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Golf Rant: Assorted Mythology and Nonsense

Nov. 15, 2007     By     Comments (19)

Another sampling of stuff that gets my UnderArmour in a wad.

Thrash TalkBefore I can settle into hibernation mode, it's necessary to blow off a bit more steam. Join me this week as I rant a little.

Equipment Companies
Don't get me wrong, I love golf equipment. I love fondling it in the stores, ogling over it in catalogs, and wasting my kids' college money buying it for no reason other than it's obviously better than the crap already in my bag, even if that crap is last year's signature model. I am also a technophile, and believe today's golf equipment is the best in history and contributes significantly to my enjoyment of the game. Rock on, men. There are, however, a few minor things for which I'd like to, oh, maybe gore the equipment manufacturers in the eye. To wit:

First of all (and we have Tom Wishon to thank for writing about this first), can you stop monkeying around with lofts and forcing us to buy more clubs? This has to be the biggest scam since title insurance and selling water in plastic bottles. Think about it: you used to have a pitching wedge with 50 degrees loft, and a sand wedge with 56. Someone added a 60 degree, fine. But when they started ratcheting lofts down to give us the illusion that the clubs were "longer," the pitching wedge became 48 and eventually 46 or even 44 in some sets. Now, we need a "gap" wedge, to fill in the hole.

Brilliant marketing! Why didn't I think of that?

And of course, they've done a similar thing on the opposite end of the bag; since modern 3- and 4-irons have the loft of the 1- and 2-irons of yesteryear, nobody but very strong, skilled players can hit them anymore. So, we're forced to buy things like hybrids, 7-woods, Perfect Clubs, CPRs… I have a basement full of them.

Also, I understand that a premium driver costs $400 or more, and that if I want the brand new irons I can expect to spend $700-$1000. Nobody takes up this game to save money. But at these prices, can you do us the favor of not introducing five new drivers every year? You barely get the bar code labels cleaned off the shaft when some gloating chopper in your foursome tells you he's ordered a later and greater model (Note to George Promenschenkel and other fellow Obsessive Compulsive Golfers: I use Goo Gone to clean labels off golf shafts. I absolutely detest using a club that has tags and stickers on it.).

I hope when the equipment companies start selling clubs with interchangeable heads and shafts, they will pass on at least some of the economic benefit to us. Imagine being able to keep your trusty shaft, but just screw on the new season's club head… at a reduced price, of course (dream on - we'll probably pay more for the privilege).

Pros, Teachers, and Other Self-Anointed Golf Intelligentsia
I don't know about you folks, but my least favorite bit of sage advice from golf magazines, Internet pros, and know-it-all golfers is "make sure you take enough club on this shot." Do people not realize that as golf advice goes, this is like a cave painting? We know, fer Crissakes! Selecting a club is not some abstruse, exotic decision that is the sole realm of expert golfers. We ordinary guys do it, too.

We know the argument. Since we mis-hit most shots, take more club so that we'll be on the green more often. Except this doesn't always work out. While coming up short is not good, making a good swing and watching the ball fly over the green is no fun, either. Most of us would rather play with the expectation of making a good swing than choose a longer bat and hope to foul it off. Aren't we supposed to be thinking positively?

Sometimes, we might be thinking clearly and strategically, but in a realm wherein you, the expert, has no experience. I sometimes will opt for a club that I know I must hit almost perfectly to get pin high, because I would rather have the miss end up short. Why? Because as a chopper, I know that many misses are both short and crooked shots, and for me it might be easier to get up and down from fairway short than from a fried egg lie in a deep bunker pin-high.

The whole premise of the advice, often delivered in a patronizing, "now just listen to Old Pro here and you'll be fine" tone, is that we are all hopelessly inept at understanding our limitations, a sentiment that borders on flagrantly insulting. Despite what is often said and written, I think most mid-handicappers who play golf regularly actually do have a reasonably realistic idea of how far they hit their clubs. It may take a while to learn this, and everyone has had the experience of watching in horror as their well-struck iron fails to clear the brook, but my experience is that most of us eventually learn our lesson.

And even if someone is a chopper who misses the face most of the time, putting a longer club in his hands ain't likely to do much good in terms of finding the sweet spot or squaring the face anyway, is it? Might even make things worse, as many of us know. So just stick to your own wonderful game.

Club selection advice often borders on the ridiculous, especially if you've been having a particularly bad day and playing below even your own limited expectations. I've heard guys advise club selections for higher handicap partners that could only be appropriate for an octagenarian dwarf on chemo playing in the Thursday night ladies league.

Just because a golfer has a double digit handicap and doesn't hit it as consistently far as you, doesn't mean he can't fly a 7-iron 110.

I played with a guy once (he was a little better than me, but thought he was much, much better) and we were searching for our tee shots in the right rough. He found his, and told me in a serious, brooding tone reminiscent of Dick Cheney at a White House press briefing that I should be looking for mine (gesturing to a distant pasture about 50 yards behind his ball) "way back there." Another guy in our group found my ball a few feet ahead of his.

Guess I bounced it off a tree stump or something.

The Telestrator and other TV Line Drawers
This is a neat tool, but it absolutely drives me nuts when people use it to analyze golf swings. You know what I'm talking about. They show a player's swing in slow motion, and draw all sorts of lines on it to show the ball position, spine angle, shaft angle, compute the third derivative of angular acceleration, indicate areas of DNA transcription, etc. We are expected to accept all of this as a highly scientific proof on the player's swing. A sort of DaVinci-esque, bio-mechanical treatise-in-a-videobyte.

The problem is, most of this stuff is hooey. For one, the camera is in a different place for just about every one of these analyses, which has a radical effect on what your eye sees. If the camera is as little as a foot ahead or behind of where it was on the last swing analysis, the ball position, to select one often-illustrated point, will appear vastly different than on the previous swing. If you don't believe, me, try it some time. Have your friend set up to the ball. Stand across from him, even with the ball, and look where his hands and head appear relative to the ball. As your buddy remains frozen, move a little bit to your left or right, and look how different everything seems.

Ralph Guldahl is supposed to have had his golf swing ruined by this illusion. After winning two consecutive U.S. Opens in the 1930s, he wrote an instruction book. The photographs of his swing for the book were taken in such a way that his ball position looked markedly different to him from what he thought it was in his swing's eye, prompting him to spend months on fruitless, counterproductive "correction" of a problem that never even existed. Eventually it got into his head, as they say, and wrecked his game.

A similar problem exists with lines of the "spine angle." Watch them do this some time and be really discerning about how you watch it. There really are no good, fixed landmarks on the body which allow any reproducibility in drawing this angle. Sometimes the top of the line is the player's collar, sometimes it's the middle of his neck; same problem with the bottom of the line.

I sometimes think that if the analyst likes the player, they draw the spine lines so that they look parallel, reinforcing the player's "fundamentally sound" swing. (And for what it's worth, why do we care? Although a consistent spine angle is taught as a fundamental today, there are many, many expert players and fantastic ball strikers who move the spine around, and I don't think anyone can keep it completely still.)

Miscellany

  • What's so wrong with pull carts and "personal electric push carts" that most high-end courses don't allow them? Charge us a cart fee if you want, but let us walk or use one of these wonderful inventions.
  • When the heck are we going to be able to buy the little gadget you clip to your club to make it stand up, saving your back… the one that won Fore Inventors Only? All the excellent products that lost out in the final round are out there on the Web, but I can't find the winner.
  • I hear teachers talk about using "the big muscles" in the swing, in order to make it easier to control and more repeatable. Let me ask you: if you want to thread a needle, and do it as accurately and gracefully as possible, do you hold the needle and thread in your fingers, or between your thighs?
  • Christmas is coming. Please, wives, girlfriends, Moms & Dads, no more towels with the little brush embedded in it and the word GOLF embroidered at the top. No ball monogramers. No hats reading "Certified Golf Nut." How about a coupon book of "kitchen passes" to play all day on Saturday, when it warms up? I'll do the dishes all winter.

Discussion

  1. Lofts aren't always what they seem, of course, JP. Take Titleist's own line of 695 irons, available in both muscleback and cavity-back combinations. The cavity-back versions are lofted 2° stronger than their muscleback siblings, yet they blend at every club (allowing people to create combo sets with ease). Why? The center of gravity is much lower on the cavity-back sets, creating a higher launch angle.

    It may not explain all of the difference we've seen in stronger lofts, but I think it can explain a not insignificant portion of it. 30 years ago, we didn't have cavity-backed clubs with low centers of gravity. Sure, some of it's about the distance, but some of it's about making sure that "helpful" 5-iron (the one with the low CG to get the ball airborn) doesn't come up 30 yards short of the guy's Wilson muscleback 5-iron the few time he could hit that solidly. Even today's muscleback clubs are moving to lower CGs in the longer irons than we used to have.

    Plus, we have today "flighted" sets of iron shafts that can kick the ball flight off a 3-iron up a little (and knock down the flight of a wedge). Put a flighted shaft on a 3-iron with a more "traditional" loft and suddenly you've got yourself a modern-day 7-iron. It'd be a case of "too much help." :-) Mizuno strongly recommended I not put flighted shafts in my new MP-67s recently because the long and short irons were "already flighted."

    And I'm not convinced that, even if we had the old lofts, we wouldn't still have more wedges in the bag. They are, after all, the scoring clubs, and golfers of all ability face more shots inside of 100 yards than they do from 3-iron, hybrid, or 3-wood range. (For the record, I only have three wedges: PW at 48°, sand wedge at 54°, and lob wedge at 60°.)

    P.S. I'm with you on the Goo Gone!

  2. Trevor Bentz says:

    I'm with you on the "Pros, Teachers, and Other Self-Anointed Golf Intelligentsia". Seems like every month i open my newest Golf Digest to read about how I should be using a hybrid set with ultra light flex graphite shafts and use the 6 hybrid to hit a 120 yd par 3.

    Apparently there is no such thing as a mid-high handicapper that can hit long or mid irons decently.

  3. D_Nice says:

    great article!

    I agree, I hate being told what is best for me by professionals or just better golfers. If I want to buy an X-stiff shaft or tiny, forged blades, then that's my choice and save the comments for yourself! Last time I checked we still lived in a free society and still had the freedoms to make bad choices at our own discretion.

  4. wachesawgolfer says:

    I agree too. Everywhere we read we are not good to play blades, cannot hit any 3 or 4 iron so we need hybrids, need more loft on our drivers and need more wedges. Play with what you like and don't fall for all the marketing hype of new equipment.

  5. rosteven says:

    What I can't seem to wrap my small brain around is how every year the major golf equipment companies seem to come up with the must have brand new set of clubs that are designed to “Revolutionize the Game of Golf” for all level of players.

  6. Phil Bautista says:

    Despite struggling to get 150 yds out of a 5 iron and 210 yds out of a driver, I still carry a 13 handicap. I don't have the best swing out there but I get the most out of my game through course and game management.

    Now I didn't come upon my management skills through an epiphany. Not even through experience. Most of my management skills were tips, either offered by playing partners or read in books and magazine articles.

    I understand the rant of the author regarding better players' tutoring of mid-high handicappers because it probably leaves him with a feeling of incompetence when that happens, but personally, I take it all in stride and, if I like it, adopt it to my game. If I don't feel like using it, I disregard it, sometimes with an explanation as to why I am doing so (where applicable).

    But I've never told anyone to keep their opinions to themselves. Most golfers just want to help, and that is why they give the advice they do. Sometimes it may be for you and sometimes it may not. But how will you know if you've never even heard it or found out about it. The author's rant about advice regarding "taking enough club," for example. I've always felt that that was one of the most useful tips I've ever gotten. By changing my mentality from "reaching for the stars" to "just play the percentages," I have seen my handicap drop from the high 20s to the low teens without making any major changes to my skill level.

    I am also discerning enough to know that while it can be quite uncomfortable to appear as the lesser man when you have to take advise from a better player, nothing is more satisfying than winning the bets and thanking said player for the advise he gave and claiming how much it helped your game :mrgreen:

  7. JP Bouffard says:

    Phil: In practice, I do just as you say you do here. I am never angry or belligerent to better players' (or worse, for that matter) offers of advice. If anything, I've had to overcome having "rabbit ears." And, I suspect that over the years I have learned many of my lessons in golf the same way you describe. But I do think the strongest lessons are the ones you learn from experience. Maybe someone else suggests something, but it doesn't get burned into my headbone until I try it myself and verify it.

    I hope you will accept that, like any rant, this edition of Thrash Talk is a venting of suppressed frustrations, intended as a catharsis for the writer and hopefull the amusement of readers, and doesn't necessarily reflect the manner in which I go about dealing with golf partners on a regular basis. I'm not advocating stuffing our headcovers down our partners' throats.

    I don't deny that when considering the subject of club selection, the number of times someone takes too little club is probably ten-fold as high as the number of times one takes too much. I am also sure that his affliction probably affects higher handicap players and less experienced golfers more than experts, although I would bet that experts underclub more than they overclub also. Their errors probably just don't look as bad as the chop's do, because they miss by less.

    But I believe that in golf, as in being a parent or a spouse or a business partner, one must be careful how one chooses to dole out "advice." Any husband has been burned in this arena dozens of times in a marriage of any length. One of the virtues of the game is supposed to be mutual trust, respect, etc., among competitors. I think it can be rather presumptuous for someone to start making recommendations on something like club selection to a total stranger who you have known for the span of 4 holes. Maybe he's having a bad day, and isn't it possible - likely, even - that he knows his own game better than you think you know it?

    But thanks for writing such a pointed and thoughtful reply. Your general good nature, realistic and pride-free handling of your own game and the issue of better players is highly commendable.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  8. Quinn says:

    What a fantastic article. I agree with every word, especially the "Pros, Teachers, and Other Self-Anointed Golf Intelligentsia" portion. Keep up the great work.

  9. andre112 says:

    strong lofts in clubs makes the sale just like horse power with cars...
    it's a crazy yet stupid race.
    who needs a 400hp car in a traffic jam?

    i'm a 100 shooter
    i like clubs with even distance/loft gaps.
    i can't hit 3 or 4 irons why am i forced to buy them instead of GW SW?
    selling game improvement iron with 3-pw is stupid
    at least make the option of 5-pw
    that's more sensible.

  10. Michael says:

    J.P. - Great Article! Very much with you, especially on how so-and-so missed this shot on the TV.

    strong lofts in clubs makes the sale just like horse power with cars...
    it's a crazy yet stupid race.
    who needs a 400hp car in a traffic jam?

    i'm a 100 shooter
    i like clubs with even distance/loft gaps.
    i can't hit 3 or 4 irons why am i forced to buy them instead of GW SW?
    selling game improvement iron with 3-pw is stupid
    at least make the option of 5-pw
    that's more sensible.

    Yeah, really. I bought my Super Game Improvement Irons 4-PW, SW. They were - and are - my first set of irons. I hit the 4I OK, but if I had to go back 18 months and do it over, I might go 5-PW,GW,SW. I bought a GW separately, though.

    I did run into a few people who told me that 4I-PW,SW was a woman's set, not a man's. I've yet to find anyone better than me who says it to me. It's usually the guy at the par-3 course that tops everything that says it.

  11. Alan Olson says:

    Great article, JP. I agree with your rant concerning the equipment companies and the amount of clubs (especially drivers) they release in a year. Hopefully my family reads your little Christmas reminder. :grin:

  12. mark says:

    I like your style. If ever there was an article that supported the theory that "its the archer not the arrow" yours is it. I still play my old ping eye 2's and I scare up a par round with them every now and then. I never think about the fact that I am hitting a five iron while my competitors are hitting 7's. I beat them more often than they like, even though they are winning the arms race hands down.

  13. Bill Monroe says:

    Your article reminds me of an instance long ago when my old art teacher took a brown paper bag and a stubby old pencil and proceeded to create a masterpice. The point being that you don't always need that new brush or the perfect painting surface to improve your work or do your best.
    It does help to have the best tools you can afford, but nothing takes the place of practice and experience, in most anything you undertake, and I believe that applies to golf as well.
    Great article!

  14. Curt Cornell says:

    My thoughts on equipment:

    Upgrade your driver every 2 to 3 years and buy the model that is being discontinued. You're still getting a brand new club with great technology and a quality shaft for around $200 versus $400.

    Find a set of irons you like and stick with them. I had a set of forged Hogan Edge for 12 years only changing the grips and having the grooves freshened up. The new set my family got me hasn't lowered my scores (but they shore are purty!). I'm sure I'll keep this set for at least 10 years.

    Spending more than $120 for a putter is money wasted. Scott Verplank, one of the best putters on tour still uses an old Ping Anser that can be had for around $50 on ebay in good condition. Milled faces, inserts, MOI putters that look like potato mashers....give me a heel shafted, heel-toe weighted cavity back putter any day. Look at the style of flat-stick the best putters use on the professional tours. You don't see too many space ship shaped blades do you.

    And finally, instructor du jour as featured in Golf and Golf Digest....filter out what doesn't apply to you. How do you do that? Example: Are you consistent off the tee? Don't read articles about hitting it straight. The best thing to do is to find a local instructor and build a relationship.

    Great rant/article!

  15. JP Bouffard says:

    Curt: Those are sensible comments. The only one for which I'd disagree slightly is the one on putters. Although I too have a problem spending big money on putters, having a putter you're confident in can have a huge effect on your game. If you have to spend $200 or more for the putter that's best for you, is that any different than spending twice that for a good driver? You are definitely correct that many of the best putters use simple, classic styles that can be had quite cheaply. But there are many newfangled putters in use on tour, and the greatest of them all, the Golden Bear, was known to switch putters and try new things, often with great success.

    Thanks again for reading and participating!

  16. Lenny says:

    Thought provoking rant, and I really enjoyed Erik's comment that helps me understand the "need" for stronger lofts in cavity back irons.

  17. harry schumann says:

    its so bad with the golf on tv that i watch golf with the voice off. some jerk talking about spine angle to people who work for a liveing. the classic remark think about your spine angle when you just got out of work after working on your feet for 10 hours and your playing in your shop leage. all your trying to do is just get it off the tee somewhere so you can hit it again.i could go on and on about what is wrong out there but why bother, clubs are stupid balls are stupid scores on the pro level are stupid. 350 yd drives 180 yd 8 irons, the games out of control.
    h.s.

  18. Kris says:

    brilliant blog. all true. on the blades v/s cavity backs I went to cavity backs for a while after having learned to play golf with blades and realised how much u can ruin your swing by using cavity backs. u could slash at a golf ball with a cavity back and it will still mostly go straight which lulls you into beleiving u have a good swing. I have since gone back to playing blades again and fyi i did not notice any change in my scoring when i switched to cavity backs. blades are the sweetest things to hit and if u want to really learn how to make good contact then stick with blades.

    on the advice front, we all have been guilty of doling out and receiving advice at some point or the other, so its just a matter of being polite and ignoring what might be irrelevant. there is a guy in my fourball who always keeps telling me to bend more at the hips and my coach tells me to stand tall.. the only thing i got as a result of all this was a lower back ache so i just went to what felt comfortable and voila that works the best. like the old "head down" advice..

    and finally i need to remind myself to get rid of the fridge magnet which my wife picked up which says "how can a hole-in-one be better than a hole in your head"

  19. Paul says:

    I am just a 16 handicap player and I've only been playing for four years now. But if some of the lower handicapper golfers in my group and simply told me about grip pressure or course management, I could have been 16 two years ago instead of 20.

    So while there are players that may not want to get advice, I am never opposed to it. After all I just don't have to accept it, on the other hand it could help.

    But I can relate to those that don't want to hear about it either.

    Paul

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