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Why technology changes but handicaps don’t

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By Brant Brice

GolfWRX Contributor

As an avid golfer and equipment junkie, I feel I am easily persuaded by and feel profound guilt for not being the first to purchase and proudly own all of the new technology on the market today.

Let me rephrase that … ahh hummm, as an avid golfer and “former” equipment junkie, I feel I am no longer hornswaggled by the advertisers or tempted by a clubmaker’s new adjustable face, lower center of gravity, reduced spin, longer carry, lighter shaft, more penetrating flight, whiter club head for better contrast, higher MOI/COR or similar spacecraft technology on the market today nor do I feel like a loser for not having the latest and greatest! Golf balls are purposely not included in this discussion as they are replaced after just a few holes or every shot in some cases depending on your level of slice.

Let’s start with the iron. Face it, if we weren’t all searching for the magic swing bean, or “The Secret” we would still be playing those now illegal high tech square groove Ping Eye 2s from the early 80s. I constantly hear people talk about the old I2s. They were well balanced, the distances were on par with forgings, they stuck like super glue on the greens and were actually easy to hit. Do we replace the irons like we do the beloved driver that we adore so much we get a new one every year six months? No. Do we toss them out, give them away or throw them in the woods/water/trash after a bad round and chastise them like we do our collection of 10 putters that essentially are all the same? No. We tend to buy things in patterns and the club manufacturers know this, but they want us to feel inadequate or under equipped and reduce the time between purchases. They know that the average golfer will buy a new set of irons about once every four or five years, drivers about every two years, wedges every three years and putters every two years or when they throw one in the pond, whichever comes first. Those who play more often or who fall for the sales pitch will replace their equipment sooner than those who play less or are more frugal (I didn’t say cheap) and don’t fall for the hype.

So when do you replace your irons? I believe the purchase of irons is different from drivers, wedges or putters. We don’t tend to buy irons because they will help you gain distance or because they get rid of your slice. I think we break down and replace irons because we are either getting better or are getting worse and react accordingly to save or enhance our game.

An aside … many iron manufacturers are advertising longer hitting irons but they are really just lengthening the shafts and strengthening the lofts. I don’t know why we get so bent out of shape by how far we hit irons anyway. You hit them how far you hit them. Live with it.

So we intuitively know that we aren’t going to purchase a set of irons and drop 10 strokes off our handicap.  The bottom line is that while they may actually allow you to pick up a few extra yards there hasn’t really been that much done to the technology of irons since the Ping I2, at least not as much as they would lead you to believe. There are different metals, dampeners, groove formations, cavity inserts, blade size and shaft optimization, but the basic cavity shape for game improvement or muscle back design for blades is the same. Look at pictures from old MacGregor or Titleist blades. Do they remind you of Mizuno blades or Nike blades? My advice, replace your irons every 250-300 rounds or so and don’t forget to regrip your clubs every six months or 30 rounds.

Wedges — are they really part of the iron set? Aside from Vokey and the 588s, there haven’t been many innovations since. Why so much iron innovation for the high handicapper yet we still ALL play blade wedges, one of the hardest clubs to hit and arguably the second most important club in the bag. The little advancements are removable face inserts, crazy offset hozels, spinner shafts and progressive bounce formation — none of which really take strokes off your game. My advice, get the removable face insert wedges so replacement is far more economical when the grooves start to fail. Note: for you high handicappers, take out the 60-degree wedge and replace your 4 iron with a hybrid. You will score lower and will send me a thank you letter for no longer sculling or chili dipping your wedges.

Driver — let’s take a poll, how many drivers do you have? Five, eight, 10 or more? How often have you found yourself saying, “If I only had that new TaylorMade R11S I could blast it past all of the fellas.” Also how much did you pay for those eight irons compared to what you pay for one driver? Drivers are the largest consumer cash crop market. For guys, we simply can’t resist hitting something farther than our competitors. They play on our ego. They claim every year to add 10 percent, or 12 yards or 30 percent tighter dispersion than previous models for which they still charge $299. The bottom line is that there is a maximum C.O.R. (coefficient of restitution). This is how far a ball will go after colliding with the driver face at a fixed speed. They can’t make them go farther. Shaft innovation can help but the driver itself can’t be made to break the rules. My advice, replace your driver every five years or until you can use it as a beer mug.

Next, I’ll quickly go over putters. As I alluded to above, we may be more unfaithful to our putters than we are to the driver, wedges, irons, soda, beer, gas stations, car manufacturers, cell phone providers and spouses combined. Do you have three different Anser style putters? Do you have an 8802 of some sort? Do you have a space ship on a stick? Are they face balanced, heel balanced, toe hangers, low MOI/High MOI, polymer insert, CNC milled, plumbers neck, swan, offset, straight, forged, cast, steel, copper, long, belly, standard or Robert Garrigus? Can you make the ball go toward the hole and stop just past it? My advice, pick up all of your putters and pick the one that looks and feels the best to you at address and then go get it fitted for loft and lie.

Worldwide the average handicap for men is about 17 and women about 29. Why has this number not changed in 100 years? I thought we had these new adjustable drivers that promise (every year) to have a bigger sweet spot, hotter face and longer carry with less spin and straighter flight. We have irons that have more feel, are easier to hit and get the ball in the air faster, go farther and straighter (every year). We have wedges that are more accurate, spin more and are also easier to hit. There are a bazillion putters that are easier to align, better feel due tuned inserts, have larger sweet spots and that encourage a more solid strike. Why are we still falling for the advertiser’s promise of a better game? Here’s why … we are looking for a quick tip, a “golf fix”, a magic cure, a holy grail, pleasure without pain, an enlightenment without study.

Here’s my advice, stop spending your money on new equipment. Get fit with the equipment you have now and spend forty bucks a month on a range membership. Also, find an instructor that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for a RECURRING package of lessons who gives you reachable goals, practice drills and a routine. How is that self taught swing working for you? Set up a practice schedule within your limited free time and dig it out of the dirt. Read one golf book a month. There is a 10,000-hour rule in all professions and trades. If you want to get good at doing something you have to learn the correct way to do it, then practice that learned motion over and over again. Is a 16-year-old or a 40-year-old a better driver? I know golfers who have dropped 30 strokes in three years by having a focused practice routine, spending a half hour or more four or five days a week working on fundamentals, chipping and pitching from inside 100 yards. Don’t waste your entire bucket of balls pounding driver after drive while on the range, and hit the putting green for 40 to 50 percent of your practice time. Luke Donald could take any of your foursome’s bag of clubs and beat you handily with them.

Final thought: Technology changes to make more money, but handicaps stay the same because we want to buy a better game instead of putting in the time. Getting better is easy if you are willing to endure the pain to get there. The golf swing is not free, nor can it be purchased. It must be earned. That’s what Mr. Hogan meant by “digging it out of the dirt.” I still think I could get an extra 20 yards with that new TaylorMade 9.5 degree R11S Matrix Ozik TP 7M3 X-Stiff!

I would love to hear any funny stories about your driver or putter collections gathering dust or any success or failures in your quest for a better game!!!

Thanks for reading.

– B-Rant

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment Forum”

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Pingback: Swing! Golf Tech to Perfect Your Game - GenX i Social Buzz

  2. JayT

    May 8, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Just found this article 3 years later…and have to comment..
    The number of rounds I play in part determines the gear I use…
    The less I play the more help I need from my gear.
    Lighter, shorter, flexier shafts help to keep me in control…and I’ve gone to mid-weight regular flex graphite iron shafts and ultralight “wood”/hybrid senior flex shafts…regular for accuracy, senior for distance…newer technology HAS made senior shafts more accurate.
    Interestingly, while the FW woods/hybrids are “A” shafts, my drivers are regular flex…I swing easier off the turf, and want to rip it off the tee…I do have 3 woods that all get the ball in the air to the same place, but they differ in weight by 5-10gm…I use the lightest when playing the least, the heaviest when playing regularly.
    I have a bag of wedges, multiple copies of the same that are no longer made, and a bag of putters, because I do like them all…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…Finally, I love practicing my short game.

  3. Jose

    Sep 14, 2013 at 11:48 am

    “How is that self taught swing working for you? Set up a practice schedule within your limited free time and dig it out of the dirt.”

    How did the self taught swing work for Moe Norman, Lee Trevino and Bubba Watson?

    There is evidence that the ADHD golfers tend to have home brew swing. We are experimental learners.

    Moe was not ADHD but he is the best striker of the ball ever!

  4. Mark Adam

    Jul 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I caddied from age 14-22, I grew up on the golf course looping for guys with far too much money and egos that were even larger. Some of the guys were great I remember them by name. I remember their swings, their ball flight and their idiosyncrasies on the course. I also remember their bags, what they kept in them, what balls they played and clubs too. The top, say, 4 or 5 players I looped for never changed clubs. Very rarely. The best of all, we’ll call him Rick, played an ancient set of Titliest fored cavity backs from the late 90s he had a Vokey gap wedge and a RAM lob that was probably older than I. He kept a 2-iron in the bag and a Scotty putter as well as a Founders Club Fresh Metal 3-wood that he hit so pure, it was a thing of beauty. On his best day, he could have won on Tour. He had an ancient driver that he replaced with a Taylormade R-series something or other which he hit well. But, I guess, what I’m trying to get across is that these guys didn’t buy technology and their game always stayed the same. The guys the took money from every Saturday and Sunday morning, on the other hand, were constantly changing gear. At some point, you get to a point in your game where your clubs become an extension of your self. I remember Tom Lehman, years ago asking readers of Gold Magazine: “Should I change my grips or clubs?” His grips were worn down to the shafts in some cases. That was the defining moment for me that proved new technology wasn’t going to magically make me a scratch golfer. As I caddied a few more years, I learned a lot about the swing by simply watching. I played more. I got pretty good. I took four years away from the game and I’m happy to say my first swing after coming back was 280, down the middle. I shot 3-over par.

    It’s not the clubs.

  5. Zane Jakobs

    Jun 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Once i played with a guy who had over 10 different drivers, 15 different putters, 5 different sets of irons, 10 different wedges, and he was horrible. He scored 150.

  6. JTMacc99

    Mar 8, 2012 at 6:38 am

    So true! I’m almost done with replacing equipment that lasted me a LONG time. Certain technology does help a 16 handicapper like me. Replacing the long irons with hybrids was well worth it, for example. Replacing the 845’s I’ve had forever with the shiny new irons that arrived yesterday was just something I wanted to do. The putter, I still love and realize that it is practice that makes it work better.

    The driver, on the other hand… It is only the prices that keep me from messing around with them. I love the used bin and the late winter clearance sales. It is just fun to try new drivers.

  7. Jskippyskip

    Mar 6, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Longtime reader….first time post. This article is great! I still hope my new belly putter knocks some strokes off!

  8. JP

    Mar 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Great write-up. And yes, its so easy to get caught up in the hype and marketing of the new clubs.

    This year, I’ve realized two things – 1) i don’t need a new driver since i’m certain that there is nothing wrong with my R9 – if it doesn’t go far or straight its me and not the driver; and 2) i really don’t need to be playing a stiff shaft – my ego really got in the way when i bought my last set of clubs… it went something like this “all of my friends play a stiff, so why shouldn’t i be playing it too”. The latter would have been a great excuse to buy new equipment with the right shaft flex, but instead I’ve decided to just buy used shafts in the right flex and will have my current clubs re-shafted. Am I still spending money on equipment, yes, but i’d rather spend $150 to re-shaft my perfectly good J36 than to spend a $1000 on the i20’s that i really want but that i really don’t need.

    Cheers-

  9. k2002man

    Mar 4, 2012 at 3:16 am

    Great article! Golf is a funny game that I am constantly trying to master. I am one who is always trying to find an edge with a better driver or putter. I believe that the new technology has helped a lot. Why are golf courses getting longer and longer? Its because technology has helped us hit the ball further. I hit the ball further than I did with the woods and balata balls of 25 years ago! But I agree totally that better equipment won’t fix a bad/broken swing. Practice and lessons are the best medicine helped by properly fit gear.

  10. chris

    Mar 1, 2012 at 12:47 am

    As a low handicap golfer I can tell you most amateurs can’t chip or putt. No amount of technology will save strokes around the green.

  11. Appletree

    Feb 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Too funny and accurate in my case anyways. 59 year old. Played 17 years now. When really trying got to a 6 but over the last 5 years have been a comfortable 10. Always swapping, looking for club deals etc. Change a bunch of clubs during the season until it is club championship time then the hybrids and anser putter come out. I have finally learned what work for me. Great article. You made me smile. Thx.

  12. Solidstrike

    Feb 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    This is all true; a hundred years ago players still shot par or better using wooden shafts and dimpled grooves. However I find that new equipment refreshes my interest in the game. I love the feeling of finding a good used hybrid or new driver and taking it to the course for the first time. Frankly I stopped buying new clubs all together and stick with used clubs to feed my habit. Buy/Sell/Trade forums are fun. Occasionally I find a club that actually stays in my bag, but very rarely. It’s true that when most golf players start putting poorly, for example, they blame their putters and begin the search for a new one; so what? Putting is mostly about confidence anyways and sometimes a new flat stick can provide that. New drivers can help lower your score if you look down at the head at address and feel like you can’t miss.

  13. Daniel

    Feb 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Changing irons every 300 rounds? Why?
    I’ve played 160 rounds with my set, I practice more than most and the irons still look like new. Being forged they have a little bag chatter of course but playing-wise they will last a thousand rounds.

    Otherwise a well written article.
    Every time a chopper asks which new driver is the best I tell him to spend that money on range balls.

  14. kwijyboy

    Feb 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    This was hilarious! I believe you, but as I go to the range to practice my swing, I can’t wait to pull out that club that I either bought used, reshafted, shortened, lengthened, changed the swingweight, or changed the grips on,…and then swear to sell it only 3 hours later.

    It’s a hobby.

  15. Dan

    Feb 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Great article. My entire set is based on last years models at a discount, or a used club from a playing buddy who is always updating to the latest and greatest. I will be gaming my S57’s for a long time, and have yet to find a driver as sweet as my R7 Limited (Exceot maybe the new Titlest 910 or last years 909?) I have just retired a ping anser I bought used in 1983 for a Odyssey mallet (last years model of course).

    How many versions of the R11 do your think there will be before Taylormade is done with it? The R7 had about 6.

  16. B1G

    Feb 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

    The clubmakers are brilliant. The Gen X/Y players coming into their money making years are used to perceptions of instant gratification. They’ve grown up in a time when everyone gets a soccer trophy, and feel depressed if they don’t make their first million by 30. Few realize the hard work it takes to succeed at business, marriage, life… and golf- the “game that can’t be won, only played”. I enjoyed the post and look forward to my own instant gratification for new hardware!

  17. BZ

    Feb 28, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Great read. I agree with pretty much everything you said here. I think the gain of really learning how your current clubs perform in every scenario you’re likely to encounter on a golf course far outweighs any technological gain you would get from changing clubs every year! I’ve been playing for over 20 years and I’m on my second set of irons. 845’s and now CG4 Tours. I’ve had my putter for over 20 years (TP 3). But I’m not going to lie and say I’m never tempted!

  18. Matt S

    Feb 28, 2012 at 5:41 am

    I do believe you make some very valid points and are spot on about the lob wedge and hybrid theory. However, I think you miss one very important part as well and that is what tees people are playing from. It has become almost a stigma for people to consider playing the white tees and organizations like the PGA of America are now trying with their “tee if forward” program to break that. Every week I am fortunate to meet new people and enjoy a round of golf, but too often those people are playing from significantly further back then where they should be playing from. With equipment getting better (especially the golf ball) people think they can tee it from all the way back and still shoot the same score and it is just simply not true. The movement of getting people to play from the correct tee will help bring people back to the game because it will be easier and more fun. And in the end I believe that is why we all play this great game. Damn that was too long…..

  19. Dave T

    Feb 28, 2012 at 4:41 am

    I think that you are right on on all your club replacement numbers. It is hard to believe that the average handicap for a male is 17, when I have always heard that very few golfers break 100. Anyway, it has been at least 5-6 years since I have purchased a new set of irons. That means that I am due! Thanks for the writeup, and you are spot on… Practice is the key to getting better. The old school wilson staff blades that I learned on will remain in the closet though….

  20. Grim

    Feb 28, 2012 at 12:04 am

    First I would like to appologize about the gears comment in another of your articles.

    Secondly, what a great write up on a topic you rarely see these days. The need to NOT buy new equipment every year. I see more of the why you need new gear articles, but this article hits the nail on the head.

    Great read. Im so broke Ive yet to be able to be a club ho, but I think the fact im cheap allows me to appreciate the nice clubs when I do get them and spend the rest on playing/practicing.

  21. Andy c

    Feb 27, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    this is why some of us score a great deals on member’s for sale forum on 2-4 year old technology. I for one don’t have funds to go out and buy something new, however, always keep an eye out for great used equipment.
    I sometimes go out to the demo days, pay attention to the details of clubs and shafts, then try to build my set based on the information obtained during demo days.
    replaced 3i with 7wood and 4i with hybrid…total cost $30.
    I sure would be putting more range time this year to lower my handicap this year by 3. More focused range session, that is.

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