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Why it’s hard to make good clubs for bad golfers

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I read some of the 2015 GolfWRX Gear Trials and the comments. Recently, there was a also an analysis of the new Adams Blue line on the site.

The comments seemed to be: “OK, these are for average players. Fine. Let’s get to the real challenge, clubs for very good players.”

I know nothing about the Adams Blue line, have never seen a sample. But the idea that clubs for average players give way to the real challenge of making product for good golfers is, well, backwards.

It’s much harder to make clubs that can perform well for high-handicap golfers than it is for really good players.

That comes from years on the range as a custom fitter and designer of several models. I remember back in 1953 when I cleaned and stored clubs at Tuscorara Golf Club, which was near my residence in Marcellus, N.Y., and had a population of 700 at the time. What I specifically remember is that when I clean sets there were always clubs that hadn’t been hit.

Now, golf equipment was relatively expensive then, as it is now, and I couldn’t understand why people would buy clubs and not use them. For reference, the movie theater in Marcellus showed double headers, $0.15 admission and a bag of very stale popcorn from the machine for a dime. So yes, golf clubs were a luxury.

I remember thinking that maybe some of the clubs just weren’t well designed, and maybe that was why they were seldom used. At the time, I had no clue about the complexities involved it was just a thought that stuck with me.

Take the challenge of designing a set of irons. Historically, you would design a 4 iron and an 8 iron as the transition clubs and fill out the set. So if it’s the old school 3-PW set, or today’s set — 4 iron/hybrid through gap wedge — you have a set of clubs with different lofts, lies, weights, and lengths, all made in a sequence. All of these variables were designed to produce a parabola shape of shots, from the shortest club to the longest club, and the distance between the parabolas was to be consistent. It’s what we call gapping.

When you have all those variables, to achieve an objective of predictable results you must have some constants. In the golf world it’s speed, enough to make each club perform as designed. With the consistency of the hit, it’s the same objective. This is fine for the good player, but not applicable to the higher handicappers. So sets for those players were sold with “more forgiving” heads, but they still required the same striking speed and consistency of better players to obtain the results promised in the sale.

Standing on the range back in the early 90’s, I remember visions of my club cleaning days of the 50’s and the clubs that were never hit. They didn’t perform well enough to get in the lineup. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure how to make clubs for the average player. We made clubs for the good players, but the average market in those days was more of a step-child and I saw it as an opportunity. When we started designing full sets, we did not take the “set” approach, because the target market was higher handicappers.

This is where things changed.

It may not seem like much, but in reality it was backwards thinking. We started with the desired shot, resulting in a club design, then started over for the next one and through the set. The long iron (and now the hybrid) was an individual entity, and when it was done the next club in the set was not required to have the traditional sequence of differences or even look the same. Instead of clubs producing shots, we thought in terms of what the player was trying to achieve and went from the shot back to the club design. There were no traditional standards for lofts, lies, weights, lengths even center of gravity (CG) location.

Even then, what we really wanted to do was make a set of irons totaling about six clubs. We knew the slower speeds and imperfect swings were inefficient, but the buying market was trained on a full set and that’s what golfers wanted.

We wanted to take the longer clubs, which had 3-to-4 degrees difference in loft and slightly different lengths, split the difference, and make one club. We knew that the combination of slower swing speeds and less-than-perfect hits would make that a more useful club, and it would morph into a mix of mid and shorter irons. Except, of course, we were in the business of selling clubs and our idea wasn’t well received. Kind of reminds me of 30 years ago when Tommy Armour tried selling a set of irons all with the same 6-iron length called EQL. There are folks today that will tell you the concept was solid, and you can find same-length sets on the Internet.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 2.58.06 PM

A set of Tommy Armour’s EQL irons, all of which were the same length.

Whether they are or not, golf equipment today is marketing. It takes millions of dollars, and no one wants to gamble on a 30-year-old concept that had marginal success. Especially when it won’t be played on the PGA Tour.

The marketing formula features the Tour, getting players to play the product and parlaying that into retail sales. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t remember some of the swings I saw on the range, which were the farthest things from the PGA Tour. They’d fall back, twirl with the left foot doing a dance and I’d think to myself, “OK big boy, let’s see you design a long second-shot club for that!”

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Barney Adams is the founder of Adams Golf and the inventor of the iconic "Tight Lies" fairway wood. He served as Chairman of the Board for Adams until 2012, when the company was purchased by TaylorMade-Adidas. Adams is one of golf's most distinguished entrepreneurs, receiving honors such as Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 1999 and the 2010 Ernie Sabayrac Award for lifetime contribution to the golf industry by the PGA of America. His journey in the golf industry started as as a club fitter, however, and has the epoxy filled shirts as a testimony to his days as an assembler. Have an equipment question? Adams holds seven patents on club design and has conducted research on every club in the bag. He welcomes your equipment questions through email at barneyadams9@gmail.com Adams is now retired from the golf equipment industry, but his passion for the game endures through his writing. He is the author of "The WOW Factor," a book published in 2008 that offers an insider's view of the golf industry and business advice to entrepreneurs, and he continues to contribute articles to outlets like GolfWRX that offer his solutions to grow the game of golf.

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. linh vat phong thuy

    Jul 7, 2017 at 3:12 am

    I spent a great deal of time trying to figure how to make clubs for the average player.

  2. vang ma ha noi

    Apr 5, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Funny you say that. I made almost that exact set for my wife, and it works perfectly. 7 clubs is PLENTY for beginners and many amateurs.
    14-degree driver, 5-wood (22), 6-hybrid (30), 7i, 9i, SW, putter.
    I don’t know why companies like Adams don’t make 7-club sets that are good quality, obviously cheaper than 14-club sets, they are light, easy to carry, etc… Seems like it would be a no-brainer for growing the game. Sell them with a sweet carry bag and promote the fitness aspect. But as Mr. Adams has stated above… they don’t want to sell 7 clubs. They want to sell 14.

  3. tienamphu.com/category/vang-ma

    Apr 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

    We cant assume he is a terrible ball striker because it takes the same impact with a hybrid as it does with a long iron when played correctly. I too often do not use 5 iron on up but I still do carry a 5 and 4 iron in the bag for those occasional long par 3’s. I also carry a 22 degree hybrid which covers my 220-230 yard shots on shorter par 5’s if I have that option. I used to carry a 3 hybrid which I took out of the bag in lieu of a 52 degree gap wedge mostly because I found more use out of the wedges and no the 3 hybrid. I as

  4. may photocopy ricoh

    Mar 10, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    I need 5 wedges to average around 76. I think Phil and myself are the only two people left on the planet playing a 64 degree wedge. For consistency I like to put nearly full swings on my wedges

  5. Pingback: Could the clubs make the golfer? - Golf Slot Machine

  6. JH

    Oct 8, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    I think the problem is the “tour” mentality. Honestly who cares. Go find me an average golfer who follows the tour like a good player does. Chances are you won’t. The average golfer or high-handicapper, is the guy least likely to follow the sport or even know what is best for him. It doesn’t have to work for the tour. It has to work for the average guy. Until someone makes that gamble and it will pay off, GI clubs won’t benefit anyone.

  7. golfiend

    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    i personally believe beginning golfers should learn playing blade irons. Not just because I learned to play golf with blades, but because i’ve tried cavity backs (higher moi) and even super game improvement irons and the club feedback is not always there. The weight ratio (from top half to bottom half of the iron sans shaft) distribution of game improvement irons (and stronger lofts) does not promote a higher launch which is not conducive to someone who “traps” (hit down on) the ball. I guess for the flipper, it would work, but that’s no way to play golf or get better at ball striking. The hybrid as a replacement for long irons is an unqualified success except in windy conditions. Marketing as you say helps to make the golfers feel good about his clubs and his confidence and we should not discount its effect on the golfer from a mental perspective.

  8. Pingback: Could the clubs make the golfer?

  9. Larry111

    Apr 13, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Would irons be easier to hit if they didn’t have built in shaft lean?

  10. Ol deadeye

    Apr 11, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Some thoughts. Most players carry 14 clubs but may only use 8or 9 in a round. My old men’s club in Hawaii used to have 7 club tournaments. At most only a one shot variation in average scores. Then 5 club tournament, same result. Finally a 3 club event. One club had to be a putter. The other two, your choice. Almost no drivers appeared. Scores went up by about 2 shots. Mostly by the higher handicappers. And, it was fun. You can “build” your set by knowing your game. Take me, average drive, 225. So I play the gold tees, makes most par 5s about 485. That’s leaves 260. Six iron is 155, lay up to 105. My pitching wedge goes 110. That’s 490 yards. Close enough. Two putts, take my par and move on. On my 6000 yard course par fours average 350 yards or less. That leaves 175. I can’t reliably hit any iron that far so my #4 hybrid comes out. I can hit it it 185 so choke down slightly and I’m center of the green. Two putts then to the par 3. Some are long, 195, some short, 145. My hybrid covers the long ones, 7 iron the others. Oh, but what if I miss a green? I do, a lot. So I carry two wedges, a 54 and 58. Let’s see that’s driver, #4 hybrid, 6,7,PW,54,58, putter. Eight clubs. Covers 90% of holes on my course. I carry 14 so that’s 6 clubs to cover 10% of play. Well, I love my 8 iron and my 4 wood. I’m sure you have your favorites. Club manufacturers are cringing. They would sell you a 25 club set if marketing could convince you that you need that. Oh, there’s the rules of golf. Have a good round.

  11. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 10, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I need 5 wedges to average around 76. I think Phil and myself are the only two people left on the planet playing a 64 degree wedge. For consistency I like to put nearly full swings on my wedges… half swings and less end up as chunks.

  12. Tom Wishon

    Apr 10, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    It’s not hard at all to make good performing clubs for high handicappers. No driver would be longer than 43 1/2″, drivers would come with a variety of closed to very closed face angles and be offered in real lofts as high as 15-16*. There would be no fairway woods of lower loft than 17*, fwy sets would offer up to a 9 wood, even 11 wood, and there would be no irons with a loft lower than 30*. And retailers would train and incentivize their sales staff to be NICE and RESPECTFUL to the high handicappers.

    Or better yet, there would be no clubs in any retail store or shop for high handicappers and instead, all stores would send the high hdcps to the very best professional custom clubfitter in the area who most certainly would fit and build the clubs to specs to perfectly fit the high hdcp player so he/she could reduce the frequency and severity of their bad shots to see that it is possible to play a little better and enjoy the game a little more.

    It is SO EASY to fit and make clubs for high hdcps that will play better for them that the clubs being sold off the rack with their std specs that so much prevent the high hdcp players from playing to the best of their ability and which make it more difficult for the high hdcp player from benefitting as much as they could/should when they do decide to take lessons. Every experienced clubfitter knows this all too well.

    • gorden

      Apr 12, 2015 at 12:42 am

      I would agree making clubs for the higher handicap player would be easy if you could get them into some lessons first….I think everyone out playing would have a much better time if the beginers would take a few lessons before playing and we all tell the highest handicap players it is 100% ok to bend the rules enough to make the game faster and more fun as they learn.

    • larrybud

      Oct 13, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      But that’s the difference, right? I mean, for the mass market, it IS hard to make “generic” clubs that perform well for high handicappers, because it has to be a one size fits all, and higher handicapped players have a higher variety of swings than a low capper.

      The low capper generally is pretty close to on plane, and the face is fairly square at impact, and contact is more or less around the center.

      But then make a one-size-fits-all club for the guy who either comes across it 15 degrees out to in, or instead of a 1″ radius of impact, he hits it all over the face, it’s going to be much more difficult to do that.

  13. Greg V

    Apr 10, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Check out the Bridgestone Dual Pocket Forged irons.

  14. Sean

    Apr 9, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    I really think that building clubs for high handicappers is all that difficult. I think the restrictions of confirming specs are the problem. I really think we need to take into perspective that golf is a game and not a sport. A sport allows unconditional specs until achieving pro status. Take baseball, we have aluminum bats until you go pro. Relax the rules for amateur equipment. Look what DeMarini did for the sport of softball…….

    • Reeves

      Apr 19, 2015 at 12:35 am

      You can relax the rules all you want but that 5 some of 20 plus handicaps playing in front of you on a Saturday (drinking beer and smoking cigars) all thinking they are one driving range visit away form their invite to the Masters , have to follow every stinking rule or the $5 dollar bet is off.

  15. marcel

    Apr 9, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Barney – as always spot on. the golf is facing one major problem… it wants to grow but with giving impression “it is that easy”… which is not… clubs for high handicappers does not exist – you need to know how to hit a ball and then most clubs (shaft) will do the job…

  16. other paul

    Apr 8, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Always fun to read what Barney writes. Keep it up. Love my tightlies 3W mr. Adams.

  17. Steve

    Apr 8, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    High handicap players tend to have more flaws in their game; Faulty grip, posture, swing-plane, etc. A good player can swing essentially any club and make the ball travel a consistent line. A bad player needs a set of clubs and Hogan’s Modern Fundamentals of Golf (and after that a few lessons can help). Learning how to swing a club CANNOT be replaced by spending all of the money in sight.

  18. Tim

    Apr 8, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    I believe one of the other editorial contributors to this site has promoted the single length set of golf clubs. I have to say if i could try a set I would but as with all these potentially good ideas without the ability to get it to the masses they fall flat and will never achieve market share enough to prove if the concept works.

    • other paul

      Apr 8, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      the long drive guy, jaacob… cant remember his last name.

  19. Greg V

    Apr 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    The article sort of begs the question: if high handicap players can’t hit long irons, or fairway woods, or even hybrids, why have them in the bag at all?

    Perhaps the logical set make-up would be: lofted driver, 5 or 7-wood (?), hybrid (?), 7, 9-iron, or 6, 8-iron; and PW, SW, Putter.

    • Brian

      Apr 8, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Great concept but no body wants to try and market that. Look at some WITB though and you’ll see a whole bunch of different brands and models or iron in the pro’s bag.

      I have considered buying individual irons. 6, 7, 8, 9 and 48, 52, 56 and 60 wedges. I rarely hit a 5 or longer iron. I go to a 3 or 4 hybrid. But I have a 4 and 5 iron sitting in my basement from my Taylormade Rocketbladez Tour set. And I’m 33 with a 113 mph swing speed. I just don’t love hitting long irons. Wish I did!

      • Jack

        Apr 8, 2015 at 11:27 pm

        113 MPH swing speed? You’re either hitting your driver too far and not needing to hit long irons or you’re a terrible ball striker because you are swinging too fast. Most guys who can swing that fast love the long irons since the hybrids go too far. I don’t even swing that fast and my long irons go. It’s all personal preference I suppose, but most people don’t like long irons because they can’t swing the club fast enough to make it go anywhere.

        • Egor

          Apr 9, 2015 at 1:05 am

          You’re making quite a few assumptions about Brian ‘eh?

          I’ll concede that it does sound odd that a 33y/o with 113ss doesn’t like to hit 5i or less, but hitting his driver too far?? Can anyone really hit their driver “too far” and if so, what is “too far”?

          If my two choices are – I hit the driver too far, or.. I’m a terrible ball striker, I’ll take driver too far please and thank you.

        • Lowell

          Apr 10, 2015 at 10:06 am

          We cant assume he is a terrible ball striker because it takes the same impact with a hybrid as it does with a long iron when played correctly. I too often do not use 5 iron on up but I still do carry a 5 and 4 iron in the bag for those occasional long par 3’s. I also carry a 22 degree hybrid which covers my 220-230 yard shots on shorter par 5’s if I have that option. I used to carry a 3 hybrid which I took out of the bag in lieu of a 52 degree gap wedge mostly because I found more use out of the wedges and no the 3 hybrid. I assume Brian still carries a 3 wood as his bag almost mirrored mine and I would often take 3 wood off the tee box. You can carry whatever club make up in your bag if you know your proper distances for each and can manufacture shots for the yardages needed. To each their own. We all just want to hit the green in regulation.

      • Greg V

        Oct 7, 2015 at 4:23 pm

        I only buy individual irons. At present I am playing AP1 6 and 7-iron, and AP2 8-iron to PW.

        Next year I might buy a new 6-iron. The 7-iron to PW will be in the bag for a few years, as will the 54* and 60* wedges.

        By the way, when I walk, I only carry 7 or 8 of the 13 clubs that are in my bag for when I ride a cart. I score about the same.

    • DB

      Apr 10, 2015 at 11:26 am

      Funny you say that. I made almost that exact set for my wife, and it works perfectly. 7 clubs is PLENTY for beginners and many amateurs.

      14-degree driver, 5-wood (22), 6-hybrid (30), 7i, 9i, SW, putter.

      I don’t know why companies like Adams don’t make 7-club sets that are good quality, obviously cheaper than 14-club sets, they are light, easy to carry, etc… Seems like it would be a no-brainer for growing the game. Sell them with a sweet carry bag and promote the fitness aspect. But as Mr. Adams has stated above… they don’t want to sell 7 clubs. They want to sell 14.

      • Bob

        Apr 10, 2015 at 11:36 am

        I play with seven clubs — driver, 17* and 24* hybrid, 6i, 9i, sand wedge and putter. I shoot in the low 80s and break 80 occasionally.

        • DB

          Apr 10, 2015 at 11:47 am

          I totally agree. I play around the same as you, average score is 80. Let’s be honest, I have 14 clubs but at times I have played with significantly less and end up shooting about the same scores.

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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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