For a golfer, sportswriter and photographer – it doesn’t get much better than this.
After 20 years as a professional sportswriter and photographer, I was hired by Golf Tips magazine (a national publication) for a freelance gig in Scottsdale. It was my second assignment for a national magazine and my first with a national golf publication.
For three days we were shooting photos, video and picking the brains of some great golf teaching minds – and one PGA Tour player.
As the name implies, Golf Tips is primarily an instruction magazine, offering its 120,000-plus subscribers tips on everything to do with playing golf. Teachers from all over the country contribute instruction tips for the magazine and the website, golftipsmag.com.
I met with the new editor of the magazine, Rick Sessinghaus, an accomplished golf coach, teacher and sports psychologist in his own right.
Sessinghaus has taught in Southern California for many years, has written an excellent book on the mental side of the game and is currently a coaching consultant for the UCLA golf team.
Our first day was spent with Troon North Director of Instruction Doug Hammer, Yoga for Golfers guru Katherine Roberts and Desert Mountain Director of Golf Instruction, Dale Abraham.
At Troon North, Hammer walked us through proper posture tips on the range and took us out on the course for putting tips, while Roberts showed us many yoga exercises specific to helping golfers with their posture and movement in the swing.
While I was shooting the photos, the golfer in me soaked it all up like a sponge … after all I was basically getting free lessons from some of the best teachers on the planet.
At Desert Mountain, Abraham gave us a tour of the new teaching facility – which was mind-blowing.
The Jim Flick Golf Performance Center was built two years ago, and has more technology than I’ve ever seen at one facility. Cameras everywhere, computers, launch monitors and more – you name the tech and they’ve got it.
Abraham took us up the hill to the Cochise Course, one of six Jack Nicklaus designed courses on the property. The course has hosted The Tradition tournament and was the site of the Charles Schwab Cup in 2012 and ‘14 – and will be again in 2016.
To say it was gorgeous is inadequate – the holes are basically cut out of the mountainous terrain north of Scottsdale, with views of Phoenix and Scottsdale down below.
I had only regret on the trip – not having the time to play any of these gorgeous tracks.
Finau – Pure power
Day two had us at McDowell Mountain, to meet with Director of Instruction and nationally recognized coach Boyd Summerhays – and one of his many Web.com, PGA Tour and NCAA students, Tony Finau.
We were on the course early as the sun rose over the mountains, with Summerhays giving us tips for side hill lies and chipping.
Finau is a 25-year-old rookie who is playing this season on the Tour after finishing 12th on the Web.com money list last year. In two of his events in the 2014-15 wraparound season the rookie finished 12th in Napa and seventh at the Shriner’s Hospital event in Las Vegas.
To say he’s long is a vast understatement – he’s averaging more than 320 yards off the tee on Tour, which is currently second in the Tour’s driving distance stats.
We watched and I took the photos, as the kid blasted drives off the 18th tee that – I kid you not – were still rising five seconds after impact.
It was pure poetry in the golf swing to watch – his raw power was mesmerizing.
Pomp Braswell from the Legacy Golf Performance Center met us there for more instruction photos and afterwards we were off to the Jim McLean Golf School at Sunridge Canyon, meeting with Master Instructor Justin Klemballa.
We crammed a lot into two days – four courses, six pros, a yoga expert, a PGA Tour rookie – and more than 400 photos.
Cool Clubs, cool gig
Our trip concluded the following day, shooting video for the website at Cool Clubs in Scottsdale.
Marketing Director Vito Berlingeri was very helpful as CEO Mark Timms, club fitter Allen Gobesski and KBS Golf Shaft representative Kim Braly led a discussion on how being fitted for the correct shafts can improve any golfer’s game, regardless of swing speed or handicap.
Former Tour player Thomas Kalinowski, who is now a partner with THINQ golf, hit some balls for us using his fitted shafts. We had a long talk about how his company is trying to improve golfers by training their brains through exercises on their website at THINQsports.com.
The custom club fitting facility is impressive, with hitting bays, all the technology needed to analyze their clients’ swings, more shafts than I’ve ever seen in one place and clubheads from every major manufacturer.
The 24k gold-plated Titleist Vokey sand wedges caught my eye, absolutely gorgeous – and functional -believe it or not.
They actually have clients that buy and use these wedges. For around $500 a club, you can have one of your own – I forgot to ask how much it was to get them replated after tearing them up on the course.
After finishing up with Golf Tips at Cool Clubs, I wasn’t quite done with the trip. Right up the road was TPC Scottsdale.
So I popped into the pro shop and interviewed head pro Doug Hodge for a preview story on the Waste Management Phoenix Open. (See that article here: http://bit.ly/1u4CT4f.)
The place was hopping with golfers headed out to play and construction going on all over the course as the club prepares for the tournament at the end of January.
Again – the only regret – not having the time to play there.
The pictures I took will be used by the magazine and for the website and will be seen by more people than any of my work in my 20 years as a sportswriter and photographer. I will also be working on articles for the magazine – with the first issue planned for April.
For a golfer, sportswriter and photographer, that’s pretty cool …