As you might imagine, playing golf as long as I can remember–and then tacking onto that passion 40 years in the golf equipment industry–has given me a broad perspective on the evolution of golf clubs and the game we play. And those six decades of observation and experience have not yielded a shortage of things that make me scratch my head and just wonder…wonder why that is?
Of course, beginning golf in the 1950s and developing into a pretty good teenage golfer in the 1960s meant that I learned with persimmon woods and forged blade irons—that’s all there were back then. As I entered the golf industry in the late 1970s, I was blessed to do marketing work for Joe Powell, who was a total maestro when it came to crafting the finest persimmon woods. That was before the introduction of the TaylorMade metal woods, so everyone played persimmon. I learned a lot about golf club performance from Joe; for example, you wouldn’t know that he was frequency-sorting shafts before anyone was commercially offering “frequency matching.” Joe just saw it as a way to eliminate a variable in the golf club.
Over those 40 years in the golf equipment industry, I have observed the evolution of all our clubs from those earlier “states of the art.” No one then would have imagined the technology we now see in drivers, irons, putters, shafts…but all that technology leaves me scratching my head all too often; I would like to share just a few of those puzzling observations and get your take on them, OK?
What really makes today’s drivers so much longer?
It is impossible to isolate any single technology and how much it affects driving distance. Since those days of persimmon, we have had quantum leaps in shaft technology, heads have gotten nearly three times the size in volume, we have pushed perimeter weighting to the max, and we have faces of exotic metals that act like trampolines. While all of those things have contributed to the distance gains, as far as the driver is concerned, my take is that it mostly boils down to two primary things.
- Drivers are at least two–and up to three-plus ounces–lighter than they were back then; that’s a weight reduction of 15-25 percent, so of course, we can swing them faster…and clubhead speed makes the ball go further.
- We all swing harder than ever before because the penalty for an off-center hit has been reduced dramatically. In my opinion, all the other technologies only tweak the effect of these two advancements. What do you all think?
What is the deal with “matched sets” of irons?
From the advent of “matched sets” in the 1920s (a development pushed by Bobby Jones), irons have been designed so that the lowest-lofted 2-iron (now 3 or 4) through the highest loft club marked ‘P’ or ‘W’ all look alike. That’s always puzzled me because the impact dynamics of a 25-degree iron are radically different from those of a 45-degree iron.
Only recently have manufacturers begun to mildly modify the mass distribution through the set to give higher launch angles to the long irons and lower trajectories to the short irons, but when will they take this to the optimum and break the chains that bind–the restriction that all the irons in a set must look alike? [NOTE: I know that mixed sets have been offered and failed, so maybe it’s us golfers that won’t let them do that.]
About those adjustable drivers/fairways…
The advent of the adjustability device has completely taken over the driver category. There are very few sold today that are not adjustable, and there are a myriad of devices and principles espoused by the various manufacturers. But I’ve always been puzzled by one very important aspect of this. It would seem to me that to be truly “tweakable,” the driver shaft would have to perform in an identical fashion regardless of the position to which it has been rotated.
But we know that even the finest graphite shafts are not completely straight, completely round or completely symmetrical in flex performance. The fact is that, at 100-plus mph, the driver shaft is exhibiting a lot of split-second dynamics, and those can change depending on the orientation of the shaft into the clubhead. That’s why we have the concepts of “spine-ing” shafts and even more sophisticated “Pure-ing.” The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know about any specific shaft. I’ll leave the rest of this conundrum to your own head-scratching.
Forged blade irons vs. mainstream wedges
Being a wedge junkie, this one puzzles me the most. Statistics indicate less than two percent of all golfers game a true single-piece forged blade iron (but a large percentage of tour players still favor them).
I’ve heard all the reasons…
“The thin top line is intimidating.”
“I can’t get the ball flight I need from the lower lofts.”
“I’m not good enough to play these.”
“They are not forgiving enough.”
“Blah. Blah. Blah.”
But yet 95 percent or more of all wedges sold are of the same design favored by the tour players. Single piece cast or forged designs…just like tour blade irons. Heavy and stiff steel shafts…just like tour blade irons. I can’t make sense of that, but with very few exceptions, that’s all the industry gives us, isn’t it?
Let me share a little secret that no one will tell you. On an “Iron Byron” swing robot, a tour blade 9-iron is much more forgiving of mishits than any of the current mainstream wedges.
Does that make any sense at all?
I think I might have just opened a can of worms, and we can spend lots of time talking about this, I’m sure. And we probably should. Please sound off with your comments on this first handful of topics, and let’s tackle some more.
What makes you go “hmm…”?
Clark: A teacher’s take on Brandel Chamblee’s comments
Because I’m writing to a knowledgeable audience who follows the game closely, I’m sure the current Brandel Chamblee interview and ensuing controversy needs no introduction, so let’s get right to it.
Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player, now plays a role as a TV personality. He has built a “brand” around that role. The Golf Channel seems to relish the idea of Brandel as the “loose cannon” of the crew (not unlike Johnny Miller on NBC) saying exactly what he thinks with seeming impunity from his superiors.
I do not know the gentleman personally, but on-air, he seems like an intelligent, articulate golf professional, very much on top of his subject matter, which is mostly the PGA Tour. He was also a very capable player (anyone who played and won on the PGA Tour is/was a great player). But remember, nowadays he is not being judged by what scores he shoots, but by how many viewers/readers his show and his book have (ratings). Bold statements sell, humdrum ones do not.
For example, saying that a teacher’s idiocy was exposed is a bold controversial statement that will sell, but is at best only partly true and entirely craven. If the accuser is not willing to name the accused, he is being unfair and self-serving. However, I think it’s dangerous to throw the baby out with the bathwater here; Brandel is a student of the game and I like a lot of what he says and thinks.
His overriding message in that interview is that golf over the last “30-40 years” has been poorly taught. He says the teachers have been too concerned with aesthetics, not paying enough attention to function. There is some truth in that, but Brandel is painting with a very broad brush here. Many, myself included, eschewed method teaching years ago for just that reason. Method teachers are bound to help some and not others. Maybe the “X swing” one player finds very useful, another cannot use it all.
Brandel was asked specifically about Matthew Wolff’s unique swing: Lifting the left heel, crossing the line at the top, etc. He answered, “of course he can play because that’s how he plays.” The problem would be if someone tried to change that because it “looked odd.” Any teacher worth his weight in salt would not change a swing simply because it looked odd if it was repeating good impact. I learned from the great John Jacobs that it matters not what the swing looks like if it is producing great impact.
Now, if he is objecting exclusively to those method teachers who felt a certain pattern of motions was the one true way to get to solid impact, I agree with him 100 percent. Buy many teach on an individual, ball flight and impact basis and did not generalize a method. So to say “golf instruction over the last 30-40 years” has been this or that is far too broad a description and unfair.
He goes on to say that the “Top Teacher” lists are “ridiculous.” I agree, mostly. While I have been honored by the PGA and a few golf publications as a “top teacher,” I have never understood how or why. NOT ONE person who awarded me those honors ever saw me give one lesson! Nor have they have ever tracked one player I coached. I once had a 19 handicap come to me and two seasons later he won the club championship-championship flight! By that I mean with that student I had great success. But no one knew of that progress who gave me an award.
On the award form, I was asked about the best, or most well-known students I had taught. In the golf journals, a “this-is-the-teacher-who-can-help-you” message is the epitome of misdirection. Writing articles, appearing on TV, giving YouTube video tips, etc. is not the measure of a teacher. On the list of recognized names, I’m sure there are great teachers, but wouldn’t you like to see them teach as opposed to hearing them speak? I’m assuming the “ridiculous” ones Brandel refers to are those teaching a philosophy or theory of movement and trying to get everyone to do just that.
When it comes to his criticism of TrackMan, I disagree. TrackMan does much more than help “dial in yardage.” Video cannot measure impact, true path, face-to-path relationship, centeredness of contact, club speed, ball speed, plane etc. Comparing video with radar is unfair because the two systems serve different functions. And if real help is better ball flight, which of course only results from better impact, then we need both a video of the overall motion and a measure of impact.
Now the specific example he cites of Jordan Spieth’s struggles being something that can be corrected in “two seconds” is hyperbolic at least! Nothing can be corrected that quickly simply because the player has likely fallen into that swing flaw over time, and it will take time to correct it. My take on Jordan’s struggles is a bit different, but he is a GREAT player who will find his way back.
Brandel accuses Cameron McCormick (his teacher) of telling him to change his swing. Do we know that to be true, or did Jordan just fall into a habit and Cameron is not seeing the change? I agree there is a problem; his stats prove that, but before we pick a culprit, let’s get the whole story. Again back to the sensationalism which sells! (Briefly, I believe Jordan’s grip is and has always been a problem but his putter and confidence overcame it. An active body and “quiet” hands is the motion one might expect of a player with a strong grip-for obvious reason…but again just my two teacher cents)
Anyway, “bitch-slapped” got him in hot water for other reasons obviously, and he did apologize over his choice of words, and to be clear he did not condemn the PGA as a whole. But because I have disagreements with his reasoning here does not mean Brandel is not a bright articulate golf professional, I just hope he looks before he leaps the next time, and realizes none of us are always right.
Some of my regular readers will recall I “laid down my pen” a few years ago, but it occurred to me, I would be doing many teachers a disservice if I did not offer these thoughts on this particular topic!
A trip down Magnolia Memory Lane: Patron fashion at the 1991 Masters
Like a lot of golfers out there, I’ve been getting my fix thanks to the final round Masters broadcasts on YouTube via the Masters channel. Considering these broadcasts go back as far as 1968, there is a lot we could discuss—we could break down shots, equipment, how the course has changed, but instead I thought we could have a little fun taking a different direction—fashion.
However, I’m not talking players fashion, that’s fairly straight forward. Instead, I wanted to follow the action behind the action and see what we could find along the way – here are the 1991 Highlights.
I love the “Die Hard” series as much as anyone else but one fan took it to a new level of fandom by wearing a Die Hard 2 – Die Harder T-shirt to Sunday at the Masters. This patron was spotted during Ian Woosnam fourth shot into 13. Honorable mention goes to Woosie’s gold chain.
There is a lot going on here as Ben Crenshaw lines up his put on 17. First, we have the yellow-shirted man just left of center with perfectly paired Masters green pants to go along with his hat (he also bears a striking resemblance to Ping founder Karsten Solheim). Secondly, we have what I would imagine is his friend in the solid red pants—both these outfits are 10 out of 10. Last but not least, we have the man seen just to the right of Ben with sunglasses so big and tinted, I would expect to be receiving a ticket from him on the I20 on my way out of town.
If you don’t know the name Jack Hamm, consider yourself lucky you missed a lot of early 2000s late-night golf infomercials. OK so maybe it’s not the guy known for selling “The Hammer” driver but if you look under the peak of the cabin behind Woosie as he tees off on ten you can be forgiven for taking a double-take… This guy might show up later too. Honorable mention to the pastel-pink-shorted man with the binoculars and Hogan cap in the right of the frame.
Big proportions were still very much in style as the 80s transitioned into the early 90s. We get a peek into some serious style aficionados wardrobes behind the 15th green with a wide striped, stiff collared lilac polo, along with a full-length bright blue sweater and a head of hair that has no intention of being covered by a Masters hat.
Considering the modern tales of patrons (and Rickie Folwer) being requested to turn backward hats forward while on the grounds of Augusta National, it was a pretty big shock to see Gerry Pate’s caddy with his hat being worn in such an ungentlemanly manner during the final round.
Before going any further, I would like us all to take a moment to reflect on how far graphics during the Masters coverage has come in the last 30 years. In 2019 we had the ability to see every shot from every player on every hole…in 1991 we had this!
At first glance, early in the broadcast, these yellow hardhats threw me for a loop. I honestly thought that a spectator had chosen to wear one to take in the action. When Ian Woosnam smashed his driver left on 18 over the bunkers it became very apparent that anyone wearing a hard hat was not there for fun, they were part of the staff. If you look closely you can see hole numbers on the side of the helmets to easily identify what holes they were assigned to. Although they have less to do with fashion, I must admit I’m curious where these helmets are now, and what one might be worth as a piece of memorabilia.
Speaking of the 18th hole, full credit to the man in the yellow hat (golf clap to anyone that got the Curious George reference) who perfectly matched the Pantone of his hat to his shirt and also looked directly into the TV camera.
It could be said the following photo exemplifies early ’90s fashion. We have pleated Bermuda shorts, horizontal stripes all over the place and some pretty amazing hairstyles. Honorable mention to the young guys in the right of the frame that look like every ’80s movie antagonist “rich preppy boy.”
What else can I say except, khaki and oversized long sleeve polos certainly had their day in 1991? We have a bit of everything here as Tom Watson lines up his persimmon 3-wood on the 18th. The guy next to Ian Woosnam’s sleeves hit his mid-forearm, there are too many pleats to count, and somehow our Jack Hamm look-alike managed to find another tee box front row seat.
You can check out the full final-round broadcast of the 1991 Masters below.
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