Nobody took more interest than Andrew Leach in last week’s Teeing Off story on how the new British Amateur champion, Garrick Porteous, has devised a winning practice schedule.
Once one of the region’s leading amateurs, Leach, 39, owns Benton-based ZFL Golf, who became pioneers in the North East 13 years ago when they introduced free custom-fit assessments for clubs and putters.
Leach, whose work includes adjusting players’ existing equipment, soon built up a cult following. For instance, Ashington’s Kenneth Ferrie, who in his pomp was three times a winner on the European Tour, sought advice on tweaking his lofts and lies in 2007.
That was the day before Ferrie flew out to American Q School in what turned out to be a successful attempt to qualify for what unfortunately turned out to be an ill-fated season on the PGA Tour. Porteous, who lives in Morpeth and represents the Bamburgh Castle club, is also no stranger to ZFL.
“I have been a customer of Andrew’s since I was 16,” said 23-year-old Porteous. “Every year I take my clubs to ZFL to have the grips replaced and the lofts and the lies checked.
“Clearly Andrew has not done my game any harm. I have had a few technical conversations with him about my clubs and the flex in the shafts and all that sort of thing. He knows what he is talking about.”
After reading last week’s Journal golf column, Leach phoned to say: “When Garrick says he practises his distance control by setting up cones to mark out distances and mixes up the distances randomly, that is something I can create at ZFL in helping golfers to be able to repeat covering a specific distance accurately.”
Your humble correspondent is also a long-standing Leach customer and the recent purchase of my first new driver for over five years – ZFL is a Centre of Excellence for Cleveland Golf – gave me a refresher on how much the high end of golf technology has changed.
A gifted coach, Leach is a former Seaton Burn High School pupil, who learned his golf as a youngster at Arcot Hall and Seahouses.
He combined a golf lesson with my custom fitting on the launch monitor, which is a little like a tiny TV set. It is relevant, I had competed in a tournament at my club, Slaley Hall, around a week earlier. Competing in the same group as the club captain, Doug Ellison, I had such a bad day I apologised to the other players.
This prompted Ellison to gently point out I was swinging too quickly.
When I got home, I googled “golf maintain tempo” and a simple drill popped up from Annika Sorenstam, which involved swinging one handed with my left arm across my stomach.
A week on the practice ground saw some improvement and that was shortly after I played in a Pro-Am at Whickham alongside Matfen’s John Harrison, who suggested I needed less loft on my driver.
I decided to go to ZFL to get custom fitted for a new driver with the help of a 42-inch TV screen and a launch monitor which uses the same system as the Sky TV Shot Centre. You get tracer swooshes illustrating the flight path of your ball, just as you do watching an analysis of Tiger Woods’ swing on Sky.
The camera is fixed near the floor, and once Leach had recovered from the shock of my almost demolishing it with a below horizontal anti-slice practice swing all went swimmingly. I biffed a few dozen balls at what was in effect a virtual reality target and Leach announced: “Annika has risen to the challenge, your tempo is now consistent.”
He had been able to monitor not only my tempo, but also the distance, the flight and the revolutions per minute of the ball of every shot I hit, and adjust his coaching and the custom fitting accordingly. Leach was able to custom fit my new driver using the data on the screen and the evidence of his eyes when it came to the shape (or misshape) of my swing.
In my case, this meant:
Adjusting the angle of the club face to help counter my slice and improve my accuracy by encouraging my drive to “come back in” from the right.
Reducing the loft by one degree to 10.5 degrees to enable the ball to fly lower and carry longer by rolling more when it hits the ground.
Softening the shaft flex to A flex (soft regular) which better matches my swing speed and increases my distance.
What I discovered has changed in recent years is that if my swing improves the driver can be re-adjusted and I do not have to buy a new one.
It took a couple of weeks for Cleveland to create my new toy and when I collected it this week from ZFL, it was like being a kid at Christmas.
Sleek, black and shiny, the driver has a mean look about it which, I fancy, will intimidate the other weekend hackers among the De Vere Club membership.
When I took my new weapon to the practice ground and repeated the Annika drill, wow, what a difference! I felt more relaxed and my drives were around an average of around 10 yards longer taking into account they were going straighter. I immediately placed a matching order with ZFL for a three and a five wood and asked Leach to select degrees of loft for two rescue clubs.
He opted for 22 degrees and 25 degrees, the second of those hybrids being the equivalent of a nine-wood.
So now I can’t wait to find myself in the same grouping as the Slaley captain again. Swinging too quickly, eh? Not any longer. I’ll show the bounder.