6 Great Golf Training Aids and Tiger Woods’ Not-Great Short Game in the Van Cynical Mailbag

February 4, 2015

LA JOLLA, Calif. — A Van Cynical Mailbag reader asked what were the best training aids or game-improvement items I noticed at the PGA Merchandise Show last month. Thanks for the Twitter question, Bustinpar. I usually focus on new clubs, not training aids, but there were a couple of game-improvement items I tried out that caught my eye.

1. Zepp Golf ($149.99, zepp.com) has a gizmo that’s a small square, the size of a bite-size candy bar, that attaches to the back of your golf glove. It wirelessly syncs to your phone or mobile device and after you swing at a golf ball, it delivers swing some pretty good swing information — your swing in 3D, club speed, swing plane, tempo, hip rotation and backswing position. It helps you analyze the data and if you want, compare your swing to that of pros. I made a few demo swings with it and thought it was pretty good, although obviously we’re used to seeing actual video of our swings, not 3D representations. The Zepp gizmo can also be used for tennis, baseball and softball swings. I like how easy it is to set up. A 7-year-old can do it, if you can find a 7-year-old.

2. Golf In Sync ($90, birdietown.com) is an actual training aid from Sweden, not an information provider like Zepp. The Golf In Sync device straps on to your upper left arm (if you’re a righty) and there’s a rod that attaches to the shaft and slides along as you swing. The hookup forces you to stay connected through the whole swing, including through impact. It’s more awkward to explain than it is to use. It is somewhat similar to one me of my favorite all-time training device, the True Ympact (pronounced impact), a terrific aid for hitting pitch shots, although I’m not positive they’re still being produced. I like Golf In Sync more for longer pitch shots and short game stuff because it keeps you from manipulating the club with your hands and forces you to turn your body back and through and keep the club in front of your chest. It’s very good.

3. The Putting Stroke Teacher ($29.95, tpsteacher.com) This is simply a small rod that attaches horizontally at the top of your putter, making it look like a capital T. The rod goes across the top of your forearms and in front of the shoulders and helps you make sure it’s aimed parallel to the putter face, so it’s good for alignment. By setting up the same way every time, you’re more likely to produce the same swing plane for your stroke. You get instant feedback from The Putting Stroke Teacher right before impact in the stroke if your hands or wrists break down and let the putter head pass the handle too early. That alone makes it a handy trainer, if you’ll pardon the pun.

4. The WellStance ($90, birdietown.com) is pretty unsexy but it’s fairly useful for novice golfers. It’s a device you stand on to get properly aligned to hit every club in the bag. There are footprints you step into — they’re based on Sam Snead’s footprints from 1971 — and you adjust your positioning based on which club you’re using. Beginners have too much to think about, the WellStance takes the address setup out of the picture and allows them to focus on the swing.

5. The Welling Putt Mat ($159; $195; $499, birdietown.com) isn’t a trainer, per se, just a better-than-average mat to practice putting on at home. It rolls at a stimpmeter reading of 10, rolls up to a pretty portable size and is an excellent putting service. A nice touch is that it has a variety of targets and lines emblazoned on the mat so you can putt to different targets and try a variety of games. It comes in lengths of 10 feet ($159), 13 feet ($195) or the wider model designed for instruction facilities, 26 feet ($499).

6. The Putting Stick ($99, tpkgolf.com) is a putting trainer. It’s 46 inches long, one inch wide and 3/8 inches thick. It has an adjustable backswing stop, which tells you when your backswing gets too long. The Stick shows your clubhead position at impact to within one-half of a degree. There is also an eye-alignment mirror to help your setup, plus an instructional DVD.

Let’s get to your Van Cynical Mailbag queries:

Van Cynical, Can you explain the thought process of changing the short game to go with the full swing (as Tiger says he does)? Aren’t they independent of each other? Just seems dumb that the best short-game player in the world would mess with his chipping. — Maximus via Twitter

No, I can’t explain it, Mad Max. Tiger is the only golfer I’ve ever heard bring this up and attempt to do it. I don’t believe in it and I think the logic is flawed. That said, those steep practice swings with the sharp left finish he was making during the Sean Foley period are likely the No. 1 culprit in his current chipping woes, since Tiger apparently believes in the chipping-swing matching the full swing. That’s the only reason I’m holding out some hope that Tiger’s woes are technical and not, as I fear, the dreaded y-word.

Sickle, At some point, you’ll have to stop talking about Tiger Woods missing cuts in Tour Confidental. — Jeffrey Bowles via Twitter

At some point, Bowlesby, yes. About the same time you’ll have to stop sending in questions about Tiger Woods.

Vans, Please don’t talk about TW. Poor TW. — Sanjay Iyer via Twitter

Too late, S.I. Maybe he’ll pleasantly surprise us this week at Torrey Pines. This could all be part of his post-2009 master plan to turn into a national Cinderella underdog story. So far, it’s working.

Van Cynical, Thoughts from an airplane: If you put all the courses in the U.S. together in one spot, how big an area would they cover? — Michael O’Connor via Twitter

Great, a math question. Where’s my calculator? Dang. Let’s assume about 15,000 courses in the U.S., Mannix, and let’s assume each course takes up an average of 200 acres (I’m being generous). Some have more room, some have less. Simple multiplication gives us 3.0 million acres. That equates to 4,687 square miles. So all the courses could fit in Connecticut (5,543 square miles). They would also fit in Lake Ontario, 7,320 square miles, but that would really cut down on the number of rounds played by everyone except Aquaman.

Sickle, What’s your favorite Wisconsin course (I know you used to live there) that you played using your own money? — Todd Plier via Twitter

I was a regular at Milwaukee County’s Brown Deer course for years, although the county never got the greens or bunkers in decent shape before I left town in ’89. I also enjoyed the unique and hilly layout at Naga-Waukee, a Waukesha County course that also was never finely manicured. My personal favorite is the nine-hole Waupaca Country Club, where my parents were once members. It’s got modest hills, pretty maples and pines and a meandering river (canoeists often paddle through). Scenic and not too hard, not too easy.

Van Cynical, Will you be hang-gliding off the cliffs of La Jolla this week? — Brian Bailey via Twitter

Bailjumper, I usually split my time here in La Jolla between hang-gliding and hanging out at the nude beach. Is the boss reading this? I’m in the pressroom dawn ‘til dusk, was what I meant.

Vans, I bladed a wedge into a bunker yesterday. Can I blame Sean Foley? — Bob Ashley via Twitter

Damn, Ashman, after writing all these stories about Tiger and repeatedly using the y-word, I went out and played golf in Phoenix on Monday and the first time I had to chip, I double-hit it! You blame Foley. I blame Tiger. I told you it’s a virus. Damn.

Sick ward, The belief that Nike forced the putter change on Tiger post-scandal in exchange for sticking with him won’t die. Plausible? — Bradley Hendricks via Twitter

It’s true, by order of JFK, whose head is still kept alive in a jar in a cavern under Omaha, Neb. Nah. No player, not even Tiger, would give up the most important club in the bag for money, even if it’s millions. Besides, if Nike cut Tiger loose, even post-scandal, you don’t think another company would’ve picked up the greatest golfer of his generation? It’s not as if Tiger was down to his last $300 and needed the endorsement. He wasn’t even down to his last $300 million. So I’d say no, no way. It’s one conspiracy bridge too far, even for me.

Cynical One, Someone vented that Tiger is trying to be a better person and father. Can he build confidence out of being nice or does his feral instinct go out the window? — Turtle Trader via Twitter

Well, Donatello, you have a legit point. I could just agree with you but even better, you should check out Paul Azinger on SportsCenter discussing that very topic. Tiger, he said, used to be comfortable when he made the other players in his group uncomfortable. Now Tiger is uncomfortable unless those other players are comfortable. Ask yourself this — Did Ben Hogan turn into Mr. Nice Guy when he hit 40?

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