Tom Wishon served as Vice President of GolfWorks from 1980 to 1986. From 1986 to 1993, he was president of Dynacraft Golf Products, and from 1993 to 2002 he was Vice President and Chief Technical Officer for Golfsmith International. Wishon started his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, in 2003.
I read with great interest the article by Kevin Crook, The Focus on Equipment has Hurt Golf, in which he basically said it’s almost a waste of time to go buy new golf clubs because you have no way of knowing if what you buy is going to help or harm your ability to play the game.
The main thing I took away from Kevin’s article is that he is yet one more confused and frustrated victim of the longtime business model of the golf equipment industry. If anything from the golf equipment industry has harmed golf, it is the way that golf clubs are being sold to golfers in a market that is fiercely competitive for sales.
Many golf club companies exist to sell their clubs to millions of golfers through thousands of retail golf outlets and websites. The top-5 golf equipment manufacturers now control about 80 percent of the premium golf equipment market with combined annual revenues north of $3 billion. Four out of five of these companies are publicly traded, each with the accompanying pressures from shareholders and financial institutions to grow in revenue, profits and stock price.
The only way large golf companies can sell the volume of clubs they must to meet forecasts and satisfy shareholders and executives is to pre-build their clubs to a series of standard specifications so they can be shipped to the thousands of retailers to be put on display and sold off the rack. Demand is driven by massive marketing campaigns that promise improvement and an increase in status upon buying the clubs. Credibility is established by paying professional golfers to play their equipment.
After three decades of such fierce competition, the golf equipment industry has become a commodity business. Most retailers are selling the same exact products, so consumers hunt for the best price. Retailers have to discount to get the sale, which results in them making less profit. Making less profit means they do not have the money to hire and retain quality sales people. And retailers can’t afford to allow the sales staff to take more than a few minutes to make each sale, because making money requires that they sell a high volume of products.
This is precisely what Kevin has encountered in his frustration with trying to do nothing more than to find the best golf equipment with which to play and enjoy this great game. He’s frustrated because he believes that whoever sells him his clubs should really know what they are doing. Unfortunately, the shortcomings in the current golf equipment business model means the people selling him his clubs do not know much more about golf clubs than he does, and may actually know less.
Launch monitors are placed in golf retail outlets to give golfers the impression they are being properly fit for their clubs. Yet little to no training exists to teach sales people how to properly turn the outputs of the launch monitors into the best prescription for clubs for the golfer. Retailers also have inventory to worry about, so it is very common for them to pay a “spiff” to their sales staff to get them to make more of an effort to sell what they need to get rid of.
Add to that the effects of the fierce competition among the golf equipment companies. At the wholesale level, it has resulted in drivers and woods that are far too long for the vast majority of golfers to ever hit consistently, which may or may not actually have the loft that is imprinted on the head.
Lofts in irons have been decreasing as well, as a way of impressing golfers with more distance in their short irons. But this comes at the expense of golfer’s not being able to hit their mid and long irons as well.
Shafts are a problem, too. Average golfers have no idea how stiff the shafts they purchase actually are because of poor quality control and a lack of industry standards. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder that golfers like Kevin Cook are confused and often end up with the wrong equipment.
In truth, the best solution for golfers is to return to the original business model for golf equipment sales prior to the early 1900s, back when the only place a golfer could buy a set of golf clubs was to go see a clubmaker. Back then, golfers visited the clubmaker’s shop, where the clubs were built one club at a time, one set at a time, for one golfer at a time.
It’s critical to be honest and tell you that some of today’s clubmakers do not have the fitting knowledge to be able to properly match a golfer with clubs that allow him or her to play to the best of their ability. Just because someone can build and repair golf clubs does not mean they know how to analyze a golfer and choose the best fitting specs to match to the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics.
So golfers who decide to visit a clubmaker to end their equipment frustration MUST DO THEIR HOMEWORK to be sure the clubmaker they choose is a good, experienced and knowledgeable. Such clubmaker/clubfitters do exist and they are without question the very best sources for golf equipment and knowledge. They can truly help a golfer improve and play to the best of the golfer’s ability.
The best way to find a good clubmaker is from the following resources:
The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals): http://www.agcpgolf.com/locator/
The ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild): http://www.clubmakersguild.com/index.php/membership-directory/guild-google-map
If you find a clubmaker from any of these sources, call him/her, visit, and ask how he/she conducts a fitting analysis. Ask for names of other golfers in the area he/she has fit. Call these golfers and ask them about their fitting experience.
Do NOT just blindly go see a clubmaker who you have not vetted. The good clubmakers will never mind golfers doing an investigation, because they are confident of their skills and experience.
Do this for your next equipment purchase and you will avoid Kevin Cook’s frustration with modern golf equipment. If you do, you will end up with golf clubs that are far better for your game than what you can buy within the golf industry’s current business model.
Tom Wishon is a contributing writer for GolfWRX.com. is His views do not necessarily represent the views of GolfWRX.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
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