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Opinion & Analysis

The looming “Fiscal Cliff” of golf clubs

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I had this article about 90 percent completed when Tom Wishon posted his article: The way golf clubs are being sold has hurt golf. Since his post and mine are both discussing the retail business, I felt it appropriate to add his link for another viewpoint. While we are looking at different parts of the industry, there are some parallels.

The recent announcement on “anchoring” has made me reflect on some of the bonehead equipment decisions made by golf’s ruling bodies in the last 30 years, going back to the Ping Eye 2 fiasco. Each time, a “wait and see” attitude has eventually resulted in a massive reversal or rollback in the equipment section. The USGA’s decision on grooves allowed engineers to maximize widths through CNC milling and tight tolerances until the ruling bodies chose to make 30 years of clubs obsolete with “Conditions of Competition.”

In 2003, the COR ruling was announced with a ruling to be made in 2007. While the manufacturers pushed face technology to produce a reliable 0.860 COR driver, the ruling bodies did an about-face and capped COR at 0.830. Unlike wedges, the OEMs had to suck it up and offer conforming replacement drivers for those golfers that had purchased equipment in good faith that it was within the tolerance of the current rules. The quest of the ruling bodies to reduce driver distance also resulted in a club length maximum of 48 inches. Sure, Wedgy Winchester had learned how to accurately swing a 60-inch driver on the long drive circuit. But how many other golfers could keep a driver that long in the fairway? Finally, clubhead size was capped at 460cc to minimize the ability to create a forgiving driver through size.

Essentially, you cannot build a longer driver than anything that has been made in the last 10 years that met the COR/CT max. A center strike “on the screws” cannot travel farther.  The only variable to the golfer now is to optimize launch and spin through a fitting on a launch monitor.  This has led the OEMs to try and maximize distance in fairways, hybrids and even irons by creating hot-faced clubs. Despite the fact that these clubs should fly precise distances for scoring, the selling point of distance trumps all.

Suppose that you have already gotten the hottest-faced clubs, conforming grooves, fitted lengths/lofts/lies/grips and your launch conditions are proper. What will now make you buy a new club?  This is the nightmare that has to be keeping sales managers up at night. Sure, you have the GolfWRX crowd that always wants the latest and greatest. But how do you convince a recreational golfer or serious player to buy a new club when it isn’t much longer or more accurate, and offers little or no performance advantage over their current clubs?

This is the “fiscal cliff” that looms in the golf world. By 2014, it is expected that an overwhelming majority of golfers will have converted to conforming grooves. That sales hike in irons and wedges will recede back to normal levels. With no ability to create better launch conditions, what will be the selling point on the next generation of drivers? Right now, it’s graphics and all the colors of the rainbow. Why buy the newest equipment when top quality clubs with premium shafts are available for a song in the used market?

So what’s left?

Ironically, service, which has been driven to near extinction by the big box stores, will be the key ingredient to their survival. Similar to the tailor in a fine suit store, the need for fitting of clubs will be the last variable that the manufacturers will be able to offer for improving scores. The need to adjust length, loft, lie and grips gives each golfer the fit and comfort of a well tailored suit.

The advent of launch monitors, high speed cameras and elaborate shaft software have made it easy to get the player “in the ballpark” of a club that fits their swing. But it always comes to the assessment and final tweaks of the clubfitter to make sure everything is optimized. Are the yardage gaps between clubs consistent? Is the golfer increasing their center-face contact?  Will the launch and spin give the golfer the best chance of hitting and holding the green? Do the clubs allow the golfer to execute the shot that is visualized in the mind?

More and more clubs are being purchased off the rack. Even Ping, whose green grass model for years forced you to order your clubs, has 6 to 8 sets on the wall of my local big box, ready for sale.  The “right now” mentality of our society wants to take their clubs immediately to the range or the first tee instead of ordering to spec or having them fitted after the sale. Would it make sense to put a cushion in the price of a set of irons to allow the retailer to fit and set the lofts/lies of the clubs for the customer?

Perhaps partnering with teaching professionals to have them observe their student’s patterns on the lie board after they purchase new clubs would be an option. The teacher can recommend the dynamic adjustments and the golfer can now bring his clubs back for the correct loft/lie settings as part of the initial purchase. The same can be done with the adjustable drivers.

Have your teaching pro look at your flight patterns to determine optimal adjustments. Then return to the store and confirm your numbers on the launch monitor. There is revenue to be made in service and fitting if the industry embraces the concept. With the number of golfers staying static or declining in the US, and the need for publicly traded companies to increase sales and profits quarterly, the American retailers will have to adapt or share the same fate the electronics stores have: extinction by plummeting off the cliff.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum.

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A tinkerer since he was a child, Brad Hintz has always enjoyed getting his hands dirty and learning how things are put together. Taking apart and putting together his bicycle and the family room television to make them work better eventually gave way to golf clubs. While a career in operations and analytics keeps him busy during the day, he has been building and repairing golf clubs as a hobby and passion for more than 17 years. Brad has been posting on golf forums since the late 1990s and has been a member of GolfWRX almost from its inception. This is his first foray into writing articles online.

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1 Comment

  1. Square

    Jan 5, 2013 at 5:16 am

    I hit the ball 280-300 off the tee, play the bag tees and really have a love affair with the game. For 30 years I’ve never taken a break. Hooked the first time I played the game. I hit the ball far enough. It’s probably impossible, but I would have loved for the USGA to provide a higher COR for the average to below average player who wants to hit it farther. Interesting article….

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses

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It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.

I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?

So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.

Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.

These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”

This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:

We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.

Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.

Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.

The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.

The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.

The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.

The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.

But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.

The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.

Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.

Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.

The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.

This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!

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In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.

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Opinion & Analysis

Vincenzi: How the 2022 Presidents Cup actually grew the game

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As fall approached, the world of professional golf was drowning in a sea of continuous division and animosity.

The Presidents Cup, which should have been a silver lining in the most tumultuous time in the history of the sport, had suddenly become a pasquinade.

The Internationals had always been an underdog and had just one win in fourteen tries against the Americans.

In 2019, the scrappy Internationals led by Ernie Els gave the United States team led by Tiger Woods all that they could handle at Royal Melbourne. The United States retained the cup, winning the competition 16–14, but the Els’ team fought to the end. The future was bright for professional golf on the world stage.

In 2022, things were different. The Internationals had just lost arguably their two best players in Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, plus a handful of other Presidents Cup shoe-ins including Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer.

The International players who had joined the controversial LIV Golf series were deemed ineligible to participate in the competition, which resulted in the decimation of what should have been a deep and competitive team of Internationals. By the time the event started, the United States had ballooned to a -900 favorite.

One phrase that’s been repeated ad nauseum over the past few months has been “grow the game”.

After a bleak opening few days at the Presidents Cup, we caught a glimpse of what “growing the game” looked like over the weekend.

There are plenty of ways to potentially grow the game of golf. One of those ways unfolded in real time at Quail Hollow thanks in part to a spirited group of Asian golfers who refused to let their team go quietly into the night.

First, there was the budding superstar, Tom Kim.

Kim scored two points for the Internationals, but the impact he had on the event dwarfed his point total. The South Korean hijacked the event with his charisma, energy and determination to help his team succeed. Golf fans were treated to memorable moment after memorable moment whenever the 20-year-old was on their television screen.

Kim had already had a handful of moments that will live in our memories for many Presidents Cups to come, but the most memorable came on the 18th hole of Saturday’s afternoon foursomes. Facing a seemingly invincible duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Kim put a 2-iron to less than six feet of the hole. He then sunk the clutch putt to knock off the fourth and fifth ranked players in the world.

Tom wasn’t the only “Kim” to leave a lasting impact at the 2022 Presidents Cup. Fellow South Korean Si Woo Kim had his share of memorable moments as well.

Going into Sunday singles, the Internationals were trailing 11-7 and in need of a historic day. Typically, the trailing team will “frontload” their best players to attempt a comeback. When United States captain Davis Love III called the name of Justin Thomas to lead off in the first match of the day, many expected the international team captain Trevor Immelmann to call the name of Hideki Matsuyama or Adam Scott. Instead, he called the name of Si Woo Kim.

Si Woo did not disappoint. Kim took out the de-facto leader of the United States team 1-up. The 27-year-old didn’t shy away from the spotlight, and matched Thomas both in his ability to sink clutch putts and to bring energy with his animated style of play.

Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim provided some of the most memorable moments of the Presidents Cup, but it’s Sungjae Im who’s been the best player for the Internationals in both 2019 and 2022.

Back in 2019, Sungjae tied with Abraham Ancer for the leading points scorer (3.5) for the Internationals during their narrow defeat in Australia. He was a rookie then, but this year he was depended upon to go against some on the United States best teams and delivered, scoring 2.5 points and knocking off young American star Cameron Young in their singles match.

As influential as the performances by the trio of South Koreans were, the overall impact of Asian golfers cannot be discussed without mentioning Hideki Matsuyama.

The 2021 Masters Champion has long been rumored to be interested in joining LIV Golf, but he was at Quail Hollow competing alongside his International teammates.

Stars were born at the 2022 Presidents Cup, but Matsuyama has been “growing the game” for what feels like a lifetime. Labeled from an early age as the savior for Japanese golf, Hideki has delivered time and time again. The former young prodigy has slowly but surely turned into a pillar of global golf and leader of the Internationals.

After a slow start, Hideki was able to grind out a win and a tie to help the Internationals remain competitive throughout the weekend.

While the Internationals were eventually defeated 17.5-12.5, a more important mission that cannot be measured by wins and losses was undoubtedly accomplished.

Amongst all of the turmoil and strife in the world golf, it’s easy to forget how much the game means to so many people.

Countless young golfers across the world went to bed on Sunday night and dreamt of being the next Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim or Hideki Matsuyama.

That sounds like an excellent way to “grow the game”.

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