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Pigamingi: When the difference between 163 and 168 is 30!

GOLF By Mike The Pro Kibunja | October 27th 2020

Robson Chinhoi during the third leg of the Safari Tour Golf at Vet Lab in Kabete, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

One of the progressive and innovative developments in Kenyan and East Africa golf in the last four years is the Safari Tour, sponsored by the Kenya Open Golf Limited, KOGL.

Now in its third season, the Safari Tour serves to determine the best of our Kenyan golf Pros and Elite Amateurs, who will be awarded an opportunity to compete in the coming Kenyan Open Championship.

It is also commendable that KOGL has allowed our Elite Amateur lady golfers to take on the men during this series, albeit from the front tees. This will help keep their games sharp and competitive.

This is a far cry from the refusal by the Powers-that-be, to allow the same women golfers to compete in the Kenya Amateur Matchplay and Strokeplay Championships.

What a shame. This is how an institution becomes irrelevant and extinct, as has clearly happened. Someone needs to reconsider this decision and hit the reset button for the good of future Kenyan women golfers.

Women are part of the Kenyan golf fabric and should not be denied opportunities, even if they have their own smaller ladies’ sideshow. Hats off to KOGL for setting the correct trend.

It’s also commendable that the Safari Tour is regional, played at different countries and courses. True golf Champions are those able to navigate different courses, deal with different challenges, not just your home course.

The large number of Amateur golfers in Kenya calls for several regional qualifying rounds being held for our National Amateur Matchplay and Strokeplay Championships, and the qualifiers then contending in a final. That is how you find the best golfers in the Country.

Talking of the Safari Open, a review of the scores our pros have been shooting reveals some worrying trend. Despite them being very familiar with these courses, none of the players has been able to shoot 4 or 5 under par rounds consistently.

This is the range of scores expected of them if they are to make the cut and do well in the Kenya Open next year. Why are the scores not up to expectations? How do those European Tour Pros do it?

One thing I can assure you is that our boys can drive the ball! Picture Vetlab’s Nelson Simwa, challenged with a Ksh50,000 wager, driving the green at the club’s number Par-4 Eighteenth hole!

Zimbabwean Robson Chinhoi chips the ball from a bunker before finishing Second place during the Safari Tour Golf Series at Vet Lab Sports Club in Kabete, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Patrons and other golfers around the green were left open-mouthed wondering where the ball came from! From space?

Long-driving Brian Njoroge, again taking on a similar bet, aced Vetlab’s Par-4 dogleg right hole number fifteen. That is a Hole-in-one on a Par-4, an Albatross.

Professor Kimura likes challenging our Elite golfers and I am told the bet still stands for ace-ing the other Par-4 holes. This golf analyst will throw in a dozen Srixon Q-Star Tour, Urethane cover multi-layer golf balls to sweeten the deal.

Back to Safari Tour. So why is this kind of play only translating to pars and not birdies and eagles as frequently as we would like to see? It must be very frustrating to our Pros and Elite Amateurs.

Our top golfers are seriously hampered in delivering the best they can, in so many ways. One of the areas I noticed is distance control.

In Amateur golf, the Weekend Warrior’s goal is to deliver his approach shot to somewhere close to the green, and if the Golf Gods smile at him, somewhere on the green.

The Pros on the other hand do not just aim at the green; they aim for a particular point on the green. The closer to the pin, the better.

As a point of illustration, imagine a Pro challenged with an approach shot that reads 165 yards to the middle of the green. Running smack across the middle of the green is a high ridge, the green then sloping away to the front and back of the green, towards greenside bunkers.

A low-trajectory, low spinning ball that hits the green at the 168-yard mark, will skip and slide down the slope then roll away.

On the other hand, a high-trajectory, high spinning ball that lands at 163-yards, could bite the green then spin backwards and off the green. So, what to do?

This is where we get to know how many shots the Pro has in his bag. If the pin is placed at the rear right side, say at 168-yard mark, the Pro will most likely play a fade in order for the ball to land on that quadrant of the green and have a chance at stopping on the green.

On the other hand, a pin at the front 163-yard mark could call for a ball drawn to land just short of the green then run onto it.

Let’s complicate the matter a bit. For the nearer pin placement, let’s introduce a water hazard on the front right of the green, then tuck the pin behind it. The run-on, garagaria option is now gone. The high trajectory fade is the only option.

What if the water hazard was at the front left, and the pin was in the rear left quadrant at 168 yards, well behind the hazard? Logic says, play a mid-trajectory shot with a draw.

But there is also a bunker at the back, remember and drawn balls tend to run. Such are the challenges the Pro has to contend with when hunting for birdies.

Now that the shot shape and trajectory has been worked out, the Pro still has to work out what distance to play, and which club will give him that distance, the shot that poses the least risk and also offers the highest chance of execution.

A Pro knows the raw number distance each club gives him at full shot under perfect conditions. He then studies the environment and figures out what adjustments are required to modify the raw number.

He knows that fades rob distance while draws add. Fades stop with ABS brakes but draws run off some extra feet.

Greg Snow during Safari Tour Golf series at Royal Nairobi Golf Club. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

He must know what distance a three quarter or abbreviated knockdown shot with the same club would give him.

He notices that the green is some feet above or below where he is standing, hence he needs to add or reduce the raw distances by a few yards.

The ball is also three inches above his feet, so he has to grip down a bit, losing club distance. His alignment will also be affected.

To complicate the matters further, his stance is on a sidehill:  one of his feet is lower than the other one. This by itself calls for distance adjacent as well as alignment.

Since he had missed the green and the ball is seated on semi-rough, he has a flier lie and the ball will come out hot.

The 165-yard raw number the golfer started with has been adjusted and modified several times, including changing the club. The difference in the final positions of balls that landed at 163 and 168 yards could be as much as twenty or thirty feet

The ball matters too, in a big way. Playing the wrong ball can and will cost you. Most Pros play Tier 1 golf balls. Most Pros have blindly adopted the world-leading Titleist Prov1, quite an expensive ball. But did you know there are four different types of Prov1’s? Which one is right for you?

And there are other Tier 1 balls too: Taylormade TP5, Srixon Z-Star and Callaway Chrome Soft are other good options.

I know quite a number of our golfers who have clubhead swing speeds lower than 100mph and would be best suited with a Tier 2 ball like Titleist Tour Soft Titleist AVX or Taylomade Project (a) golf balls.

So, how does the Pro know how each of these adjustments affects his outcome? He has to hit hundreds of balls at a swing simulator ball and have the data analyzed.

A good swing simulator like Trackman and Foresight, will capture details like how many degrees the clubface is open or closed when playing a fade or draw and the resulting ball flight aspects of heights and distances. This enables the Pro to dial in his distances.

The wind is another factor that messes with Pros minds. Do you fight or ride it when it’s cutting across your path? How does either affect distance?

There is of course other stuff that can only be tested on the course, for example, ball seated in a divot, and body fatigue.

Our courses are relatively short, and our Pros are driving it great, so the problem must be an inability to execute a wide variety of worked approach shots.

So they end up shooting for the fat side of the green, leaving them with long putts for birdie and eventually only making par. Hitting the ball well is not enough.

We expect to see our Pros browsing through yardage books and personal distance calibration notes, trying to figure out the most effective shot.

Proficiency in working out yardages and pulling off a wide variety of shots is what makes a successful Tour Pro.

LipOuts: The biggest lie in golf is that the direction of your clubhead’s swing path or angle of attack does not matter as long as the face is square to your intended target line!

Upon contact, the ball gets compressed and squashed on the clubhead to a fraction of its diameter for several milliseconds. During those milliseconds, the clubhead is still moving along its swing path. That brief moment of continuous contact is what makes the difference. The best golfers know how to create a draw or fade during that moment by working the clubhead. Don’t even try it!

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