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When is it Time to Make an Equipment Change?

May. 18, 2011     By     Comments (3)

Stay with what's in the bag now, or shell out the money for that shiny new set? Maybe I can help you make that decision.

Bag DropThis past week, while trolling the forums, I happened to notice this thread about new equipment versus using what you've got, and thought I could offer some assistance to those pondering the decision of whether or not to spend your hard-earned money on new clubs.

If you're dead set on always having the latest and greatest, this week's column might not be for you, as you've already justified your frequent purchases. I can't really blame you, if I had the means, there's a chance I might fall into that habit too. If you're perfectly happy with the state of your bag at the moment, bookmark this page, as it may be useful to you in the future. Finally, if you fall into the group of those on the fence about whether to stick with what you've got a little longer or buy something new, by all means, read on!

Let me start by saying the reason I initially expressed interest in doing this column was, and still is because I love new equipment. I love everything about it - the interesting esthetic designs, the engineering, the technology, and ultimately what it can do for your game. I get the obsession, I really do. The problem is that there is a flip side to the industry which can be a bit disturbing though, and that is when you're constantly led to believe that you need the new equipment. And who wouldn't fall into that trap, with the commercials constantly beaten into your head for this new driver or that new iron or what have you.

With all that said, we're going to approach this from three different angles - driver/fairway woods, irons, and wedges - and the qualites that apply to all of them as well. I'm not going to touch on putters because they are one piece of equipment where everyone is going to be very different. However, if you want some good advice on that front, I recommend starting with this thread on aim bias and putting geometry.

Next, let me say as always, fix the swing, not the club. Even if you don't work with a pro, you can at very least post swing videos in the forum. There are lots of knowledgeable people that are willing to help. If your ball striking flat out sucks now, new equipment is going to do absolutely nothing for you. It may make the slice less severe, but the slice will still be there.

And finally, if you haven't already, get fitted. I don't care if you have to drive three hours to get a proper fitting. The cost of gas to drive that far will quickly be negated by the savings you'll see in no longer having to buy two dozen new balls every round. Your swing will suffer as you try to compensate for the ill-fitting equipment. As your swing changes, even if your clubs are already tailor-made for you, additional modification may be needed but you gotta start somewhere. We'll hit more on all of that in a minute. Now that that's out the way, let's get going. Not only that, from a psychological standpoint, you won't be able to blame a terrible shot on ill-fitting equipment.

For starters, there are a few situations that apply to all clubs in your bag, excluding the putter, and that's what we'll take a look at first. An honest self assessment is needed. Has your skill level progressed or regressed to the point where what you play now no longer makes sense? If you've reached the point where working the ball is the next big step in taking your game to the next level, that set of Slingshots or Burner SuperLaunch is going to make that a great deal tougher. The flip side of this happens to lots of people and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Job, kids, or whatever else gets in the way, and hitting the course twice a week becomes more like twice per month, or even less. Hitting those Titleist 690 MBs perfectly every single swing doesn't come quite as naturally as it once did. At this point, it's likely time to check out something new, with a little more forgiveness than those shiny blades. Particularly in this situation, it can be hard to justify a new set especially in light of playing less frequently, but I can almost guarantee they'd make those rounds you do get to play more enjoyable.

Well, if you're that comfortable and playing well with what you have right now, then there's probably no real reason, even if it's not the latest thing on the market. Want a great example? Lucas Glover won the Wells Fargo Championship last weekend with the old Nike SQ Sumo Squared Tour driver. Yes, the same yellow and grey, loud-as-all-get-out driver that was released back in 2007. Now, let's think about that for a sec. That driver was released four years ago! You can't possibly tell me that Nike hasn't had this guy test numerous other drivers including the Dymo2, SQ Machspeed2, and VR drivers. He's a prime example of how change isn't always necessary. Sure, his hot putter helped last weekend, but I didn't see any issues with length. If you fall into that category, where your driver or fairways are three or four years old, there are certainly some advantages that you can gain with a newer fairway wood or driver, but I doubt you're going to see a mind-blowing difference.

Let's consider this situation though - you're still playing an eight-year-old, 43" driver that consistently puts you 240-250 yards down the middle of the fairway. Last time I checked, there aren't many choices for something that short anymore. How much will the extra length throw you off? This is where the decision becomes much more difficult. More than likely, a new driver is going to make a considerable positive impact. The drivers of today are simply hotter, with a much larger sweet spot that spans a larger area across the face. While at first you might think that extra length on the shaft might make contact less accurate, the expanded sweetspot allows you to get away with it (IF in fact that happens).

In overly simplified terms, a club's forgiveness and workability are sort of like a seesaw, more on one side means less on the other. And then there's that near perfect balance, which may or may not be the same depending on the individual. Clubs that intend to be in that balanced area include Mizuno's MX-300, JPX-800 Pro, Titleist's AP2, and Nike's VR split cavity to name just a few. This is where it's really important to be as honest with yourself as possible. It's key to making the correct decision. If you're playing a larger SGI iron, and your game has improved to the point that the extreme amount of forgiveness is more of a hindrance, that of course is when it's time to look at making a move either to that balanced area, or even further. Now, trust me, I know how bright and shiny new irons have an ability to call your name and entice you in the same manner that a supermodel with a couple of pitchers of beer in her hands might. You've got to resist and be realistic with yourself, it's imperative to your progress, and will likely keep you from getting too frustrated.

There is a flip side to this as well. For maybe some of you older guys, back when you were in your mid-30s to early 40s, those musclebacks you've got in the bag may have served you very well, but nowadays, for whatever reason, you may not hit them as well. At that point, it may be time to look at stepping back into that same balanced area I talked about, or possibly again, a mixed set. There's also a very good chance those musclebacks still do the job just fine. While there's nothing wrong with change, going through it just for the sake of change can be a very stupid decision.

Drivers, fairway woods, and even hybrids are a different story. Golf Digest and others may lead you to believe a new set of woods is necessary every year. While I disagree there, there a number of emerging trends that may be a big help to certain subsets of the playing population. That old 385cc driver is quite simply going to be outperformed by nearly everything out there today.

A club's overall weight (not talking about swingweight here) can also be a big factor in whether or not to make a change. Let's consider these situations:

A. You're a young guy that's still playing with the same set you've had since you got into the game. You've likely been growing both in height and in strength over the last few years. That means a heavier shaft, as well as possibly longer shafts (because you've grown in height), or a more rigid flex shaft may be in order. Lie angle may be needed as well. Here's the thing - that doesn't mean you have to give up your current irons. More than likely a new set of shafts can be installed, and the head can be bent in order to fit the lie angle you need.

B. You're an older guy that's still playing the same set you've had for the last 10-15 years. When you were 45, you swung them with ease, but at 60, after a number of back problems or heart problems or whatever the case may be, you don't swing them as comfortably. Are you really going to let your pride keep you from swapping in some lighter shafts and ultimately playing better? I'll let you answer that for yourself.

In the case of wedges, probably the one thing that will lead to a change is the condition of your grooves. I'd say if you play on a regular basis, two or three years is probably the right time to start considering new ones. Like the putter, wedges can be very personal, and you can grow very comfortable with what you have.

Last week, I bought a new Mizuno MP T10 wedge to replace my Vokey Spin Milled 56 degree. I wasn't quite used to it yet, so I kept the Vokey in the bag for a scramble I played in this past Friday. Long story short, with the Vokey in hand, I proceeded to hole out from about 70 yards out for an eagle. That's enough to make me hesitant to go forward with the change, but I know I have to at some point (grooves wear out!). Things like that significantly increase one's attachment to a club, but you'll be sorry you didn't go forward with the change the first time a wedge shot from 60 yards out doesn't hold the green.

Before we close out for the week, let's review everything really quick:

It's time to change irons when:

  1. More distance is needed (after other methods have been exhausted)
  2. More forgiveness or more workability is needed

Time when change might not be needed and modification of what you have might work better:

  1. Clubs have become too heavy or too light
  2. Flex no longer fits
  3. Lie angle adjustment is needed

Time to change wedges when:

  1. They wear out
  2. If you're using a wedge that came with a set

Time to change driver when:

  1. Not as often as you'd like, unless you've just got a ton of money to spend for no reason
  2. Need more forgiveness
  3. Need more workability
  4. Current driver is older than four years or so

As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, feel free to drop us a line in the comments and we'll help out in any way we can.

Posted in: Bag Drop Comments (3)

Discussion

  1. GernGolfs says:

    What a great article. Isn't it amazing just how much the new tech has changed the game we all love? From balls that are longer, straighter, or some combination to putters with heads larger than drivers of days gone by, the tools of the trade have most certainly changed.

    I could not agree more with the article. I would, however, add one criteria for change that in my humble is worth mentioning.

    In my case I found that with lots of practice, some lessons, and then more practice my handicap fell. I was actually at a point when my game was better than my irons. I wanted more workability that you just could not get in the first generation game improvement irons that I was playing. I changed irons not because my old set was worn out or had worn out their welcome in my bag; I changed them out because I had become a better player. Not quite up to the standard where I thought I was ready to lay out a grand or so for forged but enough that I got irons that, while game improvement, are also actually quite workable.

    In the end I have managed to lower my handicap and, for the first time ever yesterday afternoon, I managed a round under par. With the new irons I gained distance, I gained the ability to work the ball a bit, I gained confidence, and most important I gained fun. Not too shabby of an investment!

  2. handlez42 says:

    This is a great article, and connects to my recent purchases in clubs-somewhat. My first set of irons just a year ago (age 19) were Wilson Deep Red 2 distance with the old fat shaft. Although they hit straight, sometimes the forgiveness and feel hindered me when shots would fade off slightly right or left. Problem was, I couldn't feel if it was a good or bad shot because of the gel insert in the cavity, and the then interesting "fat shaft" design. So I decided to get fitted and purchase a new set of FG tour irons. Considering the Deep Red's were SGI's, this was a very BIG change. But the feel, control, and just how difficult they are to hit in general, has helped me become a better player in general. I'm starting to feel my hands not turning and getting used to the little to no offset these clubs have. I guess in short I don't mind having to work into the comfort of more difficult clubs.

    Also my drive has been dismal, so I decided to sell out for an "old" R9 460. I used to think it was a little over the top in looks and screamed techy gargin, but after seeing the ridiculous R11 I realized it wasn't too hard on the eyes. I'm hitting more accurately now in comparison to my old softball bat, the Wilson Spine. (I can't help it, I like Wilson Staff stuff).
    Amazingly for me, the putter actually did come into play here. My first putter I bought a year ago was the wilson agusta bullseye style putter. Loved the feel and it really does putt straight, but it tends to skid early and jump a lot during its journey. So I sold out for a newer milled face, lofted, WS 8881 putter. Great putter, just was too difficult to get my tempo down. So I gave it to my cousin, $99 dollars down my drain. Or on a lighter note, it's already helped my cousins game in putting. For now i'll be sticking to my good ol' bullseye. And I'll even be sticking to my Ram Tom Watson wedges. Just sharpened the grooves a bit and am considering getting one "tumbled" (BeCu) and the others chrome refinished. Love em'.

    As for golf balls? still looking for something. I like Bridgestone's and recently decent with Top Flite Gamer V2's. Other than that...no idea what ball will fit my game. Probably will have to get my swing down first of course. This article has reassured me of my newest purchases, as well as keeping the oldies in my bag. Thank you very much. =)

  3. Old1964 says:

    While I agree with your observations, I'm convinced that a lot of the "allure" of golf for guys is connected to the technology fantasy. So, kudos to you for your clear reasoning, but I'm thinking you are preaching to the choir (e.g. those who agree with you already think this way). On the other hand, you might have saved somebody a few hundred $$$.

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