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.
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).
Personally, I don’t use fairway woods or hybrids because:
- I don’t see the point.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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