I thoroughly enjoyed producing these lesson pieces for the Feb. issue of Southland Golf with elite instructor Chris Mayson and photographer Joey Cobbs. February is the instruction issue of Southland and these pieces were part of the cover story. Enjoy.
My Southland Golf connection afforded me a unique opportunity last Saturday.
I was one of about 15 or so golfers to participate in a club test for much of the latest equipment by the major manufacturers.
This was conducted at Oak Creek in Irvine, which was holding a huge demo day featuring TaylorMade, Callaway, Nike, Cobra Puma, Ping and Cleveland.
The task was to hit each company’s clubs in four categories (driver, fairway wood, hybrid and irons) and rate each 1-5 (five being the best) on performance in four characteristics – distance, control, feel and look.
If that sounds daunting, it’s because it is. Trying to be fair and thorough, it took me four hours to get through this exercise, which I didn’t completely complete (more on that later).
I’d never had a chance to test clubs en masse like this before, which is why I was eager to participate.
Through my work with Southland and my time at the Golf Academy, I was most familiar with the clubs from TaylorMade and Callaway and least familiar with Nike. I’d never hit one of their clubs before and couldn’t recall playing with even one person who had their driver.
Anyway, since equipment has become a bit of a writing niche for me, I thought this experience was essential to having me be properly knowledgeable.
I’m not going to divulge the results here (you’ll be able to find them in the April issue of Southland Golf), but what I wanted to do with this post is mostly relate the experience and relay some general findings. For now, the blog is going to avoid specific club recommendations/endorsements, but if you email me, I can help you the best I can. I’ve been getting more of these type questions recently as people are pondering purchases.
First, I should give you the set up of my bag, so you know my biases. My clubs have mostly all been fitted for me, and I consider my bag to be settled, save for a potential new driver purchase, although you’ll read later while I’m wavering on that.
So, my bag …
Driver/3-wood – the Stage 2 TaylorMade Rocketballz. Yes, it’s my driver, too, and the rock star of my golf bag. Golf friends of mine actually will get upset with me if I try to hit something else off the tee.
I actually have a Callaway Ignite 10.5 and only old TaylorMade 9.5 Steelhead I carry on occasion, mostly because they hit a straighter ball for me and my RBZ hits a great little draw – and a long way.
Hybrid – Nickent, 19 degree.
Irons – Mizuno JPX-825.
Wedges – Mizuno and Cleveland (56)
Putter – Cleveland blade that I bought used last year and love.
So this was the standard the new clubs were up against. Like I said, I feel this set up works for me and I’ve acquired nearly all of it in the last year, so I don’t feel much impulse to change at the moment.
That said, I was certainly curious to see how the new gear performs, especially after having written and read so much about it recently.
The first challenge I encountered was simply to set up a model for the test. I really wasn’t given one and wanted to come up with a method that was fair.
I decided not to judge a club’s performance until I felt I could hit five consecutive good shots with it. This allowed for some acclimation time with set up, tee height, etc., for various clubs. And of those five shots, save for driver, I wanted to hit some of them off the ground and a few off the tee to somewhat simulate a round.
Some quick math of the information provided will tell you this is a lot of golf swings. Too many, actually. Fatigue was the biggest factor. Figuring on that, I hit the least familiar clubs first, to give them my best shot, and saved the more known products for the back end of my session.
My swing hit the wall at least twice, but at times it was hard to tell if it was me or the clubs. I will say there was one manufacturer whose clubs I couldn’t hit at all, so in that case, I don’t have doubt – it was the clubs. Everything seemed to be off, to my feel and my eye, and I probably spent too much time trying to make their gear work for me.
After 20 minutes of futility, I moved on to more familiar equipment and the ball started jumping again immediately.
I got through three company’s sets and then broke for lunch. I then hit two more and while I was testing a TaylorMade driver, it finally happened – rip. Yep, I ripped open a blister on my pinkie finger. And I can’t remember the last time I got a golf blister.
Being a trooper, I Band-Aided it up and soldiered on, but I shortly thereafter DQ’d myself with one equipment company left to go – one I know well, so I wasn’t too concerned about not finishing.
I learned a lot about equipment and what works for me on Saturday. However, given how different swing profiles are, there’s no guarantee what works for me will work for you.
For instance, I seem to be the only golfer I know who can’t hit the mew Titleist driver. I have several friends who own it and love it. I’ve tried it a number of times now and even under optimal set up conditions on Saturday, I got ordinary results at best. I don’t get it because it feels good to me. I just doesn’t wow me after that. And, as I’ve said, I’m the outlier here.
Truth be told, most of the drivers felt heavy to me. This is partly why I favor my 3-wood. I like the lighter weight. I feel like all I have to do is pull it through and I get effortless distance.
That said, I was very curious to test the other 3-woods against my 3-wood, and I have to say they faired quite well. I was probably most impressed with the across-the-board performance in this category.
And that’s why I’m telling a lot of my friends who are inquiring about drivers, “How about a 3-wood?”
Nearly every one I tested seemed to pack a lot of pop for a smaller club. Actually, probably the longest ball I hit all day came off my first swing of a 3-wood. It launched low and was on the end of the range in a blink.
I would seriously look at this option, for performance reasons and a economic ones, before looking at making a biggest investment in a driver.
The other revelation was in hybrids. This is where I found the greatest disparity in performance, and you can really tell the difference from company to company just be looking at the them. The club head sizes ranged from tiny, and I mean the size of a candy bar, to those that were pretty plump, like a 5-wood almost. The size, for me, translated entirely to confidence in the ability to the hit the club. I couldn’t even get the smallest one off the ground. Some of the others, I hit and got surprising distance from.
If I were to make a change, adding a second hybrid is definitely something I’d consider. And as for purchases, I would definitely take your time with this one since there is such a noticeable disparity in what each company offers.
As for irons, I hit some very goods one – and found I got the best performance often with blades – but I didn’t experience anything that would prompt me to change, though I certainly know my next two preferences would be if I had to.
The only thing we didn’t test was putters, but I had my favorite conversation of the day about putters.
I was talking to a tester from LA who was lamenting not testing putters before concluding, “Ah, I always just go back to my old Ping anyway. I can’t rid of it. The thing makes putts.”
I feel the same way about the Cleveland I acquired last year. I don’t always make them, but putting and chipping are the two things I know I can roll out of bed and do every round.
But the LA tester and I got talking about how personal putters are.
“You have your most personal connection with your putter,” he said, and he’s so right. That prompted me to a realization.
When you hit a bad drive, it’s the club.
When you hit a bad iron or wedge shot, it’s the club.
When you miss a putt … it’s you.
Seriously, how often do you blame your putter. After a miss, it’s the green or the read or the stroke. The last thing it is is your putter’s fault. Maybe this is because putting can be just plain hard, but I think it goes back to bond. Our putter became our putter for a reason – at some point it made putts. Putts we obviously still recall and cherish and have endeared us to the club.
Drivers can be flaky, but for some reason, once we trust a putter, it’s considered to be the model of consistency. When it misses, we’re flawed. Maybe because it’s because we inherently hate change and changing putters is a scary thought for many of us.
Anyway, that probably should’ve been its own post, under “Ode to Putters” or something, but it just shows you that the people who tested Saturday take their equipment seriously.
I can tell you in the brief chat I had with a few other testers, we had fairly uniform consensus, so I suspect the results in the issue with be fairly declarative about what people liked and what they didn’t.
You can look forward to that issue in April, but, like I said, if you have questions feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to give insight.
For now, I can tell you Band-Aid brand is still the No. 1 Band-Aid. I’m typing this pain-free and ready for my rounds this week, same mostly reliable clubs in tow.
It’s always golf season in California, but for golfers in most of the country, this time of year is when their thoughts turn to their golf gear and making upgrades.
With that in mind, Rancho Bernardo Inn Director of Golf Blake Dodson touches on three equipment areas – driver, hybrid, putter – that deserve your utmost attention this spring due to changes in trends and technology.
How often should you upgrade your driver?
“If you’ve got a driver that’s more than three years old, you’re running on antiquated technology. The technology turns over so fast now that your driver is like your computer.
“For the golfer, life is too short to play bad golf. Get modern technology.
“If you’re a beginning golfer, there’s such a flood of second-hand technology out there that there may be driver a year or two behind that could be a real steal for you.”
How much more prevalent is it becoming to carry multiple hybrids?
“We’ll, I carry two. I used to hit 1-irons and 2-irons, but they don’t make those any more. But I’ve made the transition and you’re seeing people now carrying as many woods and hybrids as you are wedges.
“They’re easier to hit and you get a lot distance out of them.
“When you look at a look of college kids, they’ve been carrying multiple hybrids for years and you’re going to start seeing that evolve through the rest of the game.
“That’s the big shift in the make-up of people’s bags. Three-irons and 4-irons are becoming like the eight-track for a lot of people – outdated.”
The banning of the anchored stroke was the big putting story of 2013, but oversized putter grips seemed to be the next biggest. How much are you seeing this trend reflected in recreational players?
“It’s lighting in a bottle for people. My advice is to use one but to try the different sizes. The size of the grip needs to correlate to the size of your hands.
“It’s all about how the putter rests of your hands, especially if you have larger hands. And for those people, these grips have especially been salvation for them.
“You want to have an oversized putting grip installed professionally, so let your pro help you with sizing and make sure you get into the right equipment.
“The grips helps you have firm wrists and soft hands and takes the play out of your putting stroke, which is what we’re all after.”
What are your golf goals for 2014? Have you started thinking about them yet?
If you’re a golfer in the majority of the country where they’re experiencing that unfortunate season called winter, I’m guessing the answer is no.
Well, when you do, I’m guessing thoughts will turn to bucket-list courses you want to play, possibly coveted golf purchases to be made and target scores to be shot.
To that list, I’d like to suggest you add one more: If you haven’t done so already, get fitted for your clubs.
This post was originally going to recount the fitting experiences I had in 2013 and how my game benefitted from them, but then I got a better example: my longest golf playing partner.
It was funny how it turned out, but he actually benefitted from my driver fitting more than I did by way of being introduced to a new driver shaft that put him on a path to a dramatic transformation.
Let me back up a little and explain.
I started golfing with Ted about 10 years ago when we met by chance on the first tee box of a golf course in Omaha.
For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been one of the better drivers of the golf ball I know. He’s long had that eye-level, boring ball flight that, as a former sky-baller, I’ve always envied. Then a year ago, something changed.
After I moved out to California and we resumed playing on a more regular basis, I noticed my friend wasn’t the same player off the tee. And the more I learned about the golf swing at the Golf Academy, the more baffled I became as to why.
I suspected a lingering toe injury was partly to blame and that the resulting pain was somehow hindering his weight shift. But then that cleared up and his drives were still taking nasty high and right detours into other fairways.
Finally one day when we were playing last fall, and he was hitting it worse than ever, he asked if he could hit my driver.
After being fitted at Fujikura, I was carrying a demo driver with a new shaft that had started to give me the desired trajectory he used to have.
I’ll never forget his first swing. We were playing a long, slightly uphill par-4 in Costa Mesa. He took his usual backswing and unleashed a 320-yard rope down the right side of the fairway.
Jokingly, I told him I’d need to hold his ID and a credit card if he wanted to use my driver again because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back.
Anyway, Ted played my driver on the back nine and proceeded to hit all seven fairways and knock eight shots off his front-nine score. It’s the most dramatic turnaround I’ve ever seen on a golf course.
He come off the course ready to toss his old driver in the trash and go buy a new one. I told him it wasn’t a new driver he needed; it was a new shaft. Even after a dramatic 10-hole testimonial, he still didn’t quite get it.
I made him promise to come by and undergo a club fitting at Fujikura and let the pros weigh in before consigning his driver to the scrapheap. But before he left, I actually held his driver for the first time and realized it felt like a paper weight being swung by a piece of spaghetti.
I had him hold his driver and my demo driver simultaneously to feel the weight difference.
“Oh my God is my driver light” was his response.
For those of you that haven’t been fit before, here’s basically what happens: they put you on a swing monitor and have you hit shots that produce an array of visual and numerical feedback on everything from trajectory to swing speed/ball speed and, most import, spin.
The more you work with swing analysis equipment, the more you realize the role of spin in the golf shot and how it influences trajectory and shot shape. Usually reducing and controlling this spin is largely what a fitting aims to do through improving the relationship between the shaft and the clubhead, which sometimes means changing one or the other, as it did for me.
Before I continue, I’m going to out my friend here a bit and tell you that when I told him about how working with this equipment in the past had improved my game, he was less than interested. I especially recall telling him, “You hit a ball and get 20 readouts on what just happened.”
“I don’t want 20 readouts,” he replied.
I countered, “Here’s guessing you want at least five.”
And this is where a big knowledge gap exists in golf right now. We’ve never known more about ball flight, the swing and how the two really work together, yet most of the golfing public continues to know less.
My gauge for this is talking about it with people on the course and watching them stare blankly when I use terms like TrackMan and Flight Scope. If you don’t know those terms, get to know them because you will encounter them in your golf future if you desire to get better. (And, yes, I’m happy to do a future post explaining what they’re all about and how to understand the results.)
Anyway my skeptic friend stepped into a simulator for the first time in December and started discovering the truth about his swing gone wrong.
His old driver, as predictable as ever, replicated the exact results he was having on the course. Right, right and really right where his only swing outcomes.
Among other things, the swing monitor showed Ted’s driver was imparting incredible amounts of side spin on the ball and spin in general.
John Hovis, the fitter that day for Fujikura, processed in the results, took the specs on my friend’s driver, and then made a few insightful observations about Ted’s driving.
The one that wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years was that Ted had unusually long arms, which was making it difficult for him to get the club through.
To increase his club speed, John took an inch off Ted’s old driver and then added weight to the clubhead to give it a little more heft and feel.
The results were dramatic. We played a round that afternoon at Twin Oaks and my friend found fairway after fairway, even on the toughest driving holes on the tree-lined course. His old swing was back and actually better.
And, for my part, I’ve gained 15 yards more from the new shaft I was fitted for that reduced my driver’s trajectory, tightened my draw ball flight and gave me more roll-out.
So that’s two very positive outcomes with two very different swing solutions.
I’ve now been fitted for everything in my bag, and the results show. I just had my best golf year ever and am looking to improve on that in the new year.
So before you dump more money into rounds that will produce the same results, much less invest in new equipment, considering getting fit and discovering the real truth about your golf swing.
Better golf in 2014? That’s what I call a happy New Year.
TaylorMade unveiled JetSpeed last week, which is its update to the RocketBallz line and includes the first driver to utilize Speed Pocket technology.
I’ve pasted portions of the company release below, but if you’re up to speed on JetSpeed and just want to read about my experience, then scroll about halfway down.
The word from the source:
TaylorMade, the No. 1 played driver brand on the PGA Tour, has announced the release of JetSpeed, a breakthrough line of metalwoods that includes the company’s first driver to feature Speed Pocket technology. In addition, JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs combine an enhanced Speed Pocket, an extremely low-forward center of gravity (CG) location and extremely light overall weight to promote faster swing speed, clubhead speed and ball speed for more distance.
“We expect ‘low and forward CG’ to represent the next great innovation in metalwood performance,” said Sean Toulon, Executive Vice President. “With our SLDR and JetSpeed products, we’re giving golfers of all types the opportunity to increase their launch angle and reduce their spin-rate, which ultimately leads to more distance.”
The First Driver with a Speed Pocket
The Speed Pocket was originally designed to increase the speed at which the clubface flexes and rebounds to promote faster ball speed. Why put a Speed Pocket in a driver, since the face is already as fast as the USGA will allow? TaylorMade engineers discovered that incorporating a Speed Pocket into the JetSpeed driver promotes less spin, as well as greater ball speeds on shots struck below the center of the clubface. Research suggests 72% of all golf shots are hit below the center of face, so the JetSpeed driver is designed to minimize the ill effects of shots struck below center.
“With most drivers, low impact generates too much spin, making the ball fly too high and land short,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s Senior Director of Metalwood Creation. “JetSpeed’s Speed Pocket is engineered to dramatically reduce that added spin to promote more distance on that very common type of mishit.”
JetSpeed Fairway Woods and Rescues
JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs each incorporate a radically redesigned Speed Pocket that’s smaller and accounts for less weight, while remaining just as efficient at boosting the speed of the clubface.
The improved Speed Pocket is filled with a polymer that keeps debris out, improving turf interaction while absorbing unwanted vibration without slowing down the clubface.
The weight saved by the new Speed Pocket design is redistributed strategically within the clubhead to move the CG lower and more forward, a location that TaylorMade has proven promotes faster ball speeds and lower spin. JetSpeed fairways and Rescues reduce spin by 200-300 RPM compared to previous models to promote more distance.
JetSpeed fairways and Rescues also feature a low-profile head design that makes it easier to make contact with the clubface below the ball’s equator, making it easier to launch the ball on a high, long-carrying flight and easier to get the ball in the air off the turf. The combination of low-profile head design and Speed Pocket work together to make JetSpeed fairway woods the longest and most playable fairways TaylorMade has ever created.
The driver retails for $299; the fairway wood, $229 and the rescue, $199. They go on sale Dec. 13.
I was fortunate enough to preview JetSpeed last week during a prescheduled round with Tony Starks of TaylorMade that just happened to coincide with the product launch.
First, I should say here that I own the RocketBallz Stage 2 3-wood, and it has been an absolutely revolutionary club for me. It has more or less replaced my driver. I get easy distance with it (260, 280) and, to use a “Star Wars” phrase, an occasional “jump to light speed” when it’ll push 300 yards and beyond.
That said, when I heard the JetSpeed driver employed the same technology, I was intrigued and not surprised when the driver felt familiar and comfortable to me. The photo below is the result of my very first swing with it on a 364-yard par-4 at Shadowridge Country Club. I was inside 80 yards after hitting an easy draw down the right side.
I played the JetSpeed driver for the majority of the round and found the driver and 3-wood easy to hit, long and forgiving on off-center hits. Most likely from teeing the ball too high, I got under a couple, but my drives still flew a decent distance and held the fairway.
I was amazed at the number of quality shots I hit given I had zero range time with the club. It immediately felt comfortable to me in that I could feel the head, but the club managed to remain light. For comparison sake, I’ve been unable to hit the R1 in the past because the head has been too heavy for me. My 3-wood, much lighter by comparison, has always swung like a breeze for me, and my playing partners tell me it evokes my most natural swing.
JetSpeed felt the same way, and I look forward to having a go with it again and it becoming a permanent part of my bag. Hello, Santa? …
Martin Hall gave a tip on the Golf Channel’s School of Golf recently that I’ve been reminding myself of a lot lately so I thought I’d pass it along.
The episode was about driving the ball farther and went on to give a lot of good tips for gaining more distance off the tee. (By the way, swinging harder wasn’t one of them.)
The tip I noticed that he gave, and one that has really helped me, was about setting your shoulder tilt. Shoulder tilt is critical for every swing but especially the driver swing because the optimal attack angle for a driver is one degree up. That’s hard to achieve if your shoulders are level, and impossible if you’ve dipped your front shoulder.
Where I go wrong in my setup sometimes is having my shoulders too level, and I know immediately when it has happened because my right shoulder will roll over on my follow through and I’ll hit a huge pull right.
When this has happened, I know I need to go back to a very simple drill to set myself right. All I do is reach down and touch my right knee. (Obviously, it’s your left if you’re a lefty.)
That simple act sets my shoulders at the proper angle to deliver the slightly ascending blow critical for driver distance.
Remember this the next time your drives are going awry, and especially if you’re taking a divot or striking the ground, because it might be the reason why.