My Year In Golf: James Achenbach

Looking at golf's big picture, what moved me in 2013? To provide an answer, please allow me to draw a distinction between golf as entertainment and golf as a participation sport.

The PGA Tour relies on entertainment. Watching these gladiators is fun. It is engrossing. It evokes our passion.

By August 2014, If Tiger Woods hasn't won at least one more major championship, I'm going to play barefoot for the rest of the year.

Wait a minute. Did I really say that?

Despite the glamor of the PGA Tour, the phenomenon that made the biggest impression on me in 2013 was not professional golf. Or amateur golf. Or any kind of competitive golf.

The appearance of new golf equipment -- and the reactions of the everyday golfers who purchase this equipment -- is what fascinated me throughout the year. Never before have major golf equipment manufacturers unveiled so many new clubs and balls in a single calendar year. Most of these companies now have at least two annual introduction cycles.

It's a brave new golf equipment world out there. It's good and bad at the same time -- good because legitimate choices are numerous, bad because the process can be confounding for many golfers.

Modern golf clubs and golf balls are driven by art and science. They have never looked better, they have never performed better.

But there are obvious questions.

How is one clubhead different from another? How is one shaft different from another? Which golf club models are created mostly for pros and low-handicap amateurs, and which are designed for ordinary golfers? How can average players begin to grasp the alphabet soup of performance measurements -- COR (coefficient of restitution), MOI (moment of inertia), CG (center of gravity), HBP (high balance point) and the like?

There is a transformation going on here. American golfers are becoming more like Asian golfers. We are more serious and analytical than ever before. We want to understand how our golf equipment is responding to our ragtag swings. These swings, of course, are patterned after Woods and our other heroes (at least that's what we tell ourselves).

It is our responsibility to understand how golf equipment functions in a dynamic, real-world environment. A club on the rack may waggle great, but does it work great? It's no secret that the most rewarding golf club fitting sessions occur outdoors, where it is possible to watch the flight of the ball.

Some golfers are deeply appreciative of the equipment choices that exist today, although consumer consternation seems to be increasing over the frequency of new introductions.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: "I bought a new driver and a few months later the same company introduced yet another driver, saying the new one goes farther."

Distance has become golf's bogeyman. Too many claims, too many yards, too much confusion, too many television commentators who tantalize us with stories of 180-yard 8-irons.

Regardless, superior new golf clubs and balls are all around us. They exist to service the dreams and fantasies of golfers young and old.

From grooves to grips, today's golf equipment is much more efficient than yesterday's equipment. I wish we could say the same for humans -- who swing with great intention and even greater frustration -- but golf remains an extremely difficult pursuit.

All these elements endlessly caught my attention in 2013. Because golfers are plus-handicap dreamers, I don't expect the golf-equipment parade to stop any time soon.

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