For golfers, I find, it’s a progression. You start the game and can barely get the ball airborne. You hit that first shot flush and straight and it’s like water to a thirsty man. You find yourself addicted, at some point, waiting for that next “my best score” round.

It starts with breaking 100, making your first par, your first birdie, maybe even your first eagle. Then breaking 90, 80, setting a new personal best, breaking par for 9 holes, having a streak of pars-or-better in a row, or going a certain number of a rounds without losing a ball. We remember these moments–well, some of them.

I barely recall breaking 100–I was at Sugar Creek Golf Course in Atlanta. I believe I shot 94. I think I also had my first birdie ever during that round. I don’t recall much else–I was probably younger than 13. I remember breaking 90, although only vaguely. It was the only time I’ve ever played the Alfred ‘Tup’ Holmes golf course in Atlanta. I had 15 bogeys, one double-bogey, and two pars to shoot 89. I broke 80 at a course that no longer exists called “Atlanta International.” Kind of a sad state of affairs the way that course went under–more on that at a later portion of the series. I was probably 16 or 17 when this happened.

My first “under par” round was at Bobby Jones Golf Course when I was in college at GA Tech. I went out on a muddy afternoon and walked with 3 young professionals who were all riding and drinking beer. I remember talking with one of the guys and saying “it’s been a pretty good round” at about the 14th or 15th hole. He said “have you made any birdies?” I responded “I’m three under right now.” Clearly, it was not being noticed. I shot -1 that day (2 bogeys coming down the stretch).

My two best rounds to date, however, both came about in 2010. Oddly enough, they both happened while I was searching for a new set of irons, and with both of them I got rid of the irons shortly thereafter.

Perhaps what I’d call my best round of golf ever occurred in April 2010. I decided to play with my wife’s uncle at Mystery Valley. In this round, I used a set of Mizuno MP-67 irons that I had just bought a few weeks earlier. Perhaps my best position relative to par was when I walked off of the 10th green, at -4. I don’t believe I’ve ever been further under par than that. I almost sunk the eagle putt too, from 35 or so feet, double-breaking almost 10 feet at the end. I had 5 birdies, and I still maintain I got screwed on the 17th hole, when my GPS told me I had 160 yards out and I ended up flying the green, the bunker behind the green, and going about 15 yards into the woods with an 8-iron.

Funny–I remember thinking the round started out badly, and thinking it might be a rough day when I had to save par on the 1st and 2d holes and was wide right on the third. When I chipped in on the third hole, though, my mindset changed–now, I thought, this might be a good day after all. 33 on the front side and an even par 36 on the back side had me breaking 70 for the first time in my life. Pretty awesome, all things considered.
MV rd

The only round that could rival my Mystery Valley performance was my performance later in the year at Lanier Golf Club. This round is STILL the only round for which I have not made a single bogey during the entire round. Only three birdies–and I was working with a -2 round for most of the day. The greens were terrible, and even though I hit a lot of quality golf shots, I did not do a lot of scoring. Still, I managed to work my way around the tightly tree-lined fairways and finish with an under-par round of -3, 69. This was with a set of MP-32s that–I convinced myself later–I hit “too far” and ended up selling to LG, who then sold to another person. They were, in fact, pretty tremendous irons.
L rd

What’s interesting about both of the rounds: great ballstriking was a premium. Although we often think of great putting and chipping as the key to the game, in this case, ballstriking was necessary. Hitting 12 and 14 greens per round, respectively, certainly gave a HUGE advantage.

Regardless, you remember these moments for what they were. These moments on the course were ones I can tell my kids some day, ones I can brag about when I need a story, ones I can say “when I shot 69 here, the pin was there.” Not everyone has the opportunity to say that with respect to breaking 70, but everyone has that moment in their golfing careers. For me, it took 18 years to shoot an 18-hole round without a bogey–and in the two years since, I still haven’t done it again. But the game is a series of milestones, some easier to remember than others, some bigger deals than others, but each one another piece of the legacy of your time on the course. And those achievements are what we chase every time we play this great game. So go out there and find your next one. It might be closer than you think.

Tiger at 14

December 20, 2012

Just a neat thing we came across–an interview of Tiger Woods at 14 years old. Enjoy!

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 1,000 times. Someone, trying to give a glowing review of a new flatsick to make others understand the new piece of equipment in its fullest, praises about how the putter has exceptionally “soft feel” at impact.

Ever wonder how a piece of steel could feel “soft?” I do.

Even though I know that steel is not truly soft–at least, not as compared to pretty much anything on this earth–I myself have used this phrase, as it’s understood in the vernacular of the golf industry to mean “that felt really good.”

The fact of the matter is that the hardness of the metal is fairly immaterial to whether a putter feels “soft.” There is one caveat–if the material is so soft that you can tell by feeling it with your finger that it’s soft, then it probably can affect the way the putter feels. However, that is not the case always, which leads me to the question–if someone could choose between a noticeably soft material and steel, why would anyone choose steel if the goal is “soft feel?”

The answer is that what “soft feel” really means is “how does this thing vibrate?” It is far more than just what your hands feel. It’s about resonance frequencies, amplitudes, and so much more.

The most often repeated myth about feel is that the hardness of the metal determines what is felt. I’ll explain shortly why that is incorrect. But a close second is the myth that “feel is ONLY sound.” I’ve heard this often from the great Scotty Cameron, and others, who claim that of you put headphones on and putted, then you would not be able to tell the difference between putters. This is inaccurate.

While sound does play a large role in the process, it is only because the sound is at the same frequency (or, in other words, same type of vibrations) as what you feel in your hands. You see, putters–like any other object–have a resonance frequency at which they vibrate. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon that all things, regardless of size, have a certain vibration that they like. Like striking a bell, a putter will “ring” at its resonance frequency by default. It’s pretty difficult to get a bell to ring at a pitch other than its resonance frequency…..same thing with putters. Like a holding a bell, what you hear in your ear will be vibration at the exact same rate as what you are holding in your hand. In other words, what you feel in your hands is the same as what you hear in your ears. It simply can’t occur any other way.

Now, some have said that the effect of what you feel in your hands is so little that the sound really is all that matters. To those folks, I challenge them to play baseball in the winter time with an aluminum bat and tell me there’s nothing to feel in your hands. What you perceive as tactile feedback is far more precise than what you hear. If you don’t believe that, run your hand over a bumpy surface and tell me what it feels like. Then, sing against it and tell me if you can pick up the bumps with your ears. There is a great deal to be felt with your hands.

If that’s true, then what exactly is it that “feels soft” when it comes to a putter–or any club–striking a golf ball?

The answer is that there are two ways to create “soft feel.” The perception that something is “soft” is based on the idea that impact to soft things is typically low energy. Low energy is typically associate with lower frequency vibrations or very low amplitude–or, in other words, quiet. High energy impacts are loud (high amplitude) and high-pitched (high frequency).

Low energy impact feels like you’re making contact with a pillow. It feels like what you’re hitting is “soft.” High energy impact feels like you’re making contact with a brick. So the way to make a putter feel “soft” is to have a low frequency (i.e., low pitch) or low amplitude (i.e., quiet) impact.

To achieve the low frequency impact, it is important to make a putter that has a particularly low resonance frequency (the resonance frequency being the “ringing” frequency, at which a putter rings like a bell, as discussed earlier). Typically, a dense material will have a low resonant frequency by its nature. However, when a putter is designed to incorporate other factors–like, for example, making a 350-gram head–the design of the putter itself may become a factor in how much the putter vibrates. For example, copper putters often feel ringy and loud because they typically are made with thinner faces. Copper is a dense material as compared to steel, so it is difficult to achieve a comparably-weighted putter head with a similar design to a steel head, which is what most golfers are familiar with. As such, putters made of copper often have thin faces or extra ground soles to try and remove weight where the player will not visually notice it. However, both of these design elements result in a higher resonance frequency. Even though most bells are made of brass, which is a very dense material, small, thin walled bells can resonate at high pitches while large, thicker-walled bells resonate at lower pitches. As such, the design has a lot to do with how a solid (i.e., no insert) putter resonates and with what the player feels.

So, designing a putter to have low frequency resonance is one element that allows a putter to “feel soft.” However, the other option is just to make a putter that doesn’t really vibrate that much. This results in a different feel, but not a materially different one. Because the low resonance frequencies are typically low energy, they don’t typically feel very different from a putter that has a high resonance with very low energy or just no resonance at all. As such, one way to get a putter not to resonate at all is to put a soft insert material in it, such as plastic (Odyssey) or something even softer, such as STX putters, which were made with a deformably soft material. No one thinks of plastic as being soft or associated with low resonance. If anything, plastics have very high resonance frequencies, as they are very low density (light weight) and hard as compared to their weight. However, they can be engineered so as not to transmit vibrations very easily. That means that, even if the insert material has a high pitched resonance, it never gets transmitted to the user because it is almost no energy.

The same thing works with grooved or deep milled putters. The reason they feel “so soft” is that they do not transmit a much energy, as the impact with the ball must travel through the relatively small contacts with the ball to be transmitted up to the user and ring the putter head. Even some of the old putters–like the Scotty Cameron TeI3 series–felt soft only because they had a layer of “elastomer” (rubber) between the insert and the rest of the putter head that dampened the vibrations.

But why do golfers want something that feels “soft?” There are many explanations, and none of them definitive. One is that a well-struck ball will always have a relatively low resonance frequency because–if the club is designed correctly–that is the point of most efficient energy transfer. When you hit the sweet spot, it feels good; when you don’t, it feels bad. That’s because hitting the sweet spot doesn’t waste energy on twisting the club head, making an odd sound, and vibrating–at least, if the club is designed correctly. Another explanation is that golf has changed over the years. In the “old days,” golf balls were made differently. The old balata covers were much softer as enjoyable to putt with as compared to today’s so-called “soft cover” balls that would only pass as an intermediate ball back in the days of yore. Although the performance and durability of modern golf balls make it worth the changeover, players seeking that “old time feel” must change the putter, not the ball, to achieve what they’re “used to.”

What you like is up to you. Most players will like a low-pitched and/or low energy impact, but some don’t. I personally have a slot cut in my putter that intentionally reduces the thickness of the face, making the putter resonate a little more, and giving me a little more feedback on how I struck the ball. I don’t want it to feel ringy, but I do want to be able to feel the impact, so I’ve selected a putter that I believe meets my personal preference for feel. Many Tour pros play Odyssey putters, even though golf purists tend to scoff at insert-based putters. Many purists say that insert putters are not responsive. There is some truth to this, as inserts are there to dampen vibrations, not to give feedback. However, if it’s good enough for Tour pros, I’m not sure what everyone is complaining about.

In the end, every putter will have its own signature sound and feel because very few are designed exactly alike, and even those that are designed alike are typically made of slightly different materials or with slightly different processes. However, knowing and understanding the differences will help you find what it is you like and what helps you feel the best about your putting, which is the key to gaining confidence on the course.

Many golfers have stories of the odd things they’ve seen. From drives that bounced off carts and back into the fairway to balls that skipped over lakes, the “rub of the green” just happens sometimes.

People often ask me what the craziest thing I’ve seen in golf is. I’ve seen a total of eight holes-in-one, five of them my own. There will be time to talk about those later. Two of the three others were hit at Mystery Valley Golf Course, my original stomping grounds for the game of golf. The first one I saw was by a 75-year-old man who hit a 9-wood 145 directly at the pin on the 16th. When I said “that might’ve gone in” he shrugged it off. In fact, it had gone in. The second was clear as day, and we all watched the ball roll into the hole on the 2nd green.

Aside from aces, I’ve seen a lot of weird and crazy stuff. I was once threatened by an angry Jamaican wielding a golf club. I flipped a golf cart going about 40mph and somehow lived through it. I worked at a course with a fellow who grew marijuana at the back of the range. I even played golf with one of my best friends who had, not one, but two golf club heads snap off at the hosel during a round. I’ve had people dive out of the way of golf balls 100 feet over their heads. (all of these will be covered at some point)

But perhaps the craziest of crazy golf was the third ace I witnessed. I tell the story often because, frankly, if it weren’t real, it wouldn’t be believable.

During college I worked for a company outside of Boston, Massachusetts. It was a recurring internship wherein I went to school one semester, went to work the next, went to school the next, and went to work the following until graduation. My second semester at work was in the Fall of 2004. Although I wasn’t a tremendous golfer–maybe a single-digit handicap at the time–I still loved the game.

The local municipal golf course was Juniper Hill Golf Course. This is still one of my favorite municipal tracks, as it was always maintained at least playably well and was a fun layout of 36 holes. Neither of the courses were particularly long, but the land features were unique and challenging, as well as quite beautiful for the Massachusetts countryside-ish.

One afternoon, I decided to play the Lakeside course. This was probably my more preferred of the two courses. It is still one of the only courses I’ve played with a par 3 starting hole.

JH scorecard

This particular afternoon, I was paired up with Ed and Dave. Why I still remember these folks’ names, I have no clue. Nonetheless, Ed and Dave both were very friendly. They clearly knew each other. I learned during the round that they had done business together for years but this was the first time they had met in person.

Ed and Dave were both experienced golfers, but I was playing a little more seriously than them, stepping off yardages and paying attention to wind directions. Ed and Dave started asking for my help on some of their shots, which I gladly obliged. Why not tell them the yardage if I had already determined it?

The 14th hole at Juniper Hill’s Lakeside course is on the edge of the property, just before the lake. It plays entirely over a marsh, as seen in the view below:

It’s NOT the hole on the top where you see the sand trap in front of the green. It’s actually on the bottom, where the green is just in front of the trees and is partially shaded. You can see the cart path on the edge of the marsh leading from the tee box (about 180 yards) to the green. This cart path is the last part of the property before the lake.

This hole is the #1 handicap on the course because of the long carry over water. It’s 206 from the blue tees and 180-ish from the whites. On this day, the tees were playing up at the whites. I stepped off the yardage to roughly 175 yards.

Dave asked me “how far is it?” I replied “it’s about 175-180. I would put a 5-iron in your hand.” Dave grabbed his 5-iron, teed it up, and hit it a good inch thick. The ball waddled in the air, clearly without enough distance to get to the green. It sailed down into the marsh.

As I was about to move my gaze, I saw the ball bounce up out of the marsh. I told Dave to “hold on.” It landed on the green. It rolled toward the flag. “That might be in the hole!!” I said to Dave. He shrugged me off–“no way,” he said. “I don’t know. That looked close, and I don’t see the ball,” I replied.” “It probably just rolled over the back” I said. I walked up to the green as Ed dropped and hit his second ball (he had already hit in the marsh). I looked around behind the green. No ball. I looked in front of the green. No ball. I wanted to respect Dave that, if he did hit an ace, he be the first person to see it. When he got to the green, he started looking around for the ball as well.

“Why don’t you look in the hole?” I asked. Dave did, and, shocked, found his golf ball. Cheers went up. He was ecstatic. I was the only person with a camera phone (this was 2004), and I took a photo on it of Dave pulling his golf ball out of the hole. A GREAT memory.

“What happened?” I thought. I walked down to the marsh, and roughly 5-10 yards short of the green in the marsh was a piece of granite laying flat. It was no bigger and no more curved than a dinner plate. Other than that, nothing could have deflected Dave’s ball. I called him over and pointed it out. Dave, Ed, and I all laughed, as we all knew his ball was about 10 yards short of the green from the tee box.

In other words, Dave hit a hole in one by chunking a shot off the tee, landing it on a dinner plate roughly 165 yards away, and having it bounce up and into the hole.

And THAT, my friends, is what’s crazy about golf.

Fail of the Week 10

December 12, 2012

This fail of the week comes a little late, but with a large amount of failure. The PGA Tour gets the crown this week for its failure to make an exception for 17 year old Si Woo Kim of South Korea. Somehow, this machine of a 17 year old not only overcame what must have been immense culture shock during his amazing run, but also made it through all four stages of the last Q school EVER to send players right up to the big boy tour.

Talk about pressure. For all of his effort, which would normally result in 7 figure endorsement deals, Kim’s big achievement likely earned him only a spot on ESPN Golf’s news feed until Rory McIlroy is caught by the press in a bar in Vegas with yet another terrible haircut. I mean, come on Rory, what were you thinking?

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Now, whether you think he should be allowed to play or not, the fact that he gets no choice in the matter seems kind of ridiculous to me. If you’re 17 and can make it through 4 of the hardest tournaments in the world, why shouldn’t you at least have the choice to play golf if you want? No concussions or life ending injury,and an insanely long playing career make this far less controversial for me than most professional sports. In any event, we here at the powerfade want to congratulate Si Woo Kim on doing something no one will ever be able to do again. You are the man. Keep swinging!

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A lot has been made recently about the importance of “good roll.” Desperate to infuse technology into a club that is usually too simple to get too techy, golf companies sell “good roll” or “hole-seeking spin.” The promote technology that, they say, improves a golfer’s ability to putt a ball and have it hold its line.

While grooves can provide some benefits, they do not necessarily provide the type of benefits that a big company marketing department might try to sell you. The same benefits of a “grooved” style putter can be had with other equipment tweaks that, if you know them, can help expand your universe of putter options, assuming you were liking the way you putted with a grooved putter.

LG and I are big fans of Dr. Bob Rotella. Ask Dr. Bob about hole-hunting spin, and you’ll get a response that measures it as something along the lines of a Paul Bunyan tale. Ask the golf companies–and even some well-known pros–and you might get a different reaction, one full of buy-in. The truth, I’m afraid, is somewhere in the middle.

Golfers have been taking high speed video of putting for years. The purpose of this is to understand how the ball comes off the face of the putter. A ball that starts rolling earlier has a better chance of staying on line. This is physics.

OK, for those who want to tune out of the math discussion, now is the time

Have you ever noticed that it is extremely difficult to sit on a bicycle without moving? However, when you ride a bike, it’s much much easier to stay on the bike if you are already moving.

This is because of a gyroscopic effect produced by the rotation of the bicycle wheels. The wheels maintain their angular momentum unless acted upon by an outside force. However, when the wheels aren’t in motion, there’s no angular momentum, so they fall much more easily. See below


For a physics explanation, see

It works the same way with a golf ball. The angular momentum created by starting a golf ball rolling earlier will keep it rolling unless acted upon by an outside force. If the ball starts by skidding, there is no angular momentum until the ball contacts the ground and starts to rotate.

OK, done for those skipping

So there is some merit to the idea that a golf ball that starts rotating sooner will hold its line. However, a golf ball that starts rolling sooner also will go further because it doesn’t lose as much energy turning a skidding motion into rolling. As such, when you hear about players hitting the ball further with better roll, it’s because they’re used to losing energy, so they instinctively swing harder than needed.

OEM putter makers who make putters with grooves will have you believe that a grooved putter will help you create this overspin. Just like grooves on an iron create backspin, the theory goes that the upward motion of the putter head at impact will allow the grooves to bite into the ball and cause it to spin forward.

This is hogwash, for a number of reasons.

First, a putter is not traveling fast enough in 99.99% of situations for the grooves to actually impact the ball. With iron shots, there is at least mild compression of the surface of the golf ball (and sometimes more than that) that causes the ball to spin. In most cases, large amounts of spin can be produced without grooves, at least in the fairway. Multiple tests have shown that an iron without grooves struck purely on a golf ball will have the same spin profile as an iron with grooves struck purely if the contact is efficient (i.e., from the fairway). Grooves on an iron help when there is a potential of inefficient contact, such as out of the rough, in giving a chance for the uneven surface of the face to make some contact with the ball. With putting, the club is not moving 60+ mph…it’s moving on the order of 10 mph. There is almost no compression of the golf ball, even on really, really long putts.

The second issue is that, for spin to occur, there must be some mismatch between the impact direction and the ball flight. With a wedge, it’s easy to see the ball pop out spinning because the club is moving in one direction and the ball must roll up the face by simple physics. There is no such effect on the golf ball with a putter. The only way to impart upward glancing blows on a golf ball with a putter is to perform an unnatural motion that requires some pretty faulty mechanics and lifting the putter up in the air at impact.

As such, regardless of the marketing, grooves on a putter DO NOT IMPACT THE ROLL.

So what does?

Dynamic loft–in other words, loft at the point of impact. It only makes sense that a putter with lower loft will cause the ball to jump up in the air less than a putter with higher loft. The sooner a ball contacts the ground, the sooner the ground starts to put friction on it and cause it to rotate. The only thing that causes a golf ball to roll forward is its friction with the ground.

Don’t believe me? Watch:

Here’s the rub–a typical off-the-shelf putter will have between 3 and 5 degrees of loft. Many grooved putter will have less than 2 degrees of static loft. So, for a player using the exact same stroke, the dynamic loft (loft at impact) will be lower, regardless of that player’s stroke. I dare say that if a player with a typical putter (e.g., a Scotty Cameron, which are typically 4 degrees) reduced the loft to 1 degree, he/she would see similar playing characteristics to most grooved putters. In other words, it’s not the grooves that promote good roll; it is just that the dynamic loft is lower.

So if grooves don’t actually help putting, what do they do? What are inserts for anyway?

In many cases, grooves, like inserts, can change the feel of a putter or make it possible to have a putter that feels a certain way made out of less costly materials. A Scotty Cameron milled putter is made of 303 stainless steel, milled on a precision CNC machine, the same as an engine block or an aircraft part. An Odyssey insert putter is made of cast 17-4 stainless steel (cheaper metal, cheaper processing), finished by rough bead blasting (cheap process), with a layer of plastic poured in the face, and maybe a quick mill pass on the face to make sure it’s all flat. This process is much cheaper, but it leads to a soft and responsive feeling putter. The end result, a player can get a much less expensive putter (Cameron is typically over $300, Odyssey is typically under $150) that is every bit professional quality equipment.

A lot of press has been put out there for deep milling the face of the putter. Particularly with the newest release of Scotty Cameron putters (see below), deep (or aggressive) milling on the face of the putter has become more popular as many people believe that it makes the putter feel softer.

Both grooves and deep milling alter the contact of the ball and the putter face. Effectively, grooves and deep milling give the ball fewer places to make contact with the face of the putter. Natural frequencies cannot be transmitted as efficiently through the putter head, up the shaft, and into the grip, so the feel changes a bit. Additionally, because the contact is smaller and more localized, there is less of a “ringing” effect, so the amplitude (or strength) of the sound emitting from the putter head is much lower. As a result, there is less vibrations, which makes the putter feel and sound muted. To many players, that is a “soft” feeling that helps them determine whether they made good impact. While this is generally personal preference, it is by and large desirable to have a “soft feeling” putter face to help understand where the impact was made.

So while grooves, inserts, and deep milling do not affect roll, they do affect putting. Your confidence depends at least in part on your making consistent impact, but it is also true that your making consistent impact depends at least in part on your confidence. Grooves, deep milling, and inserts can increase the chances that you will feel that “soft, pure” feeling of a good shot off the face of the putter, giving you confidence that you performed the shot correctly. So there is some good there. But to truly improve your roll, grooves, deep milling, and inserts will not help.

One side note before the finish: although these items do not help roll, position of the center of gravity within the putter head DOES affect roll. Direct placement of the COG on the impact point can greatly increase the efficiency of contact and lead to a lower flight off the face–in other words, the misalignment of the COG and the impact point can cause the ball to fly up in the air, while an aligned COG and impact point would obviate this reaction. However, almost all putters do not position the COG high on the face, and, thus, it is nearly impossible to find a model that does this. One such model is the MACHINE “prize” putter by Dave Billings, but there are not many of these around (see below).

Play of the Week 37

December 5, 2012

This week’s POTW is LG.

I guess it’s really last week’s. LG made a special trip to Atlanta during his holiday vacation to put together a PF reunion at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, site of the Tour Championship by Coca Cola. Although neither PFer played worth a darn, it was still a great day. Many thanks to LG putting up with JK’s couch and making it work. Soon enough, there will be more of these types of things.

But no more Scotch ball…