Full disclosure, I’ve never written about golf equipment, instruction, or any technical aspect of this glorious (read: torturous) game. My wheelhouse is a little more, should we say, old school. I write about fashion. I write about style. I write about how two buttons is all you need in a suit jacket, and how even one button more is a travesty. I write about the art of being a gentleman, about cocktails, and about being a gentleman while drinking cocktails. He Who Shall Not Be Named (but was caught driving a golf cart on a green recently because he was too lazy to get his POTUS-ness out of his cart and walk 10 feet), would hate what I write about. Let’s just say that if I worked in a certain Casa De Blanca, I’d have been fired and been the focus of numerous Federal Inquiries by now for ripping on his wardrobe choices.
That being said, I do know a thing or three about golf, the golf swing, equipment, and club fitting. I’m a full-time golf coach and club-fitter that could write all day about how much I miss the click-clack of metal spikes on concrete, but I’m not here to talk to you about that. I’m here to tell you that the clubs in your bag, those gorgeous little forged things that you dreamt of and saved up for and skipped taking your wife out for your anniversary for… are most likely completely, totally, and unequivocally wrong for you.
I’m not judging. I used to be like you. I’d read every magazine that got stuffed in the mailbox. I’d drool over so-and-so’s sexy new shiny blades and the hot new x-stiff, tour-issue shafts that “Hot Young Golfer on Tour” was playing. And I thought to myself, “I’m a good stick. I swing fast. I need those clubs!” I was a decent stick. Good enough to take money out of the pockets of the older guys at Men’s League when I was 15. I’m even more decent now. Buttercuts, high draws, stingers, sandbag flops, and low skippers, I have them all. And I’m getting even better now because recently I made a very important life discovery. When you get older, you realize how very wrong you were about many, many things (silk button-downs in high school anyone?). I discovered the pure joy of hitting a 205-yard 6-iron with a 3-yard baby fade with my eyes closed (literally). I don’t play a fade, mind you. I make my whiskey money on a power draw that would make Kenny Perry blush, and I have since high school. But two weeks ago, I roped this fade with my eyes closed. Then did it again, and again and again. With my scratch handicap, 95 mile per hour clubhead speed, decent lag and pretty strong load in the transition, I did this, and I’m still doing it with… wait for it… a Ping Rapture “Super Game Improvement Iron” with an 80-gram regular-flex shaft. And I can work it both ways, on demand, depending on what the shot dictates. That’s right, a pretty decent player is loving his new (old) set of irons that everyone swears is only for 18 handicaps. It took me 30 years of playing golf to set aside my biases, get over myself, and actually take the time to find what clubs will allow me to play my best, regardless of what I see when I look down at the ball. And that’s exactly what you should do.
My golf coach and club-fitter (even coaches need coaches) is a bit of a mad scientist. He spent some time on the Nike Tour, and now coaches and builds clubs for not only a number of Tour guys, but also for guys with Q-School goals like me. He’s one of those guys who prefers to stay behind the curtain, so he asked me not to use his name, but his time for the spotlight will come. He uses physics and biomechanics along with a holistic approach to playing the game instead of relying on Trackman data. I have nothing but love for Trackman by the way, just to be clear, but we don’t use it much for my training. When we started working together, I was playing forged head irons with heavy, stiff-flex shafts. They were beautiful clubs and looked impressive in my bag, but I was hitting massive draws with them that would get loose sometimes and cause major damage to my rounds. He watched me on the range and just shook his head. After watching 10 straight pull hooks, he stopped me, mainly because he couldn’t stand to watch it anymore. He told me that my swing was great; we didn’t need to work on mechanics. What we needed, he said, was to start with a club fitting and find clubs that would allow me to “Swing My Swing” (Thanks Arnie!) so I didn’t have to change what I was as a golfer. The next morning he met me on the range along with a bag filled with 30 different 6 irons in different head styles, shaft weights and flex profiles, and we started hitting.
Each club had tape on it with different numbers. These numbers represented the weight and MOI of both the clubhead and the total club, along with the ratio between the two. There was also another strip of tape on the shaft with numbers like 1.56, 1.19, etc. These numbers represented the distance from the centerline of the hosel out to the “sweet spot,” or the center of gravity on the clubface. Don’t ask me the formula used to determine this point, because he learned it from his dad who was a physicist and that kind of math is punching way above my weight class. He handed me a club and I took a swing. Same old huge draw that I’m used to. Then I was told to close my eyes and hit it again. That alone might be one of the scariest things I’ve ever done as a golfer. I hit it pretty well, actually (You’d be surprised by your own ability to do this. Give it a shot.), but it was still left, just a bit less draw. I looked at the number on that club, and it was 1.22. The problem wasn’t with my swing. The problem was that the sweet spot was too close to the heel of the club for me, and the only way for me to catch it solid was to pull across my body and shut the clubface. Thus, a pull-draw. We started hitting the higher numbered clubs where the sweet spot was more out toward the middle of the face where I need it to be. That draw got smaller and smaller, and the pull became less and less, until I found that club labeled 1.62 on it. I started hitting laser-shot baby fades that went forever and exactly where I wanted them to go… with my eyes closed.
It turns out that I had been playing clubs since I was 10 that forced me to swing in a way that isn’t natural for the way my body moves through the universe. I’m not Nick Price. Never have been, never will be. Think more like Pat Perez or Payne Stewart, where the swing looks like pouring syrup over pancakes… in the winter. It’s not that I’m not “good enough” to play forged blades. I’ve got game. It’s simply a fact of me needing the sweet spot to be closer to the middle of the clubface. More and more players on the tours are switching to “game-improvement” irons, especially for the long irons. Do you want to try to tell them that they aren’t “good enough” to play a 4-iron that’s a blade? I didn’t think so. I’m not saying that this is true for everyone. Far from it. My brother (a damn good player in his own right) has a swing that happens to fit perfectly with those sexy Miura Tournament Blades. He has a very strong, purposeful and speedy swing. He needs the center of gravity as close to the hosel as possible. When a player like him swings my clubs, the ball goes right of right and he can’t control it. It’s about finding what works for you. Should we be saying that he “isn’t good enough” to play my “game-improvement” irons? Of course not. That’d be ridiculous, right? So why do we accept the opposite statement as pure truth?
Basically, unless someone designs a blade or muscleback iron with the CG closer to the middle of the face, I’ll be showing up at Q-School next year with some big, chunky, clunky, cavity backs. And I’m okay with that. I’m proud, but I’m not shallow. I’m more concerned now with how good my clubs allow me to play, not how good they make me look. “Not good enough to play blades”? You hear it all the time. GI, SGI, Players Irons… those terms are misleading and just plain incorrect. The terminology needs to change. I don’t care if my irons look like a Barcolounger that was found on the side of the highway with a sign on it that reads “free.” They fit my swing perfectly.
Guys will judge me silently when they look in my bag and assume I don’t belong there. Be my guest, fellas. I’ll be the one on the patio chilling with a Woodford on the rocks after signing for a 65 while the guys with the flashy blades crowd around the scoreboard and stress out, hoping that their 73s get them into a playoff for the last spot. Now onto much more important things, like those pleated trousers…