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Opinion & Analysis

A growing niche: Hickory Golf

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At first blush, a similarity emerges with historical re-enactment junkies and hickory golfers. Both sets of aficionados strive for authentic recreation of apparel and equipment.

But here is where the two roads diverge. While the re-enactors hope to portray a particular episode from history, hickory golfers strive to create new history while remaining faithful to a bygone era of golf.

Hickory golfers are niche enthusiasts. They compete at courses named Oakhurst, Temple Terrace and Southern Pines. The numbers on the scorecard typically run between 5,800 and 6,000 yards and the clubs in their bags have names, rather than numbers. Terms like brassie, baffy, niblick and mashie emerge from a P.G. Wodehouse story into the light of a new era. Swings slow down or smooth out, and the dull “thlock” of a wooden head and shaft on a golf ball returns to the auditory spectrum.

“Before the 14-club rule went into effect in 1939, players could carry as many (clubs) as they wanted,” said James Davis, communications coordinator for the Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG). “There are stories of up to 22 clubs in a bag. Players had certain shots they counted on and went to club makers of the day to have clubs made specifically for perhaps only one or two shots a round. Today, a good starter set of hickories might be only six clubs: two wood headed clubs — driver and brassie — and four irons — mid iron, mashie, niblick and putter. Of course there are dozens of other clubs that are commonly found in modern hickory bags from a more-lofted wooden headed spoon to irons such as driving irons, 1- to 4-irons, the jigger and mashie niblick. These are the most common. Other names of clubs get real involved.”

Hickory golf is an opportunity to commune with the era of Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones, of Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson. It is the game of golf without the technological trappings of composite shafts, souped-up golf balls and massive titanium driver heads. Hickory golf allows the ball to move from side to side, to be curved intentionally, to be played low and trundling.

What Is Hickory Golf?

Hickory

Mike Just, club maker for Louisville Golf and a reformed hickory player, discussed the province inhabited by hickory golfers in a recent interview.

“Some people play with clubs originally made in the early 1900s,” he said. “Because good, original equipment is hard to find, some play with replica clubs that are of the same design and materials as the club made during the hickory era. Many people dress in knickers and wear a shirt and tie like Bobby Jones and other great golfers of the period.”

Just also said Louisville Golf has been making wooden-headed clubs for 35 years.

“There was tournament, the National Hickory Championship, where people played with pre-1900 equipment on a course that was maintained the same way as when it was built in 1884 (Oakhurst in West Virginia),” he said. “Original woods from that era cost a few thousand dollars each and players didn’t want to risk breaking them. So they contacted Louisville Golf to see if we could replicate the woods. Our involvement has always been demand driven. After successfully replicating the pre-1900 woods, we were asked to replicate woods from the 1920s.”

Authentic or Replica?

sohg1Hickory Clubs

As with many endeavors that seek a connection to the historical past, debate arises over authenticity. Hard-line wood golfers insist that tournament-approved clubs must be original equipment, built prior to the time when metal shafts replaced hickory ones. A second perspective is that, due to the cost and scarcity of original, quality clubs, approved replica equipment is to be permitted in tournament play.

Just affirms that clubs built as far back as the 1920s are viable for use still.

“Hickory shafts can and do break, but that is a rare occurrence,” he said. “The old vintage clubs need to be refurbished before play or they are likely to fail. But a refurbished club or a replica is much more durable than many people think. If I hand my hickory-shafted driver to someone who has never hit a hickory-shafted club, their first reaction is, ‘Is this going to break when I hit it?’ The answer is obviously no….Bobby Jones hit drives over 300 yards with his driver. That’s a lot of force on the shaft, and his clubs didn’t break.”

Now, don’t think it can’t happen. In 2012, I broke a brand-new hickory 4-iron and was gun-shy the remainder of the round. My hickory-wielding mates assured me that it was a totally random occurrence and that I should give the hicks another go. I’ll do that in mid-February in Pinehurst. Seems like an appropriate place, right?

Who Is Playing Hickory Golf?

Hickory tournaments

Two fellows for whom the hickory game means a great deal are Greg Vogelsang and Kevin Lynch. The former has played hickory for a number of years while the latter is a recent convert. Vogelsang’s proficiency was such that he emerged as the 2011 Vermont Hickory Open champion. Lynch’s enthusiasm is such that he owns two sets of clubs, one from Just and another from Tad Moore. What binds men and women to hickory golf is a need to know the origins of the game, and Lynch and Vogelsang are no different.

“I was trolling around on the Internet and came upon the site of the Society of Hickory Golfers,” Vogelsang said. “Lo and behold, there were guys playing hickory golf. And then I thought, it would be really fun to play hickory golf at Grover Cleveland.”

Grover Cleveland Park, formerly known as the Country Club of Buffalo, hosted the 1912 USGA Open championship and stretches to 5,600 yards, well below today’s standards. Hickory golf, people like Vogelsang have said, brings relevancy back to courses from a different era.

For Lynch, it was about the feel not only of the shots but of the course.

“It’s almost a cure for your swing ills,” he said. “It’s a swing aid in a way. We had a guy, decent golfer, played moderns for two days, barely breaking 90. We told him, ‘Try hickory.’ Next day, at Dormie in Pinehurst, he shot 75 the first time he saw the course. Changed his rhythm. Not only do you feel the club, you need to show more care. Can’t just leave them in the trunk for a year. Store them flat and in proper temperature, so that they don’t warp or bend. They’re strong, but not indestructible.”

Hickory golf is growing across the world, with several European nations holding annual championships. There are hickory golfers in Australia and Japan. The SoHG sponsors a championship series of five tournaments with points awarded for various finishing places. The top finisher is acknowledged at the season-ending hickory championship at Mid Pines, N.C., in November.

The easy access to hickory clubs has been one factor in the popularity of their use.

“Anyone can pick up hickory clubs and have a go,” Davis said. “They are not hard to find, as there are scads of them on eBay for example. Trade shows held in various regions of the country by the Golf Collectors Society show hundreds and hundreds of such clubs for sale. An inquiry to the (SoHG) website will help put anyone in touch with hickory golf enthusiasts in their area. Find a mentor through the SoHG website and get help when choosing a starter set. There are also helpful ‘build a starter set’ stories on the SoHG website.”

At the inaugural Erie County Amateur, an event held in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that fabled USGA Open, Lynch and Vogelsang, along with compatriot Eric Hoxsie, played the Grover Cleveland course in their plus-fours, schoolboy caps and their hickories. The modern-ball players asked question after question about the clubs and left with curiosity piqued. Perhaps the niche is growing.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. jim

    May 5, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Hi ,
    with respect to hitting hickory drives of 300 yards plus i have seen several players do this . In the 2012 Canadian Hickory Open I played with Ken Plaunt who routinely drives the ball over 300 yards . No dried out fairways , no downhill , etc he is just a very good player and hits it hard and long … and mostly straight 🙂 There were several others there who also can hit it 300 yards plus .
    If you think in modern terms , you see the top ten lists for stats each week and the longest drivers are 310 ish ….. the top pga pros don’t average 350 – 60 yards . But they can and do hit that far and farther .You see it each week on the tour .
    More importantly , hickory golf isn’t about hitting it the same yardages as your modern clubs – you won’t . It’s about playing golf the way it use to be played . It’s about making great golf courses relative again – the ones that are 6000 yards not 7000 . It’s about earning those 10 extra yards a drive or hitting two more greens through skill – not buying it at the pro shop .
    Give hickory golf a try – think before you play – and before you speak . Thanks for listening and have fun .

  2. Dave C.

    Feb 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve been playing hickories on and off for about 5 years. At age 60, I’ve hit my driver 225 yds max. Usually average about 200 yds, using a Pro V type ball.

    I break 80 a few times a year. I think hickory golf is more fun than regular golf, due to the fact a player has far less expectations with hickories. Buy the latest titanium technology, and expect 300 yd drives, and be horribly disappointed when you drive 215. Hit the hickory 215, and it’s pure joy.

    • mike smith

      Nov 17, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Way more fun. Golf has morphed into smashing the ball as far as you can. Then hitting precise yardage with a highly technical iron, and putting with something that looks like you’re trolling for barracuda. Hickory is all strategy and although some can drive it 300 still, everything else takes some thought. Hickory golf is going to boom.

  3. Eddie

    Feb 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    I have actually hit a 300 yard drive once or twice. It may have been a downhill fairway with some hook overspin, but I have hit one 340 one time. And I am not a long hitter, averaging maybe 220 with my drives

  4. Jim Conine

    Feb 12, 2013 at 10:53 am

    This is for R,
    You have to know the history. Imparted on to me by Randy Jensen, the balls back then in the 20s had no size or weight limits. They felt the balls would be self limiting…too small and they would be too hard to hit, too big and they wouldn’t fit in the hole. There were varieties of sizes (1.2″ was common) and weights. The pros typically played smaller and heavier balls that would be more penetrating and less afected by wind. That is how they got the bigger distances. In the mid-30s when the USGA changed from 1.2″ to 1.8″ the USA lost 40 yds to the Europeans in distance. Modern ProV1s have distance very comparable to the balls of the 20s.

    To the comment about Classic Golf in Omaha. This is a must if you are are ever in or near Omaha. A shop that is 90% Hickory dedicated with hundreds of vintage hickory shafted clubs for sale. Many full sets too. Omaha is ground zero for Hickory Golf players, with over 150 area players all with their own sets and weekly area Hickory events.

    • Keith Cleveland

      Feb 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      I also want to say that I personally witness a former long drive champion fly a hickory driver into a wet hillside 307 yds in Little Rock at the Arkansas Hickory Open and then roll one 340 on the golf course.

  5. JD Hart

    Feb 10, 2013 at 10:49 am

    This is directed to “R”s comment regarding Bobby Jones 300 yards. Were you there? I was not either, but I know there are many references to feats of this nature, in that era. I am also personally aware of Randy Jensen’s tenacity with similar equipment. And know of my own successful connections at the golf ball with hickories. There is historical evidence of a 360 yard drive in the mid 1800’s. I f you don’t want to enjoy hickories, then don’t.

  6. Ronald Montesano

    Feb 10, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Eddie…that’s awesome! Yours is the one picture I did not supply and wondered of its origin. You and Kevin Lynch need to get together. You would have a great time of it.

    R…Technically, he did. Not consistently, as you’ll see when another comment gets posted. As with today, firmness of fairways played the important role.

  7. R

    Feb 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Bobby Jones DID NOT hit his drives over 300 yards with the hickory clubs and BALLS of his time. Stop with the disinformation.

    • Mike Henderson

      Feb 9, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Yes, but he did. Read his two biographies and see where it was documented! The normal long drive for a pro of that era was in the 240 yard range BUT with the hard fairways the occasional 300 yard drive was achieved. Read Down The Fairway or Golf is My Game -THEN make your comments as an informed individual.

    • Keith Cleveland

      Feb 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      R, In fact, Bobby Jones and others including Ted Ray routinely hit drives over 300 yards. You must remember there were no sprinkler systems in those days and on dry courses the ball ran forever. These facts are documented in many books concerning the hickory era, including The Grand Slam by Mark Frost, The Immortal Bobby by Ron Rapoport, and The Greatest Game Ever Played, again by Frost, among many others. I am sorry but you are putting out the erroneous information.

  8. Eddie Breeden

    Feb 9, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I gave up modern clubs about 5 years ago. Too much fun playing hickory golf, as you can see by the picture of myself at the top of the article:)

  9. Ronald Montesano

    Feb 8, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    They are certainly a viable alternative to modern equipment. Your swing slows down because you need to make proper and consistent contact. I’m not ready to give up moderns, but I do anticipate playing a bit more hickory this year.

  10. Philip

    Feb 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I am lucky to have a shop in town thatspecializes in these, Classic Golf in Omaha, Nebraska. Randy Jensen, one of the world’s best at hickory, gives lessons there. I haven’t played with them but he jokes that he’ll convert me over one day!

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Shriners Childrens Open Preview: Back Rickie to finally win again

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With a roll call of winners that includes Bryson DeChambeau and Kevin Na, TPC Summerlin offers players of all skill sets the chance to compete, but no matter how long off the tee, find the fairways in order to have the chance to record a score similar to that seen over the last four years – over 20-under.

Joohyung Kim – Win

Rickie Fowler – Win and Top-5

Hayden Buckley – Top-10 and Top-20

Full respect to the top of the market, but look slightly further down to Joohyung Kim, who may be priced closer to the likes of Patrick Cantlay and Sungjae Im at this time next year.

‘Tom’, as he is fondly known, has had a meteoric rise since turning pro at 15 years of age, but the short five years has seen him win at every level from Asian Development to the PGA Tour.

Even ignoring the impressive early years that includes a sixth place finish on debut at the Thai Country Club, a course that two-time Shriners winner, Kevin Na, won at some 17 years earlier, and the South Korean still retains an incredibly progressive profile.

Early days on the PGA Tour saw the then 18-year-old miss the cut at Harding Park, though he was top-50 after the first round; finish 67th at the Safeway (11th after round one) and 33rd at the Corales, before again dominating the Korean Tour in 2021.

Returning to the PGA Tour in 2022, an early top-20 at the Byron Nelson and 23rd at the U.S Open at Brookline was enough to confirm promise, although he surpassed all with a 3rd at the Scottish Open, in front of Patrick Cantlay, winner and two-time runner-up around Summerlin, and Cameron Tringale, top-five at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, an event that strongly links Tony Finau, and therefore Matt Wolff, Sungjae Im and Kevin Na, a two-time winner of the Shriners.

Everywhere you look, Kim’s best three efforts of the year have connections with previous winners or challengers at this week’s course.

Seventh place at the Detroit Golf Club sees form lines with Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau and Wolff, whilst his impressive five-shot victory at the Wyndham Championship sees him go after the same double that Webb Simpson achieved when beating Na!

The figures work well throughout, ranking an average of 10 for approaches and around 20th for tee-to-green across his last five starts on the tour, whilst his top-class accuracy off the tee – an average of better than 5th since Brookline –  will continually give him chances to attack the right side of the pins.

Of course, Kim went on to be one of the stars of the Presidents Cup last month, being one half of a winning duo that beat world number one Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns in the foursomes, and Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in the later four-balls.

A self-confessed joker, he relaxes at all the toughest moments and yet is still focussed enough to record final rounds of 63 and 61, as he did at Detroit and Sedgefield.

He’s on his way to the top.

 

I wanted to be with Dean Burmester, playing very well across the Korn Ferry and now PGA Tour, but I’m uncertain this will be his track, so row along with another 33-year-old, this time one that might do a ‘Martin Laird’ and resurrect his career.

Rather like Kim, Rickie Fowler was linked with a move to LIV, but whilst admitting the PGA Tour had its faults, it was still the best place to play golf.

And he has backed that up with what looks like a new desire. Having jacked his former caddy and recruited Rickie Romano, it looks as if he will reunite with former coach Butch Harmon, with whom he had great success. The changes look as if they have struck gold almost immediately.

Having not had a top-10 finish since the C.J Cup almost a year ago, Fowler bounced back to form at Silverado last week, when his sixth place finish saw him improve in almost all aspects. Indeed, his overall strokes gained of +8.8 were the best set of figures since the Wells Fargo in 2019, and came courtesy of positive aspects in driver, irons and putting, the latter something he is concentrating on above the other factors.

Form figures here need a touch of editing. The last two missed cuts are during a long, barren and depressing period for the man in orange, but previous course figures of 4/25/22/7 sit well with the most recent record of contenders.

Back happy with his game, with a team he is comfortable with, and with back form at the Memorial and Honda events, expect better still.

With course form repeating year on year, take a chance with Hayden Buckley at a big price for both a place and a top-20 finish.

A winner on the Canadian Mackenzie Tour and on the KFT (beating the highly rated and strongly fancied Taylor Montgomery), the 26-year-old hasn’t quite hit the heights expected, even if we are all too quick to expect players to be winning within months of arriving on tour. That is harsh given in 32 PGA stars, the former Missouri athlete has six top-20 finishes that include three top-10s.

Best of Buckley’s starts in a handful of top level starts last year were a fourth place in his home town at the Sanderson Farms, followed immediately by a top-10 here, and therefore last weekend’s top-20 in Mississippi may be the catalyst for a similar effort this week.

Long off the tee, Buckley should again give himself plenty of chances to score and, importantly, confidence with the putter will be high after finding almost six shots on the greens last week, a similar figure to that at the Rocket Mortgage and Detroit.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Open de Espana: Betting Picks & Selections

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Golf may be in a strange place at the moment, but at least the DP World Tour is serving up quality courses, if not always the best of fields.

It seems as if we have had quality courses on show for a few weeks now, and with Valderrama, Dom Pedro, Gary Player CC and Jumeirah still to come, the tail end of the season does not let up.

This week, the Club de Campo hosts the Spanish Open for the third year in succession, and whilst a gifted short game will never go amiss in mainland Europe, the course is more forgiving than previous locations, allowing the likes of Julien Guerrier, Wil Besseling, Alex Levy and Bernd Wiesberger the chance to win despite the frailties in other departments.

Hennie du Plessis Win/Top-10

Lucas Bjerregaard Win/Top-10/Top-20

Hot favourite Jon Rahm could lap this field as he did when winning by five shots in 2019, and whilst he was nowhere near right and had several excuses last year, it serves as an example to those wanting to smash their way in to the 9/4 chance, a price shorter than many of the prices offered about Tiger Woods in his prime.

Whilst it’s tough to see Rahm out of the frame, there are cases against Adri Araus and Eddie Pepperell for win purposes, so look further down the list for a couple of players that should suit the course, even if current form doesn’t scream out.

South Africa has seen a couple of winners here in the shape of former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Thomas Aiken, and I’ll take a chance that fellow Springbok Hennie du Plessis can join them.

 

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A post shared by Hendrik Du Plessis (@hennieduplessis)

Although the winner of just two events in a career close to 150 starts, the 25-year-old has shown enough in five starts in Spain to think Club de Campo will light him up again.

At the beginning of the season, du Plessis led the MyGolf Life Open for three rounds before finishing runner-up at Pecanwood, behind Pablo Larrazabal and Adri Arnaus.

Having then finished runner-up at the Limpopo Championship for the second time, has finished third to Larrazabal at the ISPS Handa at infinitum Golf Course and sixth in Girona behind Arnaus again – cracking form if the latter’s second and fourth in two attempts around here ae any guide.

He then flirted with the LIV tour, and banking almost $3 million when running up at LIV London, would not have been too depressed when he was dumped by Greg Norman et al, even if it seems as though the move took something out of him.

Despite a top-20 at Crans, recent form leaves a bit to be desired, but he should be buoyed by returning to Spain, where he can add finishes of fifth,18th and 39th to the results listed above.

Very long off the tee, there is a chance he performs similarly to the players listed higher up the page, those that also took advantage of length.

Lucas Bjerregaard is tough to read, but is another that comes to a track that should suit his length and par-five skills, as it did when 12th last season.

As a winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links and Portugal Masters, the Dane’s modus operandi should be fairly clear, and with last year’s leaderboard showing correlation with much of the courses in the Middle East, I expect the 31-year-old to thrive this week.

Lucas turns up when least expected, as he did when coming off a series of missed cuts and poor finishes to finish third at Celtic Manor in August, whilst he also did the same when needing to do well to keep his card, recording his best finish of 2021 in Portugal, and when just outside the top-10 here last year, again off a series of poor results.

When he is ‘with’ us, the Dane has a game full of strong tee-to-green product, using his length off the tee and strong iron play, but it is also the way he repeats form at certain tracks that just pushes him into being a play.

First, second, ninth and 12th at the Dom Pedro, and second and ninth at Crans, both courses can be tricky but are susceptible to those with experience in the wind and with power on their side – again, find the short stuff leaving wedges to the greens.

Whilst he may have his supposed safety net of Portugal in a few weeks’ time, Lucas needs a good finish to get him much closer to the top 117 in the rankings. Why not start at a course at which he found over seven shots in overall strokes gained just 12 months ago?

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie Reviews: L.A.B. Mezz.1 Max Putter

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L.A.B. Golf pushes the limits of putters and putting to try and help as many golfers as they can make more putts. Lie Angle Balanced putters are different because the face of the putter is always pointed towards your target. We all know L.A.B.’s famous Directed Force 2.1 putter. However, a lot of golfers didn’t like the looks and size of it. So L.A.B. developed the Mezz.1 putter that has a more traditional mallet look that so many golfers use, but with Lie Angle Balanced technology engineered into it. This year, the Mezz.1 Max putter was introduced to make a great putter even better. The Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent larger than the original Mezz.1 and offers more forgiveness and stability.

I have played the Mezz.1 this year and think it is a great putter, so to be honest, I wasn’t that excited to try the Mezz.1 Max at first. That changed pretty quickly once my putter showed up. To start, getting fit for a putter is one of the last things we golfers think about. L.A.B. has a very unique and effective remote fitting process if you cannot get to a fitter in person. You email a short video to them using your current putter and they use their internal genius to get your specs processed. The remote fitting video took me about seven minutes from start to submission.

Once you have your putter specs, you can then order a stock or custom Mezz.1 Max. I went down the custom path of various head colors, alignment aids, shafts, grips, and even a headcover to build my putter. My original Mezz.1 is black, and I wanted to go with some color to change things up and, for whatever reason, the cappuccino color kept grabbing my attention. The cappuccino color online looks more gold, and I was pleasantly surprised that in person the color is more brown and muted than I expected. The color goes well with the matte white Accra shaft and Press II 1.5-degree smooth grip.

Headcovers are now becoming big accessories, and the brown headcover I chose is kind of retro-looking while feeling high quality. Overall, I love the look and my Mezz.1 Max stands out without being too flashy and distracting.

As soon as I got the putter out of the box, I rolled a few putts on the carpet here at the office, not expecting much difference. From the first couple of putts, I could immediately tell something was a little different with this putter. The weight and balance through the stroke is more stable and you get an even better feeling of the putter wanting to keep the face pointed at the target. The other interesting find is that I didn’t even notice the 20-percent larger size that the Mezz.1 Max has over its older sibling. Maybe if I had them both side-by-side I would notice the size difference more, but the Mezz.1 Max on its own looks normal to my eye.

The first putts I hit on the carpet were great feeling and the Mezz.1 Max felt like it wanted to stay on its path regardless of how your hands tried to manipulate it. The same feeling was present on the putting green, and it was far stronger to me than the standard Mezz.1 felt. When you put the Mezz.1 Max on a target, the putter just wants to hit the ball at that target. The other interesting note is that, to me, the new Max has a softer and more solid feel compared to the smaller head. The sound at impact was more muted and had a lower pitch to it, even on mishits. Just like the original, the grooved face puts immediate forward roll on the ball and reduces almost all skipping.

L.A.B. says this Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent more stable, and I don’t think that is just some marketing talk. I have been in this putting funk where I have been making contact on the toe of the putter regularly. This miss has caused me to miss more than a few putts this year, and I hit a few with the new putter as well. Those toe misses still went straight and I wasn’t losing much speed. Those putts left the toe of the putter and either came up just short or just missed my intended line by a small amount. Those misses are a great improvement over the traditional blade that has been my gamer all summer. The biggest problem I had with the original Mezz.1 is that it took me awhile to get used to longer lag putts. This wasn’t the case with the Max, as I felt much more comfortable from long range and was able to get putts closer and reduce the 3-putt chances by a good amount.

Overall, if you’re searching for a new flatstick, the new L.A.B. Golf Mezz.1 Max putter is something to check out. You have a putter that can truly help you make more putts thanks to the Lie Angle Balanced technology, additional forgiveness, and stability.

For more information on my Mezz.1 Max putter review, listen to the Club Junkie podcast, which is available below and on any podcasting service.

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