As you might imagine, playing golf as long as I can remember–and then tacking onto that passion 40 years in the golf equipment industry–has given me a broad perspective on the evolution of golf clubs and the game we play. And those six decades of observation and experience have not yielded a shortage of things that make me scratch my head and just wonder…wonder why that is?
Of course, beginning golf in the 1950s and developing into a pretty good teenage golfer in the 1960s meant that I learned with persimmon woods and forged blade irons—that’s all there were back then. As I entered the golf industry in the late 1970s, I was blessed to do marketing work for Joe Powell, who was a total maestro when it came to crafting the finest persimmon woods. That was before the introduction of the TaylorMade metal woods, so everyone played persimmon. I learned a lot about golf club performance from Joe; for example, you wouldn’t know that he was frequency-sorting shafts before anyone was commercially offering “frequency matching.” Joe just saw it as a way to eliminate a variable in the golf club.
Over those 40 years in the golf equipment industry, I have observed the evolution of all our clubs from those earlier “states of the art.” No one then would have imagined the technology we now see in drivers, irons, putters, shafts…but all that technology leaves me scratching my head all too often; I would like to share just a few of those puzzling observations and get your take on them, OK?
What really makes today’s drivers so much longer?
It is impossible to isolate any single technology and how much it affects driving distance. Since those days of persimmon, we have had quantum leaps in shaft technology, heads have gotten nearly three times the size in volume, we have pushed perimeter weighting to the max, and we have faces of exotic metals that act like trampolines. While all of those things have contributed to the distance gains, as far as the driver is concerned, my take is that it mostly boils down to two primary things.
- Drivers are at least two–and up to three-plus ounces–lighter than they were back then; that’s a weight reduction of 15-25 percent, so of course, we can swing them faster…and clubhead speed makes the ball go further.
- We all swing harder than ever before because the penalty for an off-center hit has been reduced dramatically. In my opinion, all the other technologies only tweak the effect of these two advancements. What do you all think?
What is the deal with “matched sets” of irons?
From the advent of “matched sets” in the 1920s (a development pushed by Bobby Jones), irons have been designed so that the lowest-lofted 2-iron (now 3 or 4) through the highest loft club marked ‘P’ or ‘W’ all look alike. That’s always puzzled me because the impact dynamics of a 25-degree iron are radically different from those of a 45-degree iron.
Only recently have manufacturers begun to mildly modify the mass distribution through the set to give higher launch angles to the long irons and lower trajectories to the short irons, but when will they take this to the optimum and break the chains that bind–the restriction that all the irons in a set must look alike? [NOTE: I know that mixed sets have been offered and failed, so maybe it’s us golfers that won’t let them do that.]
About those adjustable drivers/fairways…
The advent of the adjustability device has completely taken over the driver category. There are very few sold today that are not adjustable, and there are a myriad of devices and principles espoused by the various manufacturers. But I’ve always been puzzled by one very important aspect of this. It would seem to me that to be truly “tweakable,” the driver shaft would have to perform in an identical fashion regardless of the position to which it has been rotated.
But we know that even the finest graphite shafts are not completely straight, completely round or completely symmetrical in flex performance. The fact is that, at 100-plus mph, the driver shaft is exhibiting a lot of split-second dynamics, and those can change depending on the orientation of the shaft into the clubhead. That’s why we have the concepts of “spine-ing” shafts and even more sophisticated “Pure-ing.” The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know about any specific shaft. I’ll leave the rest of this conundrum to your own head-scratching.
Forged blade irons vs. mainstream wedges
Being a wedge junkie, this one puzzles me the most. Statistics indicate less than two percent of all golfers game a true single-piece forged blade iron (but a large percentage of tour players still favor them).
I’ve heard all the reasons…
“The thin top line is intimidating.”
“I can’t get the ball flight I need from the lower lofts.”
“I’m not good enough to play these.”
“They are not forgiving enough.”
“Blah. Blah. Blah.”
But yet 95 percent or more of all wedges sold are of the same design favored by the tour players. Single piece cast or forged designs…just like tour blade irons. Heavy and stiff steel shafts…just like tour blade irons. I can’t make sense of that, but with very few exceptions, that’s all the industry gives us, isn’t it?
Let me share a little secret that no one will tell you. On an “Iron Byron” swing robot, a tour blade 9-iron is much more forgiving of mishits than any of the current mainstream wedges.
Does that make any sense at all?
I think I might have just opened a can of worms, and we can spend lots of time talking about this, I’m sure. And we probably should. Please sound off with your comments on this first handful of topics, and let’s tackle some more.
What makes you go “hmm…”?
The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros
I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.
The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.
There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.
Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.
What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).
Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.
If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?
It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.
Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.
So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.
Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.
We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.
There’s a lesson for all of us in that.
Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.
It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.
McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.
When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.
If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.
Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!
Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!
Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.
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