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Hybrids or Long Irons? A Teacher’s Perspective

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In golf instruction, there’s no more important position than impact. It’s called “the moment of truth” for a reason. If you have a good impact position, you’ll hit good shots. It’s as simple as that. When we’re talking about impact, most of our discussions will revolve around three things: angle of attack, club path, and face angle. They’re all very important, and with proper instruction they can be manipulated rather quickly.

One thing that’s very hard to change, however, is club head speed, and it’s the most important factor for golfers to consider when they’re choosing between a long iron and a hybrid.

When hitting a shot from the turf, golfers need to be able to first and foremost get the ball airborne. And when it comes to hitting effective long-iron shots, that takes ample club head speed. Most golfers fall short in that department, which is why hybrids were created. By design, hybrids are easier to get in the air. They create a higher launch angle, more spin, and more ball speed — all good things for golfers who don’t have a lot of club head speed.

I teach a lot of golfers who fall in the lack-of-speed category. I find that many of them are still trying to hit their 4 iron, or even 3 iron, from the fairway. This generally leads to poor habits — for example “hanging back,” or tilting the spine away from the target to help the golf ball in the air. In fact, using the wrong clubs is one of the leading causes of “hanging back.” It has the same effect as using shafts that are too stiff.

Long irons are for high speed players, plain and simple. When I’m asked how much speed, I’ll usually offer a vague answer like, “enough.” But when I considered it more carefully, I decided to design the following guidelines for my students. They can act as a reference for selecting the clubs that should make up their sets.

Hybrid/Long-Iron Guidelines

  • If you hit a 7-iron 140 yards or less, a 6-iron should be the longest iron in your set.  The 3, 4 and 5 should be hybrids. Even the 6 iron is marginal.
  • If you can hit your 7-iron 150-160 yards, think about nothing longer than a 5 iron; 3 and 4 should be hybrids.
  • If you can hit your 7-iron 160-170 yards, nothing longer than 4 iron; 3 should be hybrid.
  • If you can hit a 7-iron more than 170 yards, you can use any set make up you choose.

Speed is vital to lift, and the design of the hybrid can be a huge help. There are, of course, other swing issues involved in hitting the golf ball too low, but this chart is a start for what clubs should be in your bag.

Not sure if your clubs or your swing is the problem? For a video analysis of your swing, visit my website.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Crazy About Golf

    Dec 14, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Single digit handicaps can certainly game either long irons or hybrids….it’s a matter of personal preference. I sometimes substitute my 16-degree hybrid for my 15 degree fairway wood, depending on the day. Hybrids generally offer better distance, loft and foregiveness compared to long irons. However, the difference is more notable for persons with higher handicaps or slower swing speeds.

  2. Geoff

    Nov 26, 2017 at 12:28 am

    Man, what a dumb article.

    The number on the bottom of the irons is such an arbitrary number. My 7i is 34* and I hit it 155-160 yards. Most 7is now are closer to 30*. Which loft are you referencing, Dennis? By your logic, I shouldn’t be carrying a 4i, but here’s another flaw, what loft of a 4i should I not be carrying? The 24* lofted 4i in my bag, or the 20* standard 4i available in most sets. Come on man. Maybe you should spend a little more time thinking about the content of your articles and whether your thoughts are ideas are backed up with numbers.

    • That guy

      Dec 23, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      Sounds like you can hit your long irons just fine regardless. So what is your point?

  3. Matt

    Nov 21, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Hybrids are excellent. Am on the cusp between irons and hybrids – got on really well with a Titleist 585 3h in the past (par 5 tamer) and an X2hot 4h is currently in the bag next to my 5 wood. Planning to try a current model 5h soon, and if it saves me a few strokes will add a 3 and a 4.

  4. Dennis

    Nov 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Can’t hit my iron 4(19°) further than my i6 (27°) from the fairway, which is 170 yards carry max My #3 Hybrid (21°) flies higher, but not further. My i4 flies 200 yards carry from the tee – I can’t hit my driver further than that. Stuck in Bogeygolf I guess…

  5. Ross37

    Nov 16, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Will you clarify the loft of the 7 iron you mention in your guidelines. I play an older set of irons, and typically have to reach for more club than my playing partners.

  6. Woody

    Nov 15, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Any type of general guide will not fit all…but this is a really good article and guideline for most…I hit my 7 iron 180 and carry 3-PW and have never been concerned about getting the ball in the air..other people I know who hit the ball not as far I have recommended replacing their long irons with hybrids and woods just for the reasons outlined in this article.

  7. Brian

    Nov 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I’m 78 with a low swing speed. Lowest numbered iron in my bag is a #7 and I use a #7 wood off the fairway in lieu of long irons or hybrids. Works for me

  8. Dave R

    Nov 11, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    I’m 68 years old index is 5.3 I hated my hybrids but now since I’ve learnt to hit them properly never going back to long irons . These are so easy to hit have a 5 hybrid with a 4iron length shaft goes 185 to 195 it’s set to 19 degrees. Have another 5 hybrid set to 21 degrees and is good for max 175 yards. This set up workes good for my slower swing speed.

  9. TGK

    Nov 10, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    I am 76 years old, handicap 18. I have not used a 3,4, or 5 iron in 5-6 years. My swing speed with driver is 80mph. I have become much more consistent since i have been using hybrids. Looking for a lefty 6 hybrid in Canada & can’t find one. Anyone?

  10. Dennis Clark

    Nov 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Author’s note: The piece is addressed to low-speed players and is from observations of my students and the feedback i get from them and on Trackman numbers. Thx

  11. Bob Jensen

    Nov 9, 2017 at 5:30 am

    Took me awhile to figure this out. I’m 60, and play to a 12. I added a 5 hybrid last year, and grudgingly a 6 this summer, but it has made a big difference.

  12. JJC51

    Nov 8, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    I’m a 14 handicap and I hit my 3 iron much better than my hybrid. Can’t believe that I haven’t snapped that damned hybrid in two by now, worst club in my bag.

  13. Alan Bester

    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Very informative article, Dennis, but could you also comment on differences in staff stiffness between high speed and lower speed swings?
    Surely shaft stiffness is an important factor for swing speed and ball flight.
    Do hybrids have softer and longer shafts than long irons? I suspect they do.
    Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Nov 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Sorry I was away for bit, but here goes…Yes shaft stiffness, length, loft etc all make a difference. But don’t misunderstand me here. This is an article about DESIGN, IOW the Hybrid is designed to hit the ball higher all things being equal. When the center of gravity is recessed from the hitting area the golf ball goes higher. And yes I think the iron-like length makes them easier also. For 99% of my mid-high handicaps, they are the best thing going. Thx

  14. Willie

    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    I am not sure i really agree with this. for most golfers maybe, but definitely not all.

    I hit my 7 iron 160. fairly weekly lofted Bridgestone DCP’s. I used to have a hybrid in place of my 4 iron and then a 5 wood and 3 wood. once upon a time i had a hybrid replacing my 3 iron but couldn’t hit it for the life of me.

    I did some testing, and found that I am much better off with a 3 and 4 iron. the 3 iron is a safety club off of a tee. I found that the 4 iron, even when mishit would still go fairly straight. a miss with the hybrid had the potential to go way offline. i would rather miss and be 30 yards short of expectation than dropping or taking a stroke and distance penalty. thats just me though.

    worth noting that i dont think my swing speed is high enough to get the most out of long irons, but they stay low enough that they will roll out to a decent distance

  15. ScottK

    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    This article is perfectly true for me but it took me 2 years to figure it out. I hit my 7 about 155 and always struggled with my 5 (already had hybrids for my 3 and 4). Finally, I checked my ego and swapped it out with a hybrid and haven’t looked back. Golf is much more fun when I’m not dreading a 175 yard shot. My father has followed the same advice and gone down to a 6 hybrid. It’s helped him tremendously.

  16. Jordan Robert Anderson

    Nov 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Hit my 7 iron 183. Carry 2-P

  17. Aren van Schalkwyk

    Nov 8, 2017 at 8:32 am

    This guideline is misleading to say the least. I play the 718 CB’s, which obviously have “weak” lofts compared to the AP1. I hit my 7 iron 150 carry, my 4 iron 180 and my 3 iron 190 yards carry. On top of that, I hit the 3 and 4 irons very well. As a matter of fact, they are some of my favorite irons. I do hit the AP1 7 iron 165 on the fly, which is to be expected with a loft of 30*, compared to the CB with a loft of 35*. I’m so over “knowledgeable” people pushing the hybrid narrative. Hybrids may or may not suit certain players, for example someone with a super slow swing speed and beginners may find them to be to more playable than a 3 or 4 iron. But as someone with a “slow”/”moderate” swing speed and as a low single digit handicap, I’m long past the stage where other people tells me what I should play because of how fast my swing speed is or how far I hit a particular club. The bottom line is, play what works for you, not what some other person may think will work for you.

    • Chopper

      Nov 8, 2017 at 10:41 am

      guide·line
      /???d?l?n/
      noun
      plural noun: guidelines
      a general rule, principle, or piece of advice.
      synonyms: recommendation, instruction, direction, suggestion

  18. Ward Wayne

    Nov 7, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    A better answer is “get fitted” because any guideline is too general. Manufacturers can’t even agree what is a 7 iron. The shaft also makes a difference and let’s not talk about the ball. Oh and by the way that TaylorMade 5 iron you bought is about the loft as your fathers Wilson Staff 2 iron so there goes your guide.
    Above all, play what you like because life is too short and live with the consequences! Remeber the game is about putting the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes not distance!

  19. Dylan

    Nov 7, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    It might help to include what loft you’re talking about here. People’s carry with a traditional 36* 7 iron will vary enormously to a 28* shovel from TaylorMade.

  20. Fitted 5-times

    Nov 7, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Very helpful and practical guidance. I also find the old school advice of not playing an iron stronger than 24 degrees and longer than 38” very useful.

    What are your thoughts on using utility irons like Ping G400 Crossover in place of 5i and/or 4i before moving to hybrids or high lofted woods?

  21. The dude

    Nov 7, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Nice article….it amazes me how many players don’t take heed!!

  22. Acemandrake

    Nov 7, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Also…You need fewer irons & more hybrids if the distance gaps between clubs are getting smaller due to a slower swing speed.

    If you hit your 5-iron the same distance of your 6-iron then why are you carrying the 5-iron?

    Loft is my friend 🙂

  23. DrRob1963

    Nov 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Good article!
    I carry 3 & 4 Hybrids usually, but which 7-iron do you mean?
    My Mizuno bladed MP-68 7-iron has a 35* loft and goes a comfortable 145yds. (The most gorgeous clubs on the planet!)
    My Callaway Xhot Pro 7-iron is 0.25″ longer & has 31* loft which I can get out to 160yds.
    And there are even stronger iron sets with jacked up lofts & lengths (“super-shovels”) – TaylorMade has a 28* 7-iron!!!
    The OEM space-race for the longest iron ever has made these mid-iron comparisons almost impossible.

    • Crazy About Golf

      Dec 14, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      As a fellow Mizuno lover, I have to say that, while the MP68 is superb, the MP4 is the best looking iron ever made…..I currently game MP18s, mostly because they have a brushed finish and are less distracting than the chrome finish on the MP4/MP68. Just wanted to lob that out there to be a pain in the a$$.

  24. pb

    Nov 7, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Well… My Ping G25 7i goes 160 yrds and my Ping Eye2 7i goes 150 yrds. Modern clubs have stronger lofts. 5i is the highest iron in my bag (both sets) and then I carry a 4H, 3-wood, and 5-wood. works for me! Overall, good points made in this article. No shame in using hybrids over long irons for the average golfer.

  25. TvGuyJake

    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Generally sound advice; but some irons are more “forgiving” than others. I just switched to a more’modern’ set of Pings and picked up 10-12 yds. per club with moderate swing speed. In my case the only reason to carry a 4-iron is off the tee or punch-outs from the woods. 5-iron is not any more difficult than a 6i, unless your using blades or a forged iron set.

    • Chris

      Nov 8, 2017 at 3:39 am

      Forged irons are not more difficult to hit than cast irons. It’s just a method of manufacturing. Epon 7-series are among the easiest irons out there to hit.

  26. Bob Castelline

    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I like this article for its practicality. I know there are conversations about MOI and dynamic loft and all that, but most of us need simpler thumbrules. As one person said, it’s a gauge. It’s not completely scientific, and it’s not set in stone. One person might hit a 7-iron 160 but still carry a 4-iron. If it works, great. But for others, hybrids are a great choice. They are for me. Also, hybrids aren’t just for people who hit the big ball first. I hit hybrids with a bit of a divot, and I have great success with them. Everybody’s different as far as what they feel comfortable with. But the ideas in this article give you a nice place to start if you don’t have access to sophisticated launch monitors (or don’t care to go that deep).

  27. Bob Jones

    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    My 7-iron goes 145 yards. I can hit a 2-iron 200 yards off a tee, but forget about the fairway. The 3-iron is useless. Both of them have been replaced with equivalent hybrids. I can hit a 4-iron well, but the equivalent hybrid is so much easier. 5-iron on down, OK.

    • Stephen Finley

      Nov 7, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      Geez, Bob, I though you called these cleek, mashie, and mid-mashie. What gives?

  28. Guia

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I think the article is right on. Too many people use long irons because of ego. Hybrids are easier to hit.

  29. Dennis Clark

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    As always, this is a general GUAGE…nothing cast in stone! Another consideration might be weather: On windy days you may not want the ball in the air, and on clam days, you may? Course: elevated protected greens consider hybrids, flat unprotected greens longer irons might not hurt. Lots of considerations.. Resistance to angular acceleration is another help, on toe and heel hits, less so on angle of attack. In general, hybrids have made my senior days in golf A LOT more fun. Glad it helped may of you! Thx.

  30. Greg V

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    What’s a hybrid? I’ve gone to a 7-wood… and I like it.

    • Brian

      Nov 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      Me too. Usual selection in my bag are a driver, 4wood and 7 wood.

  31. Andrew

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    So say one is a 2-10 hcp and hits their 7i 165 and carries a 3h. This makes a 2h and 13-15d 3 wood seem incorrect. What’s next? 16-18d fwy wood, 3h, and 4 wedges? Where can this golfer save the most strokes?

  32. John

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    This is a great article. 20 years ago I read an article that said you shouldn’t hit a 3I unless you were single digits, never swung one again. Then I replaced my 4I as part of 2H/3H/4H (due to high risk). Right now my 5I is almost never swung (180 vs. 175 6I at significantly greater risk) which was a go-to club 10 years ago (probably losing swing speed). So I’m at 2H (195), 3H (185), 5I (180), 6I (175), 7I (165) and carry extra wedges. I save a bunch of money only buying 5I-9I when I upgrade too.

    • James

      Nov 9, 2017 at 2:35 am

      If you take the five iron out of the bag and bend the 6 iron a touch strong you’ll have great yardage gaps and a lighter bag to boot!

  33. Brewdawg

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Useful advice, and helpful to those that don’t know their swing speeds. Probably good advice for most, but after years of hitting a 4 hybrid, I’ve ditched it, and started using my 4 iron again. I hit a 7I about 155 yds. When I caught it right, the 4H flight was a thing of beauty, but I wasn’t near as consistent with it- I may be wrong on the reason, but it seemed the longer shaft gave a greater margin of error. My misses could be REAL bad, rather than off a little. A missed 4I is much less punishing for me. But then, I’ve never been normal.

  34. Theo

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    IMHO launch angle depends on dynamic loft at impact. If you have an iron with the same loft as the hybrid the launch angle will be identical.
    The advantages of a hybrid are: higher MOI of clubhead hence more forgiving and less loss of clubspeed when hitting turf before hitting ball.
    I would phrase it as follows: for golfers who hit ball-divot, mostly irons will do the job.
    For golfers who regularly hit the big ball before hitting the small ball: use lots of hybrids.
    Now the golfers who hit ball-divot are mostly the better golfers with higher clubhead speed, so there is a little bit of truth in your explanation.
    With due respect I disagree with the reasoning: check it with your LM like I did.
    Best Regards.

  35. JJVas

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    I’m a 2-hcp that hits a pretty weak-lofted 7i 165 yards, and at 41, I finally decided that this would be the year I would replace the 4i with a hybrid (I play D-3W-5W). Too often, these high-end qualifiers play at 7000 yards with rough and firm greens, and mean that I better have an A+ driving day if I’m going to get anywhere. Kids can rip a 7i 180y out of the rough and hold greens that I can’t get to from 200y out with a 4i. For the most part, it’s been a pretty good move, but the fact is that when it’s all on the line, I would still much rather hit a 4i on a long Par 3 or on a risky approach. Even anti-hook hybrids are still a lot easier to turn over than a 4i by accident. My final move was to leave the 4i in the car, and base my decision on the course and situation. Maybe at 50 it’ll stay home.

  36. jeff monik

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    This is the one of the best things I’ve read….trying to hit long irons leads to bad habits.

  37. Matt-78

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Dennis,

    Great article! I would think these 7 iron yardages are somewhat relative to what club you play. I play Mizunos that have traditional lofts and don’t have hot faces. A typical easy 7 iron shot is 155-160 carry. However, if I pick up a Callaway Apex 7 for example it is certainly longer. What do you think?

    • Daniel

      Nov 7, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Great feedback. I also think there’s some nuances at play with longer irons that should be talked about here. For example, I hit my 7-iron somewhere between 165-170 yds with Titleist 716 AP2’s (project x 6.0 shafts). I play a 3 and 4-iron but they’re Taylormade UDIs with C-taper lite stiff shafts. I am more accurate with irons than hybrids, and much more accurate with those UDI long irons than traditional hybrids. But the lighter shaft and wider sole provide more forgiveness than my AP2’s.

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Opinion & Analysis

Women’s college golfers (and juniors) are getting significantly better, here are the stats

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Here’s the deal: If you are talking about women’s golf these days, especially at the elite level, you are talking about superstars! These girls are crazy good, and I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight some of the data to help better inform everyone.

Let’s start with a couple key highlights from the first couple of weeks of the 2018-19 season

  • Sierra Brooks fires 65-62 (-17) at College of Charleston
  • Patty Tavatanakit from UCLA shoots 63, including 7 straight birdies
  • Alabama shoots NCAA record -45 at Belmar Golf Club
  • Atthaya Thitikul from Thailand shoots 60 in the final round of the World Junior Golf Championship to finish at 268 (-20)
  • Lucy Li shot 62 in the first round of the U.S. Junior Girls at Poppy Hills
  • Newly D1, California Baptist shoots -6 in the final round at University of South Alabama to finish -4 for the tournament

In 2018, Missouri women’s golf was likely the last team into the regional championship. To earn this right the team needed to average 295; scoring a decade earlier which would have likely made them a contender for being among the elite 10-15 teams in D1 golf! The fact is, in a little over a decade, the game has changed not a little, but a lot. Players from the past would have no chance to compete with today’s teams.

Why? Girls are simply stronger, better coached and more focused on golf. According to Joey Wuertemburger, a teaching professional with 100-plus college players

“The bar is getting raised every day, I’m seeing the next generation of women getting more athletic, which helps with the speed component but also with the ability to make changes quicker in their individual coaching programs.”

One example of the power of women’s golf is Emily Tubert. Emily, a former USGA champion, college golf standout at Arkansas and LPGA player recently hit it 322 yards in a nationally televised event. Emily is not even a complete outlier, look at club head speed data with driver collected by Trackman from the 2018-19 rosters at University of Arkansas

  • Player A: 108 mph
  • Player B: 106 mph
  • Player C: 101 mph
  • Player D: 97 mph
  • Player E: 96 mph
  • Player F: 93 mph
  • Player G: 90 mph

Arkansas is not an outlier either. Troy women’s coach Randy Keck notes two players on his team with club head speeds of 103-ish with the driver and a team average in the upper 90s. This means that players are hitting the ball on average at least 225 in the air. When playing courses of 6,200 yards, this gives them lots of opportunities to have short irons and attack short par 5s.

At the end of last year, according to GolfStat, four women’s teams (Alabama, UCLA, Arkansas, and Duke) had adjusted scoring averages under par, with the University of Alabama leading with 70.93. According to Mic Potter, head women’s coach at the University of Alabama, “Through eleven tournaments in 2017-18, our team was 111 under par. Thirty years ago, if a school averaged 300, or roughly 12 over per round, they were winning tournaments. In 2018 they are more likely to finish last. Student-Athletes are entering college more physically fit, with better technique, and more prepared to play at the highest level. This is reflected in their ability to score.”

The transformation of women’s golf can be seen throughout D1, as well as into other levels. One amazing example is the University of Indianapolis, the 2018 D2 women’s national champions and likely among the best D2 teams ever. According to Golfstat, for the 2017-18 season the adjusted score for the team was 73.45 which helped them win 11 times. Likewise, the women at Savannah College of Art had an amazing year in NAIA women’s golf with an adjusted scoring differential of 75.32.

At the junior level, players are equally impressive. Data collected suggests that the average girl going to play major conference golf has a scoring differential of about minus three for the past three years. This means that they shoot about three shots better than the course rating. That’s impressive until you consider that the best player in ranked in junior golf in the U.S., Lucy Li, has a scoring differential of minus 8.53. That’s almost two shots better than the player ranked second — darn impressive!

Women’s golf is on an excellent trajectory, which includes so much more depth, competition, and superior athletes who are driven to make their mark on the sport. Over the next five to seven years, it will be interesting to see these players develop in their quest to become the best players in the world — I cannot wait to see what happens!

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Equipment

TG2: Equipment leaks and launches for 2019 (TaylorMade, Callaway, Mizuno and more)

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It was the week of equipment leaks and launches on GolfWRX.com. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky discuss the new TaylorMade P-760 irons, Callaway “Epic Flash,” Mizuno ST190 drivers, more photos from the 2017 Nike VPR line, Evnroll putters and more.

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

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Podcasts

Full Transcript: The 19th Hole podcast interview with Barbara Nicklaus

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Check out Michael Williams’ full conversation with Barbara Nicklaus, Jack’s wife, on our 19th Hole podcast below. Listen to the full episode here!

Editor’s Note: We’ve been listening to your feedback about wanting transcripts for the podcasts. Obviously, we can’t transcribe every single podcast, but we’ll try to provide these as often as possible. Thanks for listening!

Michael Williams: I’ve been telling everybody since I’ve met you. If Jack is The Golden Bear, I’ve been calling you the Teddy Bear because you’re just the nicest person, so easy to get to know, and you just remind me of my own Mom.

Barbara Nicklaus: Oh, what a nice compliment. Thank you.

Michael Williams: You’re welcome. We know so much about Jack, his life is documented in so many ways and in so many places. Looking up and researching this chat, I couldn’t even find a biography for you online. There’s no Wikipedia page. There’s no nothing. You’re so humble. You’re so under the radar.

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, I think that’s a good thing.

Michael Williams: And a very rare thing these days, by the way. I wanted to give people and myself a little background on the person that you are. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, Jack and I both grew up in Columbus, Ohio. We were from different sections of town, so I didn’t meet him until the first week of our freshman year in college. My dad was a high school math teacher, and we just had a very nice … I don’t know what you call it. I’ve had a great life.

Michael Williams: When you were growing up, were you from a golf family? Did you know a lot about golf? Were you prepared to be the wife of a golf professional?

Barbara Nicklaus: No, actually when I met Jack, I really didn’t even know golf existed. Golf wasn’t a real popular sport back then, particularly in high school. So, I didn’t really know anything about it when I met him, and we dated. We met, like I said the first weekend of our freshman year in college, and we dated until about New Year’s Eve when you kind of run out of Mickey Mouse things to talk about. He sort of went back dating the girl he had been dating. I actually started dating the fella that she was dating. Then about February, my birthday, all of a sudden I started getting these cards in the mail. I got a birthday card from his sister, and one from his mom and dad, and one from Jack. So, he called me that day and then we’d been together ever since. We were married between our junior and senior year. I sort of decided maybe I should learn a little bit about golf, so I took it Winter quarter at Ohio State. We hit balls just in tin building and then they let us play five holes at the end of the quarter. It was really hilarious because I think I made three bogeys and two pars. I said to Jack, “I really don’t understand why you practice so much.” Of course, I haven’t broken 65 for nine holes since. That was my meeting with golf.

Michael Williams: It sounds like you’d taken the thing seriously, you could have been better than him.

Barbara Nicklaus: Oh, I think that was just a little miracle that never, ever, ever happened again.

Michael Williams: That is a great story. You married Jack, I believe, in 1960 and he went pro in 1961. He’d already had a great amateur career, but did you both know right away that you were headed for one of the all-time great careers? Could you feel it even at the beginning?

Barbara Nicklaus: Absolutely not. Like I said, we grew up in Columbus, Ohio. We planned on living in Columbus, Ohio. We were married between our junior and senior year of college. He was trying to sell insurance, and play golf, and go to school. He really expected to remain amateur. So, Jackie was born in September of 1961, and Jack turned pro in November. We’d been married for a year and half before Jack turned pro. Of course Bob Jones, was one of his heroes. Mr. Jones couldn’t have been nicer to him at a lot of amateur tournaments. It was a big decision, but when he wanted to be the best and he said, “If want to be the best, I have to play against the best.” In 1962, which was his first year on tour, his first tournament was the L.A. Open in January and he split last place with two other golfers at $100. He got a check for $33.33, so, big beginning.

Michael Williams: And you cashed it and spent every penny, didn’t you?

Barbara Nicklaus: I wish I had the check. I never even thought about it at the time, but it’d be pretty funny to have now.

Michael Williams: Yes it would. That check itself would be worth a lot more than $33.33.

Barbara Nicklaus: He didn’t even get to 34 cents. He only got 33.

Michael Williams: Yeah, I know, that other guy owes you a penny, okay. I’ll help you hunt that guy down. I know some folks. Famously, Tiger Woods as he started his pro career was aiming for Jack, in terms of his target for excellence. Was Bobby Jones the guy that Jack was aiming for?

Barbara Nicklaus: You know what, golf wasn’t really talked about in that sense as it is today. I think the first time Jack even thought about breaking Bob Jones’ career record, was when he was at … I’m not sure it was the Open or the PGA in Cleveland and someone said, “Well, if you win today, you break Bobby Jones’ record.” I think that’s the first that was even brought to attention. The majors just as the years have gone on, have gotten bigger in the public’s eyes. [Editor’s Note: Nicklaus won his 1973 PGA Championship at Canterbury Golf club outside Cleveland, his his third PGA and 14th major championship].

Michael Williams: So, at that point he really wasn’t aimed at any records or numbers or anything like that. It was more about achievement, in terms of his own personal goals.

Barbara Nicklaus: It was. It really was. It was, like I said, “If you wanna be the best, you play against the best.” Victories were what he was all about. He always says, “Golf is a game” And he loved it. I always say, “Very few men are really happy in their profession.” And I said, “How unbelievably lucky could Jack be to be happy in two. Playing golf and golf course design.” We both feel very blessed.

Michael Williams: The tour obviously was very different in those days from going on the road to the tournaments themselves. Everything was different. What are some of the biggest differences for you when you look at how the tour now is versus how it was when you were doing it?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, I love the way we started out, but I can’t say that the way the gals and guys are now isn’t better. We basically drove, drove from tournament to tournament. We had Jackie, so that was when you could put a port-a-crib … It would sit in the backseat of the car and we just dumped him back there and traveled. Michael, we’re so old, we didn’t have the disposable diapers back then, so you can imagine how are motel rooms smelled. It was a different atmosphere. If someone else’s husband happened to be playing better, than say Jack, I would keep her kids for the day or vice versa. It was a much smaller tour and more family, but what the wives have now is wonderful. They have a school for the kids, and so they’re all together. The tour’s grown unbelievably, but I still cherish some of those old-fashioned days.

Michael Williams: Were you particularly close to any of the players and their families?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, it really just depended. Winnie Palmer, Vivienne Player and I have been dear, dear friends for a hundred years [laughs]. We hated it when we lost Winnie. Vivienne and I are still really good friends. There’s a lot of them out there that I still see a lot. We just kind of started in the early 60s and the six of us traveled together a lot.

Michael Williams: I just wondered if it was a barrier to friendship, the fact that Jack was at another level than these other guys.

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, you know what, I don’t think he was thought of it back then. He was really just starting out, and obviously Arnold was winning a lot, and Gary. Later on, Tom Watson came along and just a lot of the other guys, so it went in steps and everything fit together.

Michael Williams: Yeah. There’s sort of a smooth transition if you will between those generations and groups of players. You mentioned raising kids, the difference now between raising kids. You have, let’s see, one, two, three, four, five, I believe?

Barbara Nicklaus: Yeah, we do.

Michael Williams: Well, five majors of your own. One of them named Michael, quite wisely.

Barbara Nicklaus: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Michael Williams: Appreciate that! Raising the kids must have been just wild, yeah?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, you know what, Michael? When you say that, I have the attitude, “You know what, you do what you have to do.” Of course, everybody who knows me, knows this story, but I’ll quickly tell you. When I was at the Masters in 1962 and Jackie had been born the September before, so I’m on the back patio with some other wives. I’m bemoaning the fact that I missed my baby and this and that and the other thing. There’s sort of an older woman sitting over on the patio knitting. All of a sudden, she put her knitting down. She put her finger in my face and she said, “Listen little girl, you had Jack long before you had that baby and you hope to have Jack long after that baby’s gone. Now you grow up and be a wife.” I was kind of taken aback. It actually was Elita Mangrum. She was Lloyd Mangrum’s wife. I was kind of taken aback and then I didn’t see her for about 10 years. I saw her and I said, “Elita, you will never know what you did for my marriage.” I said, Jack would call me and I might have three in diapers and he’d say, “I’m lonely.” I said, “Elita, I was on the next plane to that tournament.” So, it was sweet because I can still see her finger in my face as a 22 year old wife.

Michael Williams: What a life changing moment, such a great story.

Barbara Nicklaus: Oh, it was and I’ve shared that with a lot of the younger wives. Just because you become a mother, you don’t stop being a wife. That was one of my biggest lessons.

Michael Williams: In your life, you’ve obviously had some great blessings and you’ve had some amazing experiences. You’ve led a singular life with a lot of success, but like all of us, life is not all success. You experienced your share of tragedy. The loss of your grandson Jake was a tragedy that’s unimaginable. But that same year you founded the Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation. That’s when your career in philanthropy really took full flight. If you would, just talk a little bit about the start of the foundation.

Barbara Nicklaus: Of course, the loss of Jake was unbelievable. It’s a double whammy because you feel so bad for your children and then you’ve lost this precious baby. But our thinking that we wanted to help children really started when our daughter was 11 months old. We had a scary experience with her and thought we might lose her. So we sat in the hospital looking at each other and saying, “You know what, if we’re ever in a position to help anyone we want it to be children.” We just feel blessed that we’ve been able to do that. We did start our Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation in 2004, I think it was. We lost Jake in 2005 and we were just helping smaller places. Well, when Jake died, we just jumped to a bigger level. That horrible statement, “Some good comes out of all bad.” Is true; Jake was such a precious child, and so we feel like we’re keeping his memory alive with a lot of the charity work that we’re doing in Jake’s name.

Michael Williams: I was amazed to hear the story about the Foundation. I knew something about it, but having attended the events during the summer, I saw the videos and met some of the people there. I tell you, honestly, and it’s not even just a turn of phrase. There literally was not a dry eye in the house when you talked about some of the ways that you’ve helped people. I love the fact that you take on causes that nobody else takes up. These unknown diseases and you’re applying charity and philanthropy and research where no one else is. No one else is helping, and you dive in and do those things. It must be a wonderful feeling.

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, that’s a nice compliment, Michael. We started our foundation and we wanted it to be local. We wanted to grow it, so that we can be a global foundation. When we partnered with the people at Creighton Farms, we feel like we’re branching out from just our home area. Of course the last two years, it’s been benefiting PKU, which to tell you the truth, I had never heard of. [Editor Note: Phenylketonuria, also called PKU, is a rare inherited disorder that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in the body. For the rest of their lives, people with PKU need to follow a diet that limits phenylalanine, which is found mostly in foods that contain protein].

It’s such a rare thing to happen, and such a distress for a family. That’s been wonderful to help that charity. We’ve helped Children’s National in Washington, D.C. and of course the beneficiary for the Memorial tournament in Columbus, Ohio is a nationwide Children’s Hospital. We just feel blessed that we’ve been able to help children.

Jack has been unbelievably great. He’s actually supported me all these years, and now that he’s not playing so much golf, we’ve really gotten him involved. I think he’s totally enjoying being a part of this charity and kind of just hearing what’s been after him. In fact, I tease him that I’d had to raise his salary twice this year. He laughs. He says, “Yeah, from zero to double zero.” But he’s a pretty good employee.

Michael Williams: That is awesome. When I talked to him again during the summer, I asked him whether he enjoyed the 18 majors and all the wins more or if he enjoyed the philanthropy more. He said he really enjoyed the philanthropy more and it was because he was a partner of, albeit a junior partner, to you. That’s what he said.

Barbara Nicklaus: Oh, oh, well I haven’t heard that, so I won’t tell him I heard that.

Michael Williams: Hopefully he’s listening to the show every week, but I’m just throwing that out there. Just before we wrap it up, I want to go a little bit more about your, back up to a little bit more about your role as a mentor on the PGA tour. Talk about the players themselves because you get to know some of these guys, these young men. Of course, they make more money, have different lives, but other than that, are they really different than the young men that were around when Jack was touring and during his career?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, you know it’s funny, Michael, ’cause you look at all the generations and this generation, all I can tell you is, gets it. I think they have the greatest group of young players. Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy, and Daniel Berger, and Jordan Speith, I mean just so many of these young guys. They get it. They’re giving back at early ages. It’s really fun to see. When some of the young girls will ask me some questions, I’m so complimented because I’m really probably not even close to being their mother now. I’m closer to being their grandmother. The girls are adorable. They’re special and they’re very supportive. It’s just fun to see.

Michael Williams: Did you ever give someone the Mrs. Mangrum speech?

Barbara Nicklaus: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I think an awful lot of the young girls, that’s one of the first things I always say. Because it’s been several years ago, but you know I have heard some say, “Well, I’m not gonna do that anymore. I have a baby to take care of.” Then all of a sudden, I see Elita Mangrum’s finger in my face again and I have shared with a lot of the girls. In a nut shell, it’s very true.

Michael Williams: So I’m gonna give you a fantasy scenario here. Let’s say you’re queen of the tour, empress of the PGA tour-

Barbara Nicklaus: Uh-oh. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Michael Williams: … It’s been handed down. The decree has already been written. Would you change anything? What would you change? What would you step in and say, let’s do this a little differently?

Barbara Nicklaus: I’d like to say … You know, I don’t think I’d change anything. Jack and I were 20 years old when we got married and took all four of our parents with us to get our marriage license. I feel like we’ve grown up together. I feel like we’ve been a team and a pretty good team. People say, “Well, what about being a golf widow?” I said, “You know what? Jack has always made me feel like I’m a part of his life.” If it’s a phone call or a wink or what.

Barbara Nicklaus: I said I’ll tell you a story. It was at Oak Hill at the US Open and after the round, there’s like 40,000 people on the golf course. After the round, he said to me, he said, “Where were you on the 8th hole?” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. You know that I wasn’t there on the 8th hole?” I actually had stopped to talk to, well, it was Laura Norman, at the time. I did miss the 8th hole and I said, “How in the world do you know?” He says, “I know how you walk and I know where you are and I couldn’t find you.” That was probably the nicest compliment he ever gave me. ‘Cause I didn’t even think he knew I was on the golf course, even after say 30 or 40 years of following him. So anytime I feel like golf widow, that little story comes to mind and I just smile.

Michael Williams: You know, I’m a great big mush ball and it’s not fair for you to make me cry on my own stupid radio show, okay. It’s just not cool.

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, come on down and I’ll give you a hug.

Michael Williams: Sold. Last couple of questions. This is like total trivia. I happen to know what Jack’s favorite flavor of ice cream is and we share the same favorite flavor. It is in fact butter pecan…

Barbara Nicklaus: Yes, you are correct.

Michael Williams: Yes. What is your favorite flavor of Jack Nicklaus ice cream?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, some of them that haven’t been out very much they … I actually, to tell you the truth, love the vanilla.Then they have a nice black cherry, and they have a mango that’s good. There are a lot of flavors that really haven’t hit the public in force, but vanilla’s terrific.

Michael Williams: Yeah, we had a couple of bowls. Getting back to the Foundation. I know there’s a lot of people that are aware of the Foundation now, but don’t necessarily know how to contribute and/or participate. How can they get more information about contributing, going to events, that sort of thing?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, we have a website, which is Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation. We are with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami now… It was Miami Children’s Hospital, and they changed the name two years ago to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. ‘Cause there again, we’re trying to get more of a global feel and have people know we now have treated people from every state in the union and 119 countries. We’re very proud of that … just for an example, 64 pediatric cardiologists, so we have just a terrific heart program, cancer program. Our foundation supports that as well as other charities around the United States. It’s our tiny little foundation and it’s growing. The Jake Tournament, which we do every year at the Bear’s Club here Jupiter, Florida, in memory of Jake, is probably one of our biggest fundraisers, and that goes to our foundation and to some of the hospital projects.

Michael Williams: Well, I can just say that we, collectively, the golf, sports, America in general, we’re so proud of you. We are in awe of you for being the mother that you are, the wife that you are, the philanthropist that you are, and just overall the person that you are.

Barbara Nicklaus: Oh, Michael, that is so sweet. It’s interesting because golf has given Jack and me so much more than we could ever give back to golf or the world. It’s opened a lot of doors for us and we feel blessed that golf has opened these doors and helped us to help other children. Thank you. I loved talking to you, Michael and I hope we’ll see you soon.

Michael Williams: Thank you so much, dear. I will be down there to pick up that hug.

Barbara Nicklaus: Okay, I’ll be waiting. We’ll also feed you dinner. So, come on down for a hug and dinner.

Michael Williams: Ice cream for dessert, no doubt, right?

Barbara Nicklaus: Well, sure. Absolutely.

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