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I figured that would get your attention this morning, but my premise is that almost all golfers apparently think they are better at precision shotmaking that Ben Hogan was. Stay with me here, because I really do have a point with this.
We are doing a lot of demo events for SCOR Golf and so we are talking with golfers about their scoring clubs, more particularly the lofts and selection they are equipping themselves with. As we talk with young guns who hit the ball a mile, the conversation gets really interesting. Here’s a case study.
In Corpus Christi, Texas last Saturday, I’m visiting with an aspiring developmental tour professional who is trying to make it playing professionally. In our discussion about his set make-up, he told me he carries 54 and 60 degree wedges, in addition to his set-match ‘P-club’. Moving along, he tells me he hits 7-iron 180 yards, and 9-iron 155-160. Wow. That’s long. So here was my point to him.
In Ben Hogan’s first book, Power Golf, which was published in 1948, Hogan dedicates a chapter to equipment. In that chapter he lists all his yardages with his clubs. What’s really interesting is that for each club, Hogan listed “Regular”, “Maximum” and “Minimum” yardages for each. His driver, he explained, “regularly” is 265, but he shows a maximum of 300, and a minimum of 235. To complement the driver, he then goes on to list 3- and 4-woods, and irons numbered one through nine, plus a pitching wedge and sand wedge. Hogan would remove a couple of those clubs for each tournament, depending on the course.
Where it gets interesting is that Hogan’s “regular” distance with his 5-iron is listed as 155 yards. Before you get all cranked up, realize that the loft and length of Hogan’s 5-iron in 1948 was very close to what most of today’s 7-irons are. But Hogan lists his “maximum” with his 5-iron at 180! In other words, he could add 25 yards to his “regular” 5-iron shots anytime he wanted to. Do you think that guy I just described could do that? Can he hit that 7-iron 205 if he wants? Or can any of you do that? That is, just crank up any of your irons to add 20-25 yards when you need it? Or do you pretty much consider a “regular” 7-iron to be what your maximum really is?
But it gets better, and this is where I’m going with the title of today’s post.
Hogan played courses of 6,500-7,000 yards in his day, and he had 7 clubs that he could use inside 155 yards. This aspiring tour player I was visiting with had THREE! His PW, 54 and 58. Hogan had 10-yard gaps in between his clubs – this guy (and most of his peers) have gaps of 20-25 yards in between their scoring clubs. Therefore, if they are going to score as well as Hogan did in that prime scoring range, they would have to be much more adept than he thought he would be at dissecting those gaps, wouldn’t they?
Well, they aren’t . . . nobody is. The point is that as golfers have gotten stronger, and equipment has gotten jacked up, and the ball has gotten hotter . . . your short range scoring has suffered because the between-club gaps are too big. But too many golfers are hung up on how many “wedges” they should carry. Don’t go there. It’s all about how precise you can be in your distance control when you are in prime scoring range.
If you can stay within 30-50 feet long or short at the long end of the set, that’s fine. But to score, you need pinpoint distance control at the short end. Hogan and all his peers knew that. So they throttled back their power with their irons, and put their sets together so that their “built-in” gaps would be manageable to 10-12 yards between clubs.
Unless you a better ball-striker than Ben Hogan, maybe you should do the same.
Several years ago I wrote a couple of articles about cast vs. forged and cavity back designs versus blade designs in irons. Those articles are still getting readership and comments to me on a regular basis. These two areas of club design generate more confusion and fairy tales than anything out there.
So, once again, I’d like to dive into this subject and see if I can’t help you cut through the clutter and hype to understand just what all this is about.
Casting and forging are the two primary ways to make an iron or wedge head. Casting allows more precise repeating of the shaping and nuances of the design because it requires less hand work to finish the head. Forging has generally been credited with delivering better feel. But it’s not that simple. Casting itself does not make an iron “hard”. (Every stick of butter ever made was cast!) But when golf club companies started casting iron heads, they used a stainless steel alloy called 17-4, which IS a very hard material. Through the years, softer stainless alloys have been explored and used. And top wedges are made of cast 8620 carbon steel. While not nearly as soft as a true forging, they are darn close. We’ve tried casting irons out of steel alloys that were so soft they wouldn’t hold their lofts and lies through a round of golf.
One of the biggest influences on “feel” is the shaft of the club. Graphite shafts dramatically soften the sensation of impact compared to steel shafts. Some shafts just have a different feel of impact than others. And shaft companies have created a number of inserts for the shafts to mitigate the shock waves of impact. For years, tour players and those in the know have tricked up their irons with wood dowels and corks in the tip of the shaft to soften the feel of impact, and mitigate vibration.
Over the past few years, nearly all cavity back irons use some kind of plastic insert in the back of the face to additionally deaden or soften the shock of impact. That’s because one of the main factors of feel is the amount of metal behind the ball at impact. Blades traditionally are thick there, and whether they are cast or forged, blade designs will deliver a more solid or softer feeling of impact. Thin faced irons, whether they have a plastic insert or not, cannot match that feeling of “solidness”.
And the other attribute of the thicker face is that distance control is more precise. A thin-faced, low CG, perimeter weighted iron at the long end of the set is fine, as any shot 30 feet long or short at 175+ yards is totally OK. But as you get closer to the hole, that becomes less and less acceptable. A gap wedge shot that is 30 feet long or short is horrible, right?
So, there is a short treatise on the subject of feel, forged vs. cast and blades vs. perimeter weighting.
I’ve always been a proponent of having one or more “go to” shots – those you have full confidence you can pull off whenever you need it.
To me, the first “go to” shot you need is one that is almost certain to put you in the fairway off the tee. Not necessarily long, of course, but one that will find the fairway a very high percentage of the time. For me, it’s the “bunt” driver. When I just have to hit a shot in the fairway, I am pretty darn confident that I can grip my driver down by about 2-3” and put what Hogan called an “arm swing” on it. Very controlled pace and power, with the whole idea of making solid contact and producing a reliable trajectory and straight path. From my normal drives of 260-275 or so, this one gives me about 225-240 – plenty long for most short par fours where accuracy is key.
You know I’m a firm believer that shorter and in the fairway beats long and crooked every time. That might mean a 3-wood off the tee, but I see too many golfers club down and then amp up their swing because of it, and still hit it crooked. I strongly recommend that you spend some time on the range learning that ‘go to’ bunt driver or other shot that you can rely on when things are demanding, or your full swing gets a little cantankerous.
Another ‘go to’ shot should be one that can be relied upon to get you reasonably close to the hole from a range of 75-100 yards. That means that one swing you know you can always rely on when you need to save a hole from disaster or when you have that shorter birdie hole.
If you are confident in a range that you can get up and down a reasonable percentage of the time, and almost never take more than three shots, it gives you an “out” when you put a drive in the trees. If you have confidence in getting up and down from 2-3 different distances inside 100 yards, you can play to those distances and remove the double-bogies from the card.
So, I’d like to toss this one to all you readers for more ideas for “go to” shots. What are yours?
Well, another one has come and gone, and personally, I liked this year’s account of the U.S. Open much better than last. It just doesn’t seem like an Open when the winning score is 16 under par, does it? The test that we’ve come to know for our national championship should be one where par is perfect, and achieving that over four days and 16 miles of golf course should be the ultimate achievement for the most rigorous test of one’s golf mettle, it would seem to me.
And Olympic Club did not disappoint . . . as it never has in its history. Each time the Open comes to this fabulous old course, top names seem to fire and fall back, and those who we least expected to come out on top always seem to do that. Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson, Lee Jantzen and now Webb Simpson. All showed the patience, precision and perseverance that is almost always required to be named U.S. Open Champion.
As I tuned in from time to time this past week, especially on Sunday, what caught my attention was the magnitude of the misses by the best players in the world, particularly in places where you wouldn’t expect it.
How many failed to birdie the short par four seventh? That really amazed me. I would think that if you gave tour professionals a hole that could be played with a 5-or 6-iron off the tee and a lob wedge from the fairway, no one would ever make bogey, and birdies would happen at least 25-35% of the time. But it didn’t. Many bombed for the green off the tee and paid with a bogey or worse.
Poor distance control. I watched time and again . . .the best players in the world were missing approach shots by many yards long and short, even when they weren’t in the rough. What’s up with that? A tour professional should be able to dial in approach shots to within 15-20 feet long or short with absolute precision, especially with anything less than a 7-iron in their hands. But that’s a result of the increasing emphasis on hitting the ball hard and far. These guys just do not exhibit the distance control you would expect, especially under 150 yards. Or at least they sure didn’t this past week.
Missing the 18th green from wedge range. Are you kidding me? Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk cannot hit a gap or sand wedge on line from the fairway or first cut rough? How many others could not hit that green with their “money clubs”? I find that appalling, to be honest.
All in all, it was great theater for us real golf fans. The heroes and goats, hits and misses.
And my hat’s off to Webb Simpson. A nice young man, it seems, with his head on straight. And one helluva golf game.
He played the weekend in four under par, combining a pair of 68s. No one else did anything close.
This is a topic that I’ve chosen to give extra attention to with this three-part series, because I get the most interest and feedback on it when we discuss wedges with golfers of all skill levels at the many demo day events we are doing for SCOR. As I mentioned, I’m not a proponent of more wedges because I design and make them . . . it’s quite the reverse. SCOR was created because I believe we all have been short-sheeted by the major companies’ relentless quest for more distance, which they’ve extended all the way to the irons.
I know lots of you say you have your ½ and ¾ swings down pretty good, and maybe you do, but the average amateur golfer doesn’t. Hitting consistent shots with a full swing is much easier. You even see tour players laying up to precise full-swing sand and lob wedge yardages to give them that kind of shot, rather than a “finesse” half or three-quarter swing wedge shot.
My simple premise of this series is that your set is “jammed” at the long end with smaller distance gaps than it is at the long end. The geometry of golf clubs – 4 degrees of loft and ½” length differentials – will yield smaller actual distance gaps at the long end than the short. And many iron manufacturers are aggravating that by increasing the gap between the 9-iron and PW to 5 degrees.
But on the golf course, you really will benefit from the opposite – wider gaps at the long end and increasingly smaller gaps as you get closer to the hole, where you are needing and can benefit from more pinpoint distance control. So how do you get there? It’s not that hard.
It starts by really knowing how far you hit each of your clubs, and most of us don’t. I published an e-booklet called “The SCOR Method” that shows you how to do this with the short clubs; but you can use this all the way to the driver. Get it here: http://www.scorgolf.com/content/SCOR-Method.pdf
Once you really know your distances, then you can see where the gaps are small and fix that.
I’m not a long hitter, but I am a low single-digit handicap player, so let’s use my set as an example of how you can fix the gaps by tweaking lofts and lengths from what manufacturers offer. Below my driver, I play a 17* 4-wood at 42” length. This gives me a club I can turn over to about 220-225, or hit approach shots from 205-220 on par fives or long par fours by gripping down a bit. Then I play a 21* hybrid at 40” that I use for approaches or positioning shots from 190-205 or so.
For those shorter driving holes, for which many golfers carry a 3-wood, I’ve spent a short amount of time learning to hit a driver gripped down 2-3” to give me a 225-245 accurate tee shot option.
To widen my distance gaps in my positioning clubs, I varied off the “standard” 4* and ½” differences to this:
8-iron 39* 36-1/4” 135-138 yds
7-iron 35* 36-3/4” 147-150
6-iron 31 37-1/4” 159-162
5-iron 27 38” 173-176
4-iron 23 39-3/4” 187-190
By increasing the length difference to 3/4” between the 6 and 5, and 5 and 4, I’ve widened the distance gaps there. Below the 8-iron, I carry SCOR wedges at 43, 47, 51, 55, 58 that are ¼” length differentials. That gives me full-swing yardages every 10-12 yards from 125 down to 82-85. With all of these clubs, I know I can cut my gaps in half by simply gripping down on the club about one half to three quarters of an inch.
With this set arrangement, I have increasingly narrow full-swing distance gaps as I get closer to the green. And that’s where scores are made, whether you are a tour pro or a recreational golfer trying to break 90 or 100.
I’ll leave you with this experiment. Play a round of golf without ever hitting a shot with anything more than a 5-iron, other than your drives. On holes where that is not enough to reach the green, simply pick a spot where you have a nice flat lie for your wedge shot and lay up to it. You might be surprised at how little it affects your scoring to not hit any shots with the distance clubs.
As long as you are sharp with your wedges.
Friday’s post started this dialog about carefully examining your set make-up to see if you are really carrying the right mix of clubs to give you the best chances of optimizing your scoring. Now let’s take that analysis to the next level to see if it won’t help you assess the team you’ve put together.
At each end of the set, we have the driver and putter, so we’ll leave those out of the mix for team building. Everyone’s gotta have them so that leaves 12 players to fill in the roster. I like to divide those 12 players into 3 distinct groups:
Because of the different demands and expectations we have for these three groups of clubs, it makes sense that we would have progressively tighter distance differentials – or gaps – between clubs in each group.
Distance clubs that deliver club-to-club differentials of 20-25 yards are fine – you can cut each distance down by about half by simply gripping down on the longer club by one half to three quarters of an inch.
Positioning clubs that deliver distance differentials of 15-20 yards are also fine. For more precision when needed, you can cut each gap in half by simply gripping down, which should give you distance accuracy of 25-30 feet.
But between your scoring clubs is where you want the gaps to be the tightest, because a shot that is 20-25 feet long or short from only 80-125 yards is not fine. In this range, you need to be able to “dial in” your shots to 5-7 yard increments with consistency, regardless of your handicap. And the only way to do that consistently is to have your club arsenal arranged to give you tighter gaps “mechanically”, rather than to rely on your feel and ability to throttle down to dissect a 15-20 yard gap with precision.
The point is actually pretty simple. The closer you get to the green, the tighter your expectations should be, and the better your performance should be. I’m going to wrap this up on Friday with some tips on how to tweak your set to give you a stronger team to take to the course with you.
Golf is a funny game, especially when it comes to the way we buy equipment and put our sets together. Most golfers eagerly embrace new technology offered by the club companies, as we are all constantly searching for that new ‘secret weapon’ that will make the difference in our scoring. At least, I’m assuming that somewhere behind each purchase you make – whether it be a new driver, fairway, hybrid, irons, wedges, putter, balls ,etc. – we have hope that this is another piece of the puzzle that will help lower your handicap.
But as quickly as we seem to embrace these new individual bits of technology, we also seem equally as hesitant to back away and look at the entire arsenal of clubs we carry to assess them as “a team”. They are always and only used one-at-a-time for the shot at hand, but collectively our clubs represent the team we’ve assembled to go into battle with the golf course, right? And just like any good team, that requires balance and complementary strengths.
It’s NBA finals time, so think of your set of clubs like a basketball team. Great coaches look for chemistry and compatibility, for sure, but they also have to make sure they have balance. To have a bunch of big men and no speed doesn’t work. Nor can you have a bunch of defensive specialists and no outside shooters. The team that wins the Championship every year has balance.
And so should your golf bag “team.”
But few of us do, in my observation. Technology has given us more distance with everything in our bags, from driver to pitching wedge, but every golfer has a physical limit at the long end of the set. No matter what technology you buy, there is a limit to just how far you can hit the ball. And you’ve probably reached it, unless you haven’t purchased any new long clubs in 10 years or more.
But this has come at a cost. Particularly as you’ve purchased new sets of irons, you’ve gained distance with your short clubs because they continually get stronger in loft and longer in length. It’s great that you now hit your irons a full club longer than you used to, but what have you done to cover for the short end distances that you lost by doing so? If you were hitting a PW 115 back in 2000, and hit your new one 125-130, what do you hit from 115 now?
The typical bag set make-up that I see includes a driver, 1-2 fairways, 1-3 hybrids, and irons from 4-P. Some golfers still carry a 3-iron, and some extend hybrids all the way to the 5 or 6. That’s a personal thing for your ‘team’. But all golfers have gained distance with all these clubs, which has given them fewer options in scoring range than ever. And scoring range is where you will beat the golf course, whether that means winning a PGA Tour event, or breaking 80, 90 or 100. You won’t do that with the lower lofted clubs from long range.
So, let’s take a “typical” golfer who hits his 5-iron 170 yards. Some of you are longer, some of you shorter, but follow my logic here. That means he hits a driver somewhere around 250-260 probably, and pitching wedge 120-125 or so. He carries a 3-wood, 2 and 3 hybrid and 4-PW and two more wedges. So he has five clubs for all his shots outside 170, but only three clubs for all his shots inside 120-125. If you are playing the right tees for your skill level, you shouldn’t have more than 8-10 shots a round that are outside 5-iron range, so do you really need 5 clubs for those? Over 1/3 of your set for what amounts to 8-10% of your shots?
But the typical 85-shooter will have as many as 15-20 shots from inside PW range, including approaches and recovery shots. So you have only two, maybe three clubs for what amounts to 25-30% of your shots. How much sense does that make?
Think about that, because I’m going to continue this on Tuesday.
This article is in response to a question from one of you about having the right objective when you are faced with a chip shot you deem “makeable”. Phillip asked,
Here’s another question that I faced twice this weekend – when you are chipping and have what seems to be a very makeable chip, whether it be due to distance, read, etc., would you suggest approaching the shot any differently (I do know that the goal of all chips should be to hole them, just like all putts, but some this seems more likely than others)?
Well, Phillip, first of all, I disagree that your goal on all chips should be to hole them. To me, most of the time your goal should be to leave yourself the best putt following the chip. For example, if you are chipping to a hole position where you just do not want to be above the hole, your goal should be to leave yourself a putt from below it. In many cases, a 5-6’ uphill putts beats the heck out of a little 2-3 footer downhill and across the slope.
First of all, you are chipping because you missed the green. Unless you are a very low handicap player, your first goal must be to minimize the potential damage of that miss. I like to approach all chips from the standpoint of “where do I want to putt from after this chip?” If the green is very flat, it really might not matter. But if you are playing greens like we have at our club, there is usually a better side to putt from. Those little downhill sliders . . . 3 foot putts that are lightening fast and have several inches of break . . . very often leave you a 5-6 footer coming back, or worse. It’s not unusual to see a routine chip that gets away a little turn into a three-putt double bogey pretty darn quickly.
But yes, there are times when you have a short distance chip that you just see the line and feel like you can make it. But I don’t really think there are any changes you make in your technique at all. What I think you do have to do is “grind” on the line and speed like you would any putt you are trying to make. Fill your eyes and mind with the exact hole location. See the path the ball will take all the way to the hole. And “see” it dropping in for an uplifting chip-in.
That’s how I see it. Anyone have something else to add?
Since I dove so deeply into the grip on Tuesday, let’s stay focused on fundamentals this week – the topic today is ball position. In my observation, golfers’ inconsistency in their set-up . . . their failure to put the ball in exactly the right position with regard to their feet . . . just might be the single thing that holds most back from improved results.
Regardless of your skill level, your golf swing has a basic ability to repeat itself, believe it or not. Your swing is totally your own, but because of that, you have a better ability to do it the same way time after time than you might think. You’ve made thousands of golf swings that way, and there is a muscle memory that you’ve worked hard to earn. And sometimes, that swing produces perfect results, right?
But the way we tend to play golf is in a constant string of swings, misses and corrections, a process that keeps us so out of whack and frustrated that it’s amazing we subject ourselves to it at all. But the good news is that there is one very simple way to make this game much easier . . .
Learn how to set up to the ball where it is in the same relative place with regard to your feet every time.
Now, let me explain a little deeper. Because we play this game with a variety of lengths of clubs, this is a little more complex than that. But what I mean is that you have to develop a routine that puts the ball in the right place for each shot. We are trying to hit a ball that is 1.68” in diameter, with an implement that has an effective hitting area of about 1-1.5” wide. That requires precision. If you vary even an inch from swing to swing, the misses will outnumber the good shots by quite a bit.
A friend of mine in the club-fitting business told me he studied golfers and their set-up consistencies, and found that invariably, the better players were extremely accurate, with any given club, in setting up so that the ball was the same distance from the back of their heels from shot-to-shot. The higher the handicap of the player, the more variance from shot to shot he witnessed and measured. Think about it this way.
If you learn a swing that works, but the ball is in a different place all the time, then your eye-hand coordination has to take over from your learned swing. And the downswing happens so fast that it just cannot do that effectively. But if you learn a swing and then learn how to set up to the ball so that it is precisely in the way of that swing time after time, your results just have to get better, right?
Compare golf to baseball. For the hitter, the ball is moving, and it is in a different place in relation to his body every pitch. That’s why the best of the best completely miss it most of the time, and only catch the ball square a tiny fraction of the time. Would they ever get out of the top of the first if they played tee-ball in the majors? No.
But we golfers have the advantage of being able to ensure that the ball is in precisely the place we want it before each swing.
So why don’t we?