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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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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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