Sunday, 22 February 2015

Golf Monthly/Titleist Demo Day

I was fortunate to be selected by Golf Monthly magazine, via a competition on their forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/) to go to Silvermere Golf Centre in Cobham, Surrey on Thursday (19th) to test the latest Titleist range. This included the latest drivers, irons, Vokey wedges, and the latest Scotty Cameron putters as well as the brand new ProV1 and ProV1x golf ball. Not a bad prize for a free to enter competition.

Titleist are very excited by their product range for the new season and are planning around 350 demonstrations around the UK to allow as many golfers as possible to try them and see for themselves how well the perform. Let me say right here, if you get the opportunity, this is one test day you really should go along to. All the dates and venues are in the link:
(http://media.titleist.com/images/titleist/files/UK/Trial%20Titleist%20Schedules%202015.pdf

I have always has a perception (wrongly as it turned out) that Titleist products were only for the better player and that only those around the single figure bracket would maximise the potential of these clubs. That may have been true a few years back but the latest range has something for everyone and it really does have a broad appeal across the handicap range.

Golf Monthly have already produced a behind the scenes report on the day, and they can do it far more justice than I can so I'll let you peruse it here (http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/galleries/events-galleries/behind-the-scenes-trial-titleist-day-66599)

We were split into two groups and I started the day learning all about the ProV1 and ProV1x ball, the history of the brand a little. From there, we had a brief one to one discussion with a fitter to ascertain the best ball for out own game. The difference between the Titleist philosophy and those of other brands is that Titleist work from green to tee, rather than basing a fitting on swing speed or compression. In simplistic terms, it starts with wedge play and how much spin a player generates, goes back to mid-iron shots and looks at accuracy and preferred ball flight, and then back to the tee and driver spin and distance requirements. For more information, have a look at the online selection tool on the website at (www.titleist.co.uk/ballfitting)

From there we took some courtesy balls in our preferred model out to the putting green to try the new Scotty Cameron putter range. I was interested in the counter balanced range as these seem to be everywhere at the moment and I wanted to see how a top end version compared to those from other manufacturers I'd already looked at. (http://www.titleist.co.uk/dual-balance/) The Newport 2 was everything I hoped. A classic shape and a buttery smooth feel off the face. I found it easy to swing and the extra weight didn't impact the strike or the stroke in any way. To be honest, the entire range, including the Go Lo mallet range, similar to my current Odyssey Protype #9, were equally as good.

The only downside is the price. They are expensive but you are paying for top quality putters, and naturally that comes at a cost. Are they worth it? Now there's a question. I would say if your fundamentals are poor then it won't make any difference if you use one of these or a bargain bucket flat stick. However if you are a competent putter looking to upgrade, while they won't eradicate the dreaded three putt, there will be a range to suit your own putting style. They have a very good feel off the face and are wonderfully balanced. When you consider how many times you have a putter in your hand per round, then perhaps the cost doesn't seem so extravagant. It's such a personal part of the game it isn't for me to say but I would urge you to at least consider these and definitely give these a go (ideally on grass and not an indoor putting mat).

Following the ball and putter testing, it was over to the range to try the clubs. Now as many regular followers will know, I was custom fitted for my clubs, originally at Pachesham Golf Centre in Leatherhead, Surrey. At that time I got a full set of Ping G25's including woods and irons but I never really felt happy aesthetically with the irons, especially when chipping, and found looking down on a meaty top line off putting. In the end I changed to a set of I25 irons, fitted at Downshire Golf Centre by the golf professional I have lessons with (Rhys ap Iolo). To be honest, I've been quite happy with my bag set up and my swing is now a lot more consistent although I was interested to test my Ping against the Titleist offering.

The bay was fitted with a launch monitor and although we were using range balls, it still gave enough viable data between the two makes to show how each performed. I was interested in the irons in particular and gravitated to the smaller headed offering the 714 AP2. They have a cavity back to give a degree of forgiveness and are designed to give higher flying longer irons and a more shallow flight in the shorter ones to give a set giving good carry distance and better distance control

The AP2 iron, very stylish
I started with a DG R300 shaft and to be fair, despite hitting these solidly and enjoying the feel off the centre of the club, there wasn't any significant difference between the performance of these and my own I25's. The fitter tried a DG S300 shaft as my swing speed suggested I needed the extra firmness but I struggled a little. It's perhaps a club that would suit a solid ball striker. Although I hit it pretty well, the off centre strikes were punished perhaps a little more than my current I25's.

We changed to the AP1. This is a slightly larger headed club but it didn't look to bulky behind the ball. It's designed to be a little more forgiving and would appeal to a large number of golfers. It is a very solid looking club and the ball feels as if it flies off the face with meaning. Again we started with the DG shaft but the spin numbers in particular weren't fantastic. There wasn't anything to show an improvement on my own. However with a tweak, the fitter put in an XP95 shaft and suddenly it felt like a different club. Spin numbers changed and the ball fizzed off the face. Dispersion narrowed and I was getting an extra 5 yards over the I25 and 4mph in terms of swing speed (average).

AP1 - a bigger club but when you put the right shaft in, it performs. It really performs
I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the AP1 would be like the G25's I had and yes they are a big headed club and the top line is relatively thick, but when I looked at an 8 iron, a club I would use for chipping, it didn't look chunky. I could definitely use it around the green without any negativity about the looks.

From there it was time to try the 915 driver range. I am very happy with my G25 and I've worked hard to improve my driving and keep the ball in play more often. I hit a few with my Ping to get some base numbers. I started with the D3 range which has a compact 445cc head in 10.5 degrees of loft . This looks a very traditional and old school looking driver and oozes class. The pear headed driver is set up to produce a lower trajectory compared to the D2.

Driver set up chart
The 915 range is like a lot of modern drivers and offers a range of set up options but despite a few tweaks in the settings and several shafts, I struggled to hit this with any degree of regularity. The spin numbers were too high for optimum performance and while the good ones were very good I was punished with bad shots and the high spin exaggerated my errors.

We swapped to the D2 also 10.5 degrees. This is a larger head at 460cc and is designed to be higher launching than the D3. I felt more comfy with the bigger head, much more like my G25 but again on standard A1 fitting and with a standard shaft I was still getting too much spin. The fitter got to work and tweaked it to a B3 (closed) position and put in an Aldia Rogue Black S70 shaft in. What a difference! I was bombing it straighter and in a much tighter area. Even the bad shots would have been in the light rough and not in a different time zone. Comparing like for like, I was getting an extra 7 yards on my G25 when looking at the best strikes and 2-3 yards on those not quite out of the sweet spot. Spin numbers were reduced immensely and the ball stayed in the air longer and so went further. Simple.

D2 Driver - with the right set up and shaft it's a mighty beast
It was a fantastic event and once we had finished hitting balls, it was back to the sanctuary of the club house and a debrief. I would like to convey my thanks to both Golf Monthly and especially Titleist for the opportunity. We came away with a goodie bag including a dozen of the new ProV1 balls, a tour cap, alignment sticks and other bits and pieces. A lovely touch by Titleist and very gratefully received by everyone. As I've said, it has shattered the illusion I've had for years about the performance of this brand and their target market. The day was filmed and Golf Monthly have put up a report on their website with some comments from those testing, including some from yours truly, so you can see exactly what others thought of the clubs and how they performed. I don't think I was alone in having my point of view shifted for good (http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/news/notice-board/golf-monthly-readers-experience-exclusive-trial-titleist-launch-66577)

So what did I learn. From a Scotty Cameron point of view, not much. I knew they were a fantastic make and the range coming out in April (in the UK) only add to the brand. They are definitely worth a look and if you can get past the price tag they are worth a go. I'm afraid though my Odyssey Protype #9 is too similar and so I won't be making the switch.

I thought the AP2 was a lovely looking iron. Small headed, with a small cavity it looks beautiful and feels great. Sadly they weren't for me. However the AP1 was a real revelation and a make I'd not considered. My error. This has a wide spread appeal and if you head towards one of the demo days in the UK Titleist are arranging (and you should) then I would start with this model and go from there. You won't be disappointed.

I didn't expect to even consider making a driver change but you can't ignore the statistics and the D2 is without doubt the best driver I've trialled (and there have been many) in a long time. I have a difficult decision to ponder on now and whether I can justify the cost to get one in my bag. It definitely is a step up from my G25 and longer and straighter. It also looks fantastic. I'm tempted to go back to another demo day somewhere locally and try it again with the same shaft and set up and see what happens but it's definitely on my radar (just don't tell the wife!)

As I said in the very beginning, (and in the Golf Monthly video) I always saw Titleist as a better player brand and one that I couldn't play successfully at my level. This quite simply isn't the case. Go and try. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Tiger, The Open - It's All Kicking Off

Wow, what an epic few days. I leave you alone and it all kicks off. We've had Tiger posting his worse professional round and then pulling out injured this week. The R&A, golf's governing body have announced a TV deal in the UK taking live coverage to Sky Sports and away from terrestrial TV viewers for the first time. Both have sent social media, the press and TV into a frenzy.

Now the dust has finally settled on both Woods and the Sky deal, let me give you my perspective. I'm nothing more than a fanatical weekend golfer and these are purely my own views. Let's start with Tiger and that second round at the Waste Management event.

I'll start by being brutally honest. Tiger is in a mess. Whatever he's been working on with the latest swing coach and however bullish he's been in interviews, it was apparent in the first round that it wasn't working. My own short game woes are well documented on here but Wood's chipping was as bad as I've seen any professional golfer execute...ever. He seemed totally messed in the head, with a thousand thoughts going on over the simplest of chips and his technique seemed shot. I've no idea why the best player of a generation with one of the best short games ever would want to make such a dramatic overhaul. Of course, many thought, myself included that he was perhaps just a little rusty. The second round dispelled that. Whatever the reason, it isn't working. It was proper car crash TV watching him rack up those numbers. To his credit, he played until the inevitable missed putt conclusion and was honest and eloquent post round but you could see the hurt and embarrassment in his eyes. I don't think he had a clue what had just happened. It took a lot of class to give those interviews. I loved his "I'm only here so I don't get fined" quip.

I tuned in on Thursday to the Sky Sports (more of them later) coverage from Torrey Pines. My first glimpse of Woods was thinning a green side chip on his opening hole. Nothing too different to the previous week. I'd already seen a clip of a shanked chip in practice and knew that a number of tour professionals were trying to give him advice. How did it get so bad? We're forever told that the top pros are forever working on the short game and even after his last back operation, I'm sure the first thing he'd have been given the green light to work on would have been the chipping and putting. He simply cannot be that rusty. It seems a major overhaul and something that would seem to be very much a work in progress at best.

As the coverage continued, it was apparent he was injured. He was spraying to parts of the course not on any caddy's yardage chart. Again not too different to the Waste Management event. However it was clear a few holes in that this was different and the way he kept reaching for the back after every drive showed he was struggling. He couldn't even get the tee peg off the ground and grimaced to get the ball out of the hole. I went to bed (it was late UK time) before he pulled out but wasn't surprised to see this news the following morning when I awoke.

The pain was etched all over Tiger's face on every tee shot at Torrey Pines

And then social media went into meltdown. Forum boards (Is Tiger Finished?) Twitter, Golf Channel, the press. It was everywhere and everyone had an opinion. I'm a simple man and probably far from qualified to offer my own, but it's my forum, my rules so here it is..

I absolutely get that Tiger had to make swing changes following his injury issues and surgery last year. I get that he wanted to find a different coach to get him back to full fitness and playing and competing. We all want to see Tiger in the mix in majors and big events on a Sunday afternoon. However all this talk of him wanting to bomb it more and "I've got all my power back" seems to have done nothing to fix the issues. As far as I can see, this new swing, with a dramatic loss of height, is doing nothing to relieve the impact and stresses on the back. I'm not surprised it gave up again. He seems to be struggling so hard to get the club back in front of him and anywhere near square at impact.

Is this change and pursuit of distance what he needs? Surely after all the toil on his body with the knee surgery and back operation he needs to find something that lets him play and swing as easily as possible. Looking at the driving accuracy and GIR figures from the Waste Management event, it's apparent to even an armchair fan like me that it's not working. Keep it in play and find a short game close to where it was and so what if you lose a few yards? Not everyone has to be a Bubba Bomber. At the moment nothing in his game is firing.

An injured Woods maybe but the short game is way off and he can't find a fairway
So where does Tiger go next? I'm not sure another coach is the way forward, unless he was to go back to Butch Harmon but I can't see that happening on both sides. Too much water has passed under those bridges but he's the only one I think knows, really knows Tiger and his mind and would find a way to get him swinging and protecting his body. I'm not convinced Chris Como is producing the goods. Clearly on the TV evidence we've seen and despite protestations that all is good behind closed doors in practice, it isn't transferring to the course. He needs to empty his head and simplify it. That's something that is drummed into all of us weekend hackers, that we can't play good golf with a head full of swing thoughts. We're also told to do whatever we need to do to keep it in play. The same applies to Woods. Give up this pursuit of power, get back to basics and get back to the top level of the game.

I fear that if the body gives in again or his form continues to nose dive that he'll walk away. It would be a sad climax, Seve like almost, to a glittering career and I don't think it needs to be a story coming to the final chapter. There's definitely a lot more to come on this and whenever he gets back onto a course in a tournament, I'll join everyone else in seeing exactly how the short game works under pressure and whether he can keep it in the same time zone off the tee.

We then had the news that the R&A, the governing body had sold the TV rights to the Open (it's not the British Open!!) to satellite TV broadcaster Sky. It's a five year deal starting from the 146th Open at Royal Birkdale in July 2017. The only way those that don't have a contract with a satellite provider or want to pay to view via the internet is to watch a highlights package on the BBC each evening. It was a bit of an understatement from Barbara Slater, Director of Sport at the BBC " We're obviously disappointed to retain TV live coverage of the Open Championship."

Personally I don't agree with her next statement. "We're pleased to be continuing our sixty year partnership with the R&A and feel that a comprehensive two hour highlights programme, a format which has already proven successful, in a prime time slot over four days allow us to continue to bring all the best action and key moments from the Open to a large free to air audience on TV, radio and online". Surely most that want to watch it will know the outcome (it'll even make the news) so while they may get to see the best bits and key moments, they'll know the effects these had on events.

Now I've no idea how many of you reading this (very welcome as you are) get your TV coverage of the Open, especially if you are in foreign fields. However in the UK, it has always been on the BBC and this has caused a huge issue and split opinion down the middle. I've an example here of how the Golf Monthly Forum has seen it - The Open on Sky

Has the R&A sold its soul to the devil?
From my own view point I am very happy with this news. Yes, the BBC has always had the rights but to be honest, golf gets no more than lip service from the corporation. Yes, they give wall to wall coverage but aside from the Open, and the last two days of the Masters there's virtually no other top class golf coverage. Their presentation hasn't changed in years and I'm sorry but head commentator, Peter Alliss, iconic though is, has been off the pace for a few years and the other members of their team are very poor.

There's an argument been put forward that many people can't afford Sky and so won't be able to buy it, especially for the golf. A quick surf on the internet reveals that around 8.8 million already have Sky. My guess would be that a large percentage of those already have the sport channels even if it's for the football alone and therefore as sport "fans"would be able to watch the Open anyway should they feel inclined. In these austere times, let's say for arguments sake millions more can't afford to buy a Sky package. It will be shown at golf clubs, driving ranges and many bars and clubs the length and breadth of the country. If you are really that interested to see it, you don't need to put yourself out too much to find it on somewhere. With golf participation numbers in decline, where are all these new viewers going to be coming from anyway?

Sky has already paid their dues as far as TV coverage is concerned giving the armchair viewer week in, week out coverage on the European tour as well as all the action from the USPGA and other tours. It already has three of the four majors and coverage of the Solheim and Ryder Cups. It has been innovative in the coverage,  I think the fact that Barbara Slater is happy with the highlights package shows that the BBC heart really hasn't been in it for a while and even they saw the writing on the wall.

So what about all the ad breaks? So much a bug bear of Sky coverage and yes they are annoying but as part of the Sky deal the R&A have insisted in these break kept to four minutes per hour with each break lasting no more than 60 seconds. Granted it isn't the ad free coverage on the beloved BBC but hardly it's hardly going to be wall to wall adverts and we all need a comfort break once in a while or a refreshing cup of tea to accompany our viewing.

So have the R&A sold their soul to the devil? Of course not. "We believe this is the best result for the Open and for golf" says Peter Dawson, R&A Chief Executive. I agree. This is perhaps a once in a generation opportunity for the R&A to take this large influx of money and invest in the game at grass roots level in the UK and across the world. However, and arguably more importantly, this deal gives both Sky and the R&A the opportunity to rid the golf with the stuffy, archaic image so many non-golfers still have about this game we all love. Of course. if this fails to transpire, then serious questions need to be asked of the R&A and their ability to continue to govern, and to Sky for selling out. Until then, I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

And there you have it! What a strange few days, and perhaps more questions than answers on both counts, certainly in the case of Woods and his career, but also how the R&A and Sky will deliver coverage fit for ever changing broadcasting landscape. Of course, these are only my own points of view and I'm sure many will disagree, maybe even have polar opposite opinions. That's fine and natural and I'd love read any comments you want to post on here with your own thoughts. As for now though, I really hope Tiger gets sorted and that cometh the time Sky and the R&A deliver on their words and the money spent.