Switching clubs rarely easy, Ask Rory

How-To Guides: Switching Golf Clubs Rarely Easy, Ask Rory

Switching clubs rarely easy, Ask Rory

How-To Guides: Switching Golf Clubs Rarely Easy, Ask Rory

When Even the Pro Golfers Change Equipment

When Rory McIlroy signed his deal to represent Nike Golf much was made — and is certainly be said after this weekend — about the adjustments he would have to make as he transitioned into Nike clubs.

Would he still be as good a golfer as he was before the switch? Did he do it just for the money? Since it has been reported that he signed a 10-year, $200 million deal, I have to assume that money played at least some part in the change. Although it didn’t stop him from bending a Nike 9 iron in apparent frustration last year at the US Open.  

Still, Nike clubs have always performed well for Tiger Woods and the rest of the Nike roster, so McIlroy should know that his less-than-stellar 2013 may be at least partially his fault.

The fact is that professional PGA Tour players are a lot like you and I. They come to rely on their equipment and have certain favorite clubs. Even if their new clubs are made perfectly to fit all their specs, the player still may not feel entirely comfortable.

And these professional golfers are exponentially more sensitive to their sticks — from shaft frequency, head shape, face angle and sound to the difficult to quantify “feel.”

But they are still like most golfers — always looking for something slightly better. Or in the case of the top pros, willing to take a chance for a big contract.

I have been fitting and making equipment for some of the top players in the world for more than 30 years, and I can tell you one thing: It is always a surprise what comments you get from the players.

“I love the new driver,” they’ve said, even though you know the composite shaft that was put in is different from the old one.

“I don’t like the look of the new putter,” I’ve heard, even though it was crafted to exactly match the previous stick.

“The leading edge needs to be softened more,” I’ve been told, even though the measured radius is rolled more than a tournament-winning previous set of irons.

“These feel light,” it’s been said, when you know the clubheads were ground to weight and swing weighted perfectly with shafts. Shafts that were sorted and weighed exactly to his specs.

In every case I’d make some adjustment to be sure that when he went into battle, the player knew his clubs were perfect for him.

Psychologically fitted?

Maybe you could say that. Sometimes you just can not get it right for the player. I worked with one Hall of Famer
in years past that was and still is one of the nicest gentleman you would ever hope to meet. Yet after multiple attempts at making clubs for him, he was never really satisfied.

Conversely, I have had another top, major winning pro that saw a set of irons that I was working on for someone else and immediately took a liking to them. He used them for many years on the PGA Tour.

Other golfers are perfectly satisfied with their clubs, as long as you annually check their loft and lie and maybe put on a new set of grips — although this example is rare.

Two legends of the game, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, had certain little things that had to be done to their drivers.

Ben Hogan during his historic 1950 US Open. Hogan won on a three-way 18-hole playoff.

At the Ben Hogan Golf Company, Hogan always insisted on having a small brass “shaft tip locking screw” installed in the through-bore tip of his steel driver shaft. This went back to his days at MacGregor Golf in the 1940s to the early 1950s when glue was not quite what it should have been (before epoxy was invented). The screw helped keep the shaft from coming out of the wooden head. Even years after epoxy was perfectly suitable to install a shaft, Hogan still wanted that little screw.

He said that it made the club feel better balanced. I know that when we made his driver, we always had to factor in that small screw to hit the swing weight he wanted.

Jack Nicklaus also had started with MacGregor early in his career, and his first professional driver had a butt weight of lead in the grip end of the shaft. This was a common way for mass-produced clubs in the 1960s to be counterbalanced and swing weighted with persimmon wood heads that were slightly too heavy.

Jack Nicklaus in 1976 at Glen Abbey Golf Club, the site of more than one of his Canadian Open losses.

We would never do this for professional Tour players, but Nicklaus’ favorite club was built that way — and he continues with this method of butt weighting even today.

So, in a way, even the supposedly most-rational weekend golfer can be compared to an all-time great.

 

Golf Basics: The Grip

How-To Guides: The Golf Grip

Golf Basics: The Grip

How-To Guides: Golf Basics: The Grip

Golf’s fundamentals begin with your grip

Any good player will tell you, the start of a new season is a time for refocusing on fundamentals. Be it a low-handicap amateur, a PGA teaching professional or a touring pro playing for millions week in and week out — they all will focus on the basics when coming back from a long layoff.

Posture, alignment, tempo, ball position. Fundamentals are the foundation upon which your swing is built, and if they’re not solid, you won’t be either.

Perhaps the most important of these fundamentals is the grip. The hands are the only point of contact between you and the club; they control everything. It’s also not impossible to play quality golf with a strange grip.

Paul Azinger is fond of telling the story of how Nick Faldo describes him as having a “homemade grip with a hatchet swing.” And Azinger won a PGA Championship. But you’re certainly increasing your degree of difficulty if you don’t take the time to learn a fundamentally sound way to hold the club.

Thankfully, it’s also a comparatively easy thing to get right. The biggest mistake most amateurs make with their grip is holding the club too much in the palm of their left hands, as if it were a baseball bat. Baseball is a fine game, and a sport I love dearly, but the baseball swing is an act of controlled violence, a heavy chunk of maple or ash wielded with brute force. Golf clubs are lighter, more precise. The golf swing an act of tempo, rhythm, and control.

That’s a responsibility you want to give to the finer motor controls of the fingers.

Start by aligning the butt-end of the club along your glove hand on the bottom third of your pinkie finger, below the knuckle but above the palm. This will set up everything else about the grip. If you have the club positioned well in your pinkie, there’s no way to end up with a palmy, baseball-style grip.

Close your hand comfortably around the club. If you take your stance and address a ball from this position, you should see roughly one and a half to two knuckles on the top of your glove hand, with the “V” formed by the line between your thumb and forefinger pointing towards your right shoulder (left shoulder for lefties). 

If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to rotate your glove hand a little more so that you see somewhere between two and a half and three knuckles. This is referred to as a “strong” grip, helping you close your clubface at impact and produce a left-to-right (or right-to-left for southpaws) drawing ball flight that results in more distance.

Lower handicappers will generally stay with a neutral grip, or in some cases go with a one-knuckle or “less-weak” grip to help produce a fading left-to-right (right-to-left for southpaws) ball flight for more control.

Once you’ve got your glove hand situated well on the club, place your non-glove hand on the club, making sure to once again keep the club running along your fingers and out of the palm. Your non-glove thumb should wrap comfortably over your glove-hand thumb, the “V’s” between thumb and forefinger running parallel to each other and, again, pointing at your right shoulder (left shoulder for lefties).

Your non-glove pinkie finger can connect with the glove hand in a number of ways. I prefer what’s called the “interlocking” grip (See Tiger Woods above.), where the index finger of the glove hand and the pinkie finger of the non-glove hand wrap around each other, firmly connecting the hands in a unified hold. Both Woods and Jack Nicklaus use the interlocking grip.

There is also the “10-finger” or “baseball-style” grip, in which the hands aren’t connected at all, with each finger resting consecutively along the club.

The most popular grip, however, is the “overlapping” or “Vardon” grip, named after British golf legend Harry Vardon, who popularized it. Here the pinkie on the non-glove hand rests on top of the glove-hand index finger. Most players prefer this grip because it allows for a feeling of unity with the hands, but still keeps the glove hand in charge and allowing for crisper contact at impact. 

There is no wrong choice when it comes to deciding between each of these styles, however. Go with whichever option feels the most comfortable and gives you the most control of your golf ball.

Finally, perhaps the most important part of having a good grip is maintaining light-grip pressure. You want to be able to hold the club securely, but keep your hands loose and free-flowing in order to avoid tension. Tension in your hands will lead to tension throughout your golf swing, sapping your clubhead speed, destroying your tempo and inevitably sending your ball far off-target.

Relax your hands and it will relax every other part of your game, allowing you to play your best.

A fundamentally sound grip is an easy thing to overlook, but it is the root cause of countless other problems in the golf swing.

Take the time at the beginning of a season to ensure that your grip and other fundamentals are rock-solid, and you can dive into the summer fully ready to play your best and attack the course.

 

Buying an Iron Set

How-To Guides: Buying an Iron Set

Buying an Iron Set

How-To Guides: Buying an Iron Set

Golf season is here, and everyone is thinking this will be the year for dropping the handicap. The right set of irons — and consistent practice and play — can definitely help you achieve that goal.

Now, most golfers golf bag consists of 14 clubs built for various reasons. What most people need to realize is that it takes just one decision, what iron set to buy, to influence a golfer’s entire set of clubs.

So what I recommend involves a simple three step process: Research; Consultation; Fitting.

Research

Before you even enter a store, search around a few manufacturers’ websites to learn a little about the latest and greatest iron technology on the market. Read some online reviews, such as from 2nd Swing Blog’s comprehensive and free search archives, to help you figure out what kind of iron may match your skill level, club needs as well as playing goals, such as adding loft, feel, flex and distance.

Whether you are interested in a PING, TaylorMade, Titleist or Callaway irons, first learn a little about the new iron sets each company recently released. This will give you the confidence to know some of the clubs’ general specifications (specs) as well as the technological advances certain iron sets may have made in the passing years since you last purchased clubs.

You can trust these manufacturers to give you a brief summary of features and benefits for their new irons. Then try to be ahead of the game by having a favorite model of iron after you researched what might be best for you, like the popular and well-performing new PING i25 series, and you will be far ahead of the game.

Consultation

By consultation, I mean pretty much demanding a proper education by your local golf store or club shop salesperson or pro on what type of iron will be best for you. There are so many types of irons out there that it can get overwhelming very quickly.

It’s important to be honest with yourself about your golf abilities, or it could spell disappointment or disaster on the course later for you. In reality, keep in mind that there are only a few decisions you have to make:

  • What iron head is best for you (traditional blade, midsize or game enhancement, oversize or game improvement)?
  • What type of shaft you prefer (steel or graphite)?
  • What improvements are you exactly looking for in this new iron set?
  • Do I want an iron that is more forgiving or more workable?
  • How much does the look and feel of the iron weigh in your decision?
  • What are the benefits of each iron head?

Answering these few questions can ultimately take hundreds of different irons sets down to just three or four. And you will quickly realize which iron sets could be best for you.

Fitting

This phase of the buying process is the most important.  Here we can analyze and discuss what might be an iron set that is good and what might be an iron set that is great.

First thing to keep in mind before a fitting takes place, is whether the clubfitter that I am working with is both knowledgeable and certified. You will come away from this experience so much more confident and excited about your new irons if you are paired up with the right fitter.

During your personalized and custom club fitting, two main phases occur: deciding on the perfect set of irons; and fitting those irons to your ability and golf swing. When you are testing iron sets (or demo-ing them), keep in mind how they look and feel. These are the only two areas that a fitter can not analyze. The better the irons look and feel, the more confident the golf swing you will have.

These are criteria that must decisively match your needs.

Assess the assessor

Now performance is the deal breaker, of course. It does not matter how good an iron set looks or feels — if you aren’t hitting it well — you are not going to buy it.

At least I wouldn’t. So you don’t either. 

Now a proper fitting process will cover four main topics:

  • Static fitting (This determines what club length you need.).
  • Dynamic fitting (Tells you what lie angle you need.).
  • Ball-flight analysis (This will validate the decisions made to this point, such as iron head size and kind, club length, lie angle and shaft type.).
  • Course assessment (Get out and play! Make sure that the set is right for you and fit for you.)

Be aware of how the irons are performing. Do you notice any consistent ball-flight tendencies? If they are performing a certain way for you, are these good or bad tendencies?

Make your fitter aware of your progress after you leave the store. Fitting should be ongoing. Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions after you’ve made your purchase.

It might take a couple of rounds or tweaks to dial them in perfectly. Remember it’s all about improving and having fun. The two usually go hand in hand but I promise if you spend the time and go through these important steps, both will occur.