Sunday, 23 February 2014

A Mystery Wrapped In A Conundrum

Valentines Day. A time for spending with loved ones and like any other romantic I did exactly that. My golf clubs and I were at Downshire Golf Centre to test the Ping I25 irons and attempt to custom fit the right shaft for my unique swing. I put myself in the hands of the one man who knows its vagaries and how best to remedy them, Rhys ap Iolo, one of the teaching professionals based there. He has transformed my swing beyond recognition over what has sometimes seemed a long and arduous eighteen months but which now has me standing on the cusp of finally getting to my single figure nirvana. The 2014 season should be a very good year.

What was to follow over the course of the hour fitting was a mystery that would challenge the combine power of Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. It was certainly destined to challenge the Ping technical and quality control teams.

Having got their early and warmed up with my Taylormade Tour Preferred irons, it was time to see how these I25's performed. As with any fit, it was important to get some base numbers and so with the launch monitor linked up, I hit a few seven irons with my Taylormade's. I had even brought the 7 iron from my Ping G25 set I'd been fitted for last June just in case they were the best for my game. They had been the best match when I'd gone through the process at both Pachesham Golf Centre in Leatherhead and with Rhys. I was hoping not as the chunky top line and big heads in the G25 were affecting my confidence in the short irons and were the reason I was here. As the weather had intervened and there were gale force winds and lashing rain, we decided to hit indoors into the curtain. Having already hit the I25 on a number of occasions I was already aware of the flight and the shape I was getting and so I wasn't too concerned not seeing the ball on its journey and was happy to trust the launch monitor to do its work.

My base figures with the Taylormade was a swing speed of 78mph and a carry of 141 yards. With the G25, swing speed was the same but I was getting an extra yard but they were more of less matched. I was a little surprised as I thought I was getting a few more yards off the G25 on the course which just proves that feel and real aren't always the same.

The Ping I25 - a lovely looking iron and a joy to hit
Rhys went through the Ping static fit which confirmed I was a green dot which is what the other clubs were fitted at http://www.ping.com/uploadedFiles/Custom_Fitting/PING_Color_Code_Chart.pdf

We started with the standard Ping CFS shaft in regular flex. This was the same as I had in the G25 and weighs 99g and is a mid launching shaft. Immediately there was an advance in performance and I was getting more swing speed, up to 80mph and distance had gone out to 146 yards. Dispersion in terms of the misses left and right were tighter than either the Taylormade's and the G25. However there was also a tighter circle between the furthest and shortest hits too taking out the odd anomaly where I put a bad swing on the shot and any mis-hit). We were moving into the right direction.

What happened next was either a stroke of genius by Rhys or a moment of madness but the next offering would lead to a lot of questions being asked. He put in the CFS Distance shaft usually the stock offering in Ping's Karsten range. Now this is suppose to be more of a game improver club and the I25 is looked at as much more of an all rounder, but more suited to the "better player." Yes, I know, what was I doing with them in my hands!!!!!

According to the Ping blurb, this was suppose to be a gramme heavier at 100g and comes in at quarter of an inch longer due to the way the hosel in the Karsten is designed. From the moment I hit the first ball with the Distance shaft, there was a huge jump. Swing speed rose by a massive 5mph as an average, and I was getting on average a further five yards and suddenly getting the seven iron out to 151 yards. Rhys couldn't understand the difference but not only was I getting the extra speed and distance but my balls were more tightly spaced than the stock offering. I did hit a few that were down, and a testament to the fact that I still have the odd bad one lurking in the background but I compensated by stepping on a couple and getting it out at 155 yards carry. That for me is massive.

There was a certain je ne sais quoi about the CFS Distance iron. It was supposedly heavier, although I'm not sure a gramme over the speed of my swing would even be discernible. There was a feel, that certain something you can't quite put your finger on. It felt better. How can you put that into something tangible.

Rhys and I couldn't understand where the discrepancy had come from. We decided to hit seven balls with both shafts again and take out the mis-hits or bad shots and pick the best five. The numbers were identical in terms of speed and distance averages to the ones we had with the respective shafts earlier. Still this massive difference in performance. With both shafts out of the club head, they were identical in length and even the step points aligned. Because of the undefinable certain something I wanted to go with the CFS Distance. Who wouldn't want more swing speed and distance.

Rhys called Ping. Their technical help desk initially said there was no difference in the shaft. We knew that. They were dubious about just how big the differences were and in the end, we had no choice but to e-mail the numbers to Ping HQ in Gainsborough and wait for an answer. No irons ordered.

Several days passed and the topic had already caused a lively debate on Golf Monthly's forum. Ping were saying the distance played quarter of an inch longer, hence the name, because they were the stock shaft of the Karsten and the longer neck. With input from Rhys, they deduced that the standard CFS shaft may have become defective and worn. They sent a new shaft and I was booked in for another session with Rhys last Friday.

We decided to do a blind test. I didn't want to know which one Rhys fitted first and I hit the initial ten balls and the monitor recorded the data. We swapped the shaft over and repeated the process. The figures were almost identical. The swing speed was now 83mph and the average had dropped to 148 yards but that was still a further seven yards than I was getting with my G25 or Taylormade's. My speed is right on the cusp between a regular and stiff flex. We decided to try the stiffCFS standard shaft but the results were not as good with speed down and the screen displaying an array of shots going both left and right.


The Ping Flex Chart
In order to give me something with a fraction firmer but still playable, Rhys has decided to hard step the shafts. For the uninitiated, and in simple terms, this is a way of cutting the shafts. In essence, a six iron shaft will play as a five iron and so on through the bag. It isn't a stiff flex, which I didn't get on with at all, but is just a way of making the regular a little more robust. It should match my swing speed perfectly.

The deal has been done and the clubs are on order. I25 heads with a CFS standard shaft, hard stepped in a green dot with a standard size grip. I can't wait to get my hands on them. The sleeker head and thinner top line will give me renewed confidence over the chips and pitches and the correct shaft and lie will give me a few extra yards and should be closer to my intended target. A big thanks to the Ping staff who were scratching their heads this week and to Rhys for working hard to find the right fit. Everyday is a school day and I wasn't even aware that shafts could go off. Clearly the demo CFS standard had. It just shows that two shafts that look identical (bar one gramme in weight) can play so differently. Vindication I guess that custom fitting can really throw up some nuances and that it is important to see how the data comes out in order to make a fully informed decision. At least we managed to solve the mystery wrapped in a conundrum.

I don't know how long these will take to arrive and with Rhys now away this week, I may have to wait for him to get back to give them a bash on the monitor and make sure everything is functioning properly. From then on I need to get out and start playing golf and getting the handicap cut. I have the tools, I have been shown how to do it and just need to put equipment and technique together. I am like a kid at Christmas and can't wait. With the golf course returning to a full eighteen holes this week it really feels as though the season is coming to life. Hoist the main sail. Homer's Odyssey is setting course towards single figures

Saturday, 8 February 2014

When Will I See You Again?

Another Saturday and yet again all courses in the locality are either shut or should really be and those tempted to play in such conditions need certifying. Where's the pleasure and how can it be good for your game. Even as a self confessed "golfaholic" there is no mileage in playing waterlogged courses just to get a golfing fix.

I couldn't help but laugh at the delicious irony this morning. Having not set foot on any golf course in 2014 let alone the home I call Royal Ascot, and with shut notices up everywhere, my 2014 annual subs reminder landed on my mat this morning reminding me the fees are due on March 1st. When will I see the course again? Actually the answer should have been tomorrow. Granted not Royal Ascot but I've been invited by my best mate Rob Dickman to play at Epsom where he's a member. "We've not been shut all winter" says he. "No temp greens and tees and playing well" says he. I look a their website this morning. COURSE CLOSED. Allegedly they have a men's competition tomorrow and they are protecting it for that. I remain unconvinced and fear my wait will go on.

It hasn't all been doom and gloom though. I have been hitting the range a couple of times a week to keep the swing ticking over and had a lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre. I was there last Saturday on another day the course was shut and had a great session. The changes are really starting to bed in now, on the range at least. I've no idea how they will stand up once I hit a course. My happy place was tempered a little by a off kilter session on the Monday at Lavender Park Driving Range in Ascot. It was after work and to be honest head nor heart were really in it and in the end I stopped hitting full shots and worked on my pitching instead. Since then, the weather has intervened and again. I cannot understand the logic of anyone standing at a range hitting balls when the wind is as strong as it has been. How can you tell what is pilot error and what is just mother nature playing tricks on distance and direction?

The only problem with such a good range session last weekend was I was forced to hit the demo model of the Ping I20 and I25. Even in the daylight it was hard to see how far these were going, especially compared to my Taylormade Tour Preferreds. What it did do though was reiterate my belief that I could play either of these I series clubs and that my confidence with their G25 cousin, especially on the short irons (8-PW) has now gone. It isn't that I can't hit them. I actually hit them well but standing over the shorter clubs, especially on chips and pitches, the much larger heads just look ugly. I don't like the look and I don't have any confidence playing the shot. Vain? Arguably. However with such a fragile golfing psyche as mine, confidence plays a huge part and so getting the smaller headed I series seems a logical move. If I can stand there on a testing pitch to a tight pin and feel happy looking down on the shot with a small head then why not?. I was hitting both the I20 and I25 well and so the only way to decide between them would be to get on a launch monitor and view the numbers.

I told the wife I'm off work on Valentines Day to be with the one I love. I'm sure she thought I meant her but I was referring to the golf course. Actually the course isn't true. I've booked a full fitting centre at Downshire Golf Centre with Rhys. I've made the decision that I'm getting new irons for the 2014 season and it's either the I20 or I25. I want to try a number of shafts and flex just to get the best match for my now much more consistent swing. I know Rhys will be tempting me with the new offering from Taylormade   http://taylormadegolf.co.uk/irons/taylormade-irons-allCurrentModels,en_GB,sc.html and maybe even the 2014 Callaway's  http://uk.callawaygolf.com/apex/irons-2014-apex-pro.html but I really have an affinity for these two Ping offerings. However we'll just have to see what the monitor reveals. I do like using technology and love trying different head/shaft options looking for the right mix.

I had been mulling over the idea of going to Ping HQ in Gainsborough and getting a full fit in their state of the art custom fit centre. I know my regular Royal Ascot playing partner Mike Stannard went to Titleist for his clubs and raved about the whole experience. Golf Monthly magazine did a competition on their forum to go to Ping and get a full fitting, and speaking online to those lucky enough to have gone on it, it is out of this world. However adding the cost of petrol and possibly an overnight stay to the cost I think I am more than happy to trust the man who has done so much to make my golf swing a lot better in the last twelve months and see what Rhys comes up with.

As I mentioned earlier I've had another lesson with Rhys. It's part of an intense course between now the end of March. I have been swinging it well and these lessons are just a nip and tuck process to ensure I hit the season on the front foot. The Thursday lesson was suppose to be a driver lesson. My Ping G25 is set to ten degrees and I have struggled with the flight. I wanted to tweak it back to 10.5 but Rhys was confident the lower loft was fine. Having watched me hit a few he suggested my posture was too slouched. We got into a more upright position, and it isn't the first time posture has been an issue. I instantly had far more room to swing. The drives were launching on a much better flight and more importantly much straighter. We fed this into my six iron and again the results were another level upon what I already had.

With the issues easily remedied we had time to look at other things. Rhys introduced a slight change to the way I pitch and spoke about pre-shot routines and what to think about over a shot. Nothing earth shattering but just about getting a clear mind and repeatable starting point for the whole process. One thing I have always struggled to do is fade and draw the ball at will and with control. With a swing I am happy with and repeating this seemed the right time to ask the question. With the way I swing and the inherent flaws I have, for me to do this is more reliant on ball position and the position of the club face rather than changing the path as traditionally taught. In the safe confines of the teaching bay it worked and I could produce a soft five yard fade or draw at will. Now to work on this facet to add some creativity to my game and potentially open up tight pin positions.

It was home on the range last night to work on all of this. Not 100% but more than enough good shots to warm the heart on a wet and windy night. The driver is much better now and I just feel more control with the irons. All is great in Homer's Odyssey but until I can step foot on a golf course it's all subjective. Much work still to be done on the short game especially the chipping and putting but that will come in time and I still have plenty of opportunities to get this fixed before the season and my assault begins towards single figures. I'm desperate to play. Golf course, when will I see you again?