At some point in the last few years, I recall sitting down for a little meditative-type reflection. I thought about where I had been, what I had done, and what was next for me. As I was reviewing my life and career, it became apparent to me that one of the things I’m good at is making dramatic transformations.
For example, I was cut from my high school JV baseball team, yet I went on to be invited to a tryout for the Minnesota Twins at the old Metrodome. I was a sixth man playing high school basketball, and I ended up playing NAIA Division II basketball. After college, I wanted to be in a fitness magazine, so I transformed my body to the point where I made that happen.
In golf, I was lucky to break 50 for 9 holes in high school (once I shot 70-48=118 for 18 holes in a junior tournament). I recall being stoked when I drove a ball past the 225-yard marker at the driving range in college, and I was a 14-handicap golfer as late as 27. Now, I’ve made multiple cuts in various professional tour events around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, won the televised Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a 381-yard drive, and won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships with a competitive best of 421 yards.
Similarly, I don’t have a runner-type body (I’m 6-feet, 2-inches and weigh 215), but I improved my running ability to be competitive and finish as high as fifth a few years ago in the Speedgolf World Championships in fields of elite and Olympic-level runners.
When I started thinking about all these things and how I accomplished everything, it became apparent that there was a general, step-by-step formula that I was putting in place most of the time. Here’s a brief overview of how it has worked.
No. 1: Know What You Want To Do
The first step is to simply decide what it is you want to do. Although it’s certainly possible to achieve things in life without the specific intention of doing so, the beauty of life is you can certainly direct your attention to something specific and go there.
Have the courage to even go for something that scares you. At some point in life, we all start from the beginning. Sure, some people are naturally better at certain things than others, but that doesn’t matter. Know and trust that if you want to achieve something in life, it’s possible. It doesn’t even matter if it’s something that no one has done before. New things are done and records are broken all the time by people who have never been there before, but they had the intention to do what they wanted to do.
No. 2: Find Ways to Quantify Your End Goal
Once you’ve decided where you want to go, figure out how to quantify and/or know when you’ll have achieved your goal.
For instance, let’s say your goal is to be the club champion. That’s easy to quantify, but you might also add some detail and look back at your club’s history to determine what score it typically takes to win. If 75 usually wins and the course rating on your course is 72 and slope rating is 108, you could reasonably have a chance to win if you were a 3-handicap golfer.
From there, you could make a profile of the 3-handicap golfer. Perhaps this golfer’s profile would include having 104-mph driver clubhead speed, hitting 7 or 8 fairways, hitting 9 greens in regulation, and taking less than 33 putts/round.
No. 3: Take an Honest Assessment of Where You Are
After you’ve decided where you want to go and what it will look like when you arrive, figure out your current location. This can sometimes be difficult, because it requires taking an honest look at yourself. That’s not always pretty.
Perhaps you hit some 250-yard drives a few times. Awesome! But they were downwind, downhill, and on firm fairways. Doh. Looking at your “real” average, you find that your drives tend to fly about 215 yards. Perhaps that’s a little depressing to your ego, but suck it up butter cup. With the right information, you’ll actually be able to start on the correct path to improvement.
No. 4: Connect the Dots with a Plan on a Timeline
Let’s say you’ve got a 15-handicap. Through your research and the above-mentioned sample profile, you now know that to win the club championship you need to pick up 35 yards off the tee, hit 3-4 more fairways, hit 4 more greens, and take 2 fewer putts.
Perhaps this feels daunting because maybe you’ve been stuck at that 15-handicap for years and have never even sniffed being a 10-handicap, much less the 3-handicap you’ll need to have a chance of winning the club championship. This is where you’ve got to have faith, trust that it’s possible, get yourself in an objective place, and stay focused on the end goal.
Start by making a timeline with some milestones that you need to hit along the way. You know where you want to go. You know where you are. You also know that next year’s club championship is 10 months away. That means you need to drop 1.3 shots off your handicap per month, every month. Again, perhaps this sounds daunting, but do as best as you can to stay out of that mental space of doubt.
Now, knowing the pace you need to go, start objectively thinking about how you are going to do it. Ask yourself, how do I get this done? What will it take? See what pops in your head.
At this point, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. There’s tons of information out there, much of which is conflicting, so stay focused on your end goal. If you want a red car and focus on specifically having the red car, you’ll start noticing all the red cars on the road among all the other hundreds and thousands of cars. The same is true here. Stay focused on being the club champion and see what you notice. Try to limit what you put in your plan to the 20 percent of the things out there that will create 80 percent of the gains. The minutia can be important, but at the same time, you also want to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck time and energy-wise.
Related: The 80-20 of Golf Improvement
For example, in 2006 and 2007, when I knew I needed more distance to compete in long drive, I kept my focus on the end goal. I felt my swing was in a good place. I was striking the ball well, and my equipment was fit about as well as could be at the time. It seemed the only thing I could do from there would be to improve my body’s ability to generate speed.
At the time, there was virtually no information in the golf world on how to do this. Many prominent industry people even said it couldn’t be done. I stayed focused on my red car, and viola, I was drawn to my own past experiences and other sports and athletes (power lifters, dunkers, jumpers, sprinters, martial artists, body builders, etc) that helped me put together a swing-speed training program for myself. Behold, in 37 days, I added 26 mph of club head speed (and over 65 yards) to my swing, I started winning qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships, and those programs later became the basis for the swing speed training we have at Swing Man Golf.
Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. If you are going to achieve things that you (and perhaps others) have not yet achieved, you might have to be willing to do things differently. That may also mean receiving push back both from those around you and even “experts” in the field. So it takes a bit of courage, a willingness to be different, not worrying about what others think of you, and some faith in yourself.
No. 5: Start Moving, Track Progress, and Adjust if Necessary
Once you know what you want, you’ve figured out what that looks like, you know where you are, and you’ve put together a plan to arrive at your destination within your desired timeline, it’s time to get going. Beware of paralysis by analysis. Although planning is important, at some point you’ve simply got to get in the car and start driving toward your destination, especially if there is a timeline involved.
In that sense, it’s totally like the GPS in your car or mapping apps that you use on your phone. You are in Los Angeles. You want to get to New York. You have figured out you need to go east. Start driving. If you don’t, you might miss your meeting. Your route doesn’t need to be perfect. Sometimes, there is more than one way to get to your destination.
Provided you check in along the way like your GPS device does, you can make sure you are still on pace. Checking in periodically is important, because if you do get off track, it’s important to re-route as quickly as possible. And if something you are trying is not working in a reasonable timeframe, dump it immediately. As they say, if you are going to fail, fail fast.
No. 6: Be Persistent
Depending on the goal, it may take more or less time to achieve it. Getting a college degree takes longer than driving across the country, for example. But whatever you want to do, you won’t get there if you quit. There may be challenges along the drive. You’ll need to take breaks for food and gas. Perhaps you factored in some sightseeing along the way or a family visit. You might have gotten a flat tire. Perhaps you got way off track and ended up too far north in Canada. Whatever it is, you’ve got to get back in the car and keep going. This is one of the reasons why writing down your goals and putting them in places where you will see them regularly can be handy. It can help keep you focused from day-to-day.
In 2010, you may recall that the USGA changed its groove rules. I was playing single-length irons at the time (and had shot my first tournament round in the 60s with them), and none of the then manufacturers seemed to want to update their grooves. I really believed in the concept though, so I decided to make my own brand. It didn’t matter that I had never done that before. It didn’t matter that I was told “no” multiple times from various people before Tom Wishon decided to be my partner in 2013. It didn’t matter that I was in debt, living month to month, and otherwise didn’t have the money to fund the project. It didn’t matter that the testing and development process took 2.5 years.
What mattered was I decided to do it. I took action and found ways to move forward. I learned and adjusted along the way, and I just…kept…going. Because of that, we now have Sterling Irons.
Related: The GolfWRX Review of Sterling Irons
So there you go. I hope that sharing this general process helps you, and I wish you the best in making your own dramatic transformations, whether they be in golf or in other areas of life.
The death of the 3-iron and what it means for your bag setup
The 3-iron is almost extinct. It sounds like an odd statement, but it’s very true. Don’t believe me? Go try and buy one in a set. They are not easily found.
As we evaluate this topic, I’ll refrain from specs from “players” clubs as these are not the irons normally purchased. Yeah, it might skew the data, but even the players capable of playing the long irons are opting out of the 3 iron. And let’s be honest, should any of us be playing a blade 3-iron?
Mizuno only offers 4-PW in the JPX line now. Titleist only offers a 3-iron in T100s, while the rest are void of 3-irons. TaylorMade provides 4-PW in the P790, P790Ti, and P770. Callaway has done the same, only offering a 3-iron in the “players line” of clubs, while the rest is again void of the-iron. Cobra golf has also followed suit.
So are 3-irons just too hard to hit? Is that why no one is buying them, thus causing the OEMs to stop making them? The only ones left to buy are the “players” 3 irons, and those aren’t even reasonable unless you’re a professional.
What if I told you we were being deceived? What if I told you the 3-iron is still very much alive in all the iron sets available but under the guise of a different number?
Let’s hop into the “wayback machine” and take a quick look at the history of iron lofts.
The year is 1970, and the vast majority of irons available are blades. You know, the razor-sharp leading edges that are ready to break your wrist with a deep divot.
The image above is an actual snippet from a catalog from the ’70s. At this point, the 1-iron was virtually extinct, and in 1975, Lee Trevino was immortalized by his joke about how God couldn’t hit a 1-iron, which typically fell in the 18-degree range at the time. 2-irons were standard issue in the set, and the lowest loft you might find is 20 degrees.
Then the ’80s came, and things started to progress. As you might expect, lofts started to decrease. It wasn’t because of flight windows, or launch numbers, because they didn’t have that kind of technology readily available to measure those attributes. It was simply a quest for distance.
Then in the ’90s, you’d pretty much see all iron sets with 21-degree 3-irons, down to 48-degree PW’s, and 21 degrees being the norm for the lowest lofted 3-iron. 2-irons at this time were typically 18 degrees and available by request only.
Then came the 2000’s, an era we all should be familiar with. This is where things started to get interesting. Not only because lofts continued to be strengthened, but because the hybrid became a new option to replace the long irons. Adams Golf made a killing as it perfected this golf club, creating the Idea line that was in the bags of most of the senior tour players and many of the PGA Tour players. These were a fan favorite at retail too. The hybrid was an easy long iron to hit and quickly started to replace 3-irons in golf bags across the country and even on tour.
By this time the pitching wedge lofts started to get pushed to 46 degrees, which was a big jump, to be honest. In the 1970s, MacGregor was making pitching wedges with 49 degrees of loft. So, for the 90’s to be around 48 degrees, it wasn’t too much of a shock. But in the 2000s, we now saw PW’s drop to 46 degrees; a half club stronger. This is where the downfall began, in my opinion.
The first decade of the 21st century needed the gap wedge, also known as the approach wedge or utility wedge or just plain old “wedge.” Now, keep in mind, this club wasn’t anything new. The gap wedge existed ever since the beginning because at 50-52 degrees it was simply a pitching wedge from the ’70s. But it became a necessary element for the bag since the lofts of every iron were starting to move farther and farther away from the sand wedge.
Now in 2020, the average loft of the PW is 43.5 degrees, and the average 4-iron loft is 20.6 degrees. Turns out, the 4-iron from 2020 is .3 degrees stronger than the average 2-iron (20.9 degrees) from 1970. We have come full circle! Instead of maintaining those classic numbers, of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW, the new sets are labeled 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, P, G.
I wonder how many golfers out there carry a 4-iron thinking it’s a club they can hit? Probably too many! Obviously, the 3-iron is dead at this point, since it would actually carry the loft of the elusive 1-iron Trevino claimed was unhittable!
Now, it’s time to discuss how we got to this point. You’ll hear a lot of companies talk about “flight windows” or “launch angles” and how it was changed by engineering, lowering CG’s, and increasing speed through thin faces. Some will talk about how the ball has changed, and it just launches higher, and it requires the lofts to be strengthened, or it will just go too high!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is all a bunch of baloney, and here is why: They started making gap wedges as part of the set. If the launch was too high or the window was too different, why make a matching gap wedge with the same technology and have the loft of a pitching wedge from the 1990s? Wouldn’t that launch or window then be too high for that club too? And yet you still need to buy another gap wedge to fit the 52-degree range. If the average golfer bought a 2020 game improvement set today, they would find the set make up to be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW (43.5 degrees), Gap #1 (48.6 degrees), Gap #2 (52 degrees). That means if you happen to carry a 56 and a 60 degree, you now have the same amount of label wedges (5) as you do irons (5)!
Five wedges in the bag! Does anyone think this is weird?
Furthermore, when was a higher launching iron shot a bad thing? Wouldn’t average golfers benefit from a steeper angle of descent so the golf ball stops quicker on the green?
I conducted a study where I tested a Titleist 716 MB 8-iron with 39 degrees of loft to a TaylorMade P790 9-iron with 40 degrees of loft. All the data was captured on the Foresight GC2 launch monitor. It wasn’t a perfect test since they didn’t have the same shaft or loft, but my findings were surprising none the less. They went the same distance, almost down to the decimal. The Titleist went 165.2 yards, and the TaylorMade went 165.1 yards. Launch was only .6 degrees different while peak height was less than four feet different. So, unless you are Tiger Woods, you are not noticing a difference out on the golf course.
Some of you might think, “so, the label on the bottom of the club changed, it’s all going the same distance. So, what’s the big deal?” To me, it’s the confusion it creates more than anything. By decreasing the lofts, you’re just making the numbered iron go farther, and you are creating even bigger problems by having large gaps with the sand wedge when all amateurs need those clubs. It’s also putting clubs into the hands of golfers when they have no business hitting, like the 4-iron with 20 degrees of loft. Titleist has already made a T400 5-iron with 20 degrees of loft, and that’s just silly.
There also is the argument that golfers love distance, and when they start playing and can hit a 7-iron relatively far, it helps grow the game. Growing the game isn’t a bad thing, but if they are new to the game, they shouldn’t have any preconceived notions of how far to hit a 7-iron, and that means loft at that point becomes irrelevant.
I will not refute that a 40-degree lofted game improvement iron will be slightly longer than an identical lofted players club, but I think you’d be surprised to see the actual difference is a maximum of about three yards longer. The technology works, but by no means is it so substantial that we need to change the label on the bottom of the golf club.
The bottom line is that loft is king, regardless of the technology involved, and I have seen, but one equipment company make a change backwards! This is TaylorMade with their P770 irons. In comparison the P790, they increased the loft by one degree in the short irons and up to two degrees in the long irons, to add height and spin to the irons to improve performance. Imagine that, more spin and height are an advantage! And that was backed by their testing and their data.
Now to even further nail down my point, it is worth noting that TaylorMade Golf offers the highest lofted Pitching Wedge in the industry at 49 degree, which are in the Tiger lofts of the P7TW irons. That same iron set has a 22.5-degree 3-iron. At 22.5 degrees, it is typically the lowest-lofted iron in the golf bag of the best iron player on the PGA Tour in 2019. Of course, he has the skill to play an iron with lower loft, but the point that history reveals to us is that the effective loft of playability for an iron is about 22 degrees and higher. Anything lower lofted than that is typically replaced with a hybrid. This is not just a trend for the amateur golfer either, and it is even happening on tour with the best players in the world.
We will probably never see the lofts rolled back, but the least we can do is update Lee Trevino’s quote, “if you ever find yourself in a thunderstorm, lift up your 4-iron, because not even God can hit a 4-iron.”
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