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Swanson: How to choose the 14 clubs in your bag

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Meet new GolfWRX Senior Expert on Everything, Swanson. We recently spotted him playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with Al Czervik, David Simms and the “Tiger Woods” from Dan Jenkins’ Golf Digest Interview. Swanson asked to write a few articles for GolfWRX’s Front Page. We told him if the readers like his stories, we’ll let him keep writing. If not, he’ll have to go back to trolling the forums. 

By far my least favorite part of playing tournament golf has always been deciding which 14 clubs to put in my bag, but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years.

During normal rounds of golf, I’ll have anywhere between 20-24 clubs in the bag; that includes drivers with different shafts, long irons (I don’t play fairway woods or hybrids), backup wedges and a few different Scotties.

Practice rounds are for testing equipment, not for playing by imaginary rules contrived by the USGA. But when it comes time to play in a USGA-sanctioned event, 14 clubs is the maximum they allow.

And this is a topic that really hits home for me.

You see, a few years back I qualified for the U.S. Senior Mid-Am Junior event in the second position after firing 71-68 (I hit 18 greens in regulation and had 44 putts in the first round), but a rules official saw I had 17 clubs in the bag after the event. I still have no idea how he saw the extra wedges hidden beneath my driver head cover, but I learned a lesson that day – the 14-club rule penalizes you two strokes for each hole played with more than 14 clubs, for a maximum of two holes. Safe to say, I didn’t qualify.

But now I’m an expert on selecting clubs for my tournament bag. And if chosen, they should be honored and thankful, and perform accordingly during the tournament. So do yourself a favor, print this out, put it in your bag and read it every time you’re deciding what clubs are going to make the cut for your next event.

Driver

Compile all of your driver heads and shafts, and head to your nearest Trackman facility. I have one in my basement, but you may need to go to a custom-fitting shop or a top teaching pro in your area. You don’t actually want a fitting or a lesson; you just want to rent the Trackman for an hour or two. Hit every driver head/shaft combination possible, and then print out a sheet of the averages.

Listen carefully, because this is the important part. You want to play the driver that has the lowest spin rate. No matter what. You can figure out how to launch it higher and make better contact (therefore increasing your ball speed) another time. I don’t hook or slice the ball, but if I did the low spin would help the ball curve less, and of course, it maximizes distance.

People say a 17-degree launch angle and 1700 rpm of spin is optimal, and I can do it every time with my forward-CG, low-MOI driver. You’re probably not good enough to play one, but maybe one day you will be. So buy the hottest low-spin driver every year on the off chance you start striping it one summer.

Editor’s Note: Swanson’s opinions on club fitting are his own, and don’t reflect the opinions of GolfWRX (at all).

Fairway Woods/Hybrids

Personally, I don’t use fairway woods or hybrids because:

  1. I don’t see the point.
  2. I don’t have yardage gaps big enough to need them.

I hit my driver 315 yards (on average), and carry my steel-shaft, hand-ground, muscleback 1-iron 275 yards. When would I hit a three wood or hybrid? From 290 yards into a par 5? And what par-5 in America would require me to hit a shot 290 yards on my approach?

None. The answer is none of the par 5s.

Irons/Driving irons

In making the decision on what long irons to carry, you’ll want to check the wind for the day, the par-3 distances and how many irons you’ll need off the tee on par-4s. I usually carry my 1, 2 and 3 irons during tournament play because it intimidates my competitors, and I can launch my 1-iron off the deck really high.

Most golfers will probably need to play irons that are more forgiving than the one-piece forgings I use, but you should test both. Blades are a huge advantage if you can play them, because they’re so much more workable and so much better in the rough.

Also, you may notice I use iron covers; you would too if your irons were hand ground from the same guy who forged Tiger’s Miura irons.

Wedges 

This is the trickiest part of the equation. In my current practice bag, I have eight wedges: 50 degrees (bent to 49.5), 54 (bent to 53.5), 54 (bent to 54.5), 56 (bent to 55.5), 56 (bent to 56.5), 60 (extra heel grind), 60 (v-grind) and a 63 (bent to 63.5).

I know how far every one of them flies to a dime, but predicting exactly what yardages I’ll need during a round used to be difficult for me. That’s why I started getting my hands on a yardage book of the tournament course, and picking my targets for each hole. Since I rarely miss my target, especially under tournament pressure, all I have to do is decide which wedges I’ll need most often. One time, through my preparation, I found out I wouldn’t need a club from 197-203 yards, so I didn’t need my 8-iron. I played with six wedges that event and won the National Ultra-Private Country Club Championship.

For beginners, I suggest letting your long iron/fairway wood/hybrid setups dictate the wedges you choose, and simply fill in the yardage gaps appropriately.

Putter 

I sleep with both of my Tour-Only Scotties the night before any event; one on my left side and one on my right. Whichever putter I wake up facing is the one that goes in the bag.

Choosing a golf ball 

Just kidding. They make other balls than a Pro V1x?

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Swanson doesn't exist, except in his writing. He doesn't play for score any more, as he's too busy working on his spin rates. For tournament purposes, he has a 2 handicap on file from high school golf, registered at his home club, which is only reachable by private watercraft.

53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Tyler

    Apr 20, 2016 at 1:25 am

    Hilarious! Best part was the trackman in the basement. I guarantee someone on here convinced the wife to spend $20k on a trackman for the basement.

  2. Timbleking

    Apr 16, 2016 at 3:44 am

    Jiiiiiiiiiizzzzz ! Swanson, the 8 iron comment made my day! ROTFL!!!

  3. Jason

    Apr 15, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Coming out of the gates strong…I love it.

  4. Boomshaboom

    Apr 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Wow, God wrote an article about how to select your 14. Suprised he needs a putter.

  5. Cyd2293

    Mar 30, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Great Article.

    Loved it.

    A little humor goes a long way.

  6. Martin

    Mar 28, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Swanson!
    I always support anyone who wants to be funny, and I think you did ok for the first time. BUT you have to train harder and score better if you wanna make the cut!!! 😉
    Good Luck!

  7. Mike Honcho

    Mar 21, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    So bad Spaulding Smails gave it a shank and two nose picks.

  8. Junior

    Mar 21, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    where can I get a set of those iron covers?

  9. northgolf

    Mar 21, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Effective satire requires actually being humorous. This is just old, tired, and worn out. Iron covers in the top photo was the highlight and it went downhill from there.

  10. insider

    Mar 21, 2016 at 9:45 am

    is this a stab at early ian poulter when he was a club pro?????????????

    • Mike Honcho

      Mar 21, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Go easy or IJP will tweet (whine) about it to your employer and get you fired.

  11. nath

    Mar 21, 2016 at 7:33 am

    Back to the forums buddy, cmon, you have had your fun!
    The front page is no place for you.
    I’m glad I just wasted 15mins

  12. Jim

    Mar 21, 2016 at 5:19 am

    I learned nothing, finally.

  13. Steve

    Mar 19, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    What a dumb article, what was the point? To fill space? Sometimes less is more. Definately less of this guy

  14. Double Mocha Man

    Mar 19, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Relax! The guy actually has a 17 handicap and is trying to be funny. Though I did appreciate the part about all his wedges… I carry 5 of ’em in a 14 club bag. Inevitably, the one I want to use is hidden from sight under the other wedges. This a Murphey’s Law, even if the wedge is the longest of the bunch.

    The red booties for his irons in the photograph should have been a dead giveaway.

  15. Mill Fickelson

    Mar 19, 2016 at 6:13 am

    Wow “Dufner” do you even know how to read? You must be from the south if you don’t understand satire!

    Ps- nothing funnier than internet outrage, relax everyone it’s just an article and it accurately depicts 99.9% of you

  16. ryan

    Mar 19, 2016 at 3:14 am

    those who are butt-hurt from this article probably just realized that it’s about people like them and how ridiculous they can be. A+

  17. Jim

    Mar 19, 2016 at 1:29 am

    This could have been a funny article if it had been done correctly. The manner in which it was written and came out, was lacking and wasn’t funny at all. The only slightly amusing part was the wedges bent by like .3 degrees. Other than that, a waste of what could have been a really funny article.

    • Cptdot

      Mar 19, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      10000% agree.. Beat it Swanson

      • paul

        Mar 19, 2016 at 11:20 pm

        i have to admit i laughed out loud when i read this article. all parts of it are funny even the disclaimer from Golfwrx . made my day

  18. DB

    Mar 19, 2016 at 12:03 am

    I haven’t read such a good laugh in a while. I would swear I know this guy in real life. hahahaha, Keep the articles coming!!!

  19. Marc

    Mar 18, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Loved the wedge lofts .

  20. RHJazz

    Mar 18, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Serious or satire? It’s a fine, line to get right. Problem I had with this is, for some it’s kind of true – over thinking one’s needs and ability and the elitist attitude of some narcissistic players we may actually encounter. For others, it’s just rubbish and so fantastical it almost makes no sense. Good try with high level of difficulty, but failed to stick the landing. I’d judge it “m’eh.”

  21. Kevin Hawkins

    Mar 18, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    Waste of time reading this. It wasn’t even funny.

  22. Kyle

    Mar 18, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    This is probably the best article I have ever read on this site.

    The funny part is that I opened it actually looking for some good advice.

  23. JustTrying2BAwesome

    Mar 18, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Hahaha this was great. Thank you.

  24. EO

    Mar 18, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    The article made me chuckle, the replies gave me a nice belly laugh. Funny article. Of course it’s pointless.

  25. JustPlainCarpe

    Mar 18, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Hilarious!

  26. Nolanski

    Mar 18, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Lol! I about lost it after the muscleback 1 iron part. You shoulda said something like “I have my putter shafts pured weekly”. Keep em coming.

  27. Tom

    Mar 18, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    “I sleep with both of my Tour-Only Scotties the night before any event; one on my left side and one on my right. Whichever putter I wake up facing is the one that goes in the bag.” Some golfwrxer’s should try this with their Scotties.

  28. Tom

    Mar 18, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    6 wedges..ROFLMAO….ya got me.

  29. Scooter McGavin

    Mar 18, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Wow, this was dumb. I’m sad I wasted my time reading it. If you’re going to post something meant to be funny and satirical, at least make sure it’s actually funny.

  30. Bishop

    Mar 18, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    If you didn’t realize this was a satire by the second paragraph “During normal rounds of golf, I’ll have anywhere between 20-24 clubs in the bag; that includes drivers with different shafts…” you may want to lighten up a bit. If you have 20-24 clubs in your bag at one time, you deserve to have to carry your bag 18 holes once per year…. This was funny, albeit a waste of 10 minutes…

  31. Birdie?

    Mar 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    April 1st isn’t for another 2 weeks or so. WTactualF

  32. RG

    Mar 18, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    What a loser! 8 wedges? I don’t carry a wedge because I never miss a green and I can reach any par 5 with a 2 iron or less. I haven’t been in a bunker since Clinton was in office. Heck 50% of the time I don’t need a putter, I just tap in with whatever club is in my hand. I know your thinking “Why isn’t this guy on tour?” My answer is to much travel, not enough prize money.

  33. Random Reader

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Ha! Good for a smile.

  34. Marc G

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Worst article I’ve read here

  35. Philip

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Too funny! However, can you now write a proper version of the article that gives up a nugget or two? Or are you hoarding those for yourself?

  36. ca1879

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Oh my… some of the comments. I am now certain that it’s impossible to write a satire that’s too obvious.

  37. Wow123

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Funny! But that is because I speak sarcasm.

  38. Clowone

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    1st of April is soon this year..

  39. Weekend Duffer

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    GolfWRX – The article

  40. michael johnson

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    this is the most pointless article ever. it is not a good troll, it is not funny and it is uniformative. booh!

  41. mvandy

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    This is a joke right? wtf is this

  42. duffer

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Wow. Send this guy back to trolling. This article was just a forum for him to brag about how he can hit a 1-iron unlike us mere mortals. Completely useless article if you are a normal human being who hits their driver 230 like 95% of us. Get off your high horse buddy! Write an article this isn’t all about how great you are.

    • Mike

      Mar 18, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      You do realize it was a tongue-in-cheek article, right?

      • mhendon

        Mar 18, 2016 at 8:24 pm

        Lol and someone thought this was serious

  43. Greg V

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I can’t believe I read the whole thing.

  44. Satire

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Enjoyable

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Opinion & Analysis

Two great golf books: “The Rating Game” and “Golf’s Holy War”

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A proper book review pretends to reveal enough of the volume’s contents, that the review reader is enticed to purchase the book with great rapidity. In our time, this might mean AbeBooks, or Amazon, or some other online service. A proper book review communicates the notion that the reviewer understands, in a most profound manner, the intent of the author and the magic of the words. Two proper book reviews are almost too much to handle; the reader pauses nervously, uncertain which tome to purchase first.

You, dear reader, are fortunate. You are about to read two proper book reviews, so let me caution you: you cannot err. Whichever of the two books you purchase, or read, first, will be worthwhile. As will the second. Their topics are dissimilar at first light. As often happens, especially with golf’s great devotees, you will draw connections between the intentions of the scribes and the subjects.

You have my reviews at the beginning, in case you are pressed for time. Both books are well worth the bitcoin that you will exchange for them. Each is an intellectual exercise, and will demand that you dedicate your attention and your thinking to its understanding. Don’t rush the readings, and be sure to prepare a warm mug of your favorite coffee or tea. Have it close at hand as you break the seal on these tomes.

Enjoy, then, reviews of “The Rating Game” and “Golf’s Holy War.”

“The Rating Game”

Why you chose this book~

Human beings like order. Plain and simple. We encourage physical order, chronological order, and even emotional order (the last one is a doozy.) Following closely on the heels of order, is importance of order. We determine that certain items, events, or feelings must supersede others, and presto, we arrive at ranking. Human beings also like to converse, chat, gossip, and we love to share the new with each other. Whether out of envy or a desire for truth, we often compare our, or someone else’s, new with an other. Thus emerges the controversy in ranking.

At the beginning, it is nearly impossible to keep personal opinion, or emotional attachment, out of a ranking. As will all other skills, we need to learn how to properly and impartially rank. Once we remove the personal from the task, our eyes clear and we move toward an outcome. Jonathan Cummings has decades of experience as a golf course rater/ranker. His day job, for nearly four decades, was as a research test and measurements mechanical engineer. He is certainly a fellow who likes numbers, the statistics that they provide, and the relevance of those statistics. He is an expert in golf course ranking, and you love golf. Now it’s time to learn what goes into the rankings that you read each year, in golf’s print and digital magazines.

Some of what you will find~

Eight chapters, with titles like “The Ranking History,” “Categories or Not,” and “The Perfect Rater,” offer a complete assessment of the fundamentals and complexities of rating a golf course for architectural ranking. Cummings draws on personal experiences, both good and bad, equal parts serious and humorous, to make his points about all aspects of the ranking lists that exist, from classic to modern, USA to world, public to casino.

What to take away~

*An understanding of the difference between USGA/R&A course rating, and magazine course rating for ranking purposes. The USGA and the R & A assess courses for difficulty, in both course and slope numbers. Magazines continually acuminate their systems, on the eternal path toward the perfect rating system.

*An appreciation for the subtlety and nuance that, intentionally or not, occur in golf course architecture.

*An admission that different schools of architecture have existed over the past 150 years, and which particulars are held as fundamental elements of golf course design.

“Golf’s Holy War”

Why you chose this book~

There are days when golf feels spiritual, a retreat from the chores of the daily grind, an entry into a beyond that gives us respite. The sun, the dim, the wind, the calm, the trees, the views … no matter the natural elements, we are at peace, with our only responsibility being to our self. And on those days, sometimes, we play well. Our swing finds a rhythm, the golf shots develop a cadence, and the numbers that appear on our scorecard are a pleasant surprise. The question, though, is which side of our self is responsible for the outcome?

Brett Cyrgalis is a sportswriter. He covers hockey and golf, most days. The subtitle of his book, the battle for the soul of a game in an age of science, reveals the dichotomy of golf. It is a game to most of us, but it is a business to a growing percentage of participants. Competitors, coaches, teachers, salespeople, the entire product-development chain, all combine efforts to shape the game that we enjoy. Each of these business people depends on a reduction of the random, a coalescence in order. In contrast, it is the arrival of the unexpected that shapes the golf that the weekend warrior, the buddy tripper, comes to know.

Some of what you will find~

Reading this volume was an existential experience for me. Not so much for what reason I exist, but how I came to exist, golfwise. Cyrgulis connects some of golf’s most important writings, figures, and events to substantiate his thesis: from Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine to Michael Murphy’s Golf In The Kingdom; spanning Ben Hogan to Tiger Woods, and the advent of the mind as 15th club (or is it 1st?)

In addition to writing for GolfWRX, I teach Spanish at a high school in Buffalo, NY. During this time of coronavirus, COVID-19, and virtual instruction, I am compelled to re-examen the way I teach, the manner in which students learn and acquire, and education as a whole. Cyrgalis devotes many pages to the history of instruction, and its present and future direction. Golf’s Holy War is an almanac for a one to three-decade span of golf’s human history.

What to take away~

*An opportunity to build another shelf for your golf book collection. I went to Abebooks while reading, to add a few volumes to my own putter’s parish. I now have The Golfing Machine, The Art and Zen of Learning Golf, and Get a Grip on Physics (I’ll let you figure out the importance of that last one!)

*A quandry~am I left or right brain, or both, or neither? Trust me, we all have our days of each of the three options. More important is, when am I at my best?

*Most important: should I change anything? We are all tempted to try something new, and changing from artist to scientist, and vice-versa, is usually detrimental. That said, life is short and challenges, worthwhile.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Elk is in the house!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with the one, the only, the legend Steve Elkington.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
    Side note: It is my opinion that golfers should pay for fittings, and in a way consider it a knowledge-gathering session. Of course, the end goal for the golfer is to find newer better fitting clubs, and for the fitter to sell you them (let’s be real here), but you should never feel the information is not being shared openly.
  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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