New Tech Every Year, Same Ole Handicap

As an avid golfer and equipment junkie, I feel I am easily persuaded by and feel profound guilt for not being the first to purchase and proudly own all of the new technology on the market today.

Let me rephrase that … ahh hummm, as an avid golfer and “former” equipment junkie, I feel I am no longer hornswaggled by the advertisers or tempted by a clubmaker’s new adjustable face, lower center of gravity, reduced spin, longer carry, lighter shaft, more penetrating flight, whiter club head for better contrast, higher MOI/COR or similar spacecraft technology on the market today nor do I feel like a loser for not having the latest and greatest! Golf balls are purposely not included in this discussion as they are replaced after just a few holes or every shot in some cases depending on your level of slice.

Let’s start with the iron. Face it, if we weren’t all searching for the magic swing bean, or “The Secret” we would still be playing those now illegal high tech square groove Ping Eye 2s from the early 80s. I constantly hear people talk about the old I2s. They were well balanced, the distances were on par with forgings, they stuck like super glue on the greens and were actually easy to hit. Do we replace the irons like we do the beloved driver that we adore so much we get a new one every year six months? No. Do we toss them out, give them away or throw them in the woods/water/trash after a bad round and chastise them like we do our collection of 10 putters that essentially are all the same? No. We tend to buy things in patterns and the club manufacturers know this, but they want us to feel inadequate or under equipped and reduce the time between purchases. They know that the average golfer will buy a new set of irons about once every four or five years, drivers about every two years, wedges every three years and putters every two years or when they throw one in the pond, whichever comes first. Those who play more often or who fall for the sales pitch will replace their equipment sooner than those who play less or are more frugal (I didn’t say cheap) and don’t fall for the hype.

So when do you replace your irons? I believe the purchase of irons is different from drivers, wedges or putters. We don’t tend to buy irons because they will help you gain distance or because they get rid of your slice. I think we break down and replace irons because we are either getting better or are getting worse and react accordingly to save or enhance our game.

An aside … many iron manufacturers are advertising longer hitting irons but they are really just lengthening the shafts and strengthening the lofts. I don’t know why we get so bent out of shape by how far we hit irons anyway. You hit them how far you hit them. Live with it.

So we intuitively know that we aren’t going to purchase a set of irons and drop 10 strokes off our handicap.  The bottom line is that while they may actually allow you to pick up a few extra yards there hasn’t really been that much done to the technology of irons since the Ping I2, at least not as much as they would lead you to believe. There are different metals, dampeners, groove formations, cavity inserts, blade size and shaft optimization, but the basic cavity shape for game improvement or muscle back design for blades is the same. Look at pictures from old MacGregor or Titleist blades. Do they remind you of Mizuno blades or Nike blades? My advice, replace your irons every 250-300 rounds or so and don’t forget to regrip your clubs every six months or 30 rounds.

Wedges — are they really part of the iron set? Aside from Vokey and the 588s, there haven’t been many innovations since. Why so much iron innovation for the high handicapper yet we still ALL play blade wedges, one of the hardest clubs to hit and arguably the second most important club in the bag. The little advancements are removable face inserts, crazy offset hozels, spinner shafts and progressive bounce formation — none of which really take strokes off your game. My advice, get the removable face insert wedges so replacement is far more economical when the grooves start to fail. Note: for you high handicappers, take out the 60-degree wedge and replace your 4 iron with a hybrid. You will score lower and will send me a thank you letter for no longer sculling or chili dipping your wedges.

Driver — let’s take a poll, how many drivers do you have? Five, eight, 10 or more? How often have you found yourself saying, “If I only had that new TaylorMade R11S I could blast it past all of the fellas.” Also how much did you pay for those eight irons compared to what you pay for one driver? Drivers are the largest consumer cash crop market. For guys, we simply can’t resist hitting something farther than our competitors. They play on our ego. They claim every year to add 10 percent, or 12 yards or 30 percent tighter dispersion than previous models for which they still charge $299. The bottom line is that there is a maximum C.O.R. (coefficient of restitution). This is how far a ball will go after colliding with the driver face at a fixed speed. They can’t make them go farther. Shaft innovation can help but the driver itself can’t be made to break the rules. My advice, replace your driver every five years or until you can use it as a beer mug.

Next, I’ll quickly go over putters. As I alluded to above, we may be more unfaithful to our putters than we are to the driver, wedges, irons, soda, beer, gas stations, car manufacturers, cell phone providers and spouses combined. Do you have three different Anser style putters? Do you have an 8802 of some sort? Do you have a space ship on a stick? Are they face balanced, heel balanced, toe hangers, low MOI/High MOI, polymer insert, CNC milled, plumbers neck, swan, offset, straight, forged, cast, steel, copper, long, belly, standard or Robert Garrigus? Can you make the ball go toward the hole and stop just past it? My advice, pick up all of your putters and pick the one that looks and feels the best to you at address and then go get it fitted for loft and lie.

Worldwide the average handicap for men is about 17 and women about 29. Why has this number not changed in 100 years? I thought we had these new adjustable drivers that promise (every year) to have a bigger sweet spot, hotter face and longer carry with less spin and straighter flight. We have irons that have more feel, are easier to hit and get the ball in the air faster, go farther and straighter (every year). We have wedges that are more accurate, spin more and are also easier to hit. There are a bazillion putters that are easier to align, better feel due tuned inserts, have larger sweet spots and that encourage a more solid strike. Why are we still falling for the advertiser’s promise of a better game? Here’s why … we are looking for a quick tip, a “golf fix”, a magic cure, a holy grail, pleasure without pain, an enlightenment without study.

Here’s my advice, stop spending your money on new equipment. Get fit with the equipment you have now and spend forty bucks a month on a range membership. Also, find an instructor that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for a RECURRING package of lessons who gives you reachable goals, practice drills and a routine. How is that self taught swing working for you? Set up a practice schedule within your limited free time and dig it out of the dirt. Read one golf book a month. There is a 10,000-hour rule in all professions and trades. If you want to get good at doing something you have to learn the correct way to do it, then practice that learned motion over and over again. Is a 16-year-old or a 40-year-old a better driver? I know golfers who have dropped 30 strokes in three years by having a focused practice routine, spending a half hour or more four or five days a week working on fundamentals, chipping and pitching from inside 100 yards. Don’t waste your entire bucket of balls pounding driver after drive while on the range, and hit the putting green for 40 to 50 percent of your practice time. Luke Donald could take any of your foursome’s bag of clubs and beat you handily with them.

Final thought: Technology changes to make more money, but handicaps stay the same because we want to buy a better game instead of putting in the time. Getting better is easy if you are willing to endure the pain to get there. The golf swing is not free, nor can it be purchased. It must be earned. That’s what Mr. Hogan meant by “digging it out of the dirt.” I still think I could get an extra 20 yards with that new TaylorMade 9.5 degree R11S Matrix Ozik TP 7M3 X-Stiff!

I would love to hear any funny stories about your driver or putter collections gathering dust or any success or failures in your quest for a better game!!!

Thanks for reading.

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One Response to New Tech Every Year, Same Ole Handicap

  1. Ron Celano says:

    Good article and good advice. I talk a lot about the same subjects in my two golf books.

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