Out of my mind and into my bag
Saturday, March 24, 2012
This “What Kind of Golf Nerd are You” series is meant to highlight the sub-cultures of golf that have attracted similarly-minded people.
In the past month while thinking about these sub-cultures, I’ve realized that there is a lot of love mixed with the quirkiness. What you’ll read here has its share of absurdities, but I believe it’s my way of expressing joy and love for a little segment of golf that grabbed my attention.
Many tour players travel with more than 14 clubs so that they can tailor their bag to the course being played that week. This article explains my options and rationale for choosing my set. I really haven’t played much golf for several years because of illness, so I’m writing as if I were a 55-year-old scratch amateur playing for fun.
Drivers (2) – My everyday 10.5-degree driver, which I carry most of the time, has adjustability to change the loft, lie and face angle. I also have a low-flight driver for windy conditions and/or firm fairways where I can take advantage of extra roll. The naturally bullet-like flight eliminates the need for manipulation, but there is little room for timing or tempo errors.
Fairway woods (2) – My 3-wood, also adjustable, is a versatile club that can be used to tee off on shorter holes; holes with tight fairways; to reach par 5s; to choke down and hit a “stinger” and lastly to punch low curved shots around trees, especially left-to-right.
A 5-wood – This is where there is a three-way overlap between traditional woods, hybrids and long irons. In the hands of a long hitter, the 5-wood will fly much higher, stop more quickly, and at least be as long as its corresponding hybrid. Many of the top PGA Tour players, including Rory McIlroy, use a 5-wood in place of a hybrid.
Hybrids (3) – Despite the last paragraph’s impugning of low-lofted hybrids, one would be nuts not to carry at least one every day and more as you get older and your swing speed slows. Since the lofts vary, I’ll use their iron number equivalent.
I wouldn’t have considered carrying a 2-hybrid until the last year or so, but improvements in a 15- or 16-degree hybrid have made it so much easier for me to hit. I don’t use this very often.
The 3-hybrid is a club the good player should be able to hit several shots with, the most important being a high, soft shot from 3-iron distance that will hold a green.
My 4-hybrid is the most versatile of the long clubs. It can be used to play up, down, punch runners, out of fairway bunkers, as a lay-up club to your wedge distance and flies from the rough like an 8-iron. It almost makes the 4-iron a permanent stay-at-home club except on windy days.
If I were playing, I wouldn’t be ready for a 5-hybrid yet, but it should be considered by those with slower swing speeds and players who get a big shaft lean toward the target and hit low shots.
Irons (10) – I have a special driving iron that I can hit about 6 feet off the ground if there are windy conditions and/or rock hard fairways. I like the idea of it, but it’s very much a specialty club and I’m not that consistent with it.
I own a 1- and 2-iron, but I don’t remember the last time I used them. If you’re in the 50-plus age group and are still using these, you are either a very good player, self-delusional or living in Scotland.
For the vast majority of my rounds, I’ll carry only a 3-iron or 4-iron, but not both. Chances are the 3- or 4-iron will be my longest club that I easily can keep low and curve around obstacles. If I don’t think I’ll need either on a par 3 or par 4, I’ll leave them both out.
The 5-iron to 9-iron will be with me almost every round. Occasionally, I’ll remove a 6-, 7- or 8-iron when I know there are no par 3s for that club. I’m confident that if I leave the 7-iron in the trunk, I can do just as well with a smooth 6-iron or hard 8-iron.
Keep in mind, you must make sure there is an even spacing in the distance and trajectory from one club to the next and that the length, loft, lie and swing weight are correctly fit to your swing and the club has the ideal shaft to match your motion. If you want the best chance of getting the clubs as perfectly matched as possible, take time and go through a proper clubfitting through a manufacturer.
If you’re filling in clubs you don’t have, let the retailer or clubfitting service make sure these measurements are correct and they match the clubs you already own. Regular measuring is necessary as clubs, irons especially, will have their lofts and lies change from regular use.
Wedges (9) – You only need one pitching wedge, but because of how sets are produced, yours may have anywhere from a 44-degree to 48-degree loft. It’s important to know what you have to account for the spacing in your set. This club is almost always in my bag. If I decide to carry a 62- or 64-degree wedge, this may be left behind, but not often. My pitching wedge is 47 degrees.
I classify gap wedges as 50, 52 and 54 degrees and little bounce. The biggest virtue of the gap wedge is maintaining the spacing in distance between clubs. Another consideration in choosing which gap wedge to use, if any, its eye appeal and what control of distance and trajectory you get using it. The gap wedge is often where players start paying attention to feel.
The stereotypical golf nerd is obsessed with putters. For me, it’s sand wedges. I own 56-, 58-, 60-, 62- and 64-degree sand wedges. Within those five lofts, I have 14 clubs with different grooves, grindings and sole thicknesses. Each has a purpose, which I’ll spare you.
The reason of having at least some selection of sand wedges is that the characteristics of each club makes it easier to play from soft or hard sand, tight or fluffy lies, bermuda, bent or blue grass, to dig or pick your pitches and to allow you to hit a low spinner, runner or a high flop. I often carry a 56-degree wedge with medium bounce and flange size, a 60-degree with a wider flange and more bounce and a 64-degree wedge with an extremely narrow flange that has been ground an extra amount in the heel so that it can be opened to lie with its face pointing to the sky.
Do you need all these wedges? No. Do I need all these wedges? No. Do you need a variety of wedges? Yes.
My wedge fetish developed when I was 13 A friend took me golfing for the first time at an old and tiny municipal course within walking distance of where we lived. The course was 4,620 yards and a par 67. To play the course well, you had to learn myriad wedge shots. The different spins and trajectories had to be executed with good hands, technique and imagination, with only a pitching wedge and a 56-degree sand wedge. I became good at it and have loved to play all sorts of funky short-game shots since.
Putters (unlimited) – I’ve used a long putter since 1991 because of the yips. I have three long putters and use a 48-inch Ping Craz-E a majority of the time. I never yip with it.
As older golfers, our skills decrease and our scores suffer greatest because our short games and concentration deteriorate. Apart from injury, arthritis and severe loss of mobility and flexibility, we will be able to strike the ball pretty solidly without putting in hours on the range.
We can adjust to the loss of distance and match the changes in our bodies by more accurately matching the longer clubs. Our scores are much more at risk by not keeping, or improving, our games with the shorter clubs and shorter shots. Having fun, fitness, playing smart, playing within oneself and developing a good short game are all more important than finding an extra 10 yards. But as we grow older, every little bit helps and getting the equipment that matches your ability and goals is something you can control.