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Op-ed: The focus on equipment has hurt golf

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The marketing machine that the golf industry has become, churning out new drivers, irons sets and putters seemingly over night, has hurt the game more than it has helped it. Too many golfers pay far too much attention to what they are hitting, rather than how they are hitting what they are hitting. The focus on equipment has steered the game in the wrong direction.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum. 

New clubs bring us that excited schoolboy, Red Rider BB gun effect, but by now we all know a great golf game can’t be delivered to us in a box. We’ve all heard the saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

What about fool me 127 times?

The equipment manufacturers are not stewards of the game. They are not necessarily trying to build a better golfing public any more than a clothing company is trying to make the public better dressed. They are businesses that need our dollars to be profitable. While many golf courses seem to be struggling, golf equipment companies are rolling right along, economy be-damned. “These guys are good,” is one way to say it.

The manufacturers are not offering new clubs to the market every year with the idea of improving golfers, they are simply releasing new and fresh product to the market, looking for their piece of the pie. The painful truth is that most golfers have swings that no moveable weights, supersonic shafts, or dynamic paint scheme could possibly help.

Since 90 percent of golfers don’t break 90 on a consistent basis and the average USGA handicap in the United States for men is 14.3, how badly do we golfers really need to spend that $400 on a driver, instead of on a package of lessons from a local PGA professional?

Equipment is important to the game, but equipment is not the game. The game is about impact positions, consistent contact on the clubface and how well a player can control his ball as he hits it around those 18 holes. Even a golfer who has his “ideal” equipment still needs to make good swings and hit good shots.

Finding that ideal equipment is easier said than done. The science behind Trackman, FlightScope and other launch monitors cannot be argued. The accuracy of the information of this technology is incredible. PGA Tour players and top amateurs and professionals can use these devices to dial in proper shafts, club heads, club weights, lies and lengths with amazing results. But how are the rest of us supposed to use them?

My experiences with launch monitors when I was trying to “fit” for new equipment was that they showed me when I was making bad swings. I got two completely different sets of results from Flight Scope with the same clubs on different days. One day I was swinging about the best I could swing and had really low backspin numbers combined with an almost perfect smash factor. A week later my swing resembled a one-winged flamingo’s and my backspin, launch, carry and smash factor numbers were on the opposite end of the spectrum. There was no chance for me to “dial in” any shafts or head choices. I was too busy trying to make good swings to be able to tell which equipment might be best for me.

Golfers are often expected to pay upward of $250 for fitting sessions. That $250 fee puts pressure on us to get the most we can out of the fitting. If I had based an overhaul of my equipment on either one of those days with the launch monitor, I could very well have ended up with an expensive purchase that might not have improved me at all. In fact that was exactly what the pro told me. He said it is often difficult to “fit” people into new equipment and be able to assure them that the new equipment will make them better (outdated or poorly fitted equipment aside). Sometimes all of the new equipment hype is very hard to live up to.

My experiences at demo days at my club were equally as frustrating. TaylorMade came late to the event, with two clubs to hit and only the stock shafts in regular or stiff flex to try out. The grips were almost too slick to swing the clubs and the rep brought a range finder to follow the ball in the air and “tell” us how far we were hitting it. The Titleist rep had a launch monitor that told me I was carrying the driver he gave me to try out 295-yards in the air. Maybe it meant to say 245-yards. These are just two of the examples, and I am sure that the cattle call of people coming and going to these things is tough for any company to deal with, but the process left me feeling a little unwashed.

Conventional wisdom told me to take my club testing to the golf courses to try out drivers during actual rounds of golf. Over a two-week period I used several different Titleist 910D2 and D3 driver head and shaft combinations in about 10 rounds of golf. What I learned was that when I made good swings with almost any of the combinations, it was always better than poor swings with any of the combinations. The results were the same when I tried out drivers from PING and Callaway as well. With my driver swing speed, well-hit shots with just about every club went about the same distance and with the same accuracy.

I eventually settled on a purchase of new irons and woods that Frontier Airlines lost for me on my way home from a family vacation. While I square-danced with Frontier for a few weeks on the phone, a friend of mine offered to let me use his old clubs. They were about a 15-year-old set of huge-headed PING irons, the wrong length, lie, and flex for me, and an eight-year-old Callaway driver, also the wrong flex. I had some old wedges, a trusty old hybrid, his ill-fit 15-year-old Callaway three-wood and a back up putter that had been banished to hell. I figured it was better than nothing. I proceeded to have the three best weeks of golf I had ever put together in my life. Using that crazy combination of clubs, my handicap improved a shot and a half and I shot my career best round on one of the courses I play the most. A person more cerebral than I am might have felt downright silly for all of the money I had shelled out for the new clubs a month a before.

Lost in the fun and madness of trying out new equipment was the fact that good swings, solid course management, and knowing how to execute the short game are more important than the clubs I had in my bag. I grew up in a small Kansas town, on a nine-hole golf course with no driving range. The only practicing I could really do was chipping and putting around our course’s little practice green. I used to do that for hours at a time when I wasn’t good enough yet to play on the course with my grandfather’s nassau groups. Maybe that’s why I have so much fun trying out new equipment on driving ranges now; I never got to do it as a kid. I’m sure there is a lesson for me to remember about that now, but it is eluding me.

When I see the OEMs make videos for GolfWRX describing how they improved one set of irons over their previous year’s model, I can’t help but wonder who out there it is that can really tell the difference in the performance of the heads when they hit clubs with such subtle changes. They are all the highest quality clubs, and I’m guessing Luke Donald really feels a difference between the Mizuno MP-62 compared to the new MP-64. Nick Watney can discern the difference in one model of Titleist AP2 irons over the other and there may be some nice aesthetic and functional differences between the PING S58, S57 and S56 irons. But how many guys can tell the difference and have it really matter?

That player out there who says one is way better than the other might just be looking for a way to justify that Red Rider high once again. Maybe the turf interaction or the flighting built into the head is better in one club for some guys, but if they already owned the previous sets is there really a $900 difference in the new one? The club ho in me will say that I might buy one of the sets anyway, but that’s just because a ho is going to do what a ho is going to do.

The biggest problem with the focus being shifted to equipment rather than getting lessons and honing skills is that people recently new to the game won’t have the background in golf from 30-years ago as a child that prevents the bad “arrows” we sometimes find from keeping the “Indian” from being effective. Golfers are being convinced that their bad tee shots were hit because the club head weights and face angles had been set poorly or that the shaft in their new $399 driver wasn’t good enough. They are led to believe that equipment can be bought that will “fix” their swing flaws. I asked my local pro, a PGA Tour veteran with many made cuts to his credit about a certain shaft I was interested in trying out. He looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. He told me he had no idea what that shaft was, or what shaft was in his new TaylorMade driver he was killing. He had seen me in action many times, and he was polite enough not to come right out and tell me I wasn’t good enough to need anything more than what I had.

We can all choose to spend our free golf time and our golf dollars however we choose to. It doesn’t have to make sense, especially if it makes us happy. I’ll probably buy and sell two or three different putters over the next year or so too. One of my grandfather’s old buddies that helped teach me the game back in the day told me it didn’t matter if you putted with an old sheep herders stick if you are making putts with it. Playing with Bo Peep’s stick would be a lot cheaper, but it would not be as much fun as trying out new putters. The club ho in all of us knows that. That’s why the ho wins out and buys new equipment rather than sticking with what we have for awhile and spending that money on lessons.

It’s fun to hope that the next set of irons, newest driver or precisely milled putter could be be the spark we need to produce our best rounds and Nassau-winning putts. But we just can’t kid ourselves that we wouldn’t have been able to do it with what we had in the bag three, five and maybe even eight-years ago.

Kevin Crook is a contributor for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the GolfWRX.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum. 

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Kevin was voted "Most Likely To Live to Be 100" by his high school graduating class. It was all down hill from there.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Jake Anderson

    Feb 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    @ John – Yes. You are a backwards ho. Either that or a person who needs validation for his retro-taste on the internet. Either way, it would be better if you spent 900 $ on a new set of clubs. It is more fun and promotes economic growth.

  2. sean_miller

    Dec 21, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I might appreciate the guys who are constantly searching for new equipment to fix all their swing flaws, because I can pick it up on the cheap off ebay, but I don’t really want draw bias drivers with lightweight noodle shafts or amped up cutesy named neon coloured irons, so in the end we all lose.

  3. jmvargas

    Dec 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    excellent article..

    IMHO it all comes down to choice—custom fitting or not..

    custom clubmakers will always try to convince you to have ourselves fitted..

    the big boys will always try to convince you that THEY have the right club for you..

    in the end it is YOUR choice…

  4. John

    Dec 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Do we have a term coined for a backwards ho? I just picked up a set of like-new Callaway X14’s because I just can’t seem to appreciate the newer club designs that have as many colours and bombastic decals as a European hockey sweater. So I gotta ask, am I a backwards ho?

  5. Bob borzelleri

    Nov 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    This article should be controversial only to folks who truly believed that the “perfect” set of clubs lies out there somewhere only waiting to appear and change their golf game forever.

    I had a set of Adams Air Assault irons fitted to me some 15 or more years ago. While my committment to the game was much lower then than it is today, I got to a point where most of my iron hits were satisfying. Then I hung a left and simply abandoned the game and to the rear of the garage went the clubs.

    Fast forward to about 4 months ago. I now had time and committment so I started out deciding that I “needed” new clubs. After hitting a few sets, I settled on a set of Adams CB3s (I have always like Barney and his clubs). I took some lessons and have gotten to the point where I really like how I hit the neew clubs.

    Ironically, after dragging out the old Air Assaults last week, guess what? I hit them as well as I hit the new clubs. Looks like I needed a new attitude more than new clubs.

  6. blipnitz

    Nov 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Spending money on lessons may also be a futile attempt to improve. I’ve found that the majority of golf instructors range from useless to destructive. Many try to force a complete change or conversion to “their” swing mechanics. Others don’t seem to know much about a golf swing, and still more just go through the motions or use cookie cutter technique without any real communication. I’ve been trying to play this game for over 65 years, on and off, and have tried professional lessons about 5 or 6 times in several locations. I obtained useful information on only two occasions. One of these was on the last of a series of lessons when my then current problem was pointed out. In this case, the pro could have provided guidance during the first 30 minutes of the first lesson, but then he would have lost the revenue from the remaining lesson sessions. I’d rather spend the money on instruction books.

  7. Larry

    Nov 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I have been playing golf for 40 years and there has been a lot of changes in golf clubs and golf balls. I am hitting drives farther than I ever did when I was younger. It’s not me it’s the equipment so things have improved over time. In an effort to improve my game I recently was fitted with new equipment. The result was only a slight improvement in scoring. I then spent a bundle on lessons. The result was no noticeable improvement. I think there comes a point where you reach your maximum potential based upon your talent and physical ability and getting the latest new game improving equipment won’t help much. I have found that practice and working to improve physically have allowed me to improve more than anything else but the look and smell of something new is hard to resist.

  8. Sean

    Nov 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Ho-ho-ho! I hope Santa doesn’t know that new clubs won’t help us. I was driving the ball like crap and my club had an unfortunate accident. Went back to my 5+ year old Callaway and hit 12, fairways, 17 greens and had the easiest 67 you could imagine before mother nature put and end to my golf season.

    With that said I must admit I will have a new Razr Fit Extreme or x-hot something or other in my bag for sure by the time a winter golf trip comes up.

    Looks like a ho; smells like a ho; sounds like a ho…….guilty as charged…..and proud of it!

  9. reddevilwheezly

    Nov 26, 2012 at 11:16 am

    “a ho is going to do what a ho is going to do”

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  10. Johan

    Nov 26, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Great Article. I’m on the opposite side of this coin. I am and have been playing my 10year old Srixon I-506’s, my 10year old Cleveland Launcher steel 3-wood. CG10 wedges. The most expensive club in my bag is my putter, and believe me, I’ll still play with it in 10years time. I haven’t found something that works better for me than the clubs I have. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Episode 100

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In this 100th episode of The Gear dive, Johnny looks back at his top 5 favorite moments and discusses what’s to come in the equipment industry as we come out of the lockdown haze.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: 3 keys to handling pressure

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Whether you play competitively or not, “pressure” is a big part of this game. Even if we are out for an evening practice nine, when we get over any shot, from drive to putt, we are putting “pressure” on ourselves to perform to our best capability.

So just what is pressure? My dad used to tell us the story about a guy who wanted to learn how to walk the tightrope. He strung a rope across his yard about a foot off the ground and started practicing—first just balancing, then walking, skipping—he got where he “owned” that tightrope. So, he decided he was ready for the big top, to join the circus. The circus manager says, “Well, climb up there and show me what you’ve got.” When he got to the top and looked down about thirty feet, he couldn’t even get off the platform.

Pressure!

Pressure affects all of differently, but it does affect all of us. How can we totally jack a two-foot putt sometimes? How can we chunk a chip shot? We don’t do that on the practice tee! But then, how can tour pros hit some of the gosh-awful shots we see them hit coming down the stretch? No one is immune.

So, I want to share my three keys to handling pressure. I’d like for all of you to chime in with your own personal keys that you use with success.

Here are mine:

  1. Recall success! The first thing that happens in pressure situations is that fear sets in. You may find yourself thinking of that last short putt you missed, or that chip you chunked, or bunker shot you skulled. In Dr. David Cook’s book/movie “Seven Days In Utopia”, the mentor tells his student, “See it. Feel it. Trust it.” See the shot you have and recall the dozens or hundreds of ways you’ve successfully executed it before. Take a few practice swings and feel the swing that will produce that vision. Then trust your skill that you KNOW you have and just execute.
  2. Get S-L-O-W. It’s a natural tendency to get quick when we are under pressure. As you begin to approach the shot, slow down a bit. If you are riding in a cart and approaching the green, pause for a count before you jump out of the cart. Take a breath before you pull the clubs from the bag. Walk a little more slowly over to your ball, which gives you time to think those successful thoughts we just talked about. Make your practice swings or strokes a little slower, more deliberately. And feel the end of your backswing. The quickness killer is not finishing the swing, whether it’s a full iron shot, a short chip or pitch, or even a putt. FEEL the end of the backswing to neutralize quickness.
  3. Lighten up! A nice relaxed grip is essential to a good golf shot of any kind, but pressure affects that first, most of the time. When you are feeling a little “amped up”, focus on your grip pressure and R-E-L-A-X. Your body will not let you hold a club too softly, but pressure sure can make you put the death grip on the club. And it is hard to swing too quickly when you have a nice soft grip on the club.

So, those are my “three keys” to handling pressure. Try them the next time you find yourself a little nervous, whether it’s for the club championship, or just beating your buddies out of a few bucks.

And let us know your keys to handling pressure, too!

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Equipment

Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020

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As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.

Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.

TaylorMade became educators…and kicked off live golf again

Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.

Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.

Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.

PXG leaned in

Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.

The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.

Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.

In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.

Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.

The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.

Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled

Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.

There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.

Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.

Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.

Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”

Cobra Rev 33 Irons

Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.

It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.

What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.

Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.

It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.

The Titleist train chugged on

I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.

So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.

It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.

Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to

Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.

The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.

As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.

Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball

Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.

However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.

 

 

 

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