Review: The Floppy – Indoor Practice Golf Ball

Master the short game and you can score well even when your long game is off.

The Floppy is a soft indoor practice golf ball.  It has  a woven cover, a liner and a proprietary filling.

http://www.thefloppy.com/images/smaller/whatsinside.jpg

The Floppy Close Up
The Floppy Close Up

The videos on the homepage do a good job of showing what the floppy does and how it reacts when it bounces of windows.  When I first saw the floppy on-line I thought it was going to be a bit like a hacky sack in the shape of a golf ball.  But when you squeeze it, it instantly bounces back into shape.   The quality of the woven cover is very good.  I would imagine that a single ball could easily take thousands of hits.  The sticker on the ball won’t last that long though.  It pretty quickly got worn down so that the text was difficult to read.    That does not affect it’s performance.

How it behaves

It is best to have it land on something as close to turf as possible.  I found that on carpet it does react very much like a golf ball.  It checks up pretty well, and can even spin back a little bit.  You can hit it high or low and it will behave predictably.

For us North Easterners, and anyone else stuck in the cold, it does provide a nice way to practice your short game.    Depending on how hard you hit them I think they could still knock some things over as they do have a little bit of weight to them.  However they do absorb impacts well and lightly bounce of harder objects like walls or plate glass.  I think these would be a blast to use in an indoor AstroTurf field.

Overall I think The Floppy is a very cool indoor practice ball.  When I combine it with my golf mat (Country Club Elite) and use the stance mat as a grassy target it really does allow me to practice short chips and pitches very well.   I was easily able to practice chip shots inside up to 25 ft, limited by my living space and not the ball it self.  I could hit high little floaters or low running chips well with it.

The Floppy certainly takes a bit of the sting out of being in a cold part of the country with a few months until the golf season officially starts here.  In the meantime I can become a deadly chipper and pitcher and hopefully a short game wizard.  My preference with the floppy is to land it on the “short grass” of the stance mat, and see how it rolls out or responds rather than bouncing it off the walls as it is show in the videos on the home page for the product.

On a side note, I am a fan of Phil Mickelson’s “Secrets of the Short Game”, and find that the Floppy with the mats allows me to groove a consistent hinge and hold.

Although it can be used for the long game, I do not have a net and I would not take full swings with the floppy, at least not until I had a good practice net in place.  But for short game practice, I have not hit another practice golf ball that gives me the kind of feedback that the floppy does.

The Floppy Home Page

Review: EEZ-Read Putting Aid

I’ve been using the EEZ-Read putting aid since this summer and I have found that used properly it can be an important aid to help with putting.

The EEZ-Read is according to the manufacturer:

Place the EEZ-READ precision level on the green, and it shows you exactly how your putt will break. Renowned golf instructor Butch Harmon calls it “one of the smartest putting aids I’ve ever seen. It’s simple to use and perfect on those putts where its tough to read the break, particularly those under twenty feet. This practice aid will definitely shave strokes off your game and build your putting confidence.”  Solid stainless steel watchmaker’s base. Easily fits in your pocket. Named “Best New Product” 2008 PGA Merchandise Show.

Essentially it is a level that allows you to see the direction of the break and the severity of the break.  In order to use it effectively you need to spend some time with it and understand how the severity of the break on the EEZ-Reader translates to break on actual putts based on distance from the hole and speed.

One of the first things I noticed when I began practicing with it is how much I was over reading break on putts.  What to me looked like a big break turned out to be a smaller amount of break than I anticipated.

The was pretty valuable right there.  By making that adjustment I was quickly holing more putts.  Although I still have a tendency to over read the break I can catch myself.

One of the best ways I think to use it is to pick out a putt and try to imagine what reading the EEZ-Read is going to give me.  Once I figure that out, I actually put the device on the green and check.  How did I do?  Did I read it correctly?  If not how much am I off by?  And how I can see that break better?

The last one is important because that allows you to start to train yourself to see the breaks better.  When you look at a misread and you figure out why you misread it, it becomes easier to get right the next time.  I typically take two reads when I’m practicing.  The first read is from about halfway between my ball and the cup and the other read is about 6 inches away from the cup in the direction of my ball.  I will take more reads if the putt is on a ridge or crosses the ridge.

The EEZ-Read will not tell you anything about grain.  So if you putt in Florida on Bermuda grass you still need to understand how the grain will affect your putt, but this device has no way of telling you that.  The smoother the green, the better the device will work.  If the green is too bumpy, the readings can be thrown off by bumps on the green.  Lastly you can’t use the device in tournament play, or when posting an official round as that is against the rules of golf.  However for practice rounds or practice sessions I find it a very useful device to use.  It is inexpensive, small and effective.  I highly recommend using it to get a better understanding of how to read greens.

EEZ-Read Website

Review: Dancin’ Dogg Optishot Simulator

Optishot bethpage

Winter practice in the northeast is difficult.  The weather is cold, the range balls like ice cubes, the chipping and putting greens frozen solid and you’re wearing 12 layers of clothing.

There used to be a great indoor practice place near me called “The Golf Training Center” that had a great putting green, video bays, launch monitor bays, a chipping area and a sand trap.  Membership for the winter was reasonable.  Last winter I spent an ungodly amount of time there, usually went for 2 or 3 hours after work and on the weekends.

It closed down last May and with winter coming I knew I needed to do something to practice indoors.

After a substantial amount of research, and careful consideration I opted for the Optishot simulator.

My research showed me that there many different kinds of simulators ranging in price from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.  Optishot is priced at the lower end of the range.

The optishot is a simple unit, it has a sensor mat that’s roughly the dimensions of a legal size sheet of paper and is about an inch high.  The 16 infra red sensors on the unit capture the club through the impact zone and measure club head speed, face angle, path angle, toe/center/heel contact.

I also ordered the  two piece stance mat so that I am at the same height as the unit.


Sensor Unit

OptiShot – Two Piece Stance Mat

Setup:

The optishot is very simple to use.  Install the software, connect the USB cable to the mat and to your computer and you’re off and running.  I then setup the two piece stance mat and away I go.  I did not have a single setup issue, it’s plug and play as long your computer meets the minimum requirements.

Using the Optishot

The Optishot has 3 different modes in which it can be used.

  1. Practice Zone
  2. 3DD Golf Simulator Mode
  3. Tiger Woods Mode

Practice Zone

The practice zone has a simple screen the simply shows you all of the information you need to know when practicing:  Club head speed, face angle, path angle, toe/center/heel contact.  The practice zone will show you on an image of a hole where your shots ended up, the flight path of each shot and it keeps track of your statistics like distance and whether the shot ended up left or right of the target, as well as an average of how far left and right of target they were.  The screen for the Practice Zone could be spruced up.  It’s very utilitarian, it gets the job done but is not inviting.

At first I was skeptical of the results I was getting because I kept seeing an open club face.  I didn’t want to believe it but when I went to the driving range to compare, I was hitting them right too.  When I improve on the Optishot and I go verify at the range, I end up with the same results. The optishot is a very accurate unit.

3DD Golf Simulator Mode

This is my favorite mode to practice with because you can see the ball flight in a very cool way.  The camera follows the ball closely as if you’re flying with it.  It really is pretty spectacular.  I can aim at specific targets and really get a sense for how I’m doing.  If you want you can turn off the following camera and just see the ball fly off into the distance, but I like following it so I keep that feature turned on.  I do wish that the practice mode in 3DD golf would allow you to save your statistics so that you can review them later.

I prefer to practice in this mode because the way you practice is that you select a hole, then put the ball anywhere on the hole you want.  So you can work on shots of any distance, up hill, down hill, etc.  I can work from specific short game distances and even partial wedges.

If it’s too cold outside I can play some rounds pretty quickly.  The simulator does allow you to putt but that part is not as realistic.  I have it set up to auto putt.  In auto putt mode if you’re more than a few feet away it is likely to two-putt, but sometimes it one putts, and if you have a gimme, it usually makes it.

Whenever you switch clubs you need to tell it which club you’re using so that it can make the appropriate changes in calculations.  See you don’t actually have to hit a ball, you can hit no ball, you can hit a foam ball, or you can hit an actual ball, and by telling the system what you’re doing it makes changes to the calculations to reflect your true results.

The courses look gorgeous.  They don’t look like the courses on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 on the Xbox 360 or PS3 but they have their own look and I do enjoy how they look.  The courses look better than some commercial simulators I have seen.

The unit came with 4 courses, Torrey Pines North and South, a desert course and a mountain course.  Bethpage Black was released just before the US open this year.  I spend most of my time playing Torrey Pines South and Bethpage Black.

Tiger Woods Mode

Allows you to play Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 for the PC using the Optishot.  I haven’t used it so I can’t really comment on it.  For me the simulator does not need the Tiger Woods mode.

Improvements

There really is only one major improvement that I would like to see in the system. Even though it has a grass top the turf area is quite hard, a little bit harder than hitting off the mats at my local course. If somehow they could incorporate some of the features of newer mats that allow you to hit down and through that would be great. My other improvement would be in the practice area of 3DD. If they would allow you to save your practice sessions so that you could see your results over time that I think would be a very useful tool for game improvement.

Overall it is an excellent unit and for the price you can’t go wrong with it. It’s accurate, easy to setup, and a lot of fun. The surface grass area is a little hard (but again better than other commercial simulators and launch monitors I’ve used).

Dancin’ Dogg Website

Inside the Box

* Infrared Optical Swing Pad
* OptiShot 3DD Golf Software
* USB cable (10 ft.)
* Foam practice balls
* Adjustable rubber tees
* Quick-start guide

System Requirements

* Windows 7, XP or Vista Windows®
* Memory: 1 GB
* Disk Space: 3 GB
* Optional: For best display results, a high-end graphics card is required.

Update 12-19-09

When I first wrote this review I had an old pc and Optishot ran well on it.  We just upgraded to a new machine with a fast processor and a nice video card and OptiShot now looks amazing.  Last night Dancin’ Dogg released an update to Optishot 2010.  They added a few new courses and overall improved functionality.  The new courses look gorgeous.  The courses are:

The Masters Course at Barseback, home of the 2009 Scandinavian Masters.

The other new course is the Black Mountain Course from a luxury resort in Thailand.

The new courses are stunning and a joy to play.

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Review: SwingJacket

The Swing Jacket guides you through a perfect golf swing

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I got the opportunity to attend a golf show in the Albany area.

All of the local pros brought merchandise to sell at moderate to deep discounts and I made some good purchases.

At the last exhibitor, hidden in a corner of their display I spotted a gem.  It was a new, in box, SwingJacket.  Several years ago I had looked into them and really wanted one after seeing the infomercial and reading reviews.

But it was only available for about $120 and they were sold out of them.  So the idea got put on the backburner.

Fast forward to the golf show and I end up picking up the brand new SwingJacket for $20.  Wow!

The SwingJacket comes with a training DVD and a slim manual.  I quickly read through the manual and was too impatient to watch the video.  I slipped it on and went outside to hit some birdieballs (see my review).

Within the first few swings I knew I had made a wise purchase.  The SwingJacket, according to the manufacturer:

The Swing Jacket is the most effective golf training aid ever developed

because it is the only product that physically guides you through all the key swing positions of the perfect, one plane golf swing.  With the Swing Jacket you feel a perfect golf swing while you hit the ball long and straight with any club in your golf bag.  With every other method of game improvement you have to consciously change your swing mechanics.  The Swing Jacket does all the thinking for you as it effortlessly guides you through each swing – perfectly.  You’re now able to focus on the feel of your powerful, accurate new swing instead of a library of confusing and often contradictory swing thoughts.  When every shot you hit is consistently long and straight your body locks that swing into your muscle memory – instantly.

Immediately I felt it putting me in the right positions.  Within a few swings I was hitting the birdieballs longer and straighter.  I was really glad that I bought it.

I took out my video camera (the one that can record up to 240 frames per second) and recorded some swings without the swing jacket and with the swing jacket.

In slow motion I could really see what the jacket was doing.  For me, I believe the one-plane swing is the right one, and the swingjacket really kept me in a perfect swing plane.  It also prevents you from overswinging.  A typical swing fault of amateurs.  The result is a tighter, more efficient and accurate swing that results in hitting the ball, as long, or in my case, quite a bit longer than before.  Although I did not buy it at the retail price I can see how it is worth that much.  I plan on using it all winter to deeply ingrain into my muscle memory the perfect swing plane.

The website currently lists the swing at $119.95.

Review: Orange Whip Trainer

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you know that one of the things I was working on was having my actual swings look like my practice swings.  I received a suggestion to try the Orange Whip Trainer because it helped other golfers with this issue.

The Orange Whip Trainer is, according to the manufacturer:

The Orange Whip is the ultimate golf swing trainer and fitness tool for today’s golfer and athlete. It is versatile, dynamic and the most effective swing aid on the market. Consistent use of the Orange Whip will improve your golf swing and provide an essential core-muscle workout. The elegant design combines a counter-weighting system and flexible shaft that work together to promote the natural golf swing motion unique to each individual. The Orange Whip will help you find your ideal swing plane, create “tour pro” lag, achieve perfect sequence of motion, and promote balance that’s supported from the ground up. Your strength, flexibility, and swing speed will increase, and your shot-making will become more accurate and consistent.

products

As you can see the Orange Whip Trainer comes in three different sizes (Called the Orange Whip Hickory, Golden and Trainer) to accommodate juniors, people under 5’6″ or beginners, and men or taller women.  I have the trainer.

Orange Whip Trainer: • For – Designed for men and taller women.
• Length – 47.5 inches in total length, approximately 45″ actual swing length (Men’s Driver)
• Weight – The total weight is 1.75 pounds.
• More Info – Simulates Driver motion. Recommended Whip for Core Fitness and Flexibility.
• Ideal Whip for Balance and Tempo enhancement

You begin using the Orange Whip with some stretching exercises.  The Torso Twist is done by standing with your feet flat and your arms out in front of you with your palms up and the whip held in the middle of the trainer.  You then begin to twist to one side, then the other.  It is a very nice stretch.  From there you can do the wrist hinge (videos for these are all on the website) with each arm.  As a trainer for strengthening golf muscles I think it does a great job.  You get a very nice work out with resistance, in just the movements/muscles that are needed for the golf swing.

Starting the full swing drills gives you a whole different kind of workout with the Orange Whip.  The full swings really allow you to work on tempo and transition, two elements that I think most golfers don’t really know how to practice.  All too often we simply go to the range and hit balls, hit and rake, hit and rake.  Heavy clubs I think are excellent for doing certain kinds of tempo work.  The resistance they offer ensures that you don’t rush the transition.  I have a small weighted club that I have used for winter training and while it is adequate for working on the transition I think it falls short when it comes to the complete swing.  On the downswing, the heavy clubhead almost feels too heavy.

The flexible shaft of the orange whip seems to address this concern for me.  The orange ball at the end is heavy, but the flexibility of the shaft allows me to build up speed on the downswing naturally, and it can really go fast.  I think this is what they refer to when they say that it can build “pro” lag.  I could really feel the sense of lag, with the orange ball trailing behind my hands and then whipping through the impact zone.

Since you can’t hit balls with the Orange Whip you need to be aware of that when transitioning to hitting balls.  You want to remember the feeling but recognize that your clubs will be different.  I think this definitely takes some practice but the results are worthwhile.  Using the Orange Whip and videoing my swing I have seen substantial changes in those practice sessions.  When I feel what I rehearsed with the Orange Trainer on my actual swings with a ball the results are good.  This is not however a short term solution.  I think the orange whip like anything else in golf requires some dedication, you can’t just use it once and expect miracles.  However, over time I believe it does accomplish the goals described by the manufacturer.  I’d be curious to use the the smaller whips and see if it would be make a difference with my irons.  I do find that the long whip is difficult to use for the shorter 3/4 type swings in an iron shot and it would interesting to see what the results would be with a smaller whip.  For work with the driver, tempo, and fitness I think the Orange Whip is a training aid that any golfer can benefit from.

www.orangewhiptrainer.com

Review: BirdieBall

The weather is getting colder in the northeast and although the driving range nearby is heated, sometimes I just don’t want to go to the range.  The stalls may be heated but hitting range balls becomes like hitting ice cubes.

I brought my birdie balls with me to practice over the thanksgiving weekend up in Albany, New York.  The first thing you notice when you pick up a birdie ball is that it looks like a napkin ring.

BirdieBall 12 Ball Box, PGA's "Best New Product"

And you think to yourself, how are these napkin rings going to help my game?

According to the birdieball website:

BirdieBall® by Birdie Ball Inc. is the best golf training aid invented this century! That’s a bold statement, but golf coaches and PGA golf instructors around the world agree, and have voted it the PGA, Product of the Year in Orlando! It is a limited flight practice golf ball without limited feel. True feel with a long hang time, golf ball-like, trajectory! But it only flies 40 yards, so you have your own backyard driving range. Take a full swing. Draw it Fade it. Grab a buddy, get 40 yards apart and hit them back and forth. You wont believe the turbine sound created by the high rate of reverse spin. It’s very durable, in fact Pro Series Birdie Balls won’t break like perforated practice balls or wiffleballs.

Let’s see how their claims hold up.

My father in law had just laid down some new grass and I didn’t want to tear it up, so I used the StrikePad that comes with the birdie balls.

Club Swing Path, StrikePad.  Visual Reinforcement

This is a thick, flexible plastic pad that is great for beginners to use, and can be used even off concrete.  It has a spot to place the birdie, and provides a visual reference of the ideal swing path (from the inside).

I wanted to use the birdie balls because of their limited flight.  Although my inlaws have enough land to hit real golf balls, there are some problems doing that, the main one being that retrieving the balls after hitting them is a real pain in the neck.  You have to remember where you hit them, then hopefully you can find them among some lumpy grass.  I’ve lost a fair number of golf balls in their field.

So I went to the backyard, setup the strike pad, picked my target about 60 yards out, and got down to business.

So how do they feel.  They feel like hitting a good quality golf ball.  The manufacturer claims they feel like hitting a ProV1.  I think it’s close.  The beauty is that you can fade or draw them.  I started out hitting some big hooks, but I was able to get into a groove, and a few shots later I was able to straighten out those hooks and hit some nice controlled draws.  You will be surprised at how high the birdie balls do fly.  It really seems like the they take the same flight that a golf ball would take, only in a smaller space.  The 6 iron was hitting was easily reaching 3/4 of the height of the tall trees around me.

That 6 iron was also a blade, and I could really feel the difference between flush shots and mishits.  Overall the feedback was the same as I would be getting on a driving range.  You can hit driver as well with the optional driver tee.

BirdieBall Long Drive, Velocity Tees & Ball. LONG!
BirdieBall Long Drive, Velocity Tees & Ball.
These tees give you the appropriate height for the driver.

Another advantage to birdieballs is that they are so easy to retrieve.  They do sell a shag tube, but for me I’ve found the easiest thing to do is to walk to where they are with my club upside down, so that I’m holding it just below the club head.  Then I stick the grip end into the birdie ball, flick the club up, and the birdieball slides down the shaft of the club.  It is really quick and easy to pick up a dozen birdie balls this way and it saves your back.

I will say the the StrikePad is not the best surface to hit off of.  It is fine if you are a beginner and need the extra forgiveness, and it does remind you of the right swing path, however, it really is too forgiving.  You can hit way behind the birdie and still pull off a good shot.  I was aware of this when practicing, so I didn’t really count any shots that I hit fat.  I focused on hitting the birdie ball first and then the strikepad.  I think the most realistic birdieball practice comes from either hitting them off quality turf, or something like the Country Club Elite Golf Mats I’ve already reviewed.

In my opinion, getting and practicing with birdieballs is a no brainer.  They offer real feedback and their limited flight makes them ideal for practice.  Obviously you can’t use birdieballs to know the distances that you hit your clubs.  Frankly I prefer to get that from the golf course anyway as I find range balls don’t really match the distance I hit my clubs when I’m actually playing.

My wife’s uncle came out to hit some birdieballs with me and decided that “one way or another, I’m going to have these under my Christmas tree this year”.  He decided to tell a few of his golf buddies and now they want them as well.  BirdieBalls live up their claims and I really enjoy practicing with them.

You can order direct from the BirdieBall website or from golf retailers like Golfsmith.

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Review: Country Club Elite Golf Mats

Country Club Elite Golf Mat

I recently ordered the small (20″ x 30″ ) Country Club Elite golf mat from Real Feel Golf Mats.

I’ve heard about a lot of mats that promise to give you the lush feel of hitting off a fairway and being able to “take a divot”.  I was a bit skeptical but I knew I needed to try it.  The mats at my local range were so hard that I think I was developing tendinitis in my shoulder.  At home I had a small Hank Haney mat that I hit off and it was really getting chewed up.  The mat was only 1/4″ of an inch thick at most and I would find little tufts of mat all over the floor that needed sweeping up.

I knew when I took the first swings that this mat was different.  When you hit into it, you get this real resistance as the club digs into the mat.  It handles fat shots realistically.  I find typical range mats provide a false sense of security because you can hit the ball so fat and because the club just bounces off the mat you can still end up with decent contact.  It’s not like that on the golf course.

I like being able to stick tees into it because I can practice drills like the gate drill where you put a couple of tees in the ground and have the club go through the gate.

CCE Mat with Tee

The 99 dollar 20×30 mat was perfect for me because I already have a stance mat.  If I didn’t have a stance mat I would definitely have needed to buy one as you really want to be on the same level as the CCE Mat.

The experience of hitting off this mat is really a lot like hitting from a nice fairway and more importantly you really do get a feel for hitting down and through the ball.  I also feel it making a big impact on my body.  It is a relief hitting off this mat.  My shoulder feels much better.  Overall I rate this mat a 5 out of 5.  The quality is outstanding and should hold up to years of use unlike the Hank Haney mat which gets shredded within weeks.

Below is a picture of the shredded up Hank Haney mat.

Hank Haney Mat

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