It’s Not Just Mental
By Steve Mathis
Referring to baseball, Yogi Berra once said, “90% of this game is half-mental.” Despite his fuzzy arithmetic, his idea can also apply to the game of golf; so much of the game occurs between the ears. However Berra’s curious math adds up, though, there are at least two other elements involved in getting the ball in the hole: the swing itself and the equipment one uses. It is this last element that had me going to see Andy Thompson at Totally Driven, the Ultimate Golf Improvement Center.
Located in Oakdale, Totally Driven, billed as the Ultimate Golf Improvement Center, is a golf training facility designed to help your game, whatever your golf ailment is. I signed up for the full fitting (woods, irons, and putter) in order to have all my clubs evaluated. On a 40-degree day that really gets the Minnesota golfer itching for spring, I was greeted by Andy at about 3:00. To begin the process, Andy took my 6 iron and checked its stiffness, swing weight, grip size, shaft type, loft and lie. While he was doing his work, he asked me a few questions about my game, like what my normal ball flight is (low) and what my usual missed shot is (I tend to hit shots thin). I then hit a few warm up shots while Andy checked out my other irons to make sure they followed a normal progression. Andy then applied some impact tape to the face of my 6 iron and I hit a few shots. I surprised myself; after four months off, my shots were hitting pretty close to the center of the clubface.
After the impact tape test, Andy strapped an electronic device called Shaft Max to my left wrist and connected it to a test 6 iron. I thought it was going to feel strange swinging with the device, but it presented no problem at all. After four swings, Andy called me over to check out the results, especially the visual depiction of how I load the club. Andy showed me the results of Tour Pro Luke Donald, whose load increases all the way until impact. My load rose and then actually decreased a bit right before impact. This “casting” motion is one that plagues many golfers and something I can identify in my own swing as being too quick with my hands. A little disappointed in myself, and with thoughts of my needing to take a golf lesson running through my head, Andy had me make a shortened swing with a split grip. Amazingly, my results became fairly similar to Donald’s! And after only one swing!
After hitting some shots on the launch monitor, which measured ball speed, launch angle, backspin as well as push/pull and right or left spin, Andy had some recommendations. He suggested that I would benefit from a slightly heavier iron shaft, but that my club’s head, length of shaft, grip size, and swing weight were appropriate to what I need. He pointed out that one of my iron shafts was different than the others and offered some suggestions for filling out my set of clubs (I only carry 12 clubs). The main suggestion was to add a gap wedge (low bounce in my case) to allow me to fill a distance void that I have in my game.
Next, Andy and I talked about my woods. Andy again hooked me up to the Shaft Max device to take some measurements before we moved on to the next step. While I’m fairly satisfied with the woods I have, Andy made a suggestion that I might find more consistency with a matched set instead of the melting pot I currently carry. I made a few swings with my own driver, and then Andy brought me over to see the results. The computer again showed a decent ball flight, speed, and launch angle, but my revolutions per minute were much too high. All clubs create backspin, even the driver, but my backspin was well above the optimum 2600 RPM for a 14-degree angle. In essence, my driver started out on a decent launch angle, but the excessive backspin caused the shot to gain too much height thereby causing the shot to drop too steeply, which would greatly decrease the amount of roll after it hits the ground. Andy then made a few well-educated calculations and I tried a few different driver combinations of the 100+ shafts and 40+ heads to choose from (including Taylor Made, Adams, Cleveland, and others) to find the right match for me. Each combination brought improvement and the final club I tried outperformed what the computer said would be my maximum distance! Interestingly, this final club ended up having the same carry as my own driver, but the decreased spin allowed for a lower trajectory and more roll, ultimately adding about 9 or 10 yards to my tee shot.
The final part of the day was the putter assessment. Andy gave me a few warm up putts and then we got down to business. Using the Dave Edel fitting process, Andy used a laser to check where I had the putter aimed. I was absolutely floored by the result: when I thought I was pretty close to the target, I was actually aimed to the left (by a lot) and I had much too much loft on the putter. So, the only way I could make a putt would be to aim incorrectly (to the right of where I thought I should aim) or to push the putt into the hole! Trust me, neither option worked very well last summer. In addition, I had a difficult time controlling the distance on the practice putts. Through a series of trial and error, Andy put together a putter that allowed me to get aimed squarely at the target and have better distance control. The process isn’t an easy one; the Edel putter system Andy used has over 30 million possible combinations! The variables involved are shaft length, putter head style, hosel type, loft, lie, head weight, weight in the handle, scoring lines; there’s such an extensive amount, all of which affect one’s ability to get the ball in the hole.
We finished up the day’s events at about 5:30 and I have to say it was truly an eye-opening experience. Oftentimes its’ Operator Error that causes a misplayed shot, but Andy’s assessment of my clubs showed me that technology is a major part of the game. But it’s not simply the technology that will make you better; you need someone like Andy there to help you understand all the numbers and to put together the right pieces of equipment for you. If you’re looking to get off to good start on the golf course this spring, then visit Andy at Totally Driven. The combination of service and technology he and his staff provides is simply the best you can find in Minnesota.