December 15, 2008

Today's Equipment Can Make A World Of Difference

Stop kicking the tires and buy some new clubs

This quote from sportswriter Jim Murray recently appeared on a popular golf blog: "A golfer on the scent of new clubs makes Don Juan look like a dependable nine-to-five type, the marrying kind. … He'll dance with every girl at the prom."

Murray had the attraction part right, but if you've been to a demo day lately, you know it's more complicated than that. Sure, there are some golfers who are all in on the "open wallet, play better" philosophy and are willing to peel off Benjamins freely for the next great thing, but they're in the minority. More (most, I'd say) prefer the golf equivalent of dancing with every girl at the prom—then never giving any of them a lift home. Lots of dancing. Lots of trying. No buying. Whether it's a prom date or a potential addition to their bag, that's serious bad form.

It's also bad for my ego. It means that after seven years as Golf World's equipment editor, I haven't been successful in getting across one key point: New equipment is often better equipment.

I know my message hasn't gotten through because I've been peeking in your bags—at munys, private clubs and pro-ams—for months. Too often what I've found has shocked me. Steel-shafted drivers. Muscleback blade irons. Wedges with nary a groove left. Even … wait for it … the occasional persimmon wood.

Not that I haven't been guilty of such behavior. Until six years ago Ping's K1 irons—a model nearly 20 years old—resided in my bag. They were familiar and served the purpose just fine. Of course, that's exactly what you're telling yourself as you stare down at that Callaway Great Big Bertha II driver or those TaylorMade Firesole irons you're playing, isn't it? Near my desk are a few muscleback blades and almost everyone who stops by picks them up, lays them down in the address position and says, "Boy, these look sweet!" It's that traditionalist inside us that we don't want to part with. But unless you have your own parking spot at a PGA Tour event (my co-workers do not—and most likely neither do you) then it is time to move on. "Fine" just isn't good enough.

‘ new toys in a down economy is tough to justify, but if you're serious about improving your game, it is a sound investment.'

Not that you would know that from looking in the bags at this year's ATT Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where 74 of the 180 amateurs were using drivers at least four years old. That may not sound like a lot, but when it comes to golf equipment, it's like having a portable CD player while everyone else is using iPods. These were not your everyday muny players, either. We're talking about well-heeled choppers who likely drove into the Pebble parking lot in a Mercedes or Lexus. Among the equipment lowlights from that event were two amateurs wielding Callaway Great Big Bertha II drivers along with a lone soul who used Callaway's ERC II driver, a model not only hideously ancient by club standards (seven years), but illegal as well. Then there was former NFL QB Bob Griese, a fine player who used a five-year-old Cleveland Launcher 400. Clearly Griese is a throwback-jersey kind of guy.

As, apparently, is Kirk Triplett. A few months ago during a test on how old drivers stacked up against modern ones, Triplett wandered over and took a few swipes with a TaylorMade steel driver circa 1985. The results the launch monitor spat out were as expected (not that great), the comments from Triplett were not.

"I wish we would go back to playing clubs like these," Triplett said.

If Triplett wants to keep wearing bucket hats, fine. But if he thinks going retro with his sticks is a good idea, he should peek at the PGA Tour media guide. It says he is 46 and through 1999 he had played 10 years on tour, hadn't won a single event and never ranked higher than 38th in earnings. Since 2000 (and the onslaught of large-headed drivers with spring-like effect and multilayer, solid-core golf balls), he has won three times, equaled or bettered the 38th spot in earnings four times and played on a Presidents Cup squad. Does he really want to go back to the way it was?

Now, most of you aren't playing equipment so archaic that the USGA Museum is knocking on your door asking for artifacts. But if you're using anything off the tee more than two years old, you're costing yourself. Will you see dramatic increases in distance? Not really, unless you're playing something super old. But you will find solid gains if you are properly fit. And the real improvement is not in your Sunday punch, but on the mis-hits, where modern technology has greatly reduced the penalty for the inconsistencies of the swing. Buying new toys in a down economy is tough to justify, but if you are serious about improving your game, it is a sound investment.

For 2009 your goal should be the same as mine: play better. New clubs will help you achieve that. Dancing's fine, but a little commitment can go a long way.