Golf Digest Editor-in-Chief Jerry Tarde quizzes Golf Digest equipment editors Mike Stachura and Mike Johnson about the 16th edition of the Golf Digest Hot List:
You’ve said around the hallways, “This is the year to buy a driver.” What makes 2019 different?
Stachura: More levels of adjustability fit more golfers’ preferences than ever, and there’s no compromise on looks. Every driver today looks like a race car and feels like it goes that fast, because it does—when’s the last time you moved something 130, 140, 150 miles per hour? Also, manufacturing of drivers is getting right to the edge of being too hot for the rules.
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Everybody’s talking about the four-yard distance gain on the PGA Tour in 2018. How much did it have to do with equipment innovation, and what should we expect in 2019?
Stachura: This is something that should get average golfers excited: The area of the face that produces the highest ball speeds, the highest springlike effect allowed, is not a single point on the face or even the size of a thumbtack. It’s now in some cases the size of a quarter. That means mis-hits are getting better, which is why distance on tour is increasing, because tour players don’t hit it dead solid perfect every time. And we certainly don’t.
Johnson: About 10 years ago, the head of R&D for a major manufacturer drew a picture of a driver face and put small dots all over it. He said, “When all those dots perform the same as the one in the center, my work is done.” They’re getting closer every year.
Anything new in fairway woods or hybrids?
Stachura: Driver technology continues to percolate down to shorter, more-lofted metal-woods. Face flex on most fairway woods and hybrids can get close or equal to the springlike effect of drivers. We’re also seeing higher-lofted hybrids that extend well into the 5-, 6-, 7- and even 8-iron range. Our testing with national fitting chain Club Champion shows a hybrid is going to be better than most golfers’ iron at any loft that isn’t a short iron.
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What’s the recommended set composition now—that is, what should be your longest iron?
Stachura: Most golfers shouldn’t have a 5-iron or longer in the bag. That’s not what we see in the marketplace, but it should get you thinking about what’s in your bag.
Johnson: There’s no such thing as a standard set anymore. Companies are making it easier to mix and match what fits your game.
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This is the second year of a popular category called “players distance” irons. how does it differ from players or game-improvement irons?
Johnson: Who should use Players Distance irons? You used to be a really good player. You’re still a decent player. But you’ve lost some of the zip off your iron swing and now hit it perhaps a half club to a full club shorter than you did 20 years ago. These irons are golf’s Fountain of Youth.
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What’s new with putters? New faces, shaft technology?
Stachura: We both think the adjustable shaft on the Ping Sigma 2 putters is a game-changer. Getting the right length helps deliver the putter more consistently. Without that, you’re not taking full advantage of the great feel and roll technologies in the face.
Johnson: We’re also high on Odyssey’s Stroke Lab, which is a genuine paradigm shift in where the putter market has been trending. Heads have gotten heavier, grips have gotten lighter, and as a result, we’re in danger of losing some consistency in our strokes without even knowing it’s happening. This re-exam-ination of the putter as a system might open a new door to consistency.
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Your testing indicates that almost half of all golfers should use a putter of 34 inches or less. How do I know if my putter’s too long?
Stachura: The obvious answer is go see a fitter. A putter is the easiest club to fit, and it often doesn’t result in having to buy a new one. But some telltale signs: The toe of the putter is up in the air at address. Your eyes are way inside the line at address. Your arms do not hang freely from your shoulders through the stroke. (Bending the elbows breeds inconsistency.) Your posture is not natural. Or maybe you just had the unfortunate experience I had of taking a divot with a putt in the final of the member-guest. That’ll get you rethinking your putter, among other things.
Johnson: I was his partner. That member-guest left a mark.