If you are reading this, we have a lot in common. I suspect that like me, you are a boomer, reasonably intellectual, middle to upper middle class, and a golfer. You are probably pretty good at our sport, probably have an index of between 8 and 16, and above all, you are a realist about your ability and your potential for becoming the golfer you always wanted to be.
I suspect you went through a period of time when you thought that if you bought the right equipment, you would become a great ball striker and a significantly better golfer. You went through several drivers, putters, wedges, and fairway woods. When utility clubs became the rage, you bought a couple. You were happy to exchange your persimmons for metal “woods” (although like me, you never really figured out what to call them).
Then there are the irons we have both invested in. We lined up for perimeter balanced, cast, oversized, graphite shafted “stuff.” We tried this set because they were longer. We bought that set because they were more accurate. We tried this set because they were a graduated set, going from hybrid long irons to cavity-back mid irons to forged-blade short irons. We even decided that iron sets were passé. What we really should do, we told ourselves, were to buy our clubs like they did in the old days – one club at a time with each addition to our bag specially designed for the job they were bought to do.
Strangely, looking back, we came to realize that in spite of all our work, all our thought, all of the money we spent – we were not fundamentally better golfers than we had ever been. If we were better, it was probably because we came to know our limitations and our strengths. We didn’t put ourselves in positions that would turn a one-shot penalty into a three shot penalty. We worked on our swing. We learned to relax. We read books on sports psychology. We watched and thought about the lessons we took away from “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” ‘The Greatest Match Ever Played,” and even in its own twisted way, “Caddy Shack.”
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We are members of a golf club (or country club) because we love playing on nice courses and we hate having our valuable time wasted by drunks and unskilled people who frequent municipal courses. We take a golf trip or two every year or so. And we probably belong to a Men’s Club. We certainly have a bunch of guys we like playing golf with.
Most of us have been playing golf for many, many years. We learned the game from our dads who are unfortunately no longer around. We learned how to be gentlemen (or women) on the course. We learned how to fix a divot. We learned how to rake bunkers, lay the flag gently onto the green or better yet, just off the green. We learned where to put our bag when we were putting. We always wanted to drive a golf cart and were secretly thrilled when we became rich enough to afford to use one. But we learned how to drive them so as to not impact fragile grass.
We came to know the pain of losing our best playing partners – our dad’s, our older brothers, our best friend, our uncle. We reached for the phone to call them when Tiger chipped in to win the Masters, only to remember at the last moment that they wouldn’t be on the line to talk to about it.
Fortunately, we have taught our children to play the game. We had to drag them at first. Baseball, basketball, and/or video games were more fun. Now they are playing pretty well. We go out together when we can. They can out-hit us but we can out putt them — our short games are better, and our guile is superior.
But it started to happen. We slowly came to feel differently about the game and where we are in relation to it. We loved things about golf that have nothing to do with the “sport” of golf. The arc of a well-struck shot, how it feels, how its sounds are much more important now than how far it went. We don’t care whether a pitch shot checks up after one bounce unless the place that it stops is the place we want it to stop. Who cares whether the shot “sucked back”? Did it stay on the green? That’s what we care most about.
Sometimes, when the time is just right, now we walk the course by ourselves. We have that old carry bag we carried when we were in high school. We fill it with the set of Wilson Staff irons we worked all summer mowing lawns to buy. Somehow, we saved them along the beautiful MacGregor Eye-O-Matic Persimmon Woods that were Dad’s and the BullsEye putter we’ve had since college. They are in the bag, too.
They should feel heavy with only that single strap to transfer the weight to our shoulder. That shoulder had the rotator cuff fixed a couple of years ago, after all. But somehow, the weight doesn’t hurt as much as it should on this beautiful evening. It’s so quiet now. Everyone has gone home for the day. It’s so quiet that you can actually hear the sound of your drive hitting the fairway 225 yards away from the tee.
They say that persimmon drivers just don’t hit the ball as far as steel faced drivers do. They’re right, they don’t. But there is little beauty in a painted club head compared to the elegance of wood carved into a club head. The sound of steel hitting ball is abrupt and harsh. There is little information that can make it to your hands because of the muting of the graphite shaft. But the feel of the ball coming off that persimmon face races to you, literally screaming to you where the ball went. You can “see” the ball, even though the cataract that is growing slowly in your right eye makes actually seeing the flight of the ball difficult.
If the persimmon head told you about the shot, it was not the only messenger. The steel shaft told you that you “nutted” it as well. Still 320 yards out, you take out the old three-wood that you saw your dad hit so many times. You take your stance, look up a couple of times, waggle twice, set and fire. Again, you know it was hit it where you wanted it, 180 yards, down the middle.
Walking down the fairway, you listen for the ghosts you know you are walking with. You can hear them, your dad told you, but only if you are if you listen. They’re laughing and joking, talking about games that were played in the misty past. They only come out at evening-time, when the course is almost empty, They only share their joy, the joy of the game, with people who deserve to hear about it, to learn about it, and to pass it on. You know they’ve nominated and elected you into their club. It’s a feeling that makes the pain go way, lightens your step, and brings a tear to your eye.
Still, you have 105 yards left. With your set of graphite shafted, technologically marvelous irons, it would be barely a gap wedge. But you know that the loft of your modern gap wedge is the same as the loft of your Staff 9 iron. So you’re not gulled. It’s the 9 iron that you grab and set behind the ball. As you draw the club back, you remember all the great times, the great lessons, and the great people you have known because of the shepherd’s game we play.
Down the club comes. You strike the ball almost at the bottom of its downward arc. The club finds the ball and dives into the ground, carving a shallow divot just in front of where the ball comes. Up the shaft comes, carrying your hands high – higher than your shoulder, almost even with your ear. Your right shoulder forces your chin to the left. Your right hip has squared itself with the left. Your body is facing the hole, now. You pick up the ball with eyes and watch it fall to the green. The ball checks up smartly, five feet below the hole.
The shot is a beautiful arc, that product of the forged steel club head. The vibration that raced up then down the shaft, through the rough, cord grips, to your hands. Whether the feeling made it to your soul like the old saying claims is debatable. But you know for sure that the feeling is like no other. Hearing the ball drop into the cup is like no other, too.
It’s a shame that all of our golf life can’t be spent like this night. It’s a shame we can’t play in the peace of a quiet course, the peace of shots purely struck with clubs that have stood up through time. It’s a shame that they have to go back to the basement to sit and wait for another day to come along. It is a shame. Isn’t it?
The Wedge Guy: A defense of blades
One of the longest-running and most active conversations in all of golf equipment is the subject of blades versus game improvement irons. Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been writing this blog as “The Wedge Guy,” I’ve addressed this in various ways and always stimulated a lively discussion with my readers.
I hope this angle on the conversation will do the same, so all of you please share your thoughts and observations.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have always played some kind of blade-style irons, with only a few detours along the way. But I always come back to my blades, so let me explain why.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s when blades were all we had. As a teenager with a developing skill set, I became a devotee to those models from the old Ben Hogan Company, and played the “Bounce Sole” model, then several iterations of the Apex line after it was introduced. Those few sets served me well into my 30s, when I became involved in the golf equipment industry. Having Joe Powell Golf as a client, I switched to his pure muscle back model called the “PGI.” They were certainly sweet.
In the late 1980s, I was handling the marketing for Merit Golf, who offered a cavity back forging called the Fusion, which was inspired by the Ben Hogan Edge irons, but offered a more traditional face profile. So, I switched to them.
Playing to a low single digit handicap at the time, I really didn’t see my scores change, but I just wasn’t making as many birdies as I had before. Openly pondering why my golf felt different, a regular golf buddy noted, “You’re not knocking down pins as often as you used to,” and I realized he was right. I was hitting just as many greens as before, maybe one or two more, but I wasn’t getting those kick-in birdies nearly as often. So, I went to the closet and broke out the old Joe Powell PGI irons and had an epic day with three birdies inside five feet and a couple more in the 5-10 range.
Those blades stayed in the bag until I developed my first iron design, the “RL blades” by my first company, Reid Lockhart. By this time, I had seen enough robotic testing prove that the most penalizing mishit with a blade was a toe impact, which mirrored my own experience. So, I sculpted a pure muscle back blade, but added a bit of mass toward the toe to compensate for that deficiency of all such designs.
I played those irons for 20 years, until I created the “FT. WORTH 15” irons for the re-launch of the Ben Hogan brand in 2015. In that design, I further evolved my work to very slightly add a bit of modified perimeter weighting to a pure forged blade, taking inspiration from many of Mr. Hogan’s earlier personal designs in the Apex line of the “old” Ben Hogan Company. Those are still in my bag, going on eight years now.
So, why do I think I can make a solid defense for playing blade irons? Because of their pinpoint distance control, particularly in the short irons — those with lofts of 35 degrees or higher.
I’ll certainly acknowledge that some modern perimeter weighting is very helpful in the lower lofts . . .the mid- and long irons. In those clubs, somewhere on or near the green is totally acceptable, whether you are playing to break 90 or trying to win on the PGA Tour. [Did you know those guys are actually over par as a group outside 9-iron range?] That’s why you see an increasing number of them playing a conservative game-improvement design in those lofts. But also remember that we in the golf club design business deal with poor “hits” only . . . we have no control over the quality of your swing, so the vast majority of bad golf shots are far beyond our influence.
But what I’ve seen in repeated robotic testing and in my own play, when you get to the prime scoring clubs – short irons and wedges – having a solid thickness of mass directly behind the impact point on the face consistently delivers better distance control and spin. In my own designs of the SCOR wedges in 2010, and the Ben Hogan FT.WORTH 15 irons and TK15 wedges, I created a distribution of mass that actually placed a bit more face thickness behind the slight mishit than even in the center, and the distance consistency was remarkable.
I’ve carried that thinking to the Edison Forged wedges by positioning much more mass behind the high face and toe miss than any other wedges on the market. And in robotic testing, they deliver better transfer of energy on those mishits than any other wedge we tested.
So, back to that experience when I switched back to my Joe Powell blades from the Merit cavity back forging, I can sum it up this way.
If your pleasure from your golf is derived more from how good your worst shots turn out, then a game improvement iron is probably the way to go. But if your golf pleasure is more about how good your best shots are, I think there is a very strong case to be made for playing some kind of blade iron design, at least in your scoring clubs.
Alright, fans: sound off!
2022 Open De France: Betting Picks & Selections
After an enthralling Italian Open at next year’s Ryder Cup venue, the DP World Tour moves on to Le Golf National, scene of one of Europe’s finest hours, a 17.5-10.5 victory at the 2018 running of the bi-annual festival.
With Valderrama on the schedule in three weeks’ time, the tour showcases a trio of its best courses within a month, and whilst deserving of a better field than present in France this week, the tournament should again provide viewers with a treat.
With the lowest winning total since 2000 being 16-under, and an average of 11-under, the focus is very much on a strong tee-to-green
game. The rough is up, the greens are tricky, and scrambling difficult. Those with low confidence in any aspect of their game need not apply.
2019 winner Nicolas Colsaerts somewhat went against the grain when winning via a long driving game , certainly compared to the likes of runner-up J.B Hansen and third-placed George Coetzee, as well as previous winners Jaidee, McDowell and Levet. Like the differing results at the Marco Simone course over the last two runnings, we should resume normal service, with bombers not having so much of an advantage.
In a hard event to weigh up, here is this week’s best bets.
Antoine Rozner 28/1
Ewen Ferguson 45/1
Jorge Campillo 45/1
Marcus Kinhult 60/1
There are few of the top lot that can be ruled out.
All of Thomas Pieters, Jordan Smith, Ryan Fox and, Victor Perez appear very high on the season-long tee-to-green lists. The Englishman was the first one on my list but, at 20/1, he can be left alone, especially given I would have expected him to have done better than a best of 21st in three outings here.
Nevertheless, his is the type of game needed for here and with home support probably a boon, plump for Antoine Rozner to make the Gallic crowd go wild for the first time since Levet’s victory in 2011.
Since his last couple of appearances in his home country – ninth and 13th on the Challenge Tour – the 29-year-old has won in Dubai and Qatar in contrasting styles.
The first saw him putt the lights out to win in 25-under, whilst the more relevant victory was at wind-affected Education City, where he grinded out a one-shot victory in eight under-the-card, a final hole 60-plus foot putt sealing the deal.
2022 has been good.
The record of two top-10s in Spain and Crans disguise four further top-20 finishes, and that he was inside the top-10 after round two of the BMW International, round one of the Czech Masters, and rounds one and three at Glagorm Castle.
Indeed, it was after the first of those that he announced he was very happy with the way his game was trending, and, true to his word, his tee-to-green play has been nothing short of stunning.
Since July, he has averaged a ranking of ninth for approaches, two of those efforts rating him leading the field for tee-to-green. Using the older stats, Rozner has recent greens-in-regulation figures of 21/2/2/7/34/5, perfect for a course that will penalise anyone that constantly misses the short stuff.
There may well be a current issue about his putting, but that is true of all the better ball-strikers. After all, it would be neigh impossible to beat them if every facet was ranking in the top five.
Rozner is bound to know this course better than his ‘debutante’ status, so take him to prove himself in a very beatable field.
Qatar seems a bit of a theme with Ewen Ferguson taking the next spot in the plan.
The Scot owes us nothing after two wins this year for the Players To Follow in 2022 column, but I’m not sure he is quite finished yet.
Slightly naïve when in front on Sunday at the Kenya Open, his next two starts might show finishes of 61st and 40th but, again, they disguise better play than the record shows – Fergie was 11th after three rounds at the MyGolfLife and just outside the top-20 at halfway at Steyn City.
That experience no doubt led to a grinding victory – another to be seen in Qatar – where his solid tee-to-green game outlasted most of his opposition.
The game has continued in that vein, with a 12th place at Celtic Manor (7th after three rounds) being a fine correlation with this week’s track, followed by his second victory of the year at Galgorm Castle.
Probably his best effort was in Himmerland at the beginning of the month, when his all-round game was in superb shape, only giving way to a ridiculous pair of putts by Oliver Wilson. As he did in Ireland, Ferguson led the tee-to-green figures via both driving and irons, whilst his scrambling game was also highly ranked.
Despite the smiles, he may have been feeling that defeat when missing the cut at Wentworth, a course that doesn’t suit everyone on debut, and look at his price – over twice that of players that fail to convert winning chances.
At the same price, the mercurial Jorge Campillo is well worth backing to continue a solid bank of recent and course form.
Rather like previous Spanish winners of the French Open, the 36-year-old (yes, I thought he was older than that, too) has that capability to get out of trouble with the short game so identifiable with his compatriots.
One missed cut in his last nine starts shows he has a belief in his overall game, whilst six consecutive cuts sees him in the sort of form that should enable to challenge for his third European victory, after Morocco and (here we go again) Qatar.
Again his record shows just a couple of top-10 finishes this year, but he was in fourth place going into the final round at Kenya, top 10 for the middle rounds in Belgium, led the Irish Open at halfway and was in the final group on Sunday, whilst he closed late last weekend when it turned tricky in Italy.
With an 8th, 15th and 18th in six starts around here, it’s that ability to grind out a result that gives him claims this week. Campillo isn’t a strong birdie machine, so a winning score of around 10 to 12-under will do just fine.
Marcel Schneider and Romain Langasque both tempted me in at the prices, but whilst the former is in flying form, his record shows he improves after a first sighting at a course, so monitor him for a quiet debut and back him next year! As for the French native, he really should do well if his win at Celtic Manor and his home record has anything in them. The issue is that, at the moment, he is hitting it sideways off the tee and unable to recover with his irons – not a great combo around a tight track.
Instead, take a chance on Marcus Kinhult, who beat Robert MacIntyre, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace to the British Masters in 2019, held at the links of Hillside, his sole victory on tour to date.
The Swede, whose tee-to-green game doesn’t give him as much reward as it may be ought to, followed that win by making a tough up-and-down at the final hole of that season’s Nedbank Challenge to join Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off, both having come from off the pace at the start of the day.
Unfortunately, that one didn’t go his way, but he has continued to bank a solid record, including top-10 finishes in Qatar (hello, again), The Renaissance Club and Wentworth through 2020, before a personal nightmare.
As he explained in his DP World Tour blog, the 26-year-old started suffering with dizzy spells, eventually diagnosed with epilepsy. In terms of golf, we can put a red line through 2021 form.
Fortunately, the condition is now under control and having worked his way through the Nordic Golf League, where in two events he finished ninth and first, arrived at full fitness at Kenya to finish inside the top-10, before a closing third in Qatar (hello…oh, ok.)
Whilst he couldn’t capitalise on a place in the final two-ball at The Belfry, it was a good warm-up for a return to Hillside, where he would finish a never-nearer third, following that effort with a pair of 23rd place finishes at the Czech Masters and Crans.
It is worth noting that his best efforts in 2018 were in Qatar, at Wentworth and around here (when finishing in fifth place), whilst the last time the French Open was played here, he again finished quickly to be just outside the top-10.
Kinhult has ranked top-12 for driving accuracy in his last three completed outings, and in the top-20 for scrambling in five of eight starts. This is his track.
Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama make big gear changes in Napa
Andrew Tursky was on site at the Fortinet Championship this week and got all he could handle in terms of new equipment news. There were new irons, drivers, and even headcovers all over the range, so we had to dig into two of the biggest stories out there on this week’s Two Guys Talking Golf Podcast (give us a follow on Instagram: @tg2wrx).
Rickie Fowler’s new irons
Rickie Fowler has been changing a lot of equipment in his bag as he has struggled to get his golf game back into shape. We have seen him with different drivers, shafts, irons, and putters throughout the 2021-2022 season. Fowler has typically played some form of blade during his career, and Cobra even made him some signature Rev33 blades that were beautiful, but razor thin and intimidating for us mortal golfers.
Rickie showed up to the Fortinet with some brand new, unreleased, Cobra King Tour irons. The King Tour irons look a lot like the current Cobra King Tour MIM irons, and we can only assume that the new Tour will replace the MIM.
The interesting thing about the King Tour irons is that they look a little larger than his preferred blades and that they might have a little more ball speed and distance built into them. From the images you can tell there is a little slot behind the face that might be filled with some type of polymer.
Rickie didn’t get into the tech of the new King Tour irons but did tell Tursky that he was gaining around 3-4 yards on shots that he stuck low on the face. He finished the first round of the Fortinet Championship in the top four, so the new irons have seen some success under pressure. I know many of us hope to see Rickie back to form soon, and maybe these new King Tour irons can be the catalyst.
Hideki Matsuyama’s driver change
The other big story comes from a former Masters Champion testing out some new drivers on the range, Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama is well known as a golfer who loves to test and tinker with new golf equipment. Each week there is a good chance that he will have multiple drivers, irons, and fairways in the bag searching for the perfect club that week.
Earlier this week, Hideki was spotted with some new, unreleased, Srixon drivers out on the range in Napa. We spotted a few pros testing the new Srixon ZX7 MkII and ZX 5 MkII LS on the range.
Andrew spoke to the Srixon reps and learned Hideki has been trying the new drivers and seems to have settled on a Srixon ZX5 MkII in 10.5 degrees of loft (and his trusty Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8 TX shaft).
The ZX5 MkII LS looks to have an adjustable weight on the sole that is moved far forward —closer to the face — to possibly lower the spin. We haven’t heard anything specific from Srixon on the new drivers, but with their recent success, we would expect to see some solid performance out of the line.
Check out the full TG2 podcast, below
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