has a different feeling from the usual big box retailer. Employees invariably greet you and then thank you when you leave, an everyday example of customer relationship building. 

Peitsch pointed out, “We focus on the consumer experience. If we do everything the right way, we win out over the competitors.”

True certainly but beating the other guy also takes the proper pricing, inventory and profit margins.

According to Peitsch, “Margins have to be in the first sentence of any discussion and the partnerships with manufacturers are very important.” Then as if anticipating my next question, “The trend in our margins has continued upwards.”

Funds to pay for expansion must come from either borrowing or consistent profitability. Without the proper margins profits soon are nonexistent and discussing the entire business of PGATSS Peitsch made a critical observation, “Pay attention to the process and the results will come.”

Questioned about expansion plans Peitsch then said, “The cost of retail space drives the selection of new locations.” So, in addition to golfer demographics, brick and mortar economics dictate whether a site is viable or if even an entire market is suitable.

Peitsch commented that though they may be “under penetrated in the market we are the fastest growing and expect to open a store every other month, so we will have 50 by 2020.” That would be a 50 percent increase in just three years and average store size at the end of 2017 was 40,000 square feet making them the largest off-course retailer in golf in terms of average space.

It’s plain there is no “secret” to PGATSS success or maybe their secret is the relentless application of good business principles matched to an understanding of their customers.

Refreshing to say the least.

“Going to Take a Little Time”

 

A five-over 76 in the second round put Tiger Woods comfortably outside the cutline Friday at the Genesis Open by four shots at Riviera Country Club after Thursday’s round of 72.

This is his 25th missed cut since turning professional in 1996 and 330 career starts.

There are two takeaways, both important for Woods, the PGA Tour and golf fans.

First, his game needs lots of work starting off the tee. Over an admittedly difficult driving course Woods managed just 13 of 28 fairways or 46 percent while the leaders were hitting two-thirds or better. Less than half the fairways would be fine on some layouts but at Riviera the kikuyu rough makes it often impossible to control the line of a shot much less the distance.

So, for two rounds he hit just 16 of 36 greens and was 10 for 18 scrambling…not exactly numbers that bring fear into the eyes of a fellow competitor.

Then there’s his putting which was mediocre at best. Fifty-seven putts for the two rounds put him almost exactly in the middle of the pack and not nearly good enough to compensate for his driving problems.

For any other 42-year old who hadn’t played a full schedule since 2103 this could be expected but its Tiger Woods and normal expectations don’t apply.

Afterwards he said, “I haven’t played golf in years and I’m just starting to come back so it’s going to take a little time. I am progressing, I’m starting to get a feel for tournament golf again. I just need to clean up my rounds.”

“I’m both pleased and also not very happy with some parts of it. It’s nice to be back competing again and to be able to go out there and play, practice after each round. That’s been nice, something I haven’t done in years. So, you know, keep building.”

Optimistically these words aren’t another example of the Woods answering questions with non-answers but truly a reflection of his thoughts and feelings.

Next week is the Honda Classic near his home in South Florida and we will see if he can be competitive at the highest level. The PGA Tour and golf fans need him to be and most of all Woods for himself needs to be.

Diary of a Driver Fitting

 

One of the best ways to hit better shots is to play with clubs that help to correct those individual swing idiosyncrasies we all have. The process for finding the proper sticks is called club fitting and in spite of what you may have heard, to a certain degree it is true, you can buy a game.

Let’s say you are trying to get rid of a slice-producing over the top move that sometimes abruptly morphs into a hard pull to the left. If your clubs could compensate even a little so the ball more often went where you wanted, this maddening game would be a lot more fun.

Some may have doubts about club fitting and question if it is worth the money. Others are hesitant with the excuse they aren’t good enough which may be another way of saying they are unsure of exactly happens during a fitting and perhaps even have a fear of being embarrassed.

As age has imposed itself on my swing, club fittings every couple of years have proven their value if for no other reason than “good shots” become easier. The “I’m not good enough” argument therefore puts the cart before the horse because players at every level of skill beyond rank beginner can be helped with a fitting.

To allay any hesitation from not knowing what to expect we thought it would be worthwhile to follow a typical weekend warrior through a driver fitting and keep a diary of the experience for our readers.

Picking a friend named Scott as guinea pig…oops sorry, the guy to be fitted, an appointment was made at our local PGA TOUR Superstore with fitter Sam O’Donnell. The price for a driver fitting is $100 and O’Donnell pointed out the procedure is the same as what the pros on Tour go through whether only a driver or the whole bag, in fact his area of the PGATSS facility has a big sign, “Fitting Van Experience.”

O’Donnell first asked Scott about his game: how often he played (3-4 times per month), how he scored (mid 90s), his most frequent miss (slice) and what Scott was looking for out of the fitting (straighten the slice). He then measured the length (45.5 inches), loft (9.5 degrees) and grip size (standard) of Scott’s current driver, a 2014 model TaylorMade JetSpeed with a stiff flex Aldila shaft.

After Scott had stretched a bit and drove a few to warm up O’Donnell asked him to hit six drives using his JetSpeed and a TaylorMade TP5, the ball which Scott most often plays. Data on each drive was measured by a ForeSight Quad launch monitor for a baseline O’Donnell could use to judge differences as shafts and heads were changed.

Scott at 6-foot 1-inch generates lot of clubhead speed consistently registering in the 105 to 110 mph range but unfortunately the ball usually started left of the target and then took a tremendous turn to the right. If we had been on the course every one of his drives would most likely have missed the fairway and the straight-line distance from the tee was seldom over 220-yards. Plus, as do most golfers who slice, Scott made impact low on the face and towards the heel which all by itself robs him of yardage.

As was said of the late President Ford, Scott sometimes must wait until his first tee shot lands to see which course he would be playing that day. Though that sounds exaggerated (and it is of course) you can’t mistake Scott’s deep desire to play better…if for no other reason than to beat me.

O’Donnell now took a similar TaylorMade clubhead from his stock of several dozen made by a variety of manufacturers all with quick-connect hosels and had Scott hit more drives using a different shaft than the one in his JetSpeed. In addition to the ball’s path, measurements shown on the launch monitor included clubhead and ball speed, back and side spin and smash factor—the ratio of ball speed to clubhead speed. After a few drives with the first shaft a second was tried with the same head, then a third and a fourth and then back to the second and third again. Finally, the second, a stiff flex Fujikura Pro Green 62 weighing 66-grams and 45-inches in length, was selected since it consistently produced the best combination of distance, trajectory and dispersion.

O’Donnell pointed out in most driver fittings he evaluates at least four shafts and often more.

Now that the proper shaft had been identified the process moved on to finding the best clubhead. Based on his experience O’Donnell had an idea which clubheads were the most likely to produce the results he wanted and selected those for testing on the Fujikura shaft. Each head was hit at least six times and a couple as many as a dozen. Analyzing the results the number of heads was narrowed down to two low spin models, the Ping G400 LST and the Callaway Great Big Bertha Epic Sub Zero. When mated with the Fujikura shaft both produced much improved results over Scott’s JetSpeed, more distance and less left to right slice.

After hitting each of them again the decision was made to go with the Callaway on the strength of slightly lower dispersion and the fact Scott liked its looks at address. All of this took almost two hours but when we left Scott had a set of specifications for a new Callaway Great Big Bertha Epic Sub Zero driver with a stiff flex 45-inch long Fujikura Pro Green 62 shaft. He told O’Donnell he wanted to think over spending the money, $500, and would get back to him if he decided to buy.

Two days later a text message from Scott said he was going in after work to place the order and a week later his driver arrived. Needless to say, he could hardly wait for the weekend to put the new one-wood into play and the following Saturday Scott phoned driving home from the course.

His first words were, “I’d say the driver is an A+. Now when I walk on the tee I’m looking forward to it. I measured at least one of the drives to over 270.”

He continued saying, “I hit eight of 14 fairways and only one drive was way out to the right.”

Wonderful news, not just because it was a validation for Scott having spent all that money but the enthusiasm in his voice was great to hear. By way of comparison, with his old driver Scott often didn’t hit even one fairway a round and 270 was just a dream.

A couple of other points. To put to rest comments sometimes heard about the fitting process at some retailers, neither Sam O’Donnell nor PGA TOUR Superstore receive extra compensation for specifying clubs of any manufacturer nor does O’Donnell receive a sales commission when a driver is sold. O’Donnell put it simply, “We just want players to walk out of here with the best clubs for their game.”

Scott’s evaluation of the fitting experience at PGATSS can be summed up easily, he told me he is going back to have irons fit.

The lesson for golfers of all levels is the better-suited the clubs the better the results. A professional level fitting is making an investment in our future enjoyment of the game.