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Inside the Tour: Senior Open Championship

By: Golf Shake | Wed 31 Jul 2013

Neil Cooke is a Professional Clubmaker and the Tour Technician on the European Seniors Tour and Golfshake is lucky enough to have Neil writing a blog on Golfshake to give the inside view on a professional golf tour.

Neil's got over 30 year experience in club fitting, club making and was the Technical Director at Golfsmith Europe. He's considered an expert in his field and regularly writes technical articles for various golf publications and runs Golf Technical Services supporting the European Seniors Tour.

Last week was the Seniors Open at Royal Birkdale, a great event to not only watch, but also to work at. 

The Open being held the week before ensures a top quality field as players stay on for the extra week and this year saw players of the caliber of Lyle, Couples, Watson, Lyle, Woosnam, Kite, as well as Colin Montgomerie making his senior’s debut. The combination of the class field, a truly great course and unseasonably good weather ensured a memorable week.

The week didn’t start well for me, awful traffic on the M6 results in me turning up on the Monday after the gates are locked and so I spent the night parked up in the public car park.  When I did get onto the practise ground at 6 o’clock the next morning, I carry out my usual pre-tournament checks, ie how far is it to the clubhouse for a shower in the mornings, and is the ground firm enough to avoid sinking up to the axles. The answer to the first, a hell of a walk, the second, good to very firm, so I’m unlikely to need a tow from a tractor this week.

Seniors Open - Royal Birkdale

Tues 23rd July - Long Ironds

The Tuesday is pro am day when I’m usually fairly quiet until those players who aren’t involved pitch up to practise.  After a rain delay the weather picks up with little wind. The first consideration the players make is what set make up will work this week?  Last month at Royal Porthcawl due to the high winds a lot of the guys were dropping hybrids in favour of long irons, so I spent the first few days regripping and even reshafting some pretty ancient looking 1 irons!

This week the weather forecast doesn’t indicate high winds, but as the fairways are running fast there are still a lot of long irons on display. Although the tees are pushed well back the popular consensus is long irons off a lot of the tees is the way to go, this hopefully will help avoid the dreaded pots bunkers.

Weds 24th July - Shafts

Wednesday is the official practise round, and I spend the majority of my time checking loft and lies and regripping clubs. It is fairly rare for me to change many shafts, normally I would only change iron shafts that have been damaged, or put in new graphite driver shafts if the club is behaving really badly. This week however, I put in a new 4 iron shaft for Gordon J Brand and a new 3 iron shaft for Carl Mason, who both, coincidentally, had mismatching shafts in their sets.

Even more unusually, I change the complete set of shafts in Pete Mitchell’s irons. Pete has a new set of irons and is struggling with “turning over” shots, the new shafts are too weak in the tip. He asks me to fit 6.5 Project X which I think might be too stiff, but after hitting the new shafts they prove to be spot on. I had my reservations having watched Pete hitting balls on the range, but although he has a very smooth tempo, this can fool the eye, in fact he has an impressively fast clubhead speed and late release.

Thurs 25th July - Putter Loft & Couples

The first day of competition brings  the situation I most dread. I’m working away on bending a set of irons when a caddy puts his head round the door and asks how far can I bend a putter? To which I wittily reply “until it breaks!, who’s it for?”,  “Freddy Couples and he’s on the tee in 5 minutes”

Now, normally I don’t have a problem bending putters for the general public, I warn them there is always a chance of it snapping, but in most cases it’s not the end of the World if it does. It is however the end of the World to a tour professional, especially a legend such as Couples. Besides breaking, the problem with changing the loft on a putter is that it changes the face angle too. More loft = closed face, less loft = open face. The caddy asks me if I will explain this to his boss, so I walk onto the range and explain the face angle issue. I say that it will be OK if he doesn’t ground the putter but hovers it at address, to which he replies “I’m not good enough to do that” Yeah, right! The decision is to leave it and see how the round works out.

Needless to say, just as I’m locking up for the night Freddy’s back and we bend loft on to the offending putter. This is the right decision as it turns out that it’s been bent in transit by the baggage handlers and by adding loft we’ve returned the face to square. It crosses my mind to suggest he invests in a club protecting rod, but as he’s just shot 4 over, discretion seems to be the better part of valor! 

As the weather’s been good a lot of guys practise late which results in late evenings for me. This combined with getting up at 4.15 with sound of greens being mowed, may explain why I was flat out, asleep on the seat in the workshop when Montie came on for a regrip! Luckily he’s a really nice guy and doesn’t seem too put out, in return for his understanding I put the grip on straight for him.

Tournament in Flow

I’ve been surprised at how little sole grinding I’ve done this week. Normally at a links course the hard, tight lies mean players are asking me to take bounce off their wedges. I can only assume the occasional bursts of rain have softened parts of the course.

As the tournament progresses, the less work I’m required to do, I normally pack up and leave after the leaders tee off on the Saturday afternoon. On the Sunday those out of contention just want to get away as fast as possible, while those still in with a chance don’t want to risk changing anything. 

About half an hour before I depart, Bill Longmuir comes looking for a lob wedge, he doesn’t carry anything more lofted than a 56 degree sand wedge, but has decided to drop a club from the bag to make room for a lob wedge just in case he finds the necessity to hit a soft cut up off a hard pan lie, this shows the different mind sets between the amateur and professional golfer, they prepare for every eventuality!

Bill is teeing off in 20 minutes, but the epoxy I use sets rock solid in 15 minutes so as long as the grip’s dried before he tees off, the job’s a good ‘un.

As I leave the weather is glorious, so I have no idea of the drama that will unfold in the final round, storm delays, sudden death play offs and an uncharacteristic error of judgment from Bernard Langer. It’s been a great week, dealing with true legends of the game, and when not in the workshop sitting on my chair watching Couples, Watson et al hitting golf balls, it’s got to be better than working for a living!

To find out more about Neil Cooke and Golf Technical Services or for further information on club fitting or how the Tour truck could visit your event or Corporate day visit www.technicalgolfservices.co.uk

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