The marketing machine that the golf industry has become, churning out new drivers, irons sets and putters seemingly over night, has hurt the game more than it has helped it. Too many golfers pay far too much attention to what they are hitting, rather than how they are hitting what they are hitting. The focus on equipment has steered the game in the wrong direction.
New clubs bring us that excited schoolboy, Red Rider BB gun effect, but by now we all know a great golf game can’t be delivered to us in a box. We’ve all heard the saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
What about fool me 127 times?
The equipment manufacturers are not stewards of the game. They are not necessarily trying to build a better golfing public any more than a clothing company is trying to make the public better dressed. They are businesses that need our dollars to be profitable. While many golf courses seem to be struggling, golf equipment companies are rolling right along, economy be-damned. “These guys are good,” is one way to say it.
The manufacturers are not offering new clubs to the market every year with the idea of improving golfers, they are simply releasing new and fresh product to the market, looking for their piece of the pie. The painful truth is that most golfers have swings that no moveable weights, supersonic shafts, or dynamic paint scheme could possibly help.
Since 90 percent of golfers don’t break 90 on a consistent basis and the average USGA handicap in the United States for men is 14.3, how badly do we golfers really need to spend that $400 on a driver, instead of on a package of lessons from a local PGA professional?
Equipment is important to the game, but equipment is not the game. The game is about impact positions, consistent contact on the clubface and how well a player can control his ball as he hits it around those 18 holes. Even a golfer who has his “ideal” equipment still needs to make good swings and hit good shots.
Finding that ideal equipment is easier said than done. The science behind Trackman, FlightScope and other launch monitors cannot be argued. The accuracy of the information of this technology is incredible. PGA Tour players and top amateurs and professionals can use these devices to dial in proper shafts, club heads, club weights, lies and lengths with amazing results. But how are the rest of us supposed to use them?
My experiences with launch monitors when I was trying to “fit” for new equipment was that they showed me when I was making bad swings. I got two completely different sets of results from Flight Scope with the same clubs on different days. One day I was swinging about the best I could swing and had really low backspin numbers combined with an almost perfect smash factor. A week later my swing resembled a one-winged flamingo’s and my backspin, launch, carry and smash factor numbers were on the opposite end of the spectrum. There was no chance for me to “dial in” any shafts or head choices. I was too busy trying to make good swings to be able to tell which equipment might be best for me.
Golfers are often expected to pay upward of $250 for fitting sessions. That $250 fee puts pressure on us to get the most we can out of the fitting. If I had based an overhaul of my equipment on either one of those days with the launch monitor, I could very well have ended up with an expensive purchase that might not have improved me at all. In fact that was exactly what the pro told me. He said it is often difficult to “fit” people into new equipment and be able to assure them that the new equipment will make them better (outdated or poorly fitted equipment aside). Sometimes all of the new equipment hype is very hard to live up to.
My experiences at demo days at my club were equally as frustrating. TaylorMade came late to the event, with two clubs to hit and only the stock shafts in regular or stiff flex to try out. The grips were almost too slick to swing the clubs and the rep brought a range finder to follow the ball in the air and “tell” us how far we were hitting it. The Titleist rep had a launch monitor that told me I was carrying the driver he gave me to try out 295-yards in the air. Maybe it meant to say 245-yards. These are just two of the examples, and I am sure that the cattle call of people coming and going to these things is tough for any company to deal with, but the process left me feeling a little unwashed.
Conventional wisdom told me to take my club testing to the golf courses to try out drivers during actual rounds of golf. Over a two-week period I used several different Titleist 910D2 and D3 driver head and shaft combinations in about 10 rounds of golf. What I learned was that when I made good swings with almost any of the combinations, it was always better than poor swings with any of the combinations. The results were the same when I tried out drivers from PING and Callaway as well. With my driver swing speed, well-hit shots with just about every club went about the same distance and with the same accuracy.
I eventually settled on a purchase of new irons and woods that Frontier Airlines lost for me on my way home from a family vacation. While I square-danced with Frontier for a few weeks on the phone, a friend of mine offered to let me use his old clubs. They were about a 15-year-old set of huge-headed PING irons, the wrong length, lie, and flex for me, and an eight-year-old Callaway driver, also the wrong flex. I had some old wedges, a trusty old hybrid, his ill-fit 15-year-old Callaway three-wood and a back up putter that had been banished to hell. I figured it was better than nothing. I proceeded to have the three best weeks of golf I had ever put together in my life. Using that crazy combination of clubs, my handicap improved a shot and a half and I shot my career best round on one of the courses I play the most. A person more cerebral than I am might have felt downright silly for all of the money I had shelled out for the new clubs a month a before.
Lost in the fun and madness of trying out new equipment was the fact that good swings, solid course management, and knowing how to execute the short game are more important than the clubs I had in my bag. I grew up in a small Kansas town, on a nine-hole golf course with no driving range. The only practicing I could really do was chipping and putting around our course’s little practice green. I used to do that for hours at a time when I wasn’t good enough yet to play on the course with my grandfather’s nassau groups. Maybe that’s why I have so much fun trying out new equipment on driving ranges now; I never got to do it as a kid. I’m sure there is a lesson for me to remember about that now, but it is eluding me.
When I see the OEMs make videos for GolfWRX describing how they improved one set of irons over their previous year’s model, I can’t help but wonder who out there it is that can really tell the difference in the performance of the heads when they hit clubs with such subtle changes. They are all the highest quality clubs, and I’m guessing Luke Donald really feels a difference between the Mizuno MP-62 compared to the new MP-64. Nick Watney can discern the difference in one model of Titleist AP2 irons over the other and there may be some nice aesthetic and functional differences between the PING S58, S57 and S56 irons. But how many guys can tell the difference and have it really matter?
That player out there who says one is way better than the other might just be looking for a way to justify that Red Rider high once again. Maybe the turf interaction or the flighting built into the head is better in one club for some guys, but if they already owned the previous sets is there really a $900 difference in the new one? The club ho in me will say that I might buy one of the sets anyway, but that’s just because a ho is going to do what a ho is going to do.
The biggest problem with the focus being shifted to equipment rather than getting lessons and honing skills is that people recently new to the game won’t have the background in golf from 30-years ago as a child that prevents the bad “arrows” we sometimes find from keeping the “Indian” from being effective. Golfers are being convinced that their bad tee shots were hit because the club head weights and face angles had been set poorly or that the shaft in their new $399 driver wasn’t good enough. They are led to believe that equipment can be bought that will “fix” their swing flaws. I asked my local pro, a PGA Tour veteran with many made cuts to his credit about a certain shaft I was interested in trying out. He looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. He told me he had no idea what that shaft was, or what shaft was in his new TaylorMade driver he was killing. He had seen me in action many times, and he was polite enough not to come right out and tell me I wasn’t good enough to need anything more than what I had.
We can all choose to spend our free golf time and our golf dollars however we choose to. It doesn’t have to make sense, especially if it makes us happy. I’ll probably buy and sell two or three different putters over the next year or so too. One of my grandfather’s old buddies that helped teach me the game back in the day told me it didn’t matter if you putted with an old sheep herders stick if you are making putts with it. Playing with Bo Peep’s stick would be a lot cheaper, but it would not be as much fun as trying out new putters. The club ho in all of us knows that. That’s why the ho wins out and buys new equipment rather than sticking with what we have for awhile and spending that money on lessons.
It’s fun to hope that the next set of irons, newest driver or precisely milled putter could be be the spark we need to produce our best rounds and Nassau-winning putts. But we just can’t kid ourselves that we wouldn’t have been able to do it with what we had in the bag three, five and maybe even eight-years ago.
Kevin Crook is a contributor for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the GolfWRX.
Club Junkie: Reviewing Callaway’s NEW Apex UW and Graphite Design’s Tour AD UB shaft
Callaway’s new Apex UW wood blends a fairway wood and hybrid together for wild distance and accuracy. The UW is easy to hit and crazy long but also lets skilled players work the ball however they would like. Graphite Design’s new Tour AD UB shaft is a new stout mid-launch and mid/low-spin shaft. Smooth and tight, this shaft takes a little more of the left side out of shots.
The Wedge Guy: Your game vs. The pros
I know most of us like to watch golf on TV. Seeing these marvelous (mostly) young athletes do these amazing things with a golf ball makes for great theater. But the reality is that they play a very different game than we do, and they play it differently as well.
I’ve long contended that most rank-and-file recreational golfers cannot really learn a whole lot by watching men’s professional golf on TV. It would be like watching NASCAR or Formula One racing and looking for tips on how to be a better driver.
The game is different. The athletes are different. And the means to an end are entirely different. Let me offer you some things to ponder in support of this hypothesis.
First, these tour professionals ARE highly skilled and trained athletes. They spend time in the gym every day working on flexibility, strength, and agility. Then they work on putting and short game for a few hours, before going to the range and very methodically and deliberately hit hundreds of balls.
Now, consider that the “typical” recreational golfer is over 45 years old, likely carrying a few extra pounds, and has a job, family or other life requirements that severely limit practice time. Regular stretching and time at the gym are not common. The most ardent will get in maybe one short range session a week, and a few balls to warm up before a round of golf.
The tour professionals also have a complete entourage to help them optimize their skills and talents. It starts with an experienced caddie who is by their side for every shot. Then there are the swing coaches, conditioning coaches, mental coaches, and agents to handle any “side-shows” that could distract them. You, on the other hand, have to be all of those to your game.
Also, realize they play on near-perfect course conditions week to week. Smooth greens, flawless fairways cut short to promote better ball-striking — even bunkers that are maintained to PGA Tour standards and raked to perfection by the caddies after each shot.
Watch how perfectly putts roll; almost never wavering because of a spike mark or imperfection, and the holes are almost always positioned on a relatively flat part of the green. You rarely see a putt gaining speed as it goes by the hole, and grain is a non-factor.
So, given all that, is it fair for to you compare your weekly round (or rounds) to what you see on television?
The answer, of course, is NO. But there ARE a lot of things you can learn by watching professional golf on TV, and that applies to all the major tours.
THINK. As you size up any shot, from your drive to the last putt, engage your mind and experience. What side of the fairway is best for my approach? Where is the safe side of the flag as I play that approach? What is the best realistic outcome of this chip or pitch? What do I recall about the slope of this green and its speed? Use your brain to give yourself the best chance on every shot.
FOCUS. These athletes take a few minutes to drown out the “noise” and put their full attention to every shot. But we all can work to learn how to block out the “noise” and prepare ourselves for your best effort on every shot. It only takes a few additional seconds to get “in the zone” so your best has a chance to happen.
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS. You have complete control over your set-up, ball position and alignment, so grind a bit to make sure those basics are right before you begin your swing. It’s amazing to me how little attention rank-and-file golfers pay to these basics. And I’m firmly convinced that the vast majority of bad shots are “pre-ordained” because these basics are not quite right.
SHAKE IT OFF. The game is one shot at a time – the next one. That has been preached over and over, and something most pros do exceedingly well. Very often you see them make a birdie right after a bogey or worse, because the professional bears down on these three basics more after he had just slacked on them and made a bogey or worse.
MEDIOCRE SHOTS ARE THE NORM. And those will be interspersed with real bad ones and real good ones. Those guys are just like us, in that “mediocre” is the norm (relatively speaking, that is). So go with that. Shake off the bad ones and bask in the glory of the good ones – they are the shots that keep us coming back.
Let me dive into that last point a bit deeper, because some of you might find it strange that I claim that “mediocre shots are the norm,” even for tour professionals. First, let’s agree that a “mediocre” shot for a 20-handicap player looks quite different that what a tour pro would consider “mediocre.” Same goes for a “poor shot.” But a great shot looks pretty much the same to all of us – a well-struck drive that splits the fairway, an approach that leaves a reasonable birdie putt, a chip or pitch for an up-and-down, and any putt that goes in the hole.
Finally, I will encourage all of you – once again – to make sure you are playing from a set of tees that tests your skills in proportion to how their courses test theirs. This past weekend, for example, the winner shot 25 under par “on the card” . . . but consider that Summit had four reachable par-fives (most with iron shots) and a drivable par-four, so I contend it was really a “par 68” golf course at best. Based on that “adjusted par”, then only 20 players beat that benchmark by more than 5 shots for the week. So, obviously, the rest pretty much played “mediocre” golf (for them).
So, did your last round have at least one or two par-fives you can reach with two shots? And did you hit at least 10-12 other approach shots with a short iron or wedge in your hands? More likely, you played a “monster” course (for you) that had zero two-shot par fives and several par-fours that you could not reach with two of your best wood shots. And your typical approach shot was hit with a mid-iron or hybrid.
The game is supposed to be fun – and playing the right tees can make sure it has a chance to be just that. Paying attention to these basics for every shot can help you get the most out of whatever skills you brought to the links on any given day.
The ghost of Allan Robertson: A few thoughts on the distance debate
It’s that time of year in certain parts of the world. Ghosts, ghouls, and ghoblins roam the lawns. Departed ancestors return to these fields to visit with living descendants. It’s also a time (is it ever not?) when curmudgeons and ancients decry the advances of technology in the world of golf equipment.
Pretty big narrative leap, I’ll admit, but I have your attention, aye? An October 16th tweet from noted teacher Jim McClean suggested that it would be fun to see PGA Tour players tee it up for one week with wooden heads and a balata ball.
Others beg for a rolling-back of technological potency, raising property acreage as a critical determinant. Fact is, 90 percent of golfers have no experience with hitting the ball too far, nor with outgrowing a golf course. And yet, the cries persist.
Recently, I was awakened from a satisfying slumber by the ghost of Allan Robertson. The long-dead Scot was in a lather, equal parts pissed at Old Tom Morris for playing a guttie, and at three social-media channels, all of which had put him on temporary suspension for engaging violently with unsupportive followers. He also mentioned the inaccuracies of his Wikipedia page, which credits him for a 100-year old business, despite having only spent the better part of 44 years on this terrestrial sphere. Who knew that the afterlife offered such drip internet access?
I’m not certain if Old Tom cared (or was even alive) that his beloved gutta percha ball was replaced by the Haskell. I believe him to have been preoccupied with the warming of the North Sea (where he took his morning constitutional swims) and the impending arrival of metal shafts and laminated-wood heads. Should that also long-dead Scot pay me a nighttime visit, I’ll be certain to ask him. I do know that Ben Hogan gave no sheets about technology’s advances; he was in the business of making clubs by then, and took advantage of those advances. Sam Snead was still kicking the tops of doors, and Byron Nelson was pondering the technological onslaught of farriers, in the shoeing of horses on his ranch.
And how about the women? Well, the ladies of golfing greatness have better things to do than piss and moan about technology. They concern themselves with what really matters in golf and in life. Sorry, fellas, it’s an us-problem. Records are broken thanks to all means of advancement. Want to have some fun? Watch this video or this video or this video. If you need much more, have a reassessment of what matters.
Either forget the classic courses or hide the holes. Classic golf courses cannot stand up in length alone to today’s professional golfers. Bringing in the rough takes driver out of their hands, and isn’t a course supposed to provide a viable challenge to every club in the bag? Instead, identify four nearly-impossible locations on every putting surface, and cut the hole in one of them, each day. Let the fellows take swings at every par-4 green with driver, at every par-five green with driver and plus-one. Two things will happen: the frustration from waiting waiting waiting will eliminate the mentally-weak contestants, and the nigh-impossible putting will eliminate even more of them. What will happen with scoring? I don’t know. Neither did Old Tom Morris, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., Lady Heathcoat Amory, or Mildred Didrickson, when new technology arrived on the scene. They shrugged their shoulders, stayed away from Twitter and the Tok, and went about their business.
Add the tournament courses. Build courses that can reach 8,500 yards in length, and hold events on those layouts. Two examples from other sports: the NFL made extra points longer. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. The NBA kept the rim at ten feet. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. We don’t play MLB or MLS on ancient diamonds and pitches. We play their matches and games on technologically-advanced surfaces. Build/Retrofit a series of nondescript courses as tournament venues. Take the par-5 holes to 700 yards, then advance the par-4 fairways to 550 yards. Drive and pitch holes check-in at 400 yards, at least until Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire figure a few more things out.
Note to the young guys and the old guys from this 55-year old guy: live your era, then let it go. I know things.
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