Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.
The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.
Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice
The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.
Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.
If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.
Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.
I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.
Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.
Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.
The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.
Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance
The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.
When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?
Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.
What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?
If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.
Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!
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The Wedge Guy: Is there a single “secret” to a better short game?
Last week, I asked for you all to send me your ideas for topics to address in my weekly blog and so many of you came through—we are off to a great start with this new “two-way” relationship I hope to have with you all. Thanks to those who wrote me. The topics presented so far covered a wide range of aspects of wedges and short-range performance, but one that was repeated in one way or another was whether or not I thought there was a single “secret” to building better wedge technique.
You know, I’ve seen so many great short games in my life, it’s often hard to single out one or two “secrets”, but I do think there are a number of core fundamentals that almost all good wedge players exhibit in their technique. Some of those are more obvious than others, but one that I find extremely enlightening for our “study” today is the way the hands and club move through the impact zone.
Take a close look at the photo I chose to illustrate this article and study it for a few minutes. You will see dozens of photos of tour players in this exact same position right after impact on a chip or pitch shot.
Now, let me tell you what I see from the perspective of an equipment (i.e. wedge) junkie who has studied the tools and the craft every which way from Sunday for over 30 years.
First, I see hands that have obviously been very quiet through impact as the angle formed by the forearms and shaft is identical to where it was at impact.
I also see that the hands are in front of the golfer’s sternum, which is likely where they were at address, into the backswing, and will continue to be for the rest of the follow-through. I am a firm believer that the less “hands-y” your wedge technique can be, the more consistent it will be. This golfer obviously is keeping his hands in front of his body through impact, so that the speed of his hands and therefore the club are controlled by the speed of his body core rotation.
I’m going to come back to that in a moment, but first…
Quiet hands also preserve the relationship of the sole of the wedge to the turf, so the impact “attitude” is a copy of the address attitude. In other words, the golfer has prevented a hinging and unhinging of the wrists that would likely cause the club to get more upright at impact, thereby compromising the turf interaction efficiency of the wedge’s sole design and bounce.
He has also preserved the loft of the club to that which he pre-set at address. For a low running pitch or chip, he might have added a little forward press and played the ball back a bit to keep it low. Or he might have played it a bit forward in his stance and set the shaft more vertical to add loft and spin to the shot.
But either way, his body core rotation totally controls the shot outcome, because he is not manipulating the clubhead through impact with his hands.
The point is, keeping the hands quiet and controlling the path, speed, and release of the club with the body core results in fewer moving parts and less room for error in contact, speed, and distance.
And back to that speed control aspect, I think the speed of the body core rotation through impact is more repeatable–for recreational players, weekend golfers, whatever you want to call us–than trying to memorize a number of backswing lengths to hit different distances.
But that is a topic for another post. For now–even if you are snowed in and can’t get to a range or course—take this picture and your wedge and go play around with it to see how close or far your own technique is to this tour professional. I think it will be fun.
And remember, as an advertiser on this page, Edison Golf is going to give away a free Edison Forged wedge every month to one of my GolfWRX readers chosen at random from all of you who send me an email with a question or topic for a future post. Just send to me at [email protected].
Thanks, and a repeated Happy New Year to you all!
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