Tag Archives: TaylorMade

Mini

The Mini & Me

Mini

About two years ago, I put a club in my bag that was at first a curiosity and has now become a necessity. It’s the original SLDR Mini Driver from TaylorMade.

For those unfamiliar, the Mini is a 3-wood made for the tee, a driving 3-wood if you will. It has an oversized head and fairway-friendly lofts of 12, 14 and 16 degrees (I play the 14). At launch, the club was touted to have a greater accuracy off the tee at the sacrifice of a few from your driver – and that’s exactly what it does. Mine plays to about 260-280, which is about 20 yards less than my driver, and hits probably twice as many fairways.

After two years of playing this club, I’m still finding uses for it, as I was reminded this week when I played the quirky par 4 7th at Encinitas Ranch. Those who play it know the tee shot is blind and played to a funky landing area to set up your approach. You need about 220-250 yards to get a clear look at the enormous green, which is usually a hybrid or long iron play off the tee. Taking anything longer (3-wood or driver) involves a more accurate tee shot that normally just invites trouble (canyon on the left, hillside rough or OB on the right).

On Thursday, I pulled the Mini and striped it down the right side into Position A. That notches another hole where I’ll play this club off the tee forever.

I’m prompted to write this post by a series of experiences I’ve had with this club over the past month and a couple conversations that made me realize how few people are playing it, or have even heard of it, that probably should be.

My club is the original version. TaylorMade has since updated it in the Aeroburner line and Callaway has its own, which I’m told has some real pop. So the club has obviously caught on or they wouldn’t be making more, but strangely I’ve never encountered another on the course. I always feel like I’m holding demo day when I play and always get questions about it.

Every time I have success with the club, I recall the early skepticism from a local pro – “Just what everybody wants – a shorter driver.”

And that’s just it. Maybe they should. As long as they gain accuracy.

At my peak, I could hit my driver 310-320, and while I miss those extra yards on occasion, the Mini proves adequate more often than not used as my main driver. That said, I’m not trying to play the long par 4s at Torrey with it.

I ended up playing all five Oregon courses with the Mini because my regular driver, the Cobra Fly-Z is an inch over standard, which I discovered is an inch too long for my travel bag. D’oh!

I thought about finding it as a rental, but opted to play the Mini and my Rocketballz 3-wood, which is driver long, instead. Both proved plenty adequate, though playing at elevation didn’t hurt for picking up a few more yards off the tee.

Before I left, I played a warm-up nine at Maderas – and again found another ideal Mini hole. For the unfamiliar, the hole is a par 4 with a creek carry. People take everything from driver to long iron here. I pulled the Mini and hit the perfect tee shot. The fairway runs out at about 280-290. My ball was sitting perfectly at the end, my longest tee shot ever on the hole, and made for an easy opening par. I’ll never play the hole any other way now.

I mentioned my shot and club choice on Twitter and it prompted a curious reply and how I play it and why, calling it an “unusual” club choice. That made me mentally connect to a round I played in Washington the week of the U.S. Open. None of my playing partners had even heard of the club much less hit it.

That made me realize what a low profile this club has after two years on the market. I can’t recall ever seeing a commercial for it and I may have never heard of it if I didn’t cover the equipment industry.

Among other things, it’s a great club for beginners. I had a novice player hit it during a round in Laguna and find immediate comfort with it, so much so that she bought one the next week. Anymore, that’s an easy purchase. You can find one used for $50-$75, far less than your average driver.

My original post about the Mini mentioned the opening holes at Twin Oaks, a tight stretch, being a perfect shot scenario for the club. And, indeed, hitting the Mini is the only time I’ve ever hit every fairway and green in regulation over that stretch.

In Oregon, I was pin-high on a drivable 280-yard par 4 and got up and down for a birdie. Threes are rare with the Mini, but so are 5s and 6s. It keeps me playable more often than not.

I’ve often called the Mini my “safety driver,” meaning I default to it when I’m hitting my main driver poorly, as I was a year ago. But I think that sells the club short now. I continue to find strategic uses for it, as I did Thursday.

So before you buy your next driver in the search for more yards, you might consider a Mini and opt for more fairways. I have, and it has changed my game for the better.

JC Golf: Demo Day at Encinitas Ranch on Saturday Provides Unique Equipment Environment

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Five major equipment manufacturers – TaylorMade, Titleist, Ping, Cobra and Nike – will be represented at the biggest demo day of the year at Encinitas Ranch on Sat., Aug. 30th.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., golfers will have an opportunity to test clubs on the driving range at Encinitas Ranch and ask questions of the attending equipment professionals. In addition, fitting appointments will be available from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Golf Pride will also be taking part and providing free installation of new Golf Pride grips.

Encinitas Ranch General Manager Erik Johnson says that for golfers who’ve been pondering purchases or are simply curious about the volume of new product that has come onto the market this year, the demo day is an ideal opportunity.

“There is no obligation or commitment,” he says, “but for someone who’s considering possibly a new driver or a new set of irons, I think this is a terrific opportunity. For one, you’re hitting clubs outdoors, as opposed to inside, where can really see what the club does. And on top of that, we’re going to have the latest technology including launch monitors that can measure ball speed, launch angle, spin, etc., so you’re sure to really know how that club is performing.”

If you’ve never participated in a demo day before, know that the experience can be a little overwhelming, and exhausting, without the right approach. Swing fatigue can be an issue, Johnson says.

“We’re not PGA Tour pros. We’re not conditioned to hit 150 to 200 balls without experiencing a significant drop in swing performance,” he says.

That said, Johnson advises limiting each new club tested to a maximum of 15 swings, even including swings with differing loft settings or shafts.

So that means when comparing, say, a TaylorMade driver and a Titleist driver, it’d just be around 15 swings apiece.

“After hitting 60-75 balls, it’s usually diminishing returns. You’re going to buy off of how the club looks, feels and performs. That’s enough swings to determine that.”

A free 10-minute driver tune-up is also be offered, where your driver’s set up is evaluated to make sure the settings match your swing.

Golfers can also participate in a long-drive contest that awards a free club fitting to the winner.

Johnson says that if you’re a player pondering an equipment purchases or possibly in need an equipment adjustment, Saturday is a day to have on your calendar.

“It’s a great opportunity to come hit some new sticks.”

For more information about scheduling a fitting, please call the pro shop at 760.944.1936.

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The SLDR Mini Driver: A New Way to Play the Opening Holes at Twin Oaks

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Shop the New SLDR Mini Driver + Free Shipping at TaylorMadeGolf.com!

Like all of you, I’ve had my trails playing the tight four-hole opening stretch at Twin Oaks.

I’ve probably played them 20 times or so now, achieving mixed results. Dozens of lost balls have gradually coaxed me into a less aggressive strategy that doesn’t make for as many birdies, but it makes for a lot fewer bogies. I’ve taken a bit of a survivalist mentality about the opening combination of two short par-4s, a long par-5 and a mid-length par-3.

I had a bit of a breakthrough on this stretch, however, two weeks ago thanks for a breakthrough in TaylorMade’s R & D department.

I was carrying TaylorMade’s new SLDR Mini Driver for the first time. The Mini Driver is a club between a driver and a 3-wood. It’s a driver with a 260cc and a Speed Slot, designed to provide the accuracy of a 3-wood off the tee while providing the distance of a driver, or just shy of.

TaylorMade gave me an advance chance to experience the Mini Driver, and I took to it immediately. My first shots on the range were dead straight, and I found I was able to hit it about 260-280 yards, sacrificing only 20-40 yards from my driver.

With this new weapon stashed in my bag, I approached the first tee at Twin Oaks. The opening dogleg doesn’t play to my draw, but I’ve learned to basically get by punching a 3-wood out left, just past the tree. Well, two weeks ago, I pulled the Mini, which is ideal for shorter par-4s, especially tight ones.

In short, I hit my best drive ever on this hole. I took it 280 yards right up the middle, leaving me about 50 yards. Due to a two-putt, birdie eluded me, but I felt like I was onto something.

Unfortunately, I pulled my tee ball OB with the Mini on the difficult par-5 2nd, but I executed the drive on No. 4 to just shy of the two fairway traps to set me up for another par. I got around the opening holes in 2-over, which may or may not be my best, but it felt different. This felt like success I could repeat, and hopefully drop a few putts the next time.

The Mini Driver comes in lofts of 12, 14 and 16 degrees. The lofts are supposed to remove sidespin from the ball to produce straight shots and thus more balls in the fairway.

At a media event for the Mini on Monday at La Costa Resort and Spa, TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel, Senior Director of Product Creation for Metalwoods, explained the performance benefits of increased loft.

“If you take a player who hits a 10-degree driver and has lots of side spin, look at what happens when they hit a 16-degree driver,” he said. “They square up the face more often and decrease the sidespin by almost half. When you do that, you’re speed goes up, you efficiency goes up and suddenly you’re hitting it farther and hitting more fairways.”

Bazzel says shorter hitters in particular can benefit from increased loft.

“What’s most obvious from the research is the biggest benefit of high launch, low spin is for slow-swing players,” he said. “They already have low spin. We just need to get them to loft up and hit it higher and the yardage gains are there. They’re actually the ones leaving the most yardage on the table right now.”

Putting the Mini in of course means taking a club out. Bazzel says that decision will be different for each player depending largely on what loft their driver is and then gapping appropriately after.

But Bazzel says the evolution of club combinations in golf bags has already begun.

“Throughout every swing speed, you’re going to see a new club combination and bag makeup that utilizes the technology to achieve more distance. The average driver loft on Tour has gone up one degree to 10.5 degrees and several 12 degrees are in play. Their bag has completely changed, just in one year.  The longest iron in the bag now often will be a 5-iron. You’re going to see those changes being reflected in recreational players from what they see on Tour.”

Don’t be surprised if it shows up in a bag of one of your playing partners soon. The club went on sale in May and retails for $279.           The club is designed for enhanced performance off the tee, but can be played from the fairway as well. Bazzel says he’s still discovering the shots that can be hit with it.

As for me, my driver is out and the Mini is in. I’ve been experiencing a bit of the driver doldrums recently and the Mini has proven an excellent remedy.

For more information about the Mini, contact your JC pro and see if it’s a club that fits into your golf bag of the future.

Highlight Hole: No. 8 at Strawberry Farms

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When reviewing golf courses from one golfer to another, we usually first default to brevity and try to capture the course in a word.

For instance, it’s common to describe a given course as “long,” “tough,” “hilly” or, best-case scenario, “fun.”

For Strawberry Farms in Irvine, that word is “tight,” which we all know is golf speak for narrow. That’s partly why I’ve shied away from this course when it has been presented as an option in the past.

Well, last week, there was no option. We had an online deal and this was the course we were playing. So I stocked up on golf balls and pointed my car north prepared to experience a little pain and frustration – & hopefully discover a great golf course along the way.

What I found is a beautiful course with a lot of scenic holes, many of which are, indeed, tight, especially on the back nine. In golf, this is what we call a shot-maker’s course, and you know it’s going to require strategy and to occasionally check your ego on the tee and hit iron.

One of the holes were you could, and probably should, do that is the short par-4 8th … but that’s not what I did. I went for it, and made it, thanks for a weapon in my bag that is more than the point of this post than the course.

As you can see from the photo, No. 8 is one of those diagonal fairways littered by bunkers. Playing it for the first time, it’s nearly impossible to pick the proper aim line because you don’t have any experience with the yardages and the landing area.

Well, the day we played I looked at the green sitting 292 yards out, noticed the wind behind me and decided there’d be no laying up. With that, I reached in my bag and pulled my 14-degree SLDR Mini Driver, the latest club breakthrough from TaylorMade. It’s a driver with a 260cc head that performs more like a 3-wood off the tee in terms of accuracy, but it’s got a Speed Slot so you still get distance. After two weeks of toying with this club, I hit it fairly straight and about 260-280 yards, about 20-40 less than my driver.

It’s ideal for a hole like No. 8, which is usually the type of hole that hands me my lunch because I hit a draw and struggle working the ball left to right. The Mini Driver turned this from a nervous tee shot into a confident one.

I hit a ball high in the wind, aimed at the front left of the green, and it carried the pot bunker in front and settled in some rough near the fringe. I’ve had a few success stories so far with this club, but this was by far the best.

My playing partner took his first swing with it and got similar success, though he was about 10 yards shorter and caught the pot bunker. Still, they were two impressive shots that ultimately produced pars.

You’ll be reading more about the Mini some pieces I’ve got coming up, but I wanted to share this experience because it’s one I’m not using elsewhere and is the example of the perfect shot scenario for this club.

If you try this club, you’ll notice you get a feel for it very quickly. The three people I’ve had try it have been immediately impressed.

With that quick trust in hand, you quickly start get a sense for when to pull this club. I’m using it as my driver right now and haven’t really tried hitting it out of the fairway, though I’m told it works well off the deck, too.

Anyway, if you happen to have a chance to experience this club, I’d appreciate you adding your two cents in the comments. I’m cataloging my Mini Moments as I continue to play with this club, and I’m sure you’ll see future posts here about it. Maybe I can include you.

Stay tuned to your local – heck, global – golf blog for more Mini news to come.

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Tee shots on No. 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlsbad: Golf’s Ground Zero

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Editor’s Note: This is the my unpublished draft of the Carlsbad golf industry story you have read in the April issue of Southland Golf. Due to the constraints of traditional publishing (space limits, etc.) a shorter version of this piece ran in the mag. I wanted to post the original because I think it provides a lot of detail that was left out of the printed version. Hope you enjoy.

         Three days after Phil Mickelson’s Gulfstream V touched down in California following his thrilling comeback victory at the British Open in Scotland last July, Mickelson texted Callaway CEO Chip Brewer to ask if it’d be OK for him to drop by the company headquarters in Carlsbad.

Mickelson wanted to personally thank the Callaway team. Oh, and he had a special guest.

That afternoon, Mickelson, dressed California casual in golf shorts and flip-flops, emerged through the glass doors of Callaway clutching the Claret Jug and with bottles of champagne in tow. He was greeted to cheers by many of the 518-person Callaway staff and an impromptu celebration ensued in the lobby, the same space where workers had been greeted by live bagpipe music days before to herald Mickelson’s victory.

The party eventually moved back to R & D and the team Mickelson had worked with closely, especially on his then-custom X Hot 3 Deep 3-wood, the club that produced two now legendary shots on the par-5 17 at Muirfield.

Among those included in the celebration was long-time Callaway club designer Austie Rollinson, the designer of the Odyssey Versa #9 putter Mickelson used to roll in the victory-clinching putt.

“I got to take a sip out of the Claret Jug,” Rollinson says, looking at a photo of the moment captured on his iPhone. “That was pretty cool.”

It was a special day at Callaway, but in the golf industry at large in Carlsbad it was another day.

It’s plausible that in that same week Dustin Johnson had dropped by TaylorMade to again test the limits of the Kingdom’s driving range, or Rickie Fowler had popped into Cobra Puma Golf to check out what vibrant color patterns the company would be dressing him in next. And maybe light up the launch monitor.

Over in Oceanside, on the expansive and lush range of Titleist’s test facility, pros from various pro tours could’ve been putting the next generation of the Pro-V1 into orbit.

Were Carlsbad to make its own version of the “This is ESPN” commercials, this is what they might look like. The difference? Carlsbad wouldn’t be making any of it up.

Welcome to golf’s Ground Zero.

***

         Carlsbad’s tourism moniker is the “The Village by the Sea,” but that hardly captures what actually makes Carlsbad unique – namely, its place in the golf industry.

With a population of just below 110,000, as they say in boxing, Carlsbad punches well above its weight when it comes to influence in the golf equipment world.

The combined operations of Carlsbad-based TaylorMade, Callaway and Cobra Puma are akin to golf’s version of Silicon Valley. (Titleist has a presence here, too, but is actually based in Fairhaven, Mass.)

In terms of product development, R & D and setting golf’s equipment agenda years in advance for North America and the world, Carlsbad is it.

“The music of the golf industry plays through Carlsbad,” says Bob Philion, President of Cobra Puma Golf.

And, increasingly, Carlsbad’s equipment tune is played to the background music of a cash register. The companies combined reportedly amassed about $3 billion in sales in 2013, with TaylorMade, golf’s top brand, pulling in more than half, $1.7 billion.

How big is the golf industry in San Diego? Well, in 2008, an economic impact study pegged its contribution at $2.6 billion, making it larger than the sectors of legal services, agriculture, computer software and even aerospace.

How did Carlsbad become the hub for all of this? A Sports Illustrated/Golf.com piece in February, titled “Golf’s Ultimate Playground,” delved into those origins, relying heavily on an interview with TaylorMade CEO Mark King.

King challenged the local legend that the industry’s establishment in Carlsbad is tied to golf’s common interests with the military in terms of technology and manufacturing (club casting, in particular) needs as equipment transitioned into its current metal-based technology boom away from wooden clubs.

Instead, King said Callaway coming to Carlsbad in 1985 and TaylorMade in 1982, both destined to change golf forever with the first metal woods and drivers, was more happenstance than plan.

“It’s all folklore,” King told SI. “The whole thing was coincidental. After he sold the vineyard, Ely Callaway bought into a little company in Carlsbad that made hickory-shafted golf clubs.

“Gary Adams founded TaylorMade in Chicago but his West Coast (partner) lived in Carlsbad … so the company moved out here, too. It was all a big accident,” King concludes, noting Cobra golf was established in Carlsbad around the same time.

Ely Callaway got into golf when he used the profits from his winery to buy Hickory Sticks, USA, a golf company in Temecula, in 1982. He moved it to Cathedral City, but the lack of a robust labor pool caused him to move the company Carlsbad, where a golf labor pool existed at TaylorMade and Cobra.

Some of those workers became the original Callaway Carlsbad crew, thus beginning the now common experience of people being recruited from one company to another.

While some of the origins of the golf industry in Carlsbad may be in doubt, the impact is not.

The companies not only changed how clubs are made, but how they’re sold and marketed. Austie Rollinson, who joined Callaway as a club designer in 1991, recalls how clubs were largely only sold at golf courses when he started and how Mr. Callaway was the among the first to transition the business into the retail big-box model we see today.

Rollinson arrived as the industry was transitioning from more mom-and-pop into the manufacturing and marketing machine we see today. Rollinson says the companies maintain a friendly competitive balance, but it’s nothing like the stories he’s heard of the camaraderie of the 80s.

“If Callaway was making clubs that day and was out of Dynamic Gold golf shafts, they’d just call Cobra,” Rollinson says. “I couldn’t see that happening now. It was a much more friendly industry back then, but there wasn’t as much at stake and it was as competitive as it is now, either.”

Palomar Airport Road, a major thoroughfare in Carlsbad that leads to all three company’s offices, was a dirt road when Rollinson arrived. It’s now a major six-lane highway.

Jose Miraflor, Director of Product Marketing at Cobra Puma, recalls the dirt-road days as well.

“Now people pass me doing 70 on that thing!” he recalls with a laugh, knowing it’s possibly one of his competitors, whom he sees frequently.

“When you go out to a lunch meeting, if you’re talking products or design, you have to look over your shoulder to see else is (in the restaurant). We’re a big industry in a small community, and you never lose sight of that.”

Strangely, the one answer you don’t hear as to why Carlsbad became the center of the golf equipment universe is the one that seems most obvious – the weather.

Miraflor says that’s the reason he can’t imagine the equipment companies being anywhere else.

“We’re identifying products right now for 2016. To be that far ahead, you need to be hitting prototypes in Jan./Feb., and really the only place to do that is California,” he says.

But access to that perpetual sunshine doesn’t come cheap.

“It’s expensive,” Miraflor says, referring to taxes, real estate, etc. “The operational cost is high, but the advantages, including the weather, can’t be beat.”

***

         If you’re looking for the future of golf, look no further than TaylorMade’s posh fitting center and driving range, The Kingdom.

Situated across the street from the company’s headquarters, it’s where many of its contracted players come to practice, be fitted and hone their games in a high-tech environment.

Like golf courses, The Kingdom has a graduated set of tee boxes. During a visit there last fall, players from three pro tours were hitting, but none from what would be the tips.

I asked Frank Firman, a Category Manager at TaylorMade, where the company’s big hitters, such as Dustin Johnson, hit from when they come to practice.

“We have to ask Dustin to stand over there (pointing to the back right of the box) and hit it over there (pointing to the remote left side of the range),” Firman says. “Otherwise, if he loses it right, it’s look out College Boulevard.”

Translation: While testing clubs, Dustin Johnson is making TaylorMade’s spacious driving range seem obsolete.

More than high-profile faces for the company, its product and its brands, players have a major impact on product testing and development. The rationale largely is that if the product works for the pros, the product – or a version of – will work for every level of player below.

On my visit to Callaway, Rollinson noted how some clubs the pros use, such as the famed Phrankenwood 3-wood Mickelson once carried, don’t ever become retail products, but the technology advance gives birth to the next generation of retail clubs, such as the X Hot 3 Deep.

Rollinson also mentioned how a custom shaft bend requested by a tour player in the last year gave birth to a new Odyssey putter design.

Rollinson says attention to detail is more acute than ever amongst companies looking to make millions off of what can be fractional advantages in innovation. And the scrutiny of the public, between round-the-clock coverage on The Golf Channel and Internet pundits, has never been higher.

“Our products are watched more closely than ever,” he says.

Tens of millions of dollars annually are put into R & D to keep pace with product launch cycle that is no longer seasonal and, as TaylorMade showed last year, can produce two new drivers in the same calendar year.

But Cobra’s Philion says that competitive pressure has more advantages than drawbacks.

“It puts a lot of pressure on R & D to bring something new and better to the market place,” he says. “But it’s exciting for because we can launch more products and enhance our brand experience for the consumer.

“We like that cadence. It allows us to on bringing innovation to the market place every day instead of just pumping out units.”

But the companies do watch other closely and do exhaustive studies of competing technologies to separate the scientific truth from the marketing hype.

And then there’s brand differentiation, which right now at Cobra is summed up in the succinct motto, “Enjoy Golf,” emphasizing the many pleasures of the game aside from just what’s on the scorecard.

Knowing the competition intimately allows for greater ability to separate, Philion says.

“It gives us a chance to differentiate ourselves,” he says. “We like to zig when others zag.”

Philion launched the Puma golf brand and then oversaw its merger with Cobra in 2009. The company started with 28 employees and now has 150 in Carlsbad and 350 worldwide.

In 1998, TaylorMade was purchased by Adidas and has 1,800 employees worldwide, 800 in Carlsbad.

Callaway has gone through some down-sizing and leadership turmoil in recent years, but after hiring CEO Chip Brewer is back on the uptick.

While the balance of power right now is squarely with TaylorMade, things like Mickelson’s victory at the British can be a game-changer, Rollinson says.

Mickelson’s victory wasn’t just a major for him, it was a major for Callaway, too.

“It’s very satisfying when the fruits of your labor pay off like that and you know you got one of the best players in the world to perform at his very best at a crucial moment. It makes you proud,” Rollinson says.

“It’s bolsters you, and it’s great motivation when you get back to work on Monday.”

 

 

 

I Survived Club Test 2014 – & Here’s What I Learned

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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.

Equipment Insider: Talking Golf Shafts With Marshall Thompson of Fujikura

This is the second post in our occasional series, in conjunction with world-renowned Vista-based golf shaft manufacturer and supplier Fujikura, about golf shafts, the fitting process and fitters. In this installment, we profile Fujikura fitter Marshall Thompson, who talks about some of his famous fits from 2013, including the LPGA’s Michelle Wie, and looks back on the year in fitting and what’s ahead.

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Name: Marshall Thompson

Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ

College: Two years at Palomar College followed by two years studying abroad at the University of London.

Playing experience: After being introduced to the game by his dad, Marshall quickly became hooked and started playing junior tournaments. He then played all four years at Rancho Buena Vista High before walking on at Palomar College and playing two years. His parents were members at Shadowridge CC in Vista. “Golf has been my passion for a long time.”

Career at Fujikura: Five years. Marshall started out as an intern under Pat McCoy and John Hovis. “They taught me everything about fitting.” He’s now runs the Fit-On studio with John Hovis and did fitting the past year on the Web.com Tour. He also works with tour departments of OEM’s and is involved in prototyping and design and testing of new product.

Years of fitting experience: 8. He started out doing demo days in San Diego and North Country for TaylorMade while at Palomar.

Fit philosophy: Everyone comes in with a swing fingerprint. That’s what we work with to get your head to square on time and for the shaft to load properly.

How to maximizing your fitting: Coming in with an open mind, ready to learn and trust the process. Too many people come in and say, “My swing speed is this, so I need an X flex.” That’s not always the case. Come in ready to experience the process, digest the data and learn how shafts really affect launch and spin.

Biggest fitting development in 2013: I think it was just a greater overall acceptance of fitting, which in itself is huge. I think people are really starting to listen to the message we’ve been really trying to ingrain of going to get fit. Spend the money, spend the time to get into the right product. It’ll change your game. It seems more people are seeing the results of that and it’s helping them play better. And I think the process is getting easier, and more fun, too, because of the technology.

Fitting challenges for 2014: Our challenge, as always, is to design for what the equipment companies are producing. Right now, that’s low spin and that might mean moving back toward a higher spinning type of shaft rather than what we’ve been doing the past few years. It’s always a counter-balance to whatever the manufacturers are doing.

Fit insight: We’re a shaft company, but a fitting is a head and a shaft. We’re here the find the perfect marriage of the two.

Famous fits: Michelle Wie. She was a real highlight. She came in this year and was phenomenally nice – and tall!

She has a great swing and a great personality. She was a lot of fun to work with. She’s a hard swinger by lady’s standards (104 mph) and we put her in a very stiff shaft (a 7.2 Tour Spec X flex).

We decreased her spin by 400-500 RPM’s and actually flattened her trajectory and got her a little more rollout, distance. And her dispersion stayed tight. It worked out well.

She’s fundamentally sound and her swing is as good as it gets.

On the men’s tour side, we had Jason Gore come in from the Web.com Tour. He’s a character and a really funny guy.

He’s a high-launch, high-spin guy, but we got him into a driver with a new CG, a little bit more forward and high. He was able to launch it low and get his spin down around 2,200-2,300, which he hadn’t seen before. He needed a new head and shaft combination. Sometimes it’s not one or the other; it’s both.

He really got the benefit of some of the new technologies with heads and shafts.

Outside of the tour, we had former baseball player Jermaine Day. We got him another 15 yards. He swings about 112 mph so he comes at it pretty hard. We decreased his loft and gave him a stout handle. He was a lot of fun to fit.

With baseball players, it’s always curious to see how much of their baseball swing is reflected in their golf swing, but, as a group, they’re all very fast from the top down.

JANUARY 2014 SOUTHLAND GOLF

Update: Arrowood recorded its first hole-in-one on Just One on Jan. 6, earning the winner $2,000.