Well it seems after a multi-year absence I am once again hooked on golf. I have been back playing for a few months now. You might not think that a 6-7 year hiatus would be that big a deal, but let me tell you, it was hell in the early going. While I am in very good shape for 48 years old, apparently I was not in very good "golf shape". After a week or so of hitting 75-100 balls a day on the driving range, I discovered aches in places I did not know existed. It was mostly relegated to the upper torso area as my legs are in most excellent shape from power walking and bike riding. I even pulled a muscle in my rib cage which necessitated a quick trip to the doctor for x-rays, and a diagnosis of "your getting old". I should explain that my doctor is a former triathlete who also thinks he's a comedian.
At any rate, slowly but surely, the game started to come back. Back in my 20's and 30's, I was actually as low as a 3 handicap golfer. Right now I would say I am in the 14-17 handicap range, but have been improving steadily. The biggest change seemed to be that I no longer possessed the power of my youth. A five iron that used to fly 175 yards, now struggled to go 160. It seemed that my stiff shafted clubs, which I used to swing so freely, were now a bit beyond my capabilities. A quick fitting session at the local pro shop indicated the need to drop to a firm flex in the driver, and regular flex in the iron clubs. I must mention that the "computer tech" involved in fitting golf clubs these days has really come a long way in a short time. It used to be that a pro would simply watch you swing a few times and then recommend clubs accordingly. Then came devices that would measure swing speed. Now we have full blown diagnostic software that, in addition to swing speed, can tell you the launch angle of the ball, how much the face of the club and ball compress, the speed the ball travels, and other parameters. If you are interested in such tech, you can visit your local pro shop, or go to GolfChannel.com. There is also a program on the Golf Channel cable TV station called The Golf Fix which features this tech quite a bit. Truly impressive stuff.
The new irons
After trying out numerous name brand models at several shops, I concluded that custom components were the way to go. The "off the rack" clubs were just ridiculously priced, and really did not fit my swing all that well. In other words, the porridge was not "just right", and was fifty bucks an ounce! I had assembled many sets of clubs in the past for myself and others. It is really not that difficult. The right components, a bit of epoxy, an instruction sheet or two, a bit of patience, and you are good to go. Understanding the specs you need, and altering existing clubs is a bit more involved, but still not terribly difficult. Of course my engineering background may cloud my judgment of simplicity a bit. In any case, for those interested in such endeavors, two good web sites to check out are Golfsmith.com and GolfWorks.com. In addition to stocking very good components, both sites also offer a plethora of instructional materials. I used both companies before they even had web sites, and can highly recommend them. There are numerous other sites out there as well, but I have not tried them.
After browsing both sites, I wound up selecting the XPC V9 hybrid heads from Golfsmith. While hybrid irons are not exactly new tech, it seems they have perfected it. Instead of the traditional "iron" club head, these are actually small fairway wood heads which are assembled on an iron shaft. For anyone who has ever had trouble getting a long iron up in the air, these are definitely the way to go. They are so much easier to hit, it should be illegal. A fact that has not escaped the pros. Unfortunately, I did not find the companion XPC V9 iron heads as appealing, nor did I find any others on the Golfsmith site to my liking. The iron head that did strike my fancy was the Distance Master Pro Steel 2 Black model over at GolfWorks.
Traditionally I have used a "tour blade" style of iron. However, considering the state of my game and my ever advancing age, I decided to try out a "game improvement" model. The overall specs of this iron coupled with the price were just too much to resist. I also selected inexpensive graphite shafts, and equally inexpensive grips to round out the ensemble. I figured I would try out graphite shafts for a while, and if I did not like them, I could easily replace them with steel and not be out much money. So far, I have no plans to replace the graphite. It is so much lighter and easier to swing, it should also be illegal. My 5 iron now flies 180-185 yards and stops on a dime if I so desire.
Another big change I noticed in my game was that my fairly good putting stroke of 29 years simply left town, never to return. I have quite a collection of putters in the closet and not one of them made difference. It got so bad that I could not even scare the hole from a foot away! I swear I heard the hole laughing at me on more than one occasion. Now if you watch the pros putt, you will see as many different putting styles as there are pros. This basically means there is no incorrect way to putt. Or in other words, whatever is legal and gets the ball in the hole, go for it. Unfortunately for me, after putting one way forever, changing was not at all simple. I experimented with every style I could think of. I even went back to the golf shops and tried every putter in site fully intending to damn the cost and "full steam ahead". Alas none of the new sticks made any difference either. It was not until Friday of this past week that a light bulb went off.
I was watching the second round of the Open Championship on ESPN, and I noticed Mark Calcavecchia using something called the "claw grip". Rather than trying to explain it here, I will just include this link. This grip is also nothing new. I had just forgotten about it. Well, after several hours at the local practice green and some tweaking of the claw style, I am now putting better than I ever did. I did break down and buy a new putter. It seems this style of grip is better suited to a heavier and slightly longer putter than I had in my collection. I found a great deal on an older model Taylormade Rossa Imola 8 during my previous search. As luck would have it, it was still there. It was brand new, but on closeout for about 1/3 of the original price. I was going to go custom assembled on the putter as well, but just did not find a head that suited me as well as the Rossa. I could have also altered one in my collection but ultimately decided against it.
Finishing the set
With the main irons and putter taken care of, it was time to complete the set. I decided against upgrading my wedges. These are approximately 15 year old Lynx forged blade style Sand and Lob wedges that I customized with graphite shafts. I have kept the grooves in good shape with a groove sharpener over the years so they work as good as new. I did try out a few new models, but nothing really "grabbed" me. Another club I decided to keep, but alter, was my fairway metalwood. This is a component 4 wood head I purchased many years ago. It is sort of a clone of the old Cleveland VAS metal wood. It too is still in excellent condition, so all it needed was a new, slightly weaker flex shaft and a new grip.
The last area needing attention was the driver. This is yet another area of change I noticed. I thought my old Adams 363 driver was large, but it had nothing on the huge 460 CC heads of today. The other big change is the length and lightness of the newer drivers. These should also be deemed "illegal". Since I am very particular about the driver, I decided to look for an inexpensive model to get used to the larger head size and lightweight aspects. That way, if I did not like the new specs, I could just reshaft the Adams. After an exhaustive search, I totally lucked out and found a Wilson Deep Red model at the local Academy Sports store. The thing I like about it beyond the ridiculously low $30 price is that while it has the large 460 CC size head, it retains the more traditional "pear" shape of drivers past. The shaft is a bit closer to regular flex than firm, but still works well with my swing.
It seems in addition to size and weight, the manufacturers also experimented with head shapes over the last few years. One year it seems everyone even went square. What were they thinking! Well I must say after several sessions on the driving range, I am sold. I can hit this new driver 260-270 yards with a relative flick of the wrist! My old club would go that far with considerably more effort which now eludes me. I also cannot seem to hit this new driver off line! Truly a good problem to have. Hitting a draw or a fade is equally easy. Considering the price, I am a bit concerned about the longevity of this club so I went back and bought another just in case. The amazing thing is that the backup club is exactly the same in every respect. In the world of inexpensive clubs this is a real rarity.
With the fixed putting stroke and new clubs, I fully expect to be back in the single digit handicap range very soon. The moral of the story here is that if your golf game is suffering, or you are just getting old, go get yourself some new "should be illegal" clubs! And remember, they do not have to cost $50 an ounce!