Hootie and the Blowhards have a knack for controversy. Whether it's banning one of the best golf commenters of all-time or supporting sexism into the 21st century, the "Men of the Masters" just don't seem to get it. If you thought that our country couldn't be run any worse than it is now, just give Hootie the keys to the White House and let him work his magic. Hmmm, I always wondered what it would sound like if Foghorn Leghorn were president.
This year, the Masters will play on a newly lengthened Augusta National. Most observers see this as a desperate attempt to defend the historic course from the modern-day long hitters. So-called "Tiger Proofing", the only thing that it really accomplishes is to eliminate short-hitters from ever being competitive.
Master grouchy golfer Jack Nicklaus concurs:
I know what Augusta is trying to do. Whether they've gone overboard, I'm not sure. But they've eliminated a lot of guys who are able to do that. Could Tiger [Woods] do that? Or Ernie Els? Or Vijay [Singh]? Yes. Could Mike Weir or Jose Maria [Olazabal] -- one of those guys of moderate length -- could they do that? Probably not. That's the change at Augusta I have a hard time with.
But I think that Hootie et al would love to have you think that they modified Augusta solely to "Tiger Proof" it. They are a are a bit more clever and sinister than that. I believe that they lengthened Augusta to eliminate a future threat. Just imagine if you were Hootie or one of his henchmen. What would be the worst thing that could ever happen at your beloved Masters? It would be some girl donning the Green Jacket!
Unthinkable just a couple of years ago, the possibility of a woman competing in the Masters has been raised by the emergence of Michelle Wie. In fact, Wie has often stated that her dream is to play in the Masters someday. While she's a long shot at best to ever win it (let alone to ever get there in the first place), I think that Hootie wants to eliminate the possibility altogether. Hootie realizes that while he can't prevent her or any other female über-golfer from qualifying into the Masters, he can lengthen the course so that no female has a realistic chance to ever win it.
"Wie Proofing" may sound a bit absurd but it's about as absurd as most actions taken by the dictators of golf. Unfortunately, this last bout of mania could have the worst impact on my favorite golf event. That said, look for Tiger to win by 2 strokes.
The more greens that you can hit, the better. However, balls landing on the green often leave marks that damage the green's root system. If these ball marks are not fixed, the affected turf turns brown and dies, takes weeks to regenerate, and infuriates your greenskeeper.
I make it a habit to fix as many ball marks that I find when I'm on the green. I really appreciate it when others do the same. However, I can't tell you how many times I see golfers fix ball marks incorrectly. More times than not, I'll see a well-intentioned golfer plunge his ballmark repair tool behind the ball mark and then pry it upward like he's trying to uproot a weed. I cringe because I know that such action only worsens the damage done to the green, prolonging the healing process. If done correctly, fixing a ball mark will start the healing process immediately, rather than weeks later.
Here's the correct way to fix a ball mark:
Use a ballmark repair tool to do the job most efficiently.
Insert the repair tool at the edge of the high side of the ball mark.
Push the tool forward from the edge of the ball mark toward the center. Do this around the edges of the indentation.
Do NOT insert the tool under the indented area and push up - a common mistake. Think of it as pushing turf in from the edges toward the center.
Tap down the repaired area.
Here is a good vidoe demonstrating proper ball mark repair technique:
Last summer, I played a round at Angeles National with Rich from Eatgolf.com. We were paired with an older man and his son. Mid-way through the round, the son started to offer Rich some equipment advice. He believed that Rich's drives were too low and he recommended that Rich play with a driver with more grooves to impart more backspin. Upon hearing this, I just grimaced. I had recently read about the topic of grooves on the Internet and I knew that his advice was flawed. As a person who hates to hear bad advice, I felt the need to interrupt. I remarked, "Actually, I've read that grooves on a driver clubface don't add a lick of spin. Just look at the new TaylorMade drivers. They don't even have grooves in the contact area." Everyone just looked at me dumbfounded.
According to equipment guru Frank Thomas, "...the grooves on a driver do nothing with regard to ball spin." In fact, some studies have shown that grooves on a driver can actually decrease spin. Pat Ryan Golf wrote about the findings of Art Chou of Chou Golf Design Labs and Deshou Liang of Drexel University. They discovered that a smooth faced club at low loft angles (less than 20 degrees) produces more backspin than a rough surface.
So grooves on drivers don't add spin. But how about other clubs? Surely, grooves make a difference, right? Yes, just not in the way that most people think.
The backspin is created by the balls compression on the clubface. This occurs between the time of impact and the moment of separation from the clubface. The clubs swing path and type of head rotation sees the ball mashed into the clubface. The loft presented to the ball distorts it in shape and gives us the launch angle and all of its backspin. The ball does not actually ever ride up the clubface, instead it gets imbedded in the face where the groove lines reside. High-speed photography has proved this. The more loft the greater the backspin.
Therefore, the grooves have zero influence on the launch angle or backspin on the ball. Well known club designer Ralph Maltby built a set of irons with no face groves at all and played with them extensively to prove this point to disbelievers.
Also, in the mid 1980's the USGA undertook extensive groove type testing and concluded that in dry conditions it was loft, not grooves that put backspin on the ball.
So what good are grooves then? Rather like car tyres which work perfectly in the dry, we need them to work in the wet as well. Clubfaces without grooves work fine in dry conditions but with water and grass in the way, the grooves allow some of the trapped materials to be moved from the collision zone. Without groves you may get a high flyer with less spin and in this instance the ball does in fact run up the face - it actually skids up the face on the lubricating water and/or grass.
The Sand Trap offers a similar explanation saying, "The main purpose of grooves is to collect dirt, grass, and water, thus increasing ball/steel contact." So if grooves aren't the primary producers of spin, then how do those pros on TV hit those high-spinning shots? Frank Thomas explains, "pros produce high spinning shots by striking the ball cleanly with a descending blow on an oblique angle..." In other words, perfect ball-striking.
Snake-oil salesmen have long found golf to be fertile ground to hawk their wares. I can't think of another sport that has as many gadgets and gizmos that don't do squat. Thankfully, most are obviously junk upon first glance. However, there are some things that make you wonder if it's legit.
One such gadget that has always piqued my interest is the Technasonic Check-Go. It has been around since the late 80s and it is still a hot seller. In a nutshell, it's a device that's supposed to find the optimal balance point (equator) of a golf ball by spinning the ball at high speeds. Why is this important? Well, if you putt the ball along its balanced equator, it should roll truer on the green. Dave Pelz, the mad scientist of golf, has done research in this area and wrote, "Physics is physics. If balls are not balanced and they are not lined up on their balance point, they’re not going to roll straight."
It sounded good enough for me. I plunked down around 30 hard-earned greenbacks to satisfy my curiosity. Once I opened the package, I inserted my AA Duracells and got "Check-Go-ing" on a new box of Pro V1s. It seemed easy enough; just place the golf ball on the holder, attach the cage, hold down the button to spin the ball, and then mark the ball with a pen. Well, it actually takes some practice.
On my first attempt, the Pro V1 spun wildly out of control when I tried to mark it with the pen. Instead of a straight line along the ball's balanced equator, I ended up with a ball half-covered in ink! But after a couple more attempts, I started to get the hang of it. The key is to let the ball spin up to the maximum speed and then apply the pen to the ball lightly with increasing pressure. To get a heavier line, go back over the Check-Go line with a Sharpie and the Gatorade Line-M-Up method.
For the most part, the Check-Go works as advertised. I have put dozens of balls through this thing and it has always found the ball's balance point. Whenever I re-spun a marked ball, it would return to the same balance point indicated by the original line. The only gripe that I have with the Check-Go is that the line that is manually drawn is frequently "off" a bit. The cause of this problem is the way that the pen is aligned and applied to the ball. To draw the line on the ball, the pen is simply inserted into a hole of the cage. Unfortunately, this hole allows some "play" with the pen allowing the pen approach the ball at varying angles. As a result, the line can be off from the true center of the ball. I have a couple of Pro V1s with off-center lines and I find it very distracting when I putt. Technasonic could improve the Check-Go immensely and probably sell a lot more of them if they just devised a way to apply the pen to the ball more accurately.
While I'm confident that the Check-Go does find the balance point of a golf ball, I'm not sure that it really matters in practice. I haven't noticed any difference to my putting results. I'm probably just not good enough to know. But if you believe that balanced golf balls will make a difference to your game, then the Check-Go is a great product for you.
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