I cut my teeth at Golf Digest working on the Hot List. Thanks to those years plus continued osmosis from our astute equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson—a.k.a. The Mikes—during any given golf season I’m confident the clubs in my bag are the right ones. I’m a lucky guy whose office is perpetually littered with the latest gear and smart people to tell me about it. It’s when I dabble in other sports that I’m reminded how confusing shopping for new equipment can be.
During the winter I play indoor tennis once a week. Forgive this utterance of a lesser game, but when New York golf courses freeze over, life-size Ping Pong becomes my substitute for zoning in (out?) on the speed and spin of a small ball and the stroke that sends ’er. Kind of like golf, I maintain the glimmer of hope, however thin, that I might still improve even as career, family and aging rally against it. I buy new rackets about every three years. With almost any sport, the moment you stop being curious about new equipment marks a sad one in the relationship. You’ve given up. Lord knows it’s easy to do.
My tennis buddies are more knowledgeable than me and get new rackets once a year, sometimes twice. When they bring demos to the court, they don’t call them by their make or model but by the top players who use them.
“The Federer is too handle heavy for you,” one tells me. “Try The Wawrinka. It should play stiffer and with more plow-through than The Djokovic, but with similar balance as The Nadal.” Golfers don’t do this. Maybe we’d all gain yards if we started referring to our drivers as The Rory and The Brooks. (Probably not.)
These same buddies say the design of tennis rackets is every bit as sophisticated as golf clubs. They seem to parrot marketing-speak, and as often as I think they’re full of it, I have sources in high places, too. Jim Courier, four-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1, happens to also be a really good golfer and told me over a round this fall, “Technology has changed the angles in tennis. Players can now hit winners from corners where they never could before.”
That sure sounds like what we see in pro golf. And I want me some of that.
With testing a racket, the type of string and tension at which it’s strung add haunting layers of complexity, to say nothing of the fluctuations of your stroke or the human’s on the other side of the net. Suddenly your forehand starts clicking, and you’re ripping balls cross-court with nice topspin, but what variable is clicking, exactly? Everyday civilians can’t get custom-fit for tennis rackets like they can for golf clubs. I’m biased, but I checked tennis magazines and searched online and found nothing that compares to the process and presentation of the Golf Digest Hot List. And because I merely like tennis— and don’t love it like I do golf—I won’t devote sufficient time to methodically finding what’s right for me. Ultimately, I tried three rackets in 15 minutes, and goaded by my buddies, bought the third.
Perhaps it’s with this same impetuousness that you shop for golf clubs, perhaps not. When we’re overloaded with complicated or unreliable information, it can be human nature to revert to gut instinct. The content of this issue should help you avoid that.
During a recent pang of buyer’s remorse, I took out my former racket on a crossover. It was unhittable. Weak and flimsy like an oversize toothpick. I thought, How could I have ever played with this junk?
When we upgrade, the physical sensation of how we experience the game changes. I’ve found no amount of conscious thought about technique equals the productive jolt of a new weapon. Perhaps it’s the placebo effect, but modern medicine is discovering more and more that placebos work.
If you’re uncertain about whether to try new clubs, I suggest fetching from your attic or garage whatever you played before your current gamer. As bad as it feels is how good something else might.