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Should you get new clubs or lessons for quick improvement? Here’s some data…



So I think I have solved the age old question: “do you need new clubs or lessons?” And I have data to back up my suggestions!

First, let’s look at the clubs I am using for this article.

You will see that I used an old Tommy Armour 845 Silver Scot, a forged TaylorMade Burner Forged iron from 2009-2010, and my current P790 from TaylorMade. Of course, we know that the lofts are different between these clubs, and there’s been years of engineering enhancements; we know it’s not an apples to apples comparison, and that’s the point! We are only looking at overall performance to see if we can get away with using older equipment for an extended period of time, or do we need to get rid of them and take lessons? How old is too old?

The Data



TrackMan data

From a dispersion standpoint, the P790 and the Burner have a tighter clustering. Obviously, the older club had the biggest miss pattern since it has the least amount of forgiveness. Therefore, I would say that the older model necessitates upgrade, but not necessarily the Burner.

As we look at the distances, we can see that there are huge differences in the three clubs: 161.1, 171.5, and 183.5 yards. Now from a club vs. lesson standpoint, if distance is a real issue in your game, then I would suggest changing since there is 20 yards difference between the old and the newest club. If not, then you can stick with your old bats and use the extra money to buy a few lessons, as long as your dispersion isn’t totally off.

The final thing I would look at is the height and landing angle of the clubs, and you can see that the last two clubs hit the ball about the same height and have basically the same landing angle into the green. But as we could guess, the older club is not even close.

Conclusion: If your clubs are more than 10 years old, I would suggest an upgrade from a technology standpoint. However, if your clubs have the somewhat newer technology that hits the ball higher with less loft, then you are safe…for now. I would say that unless there’s a serious issue with your clubs (not fit properly, dispersion is terrible, etc) then you should take lessons. To the guys with completely outdated sticks, I would suggest buying newer technology asap. And obviously, if your grooves are completely worn, it’s time to upgrade!!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico ( He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email:



  1. Gerald Teigrob

    Jul 4, 2018 at 11:57 am

    I still have a good part of my Adams A7 irons but are gradually moving more to Redline irons and have replaced my irons with the Cobra Bio Cell in both stiff graphite and stiff steel. I left some clubs of mine behind to pick those up and I nearly have a set of Cobra Baffler XLs. Not everyone has the luxury of upgrading like I do with our golf course but as long as you leave some clubs behind, you, it appears to be the honor system…these are demo irons. So with that in mind, I won’t need to upgrade for a while! I’m glad to have both stiff graphite and steel in the Bio Cell irons!

    • geohogan

      Jul 7, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Unless the shafts are identical in all of the irons tested, then you can bet your testing difference in shafts more than iron heads.

  2. Tom

    Jul 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Let’s talk about shafts.

    Just how much clubhead speed/distance is gained for every, say 10 grams, less shaft weight? Maybe 2-3 yds with a 7 iron?

    How much distance/ dispersion difference is there between stiff and flexible shaft tips? Maybe 2-3 yds distance, 5-10 yds dispersion difference with the same 7 iron?

    • Tom

      Jul 2, 2018 at 11:27 am

      On shaft weight, I way overstated the distance gained for 10 grams lighter shaft .5 to .7 yards is probably closer to reality.

  3. Dr Tee

    Jul 2, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Do both. Lessons and new clubs are not mutually exclusive. No new club will correct a bad swing path

    • Gerald Teigrob

      Jul 4, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      I have managed lessons at GolfTec, so now I need to apply those principles to my own game with newer clubs! Fortunately, I can go back to previous lessons and see what I did online and what the purpose of that lesson was! Lessons and club fitting can go along well…that way you get to see how well your playing with your current irons is in relation to newer irons!

  4. Lane Holt

    Jul 2, 2018 at 8:25 am

    This is not a serious test / comparison. Their is nothing in a iron head that will make a ball go further other than it’s loft. If folks ever learn that the shaft is the engine and it ‘s performance is many times more iimportant that the head these Mfgts. will not be able to charge their ridiculous prices .
    When are we going to learn ? Iron heads ( faces ) have not changed in 50 years. How many tournament did Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson win ? The ball only stays on the face 1/20 th of a millisecond. Think about that and tell me what difference the head makes?
    Now- could a shaft with a flexible tip make a difference ? You betcha it does!

  5. JThunder

    Jul 1, 2018 at 2:07 am

    The distance question isn’t answered at all in this article; from what I can gather, the clubs were 5 irons? So, compare the 845s 4 iron to the 790 5 iron – loft and length are likely closer. If the dispersion and trajectory are better on the 790, then it is an improvement. Also, compare the 790 PW and 845s 9 iron – again, probably similar loft and length. If the 790 dispersion is better, then you’ve gained something. If not, then really all you’ve done is re-number the clubs, which is meaningless.

    For dispersion, I would double the number of balls. Either it will close the gap – make them more similar, or if the older clubs is less forgiving / harder to hit, the gap will widen.

    • NB Solets

      Jul 1, 2018 at 10:47 am

      Agreed. If the test did not reasonably match loft and length, then the test results are fairly meaningless. Most of these “tests” get this wrong.

      • Geohogan

        Jul 2, 2018 at 1:49 pm

        and use identical shafts both length and cpm. Then test all irons with the identical high end shaft.
        If they did that and new irons proved not to be significantly better than the old, would golfers stop buying new irons?

    • Johnny Penso

      Jul 1, 2018 at 7:25 pm

      There is a 4.5 degree difference in lofts between the 7 irons of the 845’s and the 790’s. That’s a whole club plus a bit. But your point is well taken. You’d think that someone in the golf business would now that you test dispersion at fixed distances not based on the arbitrary number on the bottom of the club.

  6. Tony

    Jun 30, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    845’s were my first irons. Shot my lowest round ever, 74, with those clubs.

  7. Dan

    Jun 30, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    readinf this I’m not thrilled I just dropped $1300 replacing my old irons

  8. SV

    Jun 30, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    Maybe it’s my eyesight, but dispersion for the 845s and P790s both distance and left to right appear to be about the same. The Burner has tighter dispersion. Trajectory is definitely better with the newer irons.
    If you want to improve find an old blade iron and practice with it. Add a real wooden driver also. It really does make a difference.

  9. K

    Jun 30, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Usually far from a quick improvement but Im a BIG believer in the old “true blades are the best teachers”. I know it can be tough for some people coming from GI irons to stick it out and make it work. Though once it clicks in their head how to strike it perfectly they are on a whole new level of lower scores. Everyone is capable of making it work. They might not hit the blades as far due to lofts and club speed at that point they should switch back to the GI clubs when on course and want distance/lower scores. I think everyone that wants to improve should at least get a few (if not a whole set) of decent used bladed irons and start practicing.

    • Richard Douglas

      Jul 1, 2018 at 9:51 am

      When I see tennis players practicing with Wilson T-2000 rackets I’ll agree. Until then, practice with what you’ll play.

      • Johnny Penso

        Jul 1, 2018 at 7:30 pm

        When I see professional golfers playing with blades I’ll agree…oh wait…

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WATCH: Two drills to help you stop hitting it fat



Here’s a response to a question on my Instagram page from Neil Riley. He asked if he should steepen the angle of attack in the downswing in order to stop hitting fat shots. In this video, I share two of the reasons why golfers might be hitting fat shots, as well as two drills to practice that will help them stop hitting it fat.


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Changing your golf swing? Consider this before you do



Golfers I have taught over the years have an almost uncanny ability to put the golf club on the ball (to varying degrees, of course). I have seen well-hit shots from an incredibly wide variety of positions. I’ve seen closed faces, open faces, steep swings, flat swings, outside-in paths, inside-out paths, slow and fast swings, strong grips and weak grips ALL hit the golf ball solidly at times. How? Well, thinking about this may very well help your swing, especially before you decide to change something in it. Let’s take a look at a few examples to explain.

Strong Grips/Closed Clubfaces

We’ll start with the example of a strong grip that tends to get the clubface quite closed to the arc in the swing and at the top of the swing. If that is left alone in the downswing, the shots are very predictable: low and left (for a right-hander), sometimes barely getting off the ground. But many golfers hit the ball in the air and straight with a strong grip; in fact, many hit high blocks to the right. How? Well, they open the face on the way down and usually “hold on” through impact. They adapt to the closed clubface to make it work, and that’s the point here.

Now, if they reach good impact consistently like a Dustin Johnson, Graham McDowell and several others do with a closed clubface, we have no problem. But often club golfers do not; in fact, many slice and top the ball from a shut face at the top.  They do so because opening a closed face is a very shallowing move and prevents one from releasing the club properly (it’s a power outage as well).  Functionally, however, opening a shut is far better than releasing it from there, for obvious reasons. If the trail hand pronates, the face goes from closed to really closed. So golfers simply learn to open it.

So along comes some well-meaning friend who says your clubface is really closed at the top. You look at many great players, and sure enough, your face is clearly shut. So you correct it. What happens next is also very predictable: high and very right, and very thin with many topped shots. Why? Because you only corrected part of the problem. You fixed the shut face, but now you’ve taken a square clubface and massively opened it as a force of habit. You have ingrained that move into your swing because you had to open your old, shut clubface in the downswing. Correcting only ONE thing made your swing worse. Your swing is now dysfunctional.

That’s why if you commit to one change for the sake of improvement or consistency, you have to commit to both changes. If you don’t, you’ll get worse… not better.

Steep Swings

Here’s another: many amateur players start the downswing with the golf club far too steep. Maybe it’s over the top, maybe not (you can be just as steep from inside the ball). But when the golf club is too vertical in transition, it can result in any one of a number of impact mistakes: namely fat, slices and toe hits. So the idea of “flattening the transition” (good idea) becomes your priority, but there’s always a catch. Most experienced golfers correct steep through one of a few different ways listed below:

  • Raising the hands (standing the club up) to avoid fat shots
  • Tilting the torso back or away from the target to avoid opening the face
  • Sending the hands away from the body to avoid toes hits
  • Raising the swing center

You get the picture here. You learn to get the club on a better plane (flatter with the butt of the grip pointed more at the golf ball), but you’ll likely still have one of the “fit-in” moves left into impact. So a flatter club, which is by far a better way to square the face, might result in a shank if you’re used to sending your hands away from your body to avoid a toe hit. Raising the hands might top. Tilting the torso back away might hit shallow fats or tops. So you fixed the steep transition, but your impact is worse! Again, you’re dysfunctional.

Remember, if you commit to one change, you MUST commit to both.

Weak Grips/Over-The-Top

One more: Golfers who start out with a weak grip (as most do) slice. So as a reaction, they come over the top and swing outside-in. So they fix the grip, and of course, the result is predictable. They pull the ball, generally low and left (for right-handers). You get the pattern here. They need to learn a new swing direction, and on and on.

The lesson is clear; a single correction of a swing issue can be sufficient, but in my experience, two corrections must be tackled for long-term improvement. What to correct first? Well, you’d have to consult with your teacher or coach. As a rule, I try to get better impact first if I can get someone there from where their swing is now. Some other teachers may prefer a different sequence, but I think they’d all agree that a two-part correction is ultimately in the works.

I’ve always believed that teachers can disagree widely on the prescription, but they should be pretty much in unison regarding the diagnosis. Learn the swing flaw AND your reaction to it before you decide to make a swing change.

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How to use your handicap to lower your scores



The fastest way to improve the game of an amateur, or a handicap golfer, is to use the established handicap as a guide to direct and then to measure that improvement. The measurement component is simple; as the game improves, the handicap goes down. Using the handicap as a guide is a bit more complex because the player must be dedicated, determined and disciplined enough to stay within the improvement process. And before I share with you the process, I want to share the foundation, or the rationale, that makes it work.

“Placing the ball in the right position for the next shot is 80 percent of winning golf.”

— Ben Hogan

Not all that long ago, I was present when a friend of a client of mine was complaining that no matter what he did with practice or lessons he just wasn’t getting better. He said that if he could just break 90 once he could “die a happy man.” It sounded like an opportunity to be of service to me, so I agreed to a playing lesson. The short version of that lesson was I told him what to hit and where to hit it — and he shot 87.

Was he happy? Not on your life! Angry, not quite… but really upset. Why? The poor guy said he didn’t have any fun!

The day of the playing lesson, I met the player on the range while he was warming up. I observed that he should never hit a driver, so I didn’t let him. I observed he couldn’t hit a long iron, so I didn’t let him. I had him tee off with a six iron on the par 4’s and 5’s, which he hated. And if he could have controlled his putting distance a bit better he wouldn’t have three-putted three times. No penalty shots, no water balls and no OB’s. All we did for 18 holes was try to put the ball in play and to keep it in play. He hated it. So much for dying a happy man.

During this playing lesson, I used the player’s handicap as a guide to maximize his playing ability, and I used his ability to help him make the best score he could at that time. So how did I use his handicap? I could see this player was no better than an 18, so I added one stroke to the posted par for each hole. Par 3’s became Par 4’s. Par 4’s became Par 5’s, and Par 5’s became Par 6’s. Once his par was established, he played each hole to get on the green according to that par adjustment. For example, the 210-yard par-3 became a 210-yard par-4. So instead of trying to get on the green from the tee, we used a strategy to get on the green in two and then two-putt for a 4, or “his par.”

I advocate every player use this handicap game-improvement system. A 15-handicap adjusts 15 holes so his par changes from 72 to 87; an 8-handicap adjusts eight holes so that his par changes from 72 to 80. I use this process for plus handicaps and professionals as well. A plus-4 adjusts four holes so his/her par changes from 72 to 68. Using this mindset, my playing lesson shot 3-under his par of 90.

I’ve had clients cut their handicaps in half in just a few months by adherence to this process. It works in lowering scores because it eliminates most “unforced errors,” and about half of all dropped shots at all levels are a direct result of unforced errors. Unforced errors occur when something is attempted that the player can’t do or shouldn’t do. The fewer unforced errors per round, the lower the score. It’s as simple as that.

I strongly urge golfers to chart each round of golf in order to identify every unforced error. Just email me at and I will send the game-improvement scorecard that I have my clients use to evaluate their performance.

Posting lower scores is how handicaps go down, and all handicaps plateau when the player is faced with the realities of what he/she can and can’t do. For example, an improving handicap golfer may require the need to use clubs or hit shots not previously necessary. The playing experience reveals what needs practice, and practice is where the player should learn what can and can’t be done. Rule of Thumb: if you can do it 7/10 times in practice, you can consider doing it in play.

In the opening paragraph, I stated that dedication, determination, and discipline are required to stay within this improvement process should the player decide to implement it. But I should have said it takes a whole lot of all three. Experience tells me that players say what they feel, but do what they want. Neither is a plan for progress.

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19th Hole