Thursday, March 5

When Golf Pros Made Golf Clubs

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

GROWING UP WORKING AT MIDLOTHIAN COUNTRY CLUB, south of Chicago, I was mostly a caddie and caddie master.

In my years at Midlothian, I cleaned clubs, worked in the pro shop, and handled the caddies, but I never fixed clubs. My two older brothers were shop boys in their years at Midlothian, and I hung around with them and with the pros and their assistants so I knew what it meant to replace grips, repair club heads, wrap hosels of woods and add weight to wedges. I watched our pros, Jimmy Walkup, Tony Holquin, Joe Jimenez, Zeke Browning, all from Texas, work their club skills on woods and irons at the bench in the back of the shop.

It was pretty much accepted that all golf professionals in the mid 20th century knew how to repair clubs. That was part of being a home pro.

The Age of Hickory

In earlier years, in the era of the hickory shafts, what golf professionals did on bad weather days and over the long, cold winter months was make golf clubs, one at a time, to be sold in the spring to members. Pros were craftsmen first, next players.

For example, Walter Hagen played most of his career with hickory-shafted clubs, not ash or lemonwood, but hickory from Tennessee. He played hickory shafts because they were lighter and had the right degree of springiness. Some club makers favored brown hickory, others white hickory, but "Haig" only wanted what was called ring hickory, cut from the center of the hickory trees. One could see the rings on the shafts itself. The hickory he used from Tennessee also had to be from trees that grew on hillsides facing the north. Those trees grew the straightest and were unbreakable.

The days of the handmade clubs and hickory shafts, however, were numbered. By 1929 steel-shafted woods were being used by most professionals and in 1930, the year of Bobby Jones's Grand Slam, hickory-shafted clubs finally faded from the tour. However, some pros kept their hickory-shafted putters well into the next decade. Bobby Locke and Bobby Jones played with hickory putters for most of their lives.

Birth of Modern Club Makers

With the passing of the hickory shafts, club making in the pro shops, for the most part, became a lost art. New mass-production methods came into use, and no longer were individual clubs created over the winter months on back benches of pro shops across the country.

After his playing years, Hagen went on to creating his own line of clubs, but these were made with steel shafts. As Herb Graffis says in his history of the PGA, "Hagen had a touch and eyes that made a club a precision instrument."

Gene Sarazen was another early U.S. professional club maker.

Sarazan, as a designer, had two great ideas. One was about the flattened small area on the grip of a club that was known as the "reminder grip." It was his idea to get the ordinary player's hands over a trifle more to the right side of the grip; and that worked to improve any hacker's (and pro's) game.

The story of how Gene created the modern sand wedge is a bit of a myth. Graffis points out that "The flanged sole club was an old, old idea, as exhibits of irons fabricated by Scottish blacksmiths show in museums." Sarazen, however, saw that the wedge, with alteration of the angle of the sole, would cut in under the sand instead of burying into it and would bump the ball out with a cushion of sand.

Hagen had the same basic idea for the leading edge and the flange of the wedge head that he designed for his Hagen Irons Company, a division of the Wilson Company, but according to Graffis, Wilson wouldn't develop his sand wedge because they already had a wedge in their line of clubs.

Graffis goes on to say that with the passing of hickory clubs, the supply of skilled club makers for winter work in old golf club factories also vanished and they were replaced by men and women workers with little training in the manufacturing techniques. No longer was every set of clubs a custom job.

Pros for Hire

To solve this problem, in the early 1930s, the Spalding Company began to invite pros to their factories to get ideas on club design and construction. I remember in the 1950s, when caddying for Midlothian pro Jimmy Walkup in Monday pro-member events at other country clubs throughout the Chicagoland area, how we'd always swing by the Wilson factory downtown in the city for Jimmy to pick up or drop off a member's club and to spend time talking shop with the management.

Also at Midlothian, Tony Holquin was signed to play Burke clubs. Burke would send a representative to Midlothian as Tony hit balls on the range, trying out the clubs to see how they fit his swing and game.

Other pros as well were hired by golf companies. Tommy Armour went to MacGregor to approve clubs made by the design staff. Bobby Jones, who had an engineering degree from college, worked with Spalding. Snead represented Wilson.

We have moved a long way away from those days, as our clubs have moved from hickory to shafts of steel and then fiberglass, aluminum, graphite, and beyond.  But in some ways we haven't moved that far at all.

Graffis points out that in the days of hickory a pro would watch a player make a few shots with various clubs, then go into the pro shop and adjust the clubs to get the perfect fit for the player. Today, at PGA Tour events, club manufacturers have traveling vans equipped to adjust their playing pros' clubs before or after a tournament round, on the practice tee or off.

And what about the rest of us?

Well, they sell  "woods" today with adjustable heads and give us a set of tools to tweak our clubs for hooks and slices, then tell us to fix our own clubs to fit our game out on the course. What next?

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

Wednesday, March 4

Golf on TV: WGC-Cadillac Championship, Puerto Rico Open, HSBC Women's Champions, Africa Open

The following edited content was supplied by Golf Channel in a news release.

The PGA TOUR continues its Florida Swing in Miami this week with the WGC-Cadillac Championship. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy headlines an elite field of 74 players, including each of the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The PGA TOUR will also stage the Puerto Rico Open.

The LPGA concludes its stretch of international events before returning to the United States with the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. The field includes 19 of the top-20 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, including World No. 1 Lydia Ko, who is coming off a victory at the New Zealand Women’s Open.

On the European Tour, Thomas Aiken defends at the Africa Open.

* * *


WGC-Cadillac Championship
Dates: March 5-8
Venue: Trump National Doral (Blue Monster), Miami, Fla.

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):          
Thursday         1-6 p.m. (Live) / 9 p.m.-2 a.m. (Replay)
Friday              1-6 p.m. (Live) / 9 p.m.-2 a.m. (Replay)
Saturday         Noon-3 p.m. (Live) / 3-5 p.m. (Live, Spotlight Coverage) / 10 p.m.-2 a.m. (Replay)
Sunday            1-3 p.m. (Live) / 3-6 p.m. (Live, Spotlight Coverage) / 11 p.m.-5 a.m. (Replay)

Tournament Airtimes on NBC (Eastern):
Saturday          3-6 p.m. (Live)
Sunday            3-7 p.m. (Live)

Event Notes

Reed defends: Patrick Reed finished one shot clear of Jamie Donaldson and Bubba Watson for his third career PGA TOUR victory.

Headlining the field: Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer and Rickie Fowler.

Puerto Rico Open 
Dates: March 5-8
Venue: Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico (Championship Course), Rio Grande, Puerto Rico

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         6-8:30 p.m. (Tape delay) / 2-4:30 p.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)
Friday              6-8:30 p.m. (Tape delay) / 2-4:30 p.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)
Saturday          6-9 p.m. (Tape delay) / 1-4 p.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)
Sunday            7-10 p.m. (Tape delay) / 2-5 p.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)

Event Notes

Hadley defends: Chesson Hadley finished two shots ahead of Danny Lee for his first career PGA TOUR win, and finished as the only rookie to win during the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season.

Headlining the field: Peter Uihlein, Brendon de Jonge, Zac Blair, Will Mackenzie, Jeff Overton, Boo Weekley, Max Homa, John Daly, Jarrod Lyle, David Duval, Lee Janzen and Chesson Hadley.

* * *


HSBC Women’s Champions
Dates: March 4-8
Venue: Sentosa Golf Club (Serapong Course), Sentosa, Singapore

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Wednesday     11 p.m.-3 a.m. (Live)
Friday              4:30-7:30 a.m. (Tape delay)
Saturday          4:30-7:30 a.m. (Tape delay)
Sunday            5-7:30 a.m. (Tape delay)

Live Stream Airtimes on Golf Live Extra:
Wednesday     11 p.m.-3 a.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)
Thursday         11 p.m.-3 a.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)
Friday              11 p.m.-3 a.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)
Saturday          11 p.m.-3 a.m. (Live streaming on Golf Live Extra)

Event Notes

Creamer defends: Paula Creamer defeated Azahara Munoz on the second playoff hole with a 75-foot eagle putt for her 10th career LPGA Tour win.

Headlining the field: Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen, Michelle Wie, Hyo-Joo Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Karrie Webb, Amy Yang and Paula Creamer.

* * *


Africa Open
Dates: March 5-8
Venue: East London Golf Club, East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         7:30-10:30 a.m. (Live)
Friday              7:30-10:30 a.m. (Live)
Saturday          7:30-9:30 a.m. (Live)
Sunday            7:30-10:30 a.m. (Live)

Event Notes

Aiken defends: Thomas Aiken defeated Oliver Fisher on the first playoff hole for his third career European Tour win.

Headlining the field: Darren Clarke, Andy Sullivan, Oliver Wilson, Matthew Fitzpatrick, David Howell, Gregory Bourdy, George Coetzee, David Horsey and Jeev Milkha Singh.

Tuesday, March 3

Lydia Ko Aiming for Third Straight Victory

THE WINS ARE STACKING UP for Lydia Ko. She won again this past weekend, hoisting the Patricia Bridges Bowl Trophy at the Women's New Zealand Open, her national championship. A week earlier Ko won the Women's Australian Open. Ko will try for her third consecutive win at this week's LPGA event in Singapore.

A Ladies European Tour (LET) event, the latest victory was Ko's 10th professional title. Her performance included a career-best 61 in the second round.

"[T]his is even better than I would ever have imagined," Ko said. "It's just great to have won the two Opens back to back."

Ko, 17, is setting a new standard in her sport. How old were other top golfers when they claimed their 10th professional victory? A sampling:

Jiyai Shin 19
Nancy Lopez 22
Jack Nicklaus 24
Tiger Woods 24
Rory McIlroy 24
Annika Sorenstam 25

The Ko victories chart from

 2012 Bing Lee Samsung Women’s NSW Open ALPGA ((as an amateur)
 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open LPGA (as an amateur)
 2013 ISPS Handa New Sealand Women’s Open LET
 2013 CN Canadian Women’s Open LPGA (as an amateur)
 2013 Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters KLPGA
 2014 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic LPGA
 2014 Marathon Classic LPGA
 2014 CME Group Tour Championship LPGA
 2015 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open LPGA
 2015 ISPS Handa NZ Women's Open LET

Monday, March 2

Padraig Harrington Finds 'Mental Edge'

THE LAST TIME PADRAIG HARRINGTON WON on the PGA Tour Barack Obama was 17 days from being nominated for president of the United States. Harrington won the PGA Championship on August 10, 2008. It was the Irishman's second consecutive major and third overall. "Paddy" was on top of the golf world. There was only one way to go.

Padraig Harrington explained his decline on Feherty
in July 2014. (Golf Channel image)
"There's no doubt on your way back down it's a lot different," Harrington told Golf Channel's Steve Sands after winning the Honda Classic in a sudden-death playoff, "but hopefully this isn't an isolated win."

Harrington made up four shots on the lead over the closing nine holes and sank a birdie on the final green to get into a playoff. (As usual, PGA National was brutal. The winning total was 6 under.) He then closed out the victory when Daniel Berger hit into the water on the treacherous par-3 17th and made double bogey.

The water also drowned the hopes of others.

Ian Poulter started the final round with a three-shot lead. Poulter hit into the water five times during a round that stretched over two days, missing the playoff by a single shot.

"It's a shame to hand tournaments away," Poulter told Sands. "I've handed one away this week. It's going to hurt."

Meanwhile, Harrington, who claimed his first PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic a decade ago, is heading in a better direction.

"I really do believe in myself," he said.

"I think I really found that mental edge that has been lacking the last number of years and, hopefully, I can stick with that going forward and be consistently contending. Because I know if I am contending I can win."

NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller was impressed by what he saw.

"Yesterday we pretty much had written him off because he was going the wrong direction missing short putts," Miller said.

"But you talk about a sweet win. At 43 years old he's gone through the bottom dregs of golf ... from a three-time major champion winner to almost, sort of, embarrassing. And just stuck with it."

Harrington lost his PGA Tour card last year and got into the Honda Classic field with a sponsor's exemption. With the 20th victory of his professional career, Harrington moved from 297 to 82 in the world golf rankings.

If he's not back, he's certainly on his way.

Thursday, February 26

Golf on TV: The Honda Classic, Honda LPGA Thailand, Joburg Open

The following edited content was supplied by Golf Channel in a news release.

The PGA TOUR kicks off the Florida Swing this week. The field includes 16 of the top-25 players in the world, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy making his 2015 PGA TOUR debut.

The LPGA Tour continues the international stretch of its 2015 schedule, with nine of the top-10 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings in the field for the Honda LPGA Thailand. And the European Tour stages the first of three consecutive events in South Africa with the Joburg Open.

* * *


The Honda Classic
Dates: Feb. 26-March 1
Venue: PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion Course), Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):          
Thursday         2-6 p.m. (Live) / 9 p.m.-1 a.m. (Replay)
Friday              2-6 p.m. (Live) / 9 p.m.-1 a.m. (Replay)
Saturday         1-3 p.m. (Live) / 3-5 p.m. (Live, Spotlight Coverage) / 7 p.m.-Midnight (Replay)
Sunday            1-3 p.m. (Live) / 3-5 p.m. (Live, Spotlight Coverage) / 7 p.m.-Midnight (Replay)

Tournament Airtimes on NBC (Eastern):
Saturday          3-6 p.m. (Live)
Sunday            3-6 p.m. (Live)

Event Notes

Henley defends: Russell Henley defeated Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer with a birdie on the first playoff hole for his second career PGA TOUR win.

Headlining the field: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed and Russell Henley.

* * *


Honda LPGA Thailand 
Dates: Feb. 26-March 1
Venue: Siam Country Club Pattaya (Old Course), Chonburi, Thailand

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         1-5 a.m. (Live) / 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (Replay)
Friday              1-5 a.m. (Live) / 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (Replay)
Saturday          1-5 a.m. (Live)
Sunday            1-5 a.m. (Live)

Event Notes

Nordqvist defends: Anna Nordqvist finished two shots ahead of Inbee Park for her third career LPGA Tour victory.

Headlining the field: Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Shanshan Feng, Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen, So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Joo Kim, Karrie Webb, Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist.

* * *


Joburg Open
Dates: Feb. 26-March 1
Venue: Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club (East & West Courses), Gauteng, South Africa

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         7-9 a.m. (Live) / 5-7 a.m. (Tape delay)
Friday              7-9 a.m. (Live) / 5-7 a.m. (Tape delay)
Saturday          5:30-9:30 a.m. (Live)
Sunday            5-9:30 a.m. (Live)

Event Notes

Coetzee defends: George Coetzee won by three shots for his first career European Tour win.

Headlining the field: Darren Clarke, George Coetzee, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Edoardo Molinari, S.S.P. Chawrasia, Andy Sullivan, Gregory Bourdy, Alex Noren and David Horsey.

Wednesday, February 25

Will Love Cure My Ryder Cup Fatigue?

I HAVE RYDER CUP FATIGUE. To be honest, I don't feel like talking about it. At least not about the US of A. But I do feel obligated. That's because the PGA of America's ballyhooed 11-member task force, after just two meetings, has announced its choice for U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2016.

Davis Love III will get another turn
as U.S. Ryder Cup captain. (Edelman)
Davis Love III.

OK, fine. No, really, I'm OK with this selection.

I felt that Love did a great job in 2012. He was considered to be positively brilliant until his squad coughed up a commanding 10-6 lead on Sunday at Medinah.

Was that Love's fault? Um, no.

Love is a solid choice for 2016. A "company" man, so to speak, AND a players' captain. It should help the U.S. captain and his team that next time is a home game, but don't count on it. For a very long time, Europe has been better, period. That might continue. And yes, the U.S. players must play better if they want to win. The captain can only do so much.

Will they throw Davis under the team bus if the United States loses at Hazeltine in 2016?

Probably. I'm afraid so. That's what always seems to happen. It makes me sad.

For now, though, a new captain has been selected and all is well in Palm Beach Gardens. Maybe we can all finally move on from that U.S. loss five months ago. Please?