EquipmentMarch 22, 2016

What's the best club of all time? Our equipment gurus pick a winner

We review the best clubs since 1960 and we pick a winner, or in our case two winners

OK, March Madness has already begun and the predictably unpredictable has already occurred (Yale, Arkansas-Little Rock, Stephen F. Austin). And golf’s version of seeds and upsets happens this week with the WGC-Dell Match Play. The idea of settling impossible-to-predict contests inspired our two equipment guys, Mike Stachura and Mike Johnson, to create their own bracket—one of the top 64 golf clubs of all time, seed them in a bracket and play it out.

OK, for our purposes, “all time” will serve basically since 1960, and yes, we know the Bulls Eye putter was invented in the 1940s, but we’re going to consider its existence post-Acushnet acquisition in 1962. And, yes, while there have been some memorable persimmon drivers since that era, we believe metal drivers are such a fundamental step forward that they at least functionally leave behind the majestically crafted Toney Penna, Ben Hogan and MacGregor woods of bygone times.

Since our gurus obviously didn’t agree on everything, the seeds at times were a compromise and we let them each have their say. Here are their full brackets, complete with a Final Four and a champion and their explanations for how they arrived there. By all means, take a look and feel free to point out omissions in the field, whiffs on seeding/winners and who your champion would be and why on Golf Digest’s Facebook page.

Their explanations for who they chose and why:

Mike Johnson: My criteria was based on a couple of easy-to-remember keys: I looked for clubs that were either iconic, were truly innovative for their time, were hugely successful or had a significant impact on the golf equipment landscape and perhaps signaled a paradigm shift (think Sonartec hybrid after Todd Hamilton’s British Open win).

Such is the reason I had the Adams Tight Lies go all the way to the Elite 8 as I felt that fairway wood signaled a shift in the way people thought about fairway woods, both in design as well as use. It’s why I have the original TaylorMade metalwood (anyone else find it ironic it was named M1?) beating out the Odyssey 2-Ball for a spot in the Final Four. The Odyssey was and is wildly successful and perhaps changed perceptions about mallets in general and alignment aids specifically, but it’s hard to overlook the paradigm shift caused by the first commercially successful metalwood.

In the semis there were no weak contenders. Consider both choices tip-ins at the buzzer. I opted for the R7 over the original M1 because my feeling is adjustability has become such an important part of getting golfers in the proper fit and you all know how big a fan we are of fitting. The original Great Big Bertha nosed out the Ping Anser because I felt the impact of oversize drivers slightly outweighed the iconic and groundbreaking nature of the Anser of the greens.

In the end, forgiveness and ballspeed edged out adjustability as to me the Callaway Great Big Bertha’s importance in changing the way we viewed oversize club heads has gotten us to where we are today: That you can wipe it pretty much all over the face and still get a decent result. And as someone who uses a lot of the club face, I appreciate that. So what you got, pards?

Mike Stachura: Your logic and your criteria make perfect sense, very organized, defensible. I wish I could do that, but I can’t even organize my sock drawer.

My methodology was maybe less, er, robust, less, well, valid. In crudest terms, given the choice between these two clubs as the only two clubs left in the world and me with the requisite amount of funny money to spend, which one would I buy. Instinctive. I chose the club that excited me about potential, about how it might change my understanding of how equipment can help us play better. Or, simply, which looked cooler—to me, anyway (which perhaps explains—but does not condone—that stray pair of orange socks).

And while at the end I went with chalk, it was the early-round matchups that were most fun/consternating for me. Bulls Eye vs. Anser, Tight Lies vs. TriMetal, RocketBladez vs. SM5, Burner 2.0 vs. Eye2. No logic really could get me through any of these decisions, and unlike all those 8-9, 7-10 and 5-12 matchups on TV today, golf clubs don’t do jump balls. (That’s why you see a few scratch-outs where I changed my mind at least once.)

But I did have my leanings: I valued attempts to improve ballspeed (like Great Big Bertha and RocketBallz) certainly, but I also liked where forgiveness found its way into places it hadn’t before (X-Tour, Tight Lies and, of course, Eye2 and Anser). But like you, I ended up treating most favorably clubs that changed the game or the way we thought about our individual games. That’s why I chose the TaylorMade 300 series drivers over the original M1, because the 300 series fundamentally got us thinking that one size driver does not fit everyone (even though, in that particular case, the masses moved quickly to the more forgiving 360).

Anser monumentally changed what putters were supposed to be and look like and now that style of putter is the standard. And Great Big Bertha ushered in the commercially viable idea of truly oversized drivers made from the ball-speed-changing and eventual rule-changing thin-faced, all-titanium construction. But nothing to me is as game-changing as the capability to specifically dial in a club to match your swing tendencies or flaws and optimize distance and trajectory. Nothing did that like adjustable drivers, and the r7 Quad showed the way from the start. It wasn’t perfect, but there isn’t a driver that matters today that isn’t adjustable. That’s an undeniably powerful legacy.

So you probably now think A) we think too much about golf clubs, B) we have too much time on our hands and should be watching basketball and/or golf, or C) we are SO wrong! If it’s C, great. Send us your final picks—or maybe just your general thoughts on where we got it wrong.

The good thing is there are no right answers. Or are there?