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Making the most of golf club technology

Data acquisition is essential to a good fit

Golf clubs are being released at almost the same rate as mobile phones these days. While this creates sheer delight to the golf geek, it gets downright frustrating for the regular guy that doesn’t want to get too far behind the curve when it comes to his equipment.

Consider this our attempt to clear up a few things for the consumer on behalf of the golf club manufacturers.

First, there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” kind of golf club. Doesn’t exist. Never did. The only thing that matters is getting your clubs fit for you. This allows you the latitude to swing freely knowing your club is there to do your bidding. No adjusting to the club required. The club is adjusted to your swing.

Then you need to know yourself as a golfer; your weaknesses and strengths. Be honest with yourself; brutally honest. If you err in your choice of club, err on the side of forgiveness. You might love the aesthetic of a bladed long iron, but think about hitting that gorgeous club to a tight left pin over water—does it inspire confidence or fill you with terror? I’m not saying that you need to go full-on super game improvement but give yourself a bit of a safety net for when you miss.

The driver

Let’s start at the top end of your bag; let’s look at drivers. Today there are two basic kinds of performance drivers—those that offer more forgiveness and those that offer the best performance. Most manufacturers introduce drivers in pairs to offer something to as many golfers as possible. With the range of shafts on offer and a comprehensive fitting with a professional fitter, anyone can find a driver that works and works well.

Just because a new driver is introduced, doesn’t mean your gamer is obsolete. Check the technology behind the new product. It might be aimed at golfers of other skill levels. If the technology is compelling, test the prospect against your gamer. Most distributors have launch monitors, so data acquisition isn’t an issue. Make the most of it. The numbers won’t lie.

If you’re on a budget, the improvements should be measurable on a launch monitor and visible on the golf course. With the restrictions on driver performance, a well fit driver two or three years old should be within 5-10 yards of the latest new driver on offer.

Putters

Where the manufacturers have made the greatest strides has been the playability of their drivers. Off-center performance is perceptibly better all the new drivers, giving golfers ever more ball speed on mishits.

Don’t blindly go for the low-spinning option for absolute distance unless you have the clubhead speed to make the most of it. To the greater population of golfers, spin is your friend. It’s what keeps the ball airborne, allowing for the greatest carry and more precise placement on the golf course. Unless your ball speed is close to 150 mph, you’ll need more than 2500 rpm to keep your golf ball in the air.

Pay more attention to the dispersion statistics and to where you’re making contact on the clubface. During your fitting, don’t swing for the fences. Use your fairway finder for the fitting process. You’ll find more speed as the fit gets better.

Fairway Metals or Hybrids?

The idea with both classes of clubs is to fill in yardage gaps between your driver and your longest iron. These days, the average golfer would do well to have one or two fairway metals and at least two hybrids. This means that the modern iron set for the average golfer should start with the 7-iron.

Wedge angles explained

Loft gapping is a just a starting point with this process; you’ll need to hit balls to determine the real distances these clubs fly. Many can’t hit a 3-metal so perhaps a 4-metal or an adjustable 5-metal that you can strengthen to 17º might be a viable alternative. You’ll gain distance if you can make better contact.

The modern game improvement 7-iron has a loft of 30º to 31º, so you’ll need hybrids at 4- or 5-degree gaps. There are different types of hybrids to choose from. Not all golfers want their hybrid to hit the ball high up in the air. Many require a smaller clubhead to get out of trouble from further out. Buy only what you need.

The high lofted fairway metals, once so prevalent, seem to be a thing of the past. Seemingly victims to the popularity and ease of use of hybrids. The shorter shaft of the hybrids is a factor here; it makes hybrids easier and more intuitive for the handicap golfer.

Better golfers will opt for a 3-metal then either 5-metal or 2-hybrid (both around 18º loft), then most likely a 3 or 4-hybrid (21º to 24º loft) before their longest iron (usually a 25º 5-iron). Specialists might even swap in a driving iron it that’s what the golf course demands. The variety available today is limited only by your imagination.

As always, make it easy for yourself; don’t hesitate to swap a hybrid for a long iron. It pays dividends.

Irons—What can you live with?

Although, most love the aesthetic of the blade/player’s irons, we are better off with irons that offer us more assistance on mishits. The new players’ distance irons are the hottest new category in irons and offer great value for a large demographic of golfers.

This class offers the “player aesthetic” in a very friendly package. These still aren’t appropriate for beginners but offer the mid-handicap golfer desperate for an alternative to the often-ungainly game-improvement clubs. They have all the performance specifications of good player irons without the drawbacks.

These irons are all constructed with multiple materials to squeeze every iota of performance from each component of the golf club. Some are constructed like hybrids or fairway metals, with a hollow body, a hot clubface and a center of gravity that is precisely located to yield the desired flight characteristics.

They have a ton of tech squeezed into a more compact package, hit the ball significantly further than standard irons, feel good and forgiving off-center. The added distance and ease of use are addictive. The sole designs are diverse from brand to brand, but all seem to perform admirably in the real world. There’s one out there that will work best for you, so take the time to find it. Learn which one you can live with, and you’ll have a dependable weapon for years to come.

Optimization

After you’ve acquired your weapon of choice, you need to move on, and have it personally fit for you. This will most likely require bending the irons so forged irons or soft castings that allow this sort of manipulation are essential. Better players will want to experiment with different shafts to further tune their ball flight. No where will this be more important than with the driver.

With the proper tuning, it is possible to find even more ball speed from a typical driver. Shafts, lofts and lies, and head weight can be configured to suit personal preferences for feel, trajectory and spin profiles to really eke out every possible increment of ball speed on center and off-center hits. The correct fit increases confidence, allowing you to swing freely, consequently increasing clubhead speed.

It might cost you a bit of money, but the performance gains in the real world are well worth it. Check with your favored club fitter for further guidance.

Wedges—It’s what’s underneath that matters

Wedges function in a matrix of variables. What’s most important is to choose one that fits your swing type on the golf-course conditions on which you play. Sounds complicated? It really isn’t.

First, wedges are generally employed at 5º-6º loft gaps. If your pitching wedge is 43º, then your gap wedge should be 48º, sand wedge 54º and lob wedge 60º. That’s just a guide. Better golfers seldom use full swings with their wedges, so you might see pros with wedges of similar lofts but markedly differing sole grinds.

Most important is to understand the effects of the wedge’s sole on your shot vis-à-vis your style of play. Some players are quite steep with their wedges and take large divots—these golfers benefit from a generous amount of bounce. Others are very shallow with their wedges. These golfers nip the golf ball off the turf, barely bruising the grass. These people can play with less bounce given the same conditions.

If you play on a golf course that’s well irrigated and is medium soft most of the time, play as much bounce as you can. If you play course that hard and fast with lies thats are generally tight, you’re better off with less bounce. The more skilled golfers match their wedges and playing style to the course conditions for optimum results.

Another consideration to wedge choice is learning to use the trailing edge of your wedge, also known as using the wedge’s bounce. This entails opening the clubface to the target line, then employing a shallow angle of attack, allowing the club’s trailing edge to push the clubhead up slightly. This technique virtually eliminates fat shots.

Golfers that prefer to employ this technique benefit from sole designs with some material removed from the wedge’s heel and toe. This grind allows the wedge’s leading edge to remain close to the ground even when laid open. It inspires confidence.

We are therefore blessed that the major equipment companies all offer a variety of grinds in a multitude of loft and bounce options so all’s that’s left to do is to make an informed choice.

The flatstick

This is a tough one. It’s such a short stroke so it’s mind boggling when you consider the amount of money spent on R&D to make the ball roll a few paces on the green.

Each golfer has his own preference with regards to what he wants to look at when addressing the ball. Blade, mallet and everything in between matters little. What’s essential is consistent contact with the center of the putter face. Whatever head style gives you confidence and allows you to do this is the one you game.

That said, I am a big proponent of face technology that improves the initial roll you get off the putter face. Some are better than others, and much of it comes down to feel, but all golfers benefit from being able to putt without the ball hopping and skidding off the putter face.

Counterbalanced putters are another technology worthy of consideration. Less conspicuous than other more visible forms of tech, counterbalancing helps with a golfer’s tempo and feel without hurting distance control.

Conclusion

It might all seem complicated, but once you have a good handle on how you play and what works for you, it becomes second nature. How many wraps of tape you need under your grip, whether you prefer your irons to play upright or flat, which shaft gives you the most balanced performance and how to properly set up your driver for the greatest distance without sacrificing playability are all things that you’ll take in your stride.  Take the time to experiment and understand the process. Ask questions; there are many in our Facebook and Viber groups that are more than happy to share their knowledge. Use the new data acquisition technologies to make informed choices with your equipment purchases. As in other walks of life, data is king. That will save you a lot of money since you’re not buying using trial and error or going strictly by brand advertising. It should also save you strokes, increasing your enjoyment of the game.

What’s that worth?

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