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About this blog

Ben Hogan was known for telling those who asked him about the secrets of his swing that he "dug the answers out of the dirt".  Having taken up the game four years ago at 46, I've been doing a lot of digging but haven't come close to finding all the answers. 

This blog is about digging in the dirt and the journey to become a single digit handicapper.

Entries in this blog

newtogolf

I was glad to have moved on from Dons craziness but my swing was still a mess.  My wedges and short irons weren't horrible but I struggled with distance on clubs longer than a 7i.  The season was close to over so I had stopped playing golf and was spending most of my time reading golf books and watching golf swing videos when I wasn't on the golf range trying to apply what I'd seen and read.   I was also reading a lot of golf magazines and websites about new equipment.  I read about how much more forgiving and longer new irons were and the importance of being "fit" for the clubs.  I started thinking that maybe the problem wasn't my swing but the clubs so I went to Golfsmith to get fit for new irons.  Based on my research I knew I wanted either the Titleist 712 AP1 or Mizuno JPX-825.  I tested both along with the Nike Coverts at the urging of the salesperson.  I decided I liked the JPX-825 best and got fit for them.  I was hopeful that these new irons that were fit for me (interestingly fit for me meant standard out of the box with a regular shaft) would improve my golf game.  The season was close to over so besides a few range sessions I never got to test the irons on the course.  

Our accountant convinced my business partner and I to join his home golf club.  It's a fairly exclusive club on Long Island and in addition to the cost I was a pretty concerned that I'd embarrass myself given the mess of my golf swing.  We were offered a good deal to join and I'd have the winter to work on my golf swing so we went for it.  I convinced myself and my wife since we were part of a country club I'd have to get some new clubs to replace my old driver and woods, a new golf bag and a new putter. Over the course of the winter I'd purchased a Titilest 910 driver and 3 wood, TaylorMade Rocketballz hybrid, Vokey SM4 wedges, a Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter and Ogio Chamber bag.  I spent close to $1200 but I had a nice bag of clubs, now I'd just have to play better.  

I spent all winter looking at my new bag and reading about golf.  I was looking forward to the new club and start of the golf season but it was delayed since we had a rough winter in NY that year.  I did manage to get some range time in March and the new clubs weren't doing much for my game.  I still struggled with distance on anything longer than a 7i, I sliced my driver and 3 wood but could hit the hybrid pretty well.  The club was officially scheduled to open the course on April 10th, so we reserved a tee time and headed out there.  

I was pretty nervous, new country club, new golf clubs and upon our arrival at the starters shed we were assigned a caddy.  No one had mentioned that except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays members were required to use caddies.  The last thing I wanted was someone from the club to watch me hack up their nice golf course.  The caddy took our putters and headed out to the fairway while he waited for us to tee off.  I was used to first tee jitters but this was worse than I'd ever experienced.  The caddie was out in the fairway and other members were waiting for us to tee off.  I could hear them making comments about my new shiny clubs and new golf bag and then realized that I was so nervous, I had grabbed my driver when I went to the tee box.  I watched my business partner hit a nice drive right into the middle of the fairway and then it was my turn.  I'm standing over the ball thinking to myself, you dumb ass why did you take your driver, you never hit your driver well.  Of course with swing thoughts like that I hit a huge slice into the trees.  They encouraged me to hit another but I knew it would be no better so I declined and rushed to my cart driving away as fast as the cart would move.  

My nerves settled down a bit as the round progressed but overall I played poorly.  I decided to show some mercy to our caddy and teed off with my 7i on the back 9 so he could take a break from hunting for my ball in the woods.  I finished the round with a 105, certainly not my worst score but not what I was hoping for given all the money I spent of new clubs.  

newtogolf

Dr. Don told me to warm up while he finished up some research.  I watched him hit some shots then write some notes down into his notebook, mumbling to himself the entire time.  When he walked over to begin the lesson he was visibly excited to share a break through he'd just come up with that would revolutionize the golf swing, "The Power Triangle".  He said he was going to teach it to me because of my athleticism I'd be able to take advantage of it immediately.

He went through a long winded explanation of golf physiology and new terms he'd coined to set the stage for this new swing he'd developed that would be the easiest and most effective swing method ever, after years and years of work, he claimed he had discovered Hogan's secret.  I couldn't help be a bit excited for him as it was contagious, plus I was all for a easy to learn golf swing that no one else in the world was aware of.  After another 15 minutes of setting the stage, he finally demonstrated the swing, it looked like his regular golf swing.  He asked me what I saw, I said it looked like a normal golf swing, which is exactly the answer he wanted.  He claimed no one discovered Hogans secret because it wasn't visible watching film, you can't see what his muscles were doing under his shirt.  He went into the explanation of the feel he was creating in his deltoids and upper pectoral muscles out to his hands to create the "Power Triangle" (PT) and that if I used this same feel it would be impossible to mishit the ball.

He had me set up and try to acquire the feel of the "PT" without the ball.  I swung a few times and then he placed a ball on the mat for me to swing.  The first five balls I hit were horrible, but he claimed I wasn't doing it right, when I finally hit a decent shot, he said "Thank you very much, you've got it".  I hadn't done anything different on the sixth ball as I had the fifth but he was convinced I used the PT on the sixth shot.  This went on the rest of the lesson, I now know that the swing was no different than any swing from a poor golfer, the good shot is the aberration, not the norm.  I practiced daily and spent two more lessons learning the PT but the results weren't there, either the PT was flawed, not so easy to learn or I was just not meant to be a decent golfer.  He was insistent that the swing method worked and that other students he taught we doing great with it, so I was really beginning to think it was me, until my fourth lesson.

When I showed up for the fourth lesson he was back to hitting shots and mumbling to himself.  He had me come over and shared with me that he realized there was a problem with the PT and had fixed it.  The power didn't come from the triangle of the arms it came from the Power Rectangle, (PR) the box between the shoulders down to the hips and connecting across.  He once again reviewed the physiology that supported the PR.  I was a bit frustrated that I spent 3 weeks focused on the PT and now he was hitting me with something completely different but if it worked I was okay with it.  We went through the same painful explanation and demonstration (that I couldn't see because it was what he did with his muscles) and then it was time for me to try it.  I followed his instructions, took some practice swings and then tried to hit the ball but the results were the same, one shot out of every 4 or 5 was good, the rest were no better than I was hitting a month ago.

I spent another 3 - 4 weeks practicing the PR and took my 5th and 6th lesson without any real improvement in my results.  I'd hit some better shots but that was because I was making more adjustments to compensate for my bad swing but I wasn't any closer to having a sound golf swing.  I had wasted three months working on swings that didn't improve my consistency or scores plus my overall frustration with golf was at an all-time high.  I decided that I was done with taking lessons from Dr. Don.

I knew Don would try to con me into more lessons so I'd go to the range at hours when I knew he'd not likely be there. That worked out well for a few weeks but the inevitable happened and Don showed up while I was practicing.  He walked over, said hello and watched me swing. He was cordial and asked me how my golf game was but it had to be pretty obvious from his observations it wasn't going well.  He used that as an in to explain the PR was also flawed and that he'd been working on a new swing method that he was having "phenomenal" results with.  I was nice but stern and said that I wasn't interested in paying to be a guinea pig for his research.  He said he understood but wanted to show me his new "Power Cube" and wouldn't charge me for it.  It was awkward and I don't like being a jerk, especially to older people so I listened and went through the motions.  After an hour Don left, my swing still wasn't any better and I made it clear to Don that I wouldn't be taking any more lessons.

We remained cordial when we saw each other at the range but he knew he was selling snake oil.  I'd watch him pull the same routine with others that he did with me and on a few instances he'd point me out as someone that took lessons from him.  I asked him not to do that as it put me in an awkward position if they asked my opinion of him it would not be favorable.  By September he had gone through at least two more iterations of his breakthrough swing and started to sell home made DVD's that he'd hand out to people and then a few days later hit them up for money once they confirmed they had watched it, it was sad.  I felt bad for Don, he was so desperate to achieve his 15 minutes of fame and cash out that he'd become obsessed with Hogans secret and a catchy phrase he could market to the masses.  He soon became "that guy" you want to avoid when you're at the range.

I had wasted the 2013 golf season on false promises and my own stupidity and lack of patience in thinking there was a magic short cut to learning how to make a proper golf swing.   I learned a valuable lesson, there are no silver bullets in golf, maybe Hogan was right, the answers were in the dirt.  

newtogolf

An Apple A Day

I had wasted an entire golf season taking lessons from Bill and was pretty discouraged overall with the progress I was making.  I spent the winter reading books such as Hogan's Five Lessons, The Stack and Tilt Swing, The Only Golf Lesson You'll Ever need and a bunch of others plus all the golf magazines.  If you want to drive someone crazy, set them loose on Amazon Book store and tell them to read a bunch of golf books and magazines.  Every author had a conflicting approach from the others, how could there be so many different ways to swing a golf club?

The Winter had finally started to give way to Spring and I decided to go to the local range to practice.  The range is part of a fun park so there is always a wide range of golfers there, a few low handicappers but most are kids and hacks.  While I was practicing I noticed this older, somewhat disheveled guy walking around talking to some of the golfers there.  Upon looking closer I noticed it was the local instructor, Dr. Don.   Don walked up and down the range trying to impress potential customers with his golf knowledge and instruction skills.  His pitch was more used car salesman than golf instructor and he'd push for a sale to the point where it became uncomfortable.

I'd gone to the range a few times that Spring and had managed to elude the Dr. Don sales pitch but it was only a matter of time before he'd make his move.  One morning in April, no one was at the range and I was just hitting balls trying to follow what I'd read from Hogan's Five Lessons.  Don showed up and put his golf bag down 2 stalls away from me.  I could feel his eyes on me as he waited for an opening to make his pitch.  He walked over to my stall and asked how long I had been playing.  He complimented me on having a decent swing but that with some work he could really have me hitting the ball well.  I tried to fend him off but eventually he wore me down and next thing I know he's standing across from me telling me how to grip the club.  As he's instructing me, I'm getting his life story, how he's a former golf coach for a major university in NY, he's searching for Hogan's secret and thinks he found it and that if Tiger Woods knew what he did about the golf swing he'd be winning more tournaments.

He finally gets me set up how he wants and has me hit some balls.  After each swing he'd tell me to make some adjustments and try again until I finally hit a decent shot at which point he exclaimed, "Thank you very much, that's how easy it is".  He was ready to sign me up for six 1/2 hour lessons for only $250 right there but after my experience with Bill I decided to hold off.  I went home to do some research and check out his story, amazingly, most of it checked out.

The next day I went to the range and Dr. Don ran over to see if I'd decided to move forward.  I told him that I'd do one lesson at a time and if I got to the sixth lesson I'd expect it for free.  Don agreed and he pulled me aside to start the first lesson.  Looking back on those lessons, I wish I'd ate an apple that day.

newtogolf

The scramble turned out to be disappointing.  When it came down to it, I couldn't hit the ball cleanly.  There was an obvious difference between hitting off of mats like I had during practice and hitting off of grass.  Most of my shots were fat but unlike on a mat where the club just bounces and hits the ball I was taking up clumps of sod and dirt before making contact with the ball.  I had a lot of practice at fixing divots that day.  With the exception of a few good shots I didn't do much to help my team.

I was frustrated but at the same time inspired by some of the great shots I saw my teammates hit.  It's different when you see a regular guy hit a really good golf shot versus a pro on television.  I realized it was unrealistic of me to think that in only five weeks I'd be playing well and decided that I'd need to continue to practice and take lessons if I was going to improve.

I went back and met with Bill (my instructor) and told him how badly I played during the scramble, he didn't seem surprised.  I signed up for more lessons and range time, with the understanding that I wanted to learn how  to be a good golfer and I was willing to work hard to get there.  He said he got it and that he'd help me build a solid swing foundation.  I don't know if it was just words on his part or he forgot what I wanted, but at my next lesson we kind of just picked up where we'd left off after my last lesson.  I was just hitting balls off the mat, no real instruction or correction to my swing, just an occasional "add more salt" which was Bill's way of telling me to use a stronger grip on the club.

At the same time I was taking lessons I was also reading books on the golf swing and spending a lot of time here on The Sand Trap.  I was reading about ball flight laws and proper swing techniques, etc. but when I'd try to discuss them with Bill he'd dismiss them as being too advanced or unimportant.  I was also spending a lot of time at the range and while I felt I was making progress hitting off of mats I knew that grass was different from mats.

After my 8th lesson I told Bill I was kind of disappointed with my results, I still wasn't hitting my 7i 150 yards as he promised, I still felt awkward swinging the club and was hitting shots fat and thin.  He seemed kind of dumbfounded and said he thought I had unrealistic expectations.  He explained that it would take at least a full year of lessons and practice before I felt comfortable and would be able to play a round of golf on a course.  I asked him if my swing was technically correct, he said that I had some bad habits he was trying to work with.  I reminded him that when I signed up for new lessons I told him I wanted to learn to swing a golf club properly not just patch up my bad habits.  We went back and forth but overall he didn't seem interested or capable of teaching someone how to swing a golf club properly he just wanted to patch them up.

I found out a few years later the swing Bill had me committing to muscle memory included almost zero hip or shoulder turn, it was almost 100% arms.  He also had never told me that I swayed on both my backswing and downswing which explained why I was having difficulty making consistent ball contact.  Overall I had wasted an entire golf season and $800 on lessons and practice of a flawed golf swing.

newtogolf

It's For a Good Cause

I had six weeks to learn how to play golf well enough to not embarrass myself in front of family and friends.  I know it's sounds stupid because it's golf but I think we all forget how uncomfortable and awkward those first few rounds on a golf course feel, especially if we're not prepared.

I did a search on the internet for golf forums and found The Sand Trap.  I stalked it for a few days and then decided to register.  At the time, the site was pretty heavy into Stack and Tilt but overall even as a newbie I could tell the core membership had a great wealth of knowledge about golf and it was much better moderated than many of the other sites I checked out.  Most of the advice I saw for new golfers was to take lessons, so I started a search for a local golf instructor.

My business partner and family were supportive of me taking lessons but urged me to get rid of the Knight clubs as none of them wanted to play a round of golf with me if they were in my bag.  My cousins dad was a lefty and he lent me a set of Callaway X-12's and Warbird 3 and 5 woods to use until I was sure I wanted to stick with golf this time.   My business partner gave me a Nike Sumo driver for my birthday so I was pretty well set equipment wise, I just needed to find someone to give me lessons.  I called up an instructor close to my house and set up a lesson.

The instructor, Bill was really laid back and I gave him some background on my golf experience and the date of the charity event I was going to play in.  He told me to hit some balls so he could gauge where to start the lessons.  After I warmed up and hit about five hacks he said we needed to start from scratch (the grip) and work on my swing from there.  Bill had made enough adjustments to my horrible swing that I could actually hit a ball somewhat decently.  He had walked away and I was just hitting balls into the range when it hit me that this was pretty fun.  The longer and higher I hit the ball, the longer and higher I wanted to hit the next one.  I was bitten by the golf bug and at that point I knew I wanted to become a good golfer.

Bill came back and suggested a five lesson package that would take me right up to the week of the charity event.  In addition to the lessons he wanted me to practice 2- 3 times per week.  The five lessons were going to cost me $400 for 5 hours of lessons and free range balls.  I signed up and went home to tell me wife as that was a pretty substantial amount of money to spend.  I wouldn't say she flipped out but she wasn't real happy either.

I think what bothered her most is that I had given up golf the entire time we lived on a golf course in Virginia and all my friends there were golfers and now that we were back in NY, I was taking up golf.  I told her it was because of the charity event and that it was for a good cause.  After some eye rolling and sarcastic banter I got the words of encouragement I was looking for, "Do what you want".  It wasn't a no, and I wanted to learn how to play, so that makes it a yes.

I spent the next five weeks working with Bill and spending time at the range.  I was hooked on golf bad, between lessons, practice, reading golf books, watching golf on television and spending time here on the Sand Trap I barely had time to sleep.  My golf swing was improving but it was still really inconsistent.  My last lesson was on chipping and putting and I might as well have not taken that one because you can't learn how to chip, pitch, read putts and putt in an hour.

I realize I put Bill in a tough spot having to teach me how to play golf in five weeks but overall I learned that most of what he taught me was how to patch up my horrible golf swing.  He didn't teach me how to make a good golf swing, he showed me how to take my swing and make it good enough to get through the golf outing.  I hit a lot of slices so to fix that he had me use a very strong grip.  He used the analogy of comparing a strong grip to salt, so he'd tell me whenever I sliced the ball, just add some more salt to my grip.  Looking back maybe my expectations weren't realistic but while I made some progress those five weeks I also engrained a lot of bad habits and a pretty horrible golf swing.

I had five hours of lessons, probably 30 hours of range time and tomorrow was the golf outing.  I had everything laid out and I was ready to go.

newtogolf

Golf's Not For Me

When we got back from Myrtle Beach, I dropped my clubs and shoes in the corner of the garage and never looked back.  It was a frustrating experience, I'd never struggled so much in learning how to play a sport.  It was incomprehensible how it could be so difficult to hit a stationary ball off a tee with a golf club.  My wife asked how the trip was and I told her, "I had a great time but golf's not for me".  I explained how encouraging and patient the guys were but I just couldn't get the swing down.  She tried to be supportive but with my work schedule and personal commitments, golf just wasn't something I could or at that time wanted to dedicate time to.

The clubs sat in my garage for 3 years untouched.  I opted out of future Myrtle Beach trips because work was really demanding and I had no desire to embarrass myself again on the course.  When we sold our house in Virginia, I seriously considered throwing the clubs out but I chose to move them.  The clubs found a nice corner in my Long Island garage and continued to collect dust.

The trip to Myrtle Beach gave me some new found respect for professional golf and I found myself watching it more often.  I was amazed at what a great golfer Tiger was.  He hit the ball a ton and was intense like a football player.  You could see he thrived on competition and whether it was intimidation or just how much better he was than the rest, players seemed to wilt when paired with him in the final group on Sundays.   I definitely enjoyed watching golf more, especially Tiger and Phil but I still had no desire to dust off the clubs and give golf another try.

I had moved to NY to start a new business and live closer to my family.  My business partner was really starting to get into playing golf and was always making a golf swing motion in his office, the hallways, etc.  He brought a putter into his office and would practice putting during lunch or when business was slow.  I'd joke with him about being obsessed with golf and that if it got much worse we'd have to have an intervention.  He'd try to get me to join him, but the memories of Myrtle Beach were still somewhat fresh and I'd decline.

On my 45th birthday, June 2010, my cousin gifted me a round of golf at a charity event for a friend we had lost on 9/11.  My cousin had also gotten pretty obsessed with golf and had been bugging me to play, but I'd always find an excuse to get out of it.  He knew I wouldn't decline the charity event so I had six weeks to dust off the clubs and try to learn how to play this stupid game.

newtogolf

South Of The Border

We loaded up our clubs and luggage into 4 vehicles after dinner and headed south for Myrtle Beach.  The ride from Northern Virginia was going to take about 6 hours and we were all pumped to be heading towards what my buddies called Las Vegas East.  They called Myrtle Beach Las Vegas East because like Vegas, what happened in Myrtle Beach would stay in Myrtle Beach.

They spent the majority of the ride down talking about golf with a good chunk of time dedicated to the guys making fun of my Knight clubs, golf swing and blisters.  They were all sharing old golf stories, the just missed hole in ones, the impossible shots they pulled off, etc and I just listened as I had nothing to contribute.  They all had great passion for the game and remember feeling out of place since I was really going there for the night life.  The more they talked about golf, the more excited and nervous I got about it.  These guys were all pretty decent golfers and I was lucky if I could hit a ball in the air 30 yards, I thought to myself this is going to be a long trip.

The conversations had waned until we reached South Of The Border.  For those of you that have never seen it, SOTB is a Mexican themed nirvana for those who like cheesy neon lights and stores.  The place is lit up and filled with touristy shops, restaurants and fireworks.  It also meant that Myrtle Beach was close, really close.   We got to our condo's, unpacked, had a few beers and went to sleep.  We had a 7:30 am tee time and a full nights worth of activities planned.  I didn't sleep much that night, worried that I'd make a fool of myself on the course.

The next morning we went to breakfast and I was really considering not playing but the guys were supportive and convinced me to give it a try.  I thought to myself, who knows, maybe I'll be a natural.  I'll never forget standing at that first tee, I was part of the first group out and the rest of the guys were all hanging out, joking around and having fun.  I had never hit my driver during my two range sessions so I was very nervous.  I put the tee in the ground and could barely get the ball to stay on the tee.   I addressed the ball, took a big backswing, started my downswing (I'm pretty certain my eyes were closed) and whiffed.  "Strike One" followed by laughter was shouted out along with some advice.  Even more nervously I swung a second time, "Strike Two", more laughter and advice.  Let's just say if I was playing baseball I'd have struck out twice on that first tee.  I was told to just pick up my ball and drop it near one of the other guys, which I did with great relief.

My golf performance throughout the rest of the trip didn't improve much from that first tee box.  I hit a few good iron shots and putts but needless to say I spent most of my time carrying my ball from one location on the course to the next.   We had a blast after golf which helped me forget how poorly I played and the guys were patient no matter how bad I played.  I laughed at the all jokes they made about my golfing ability and clubs, because I knew they were right, I sucked at a sport I'd made fun of all my life

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South of The Border at night, neon nirvana.

newtogolf

Golf Is For Old People

Golf is for old people...at least that's what I thought when I was in my 20's and 30's.  I'd see these old fat guys playing golf on television and it looked so boring, I'd rather watch grass grow.  When friends or family would ask me to join them on the course I'd scoff that my walker hadn't been delivered yet or make some other snarky comment related to golf being for the old and decrepit.

In my defense, that's how I remember golf being portrayed in those days.  The professionals all seemed old or out of shape.  They made what appeared to me as easy swings at a stationary ball and there was no time limit or competitor trying to hurry them or defend against the shot.  To provide some background, I grew up fairly athletic, playing sports all my life.    I thrived on competition, nothing was better than beating some blocks and making a tackle for a loss or even better, a sack of the quarterback.  In my 20's and 30's I hung up the football cleats and started playing racquetball competitively.  There wasn't the physical contact of football but it is a great game.  Most people think racquet ball is just about running around the court and hitting the ball hard but the reality is it's much more mental than most realize, it's actually high intensity chess when played right, but enough about racquetball, this is a golf blog.

My wife and I had a house built on a golf course in Virginia when I was 35.  I thought it would be cool to live on a golf course but still had no desire to play this old mans game.  Most of our neighbors were our age with young kids and I was pretty busy with work and being as good a dad as work would allow, which left little or no time for racquetball.   We became close friends with some of our neighbors, many of whom were really getting into golf and trying to convince me to try it out since I wasn't playing racquetball anymore, but I still wasn't interested.  The guys often hung out together on weekends to watch sports from our man cave equipped garages while the kids played nearby.  One Sunday we happened to be hanging out and golf was on, it was the first time I saw Tiger Woods play.  I was impressed that someone so athletic and young was playing at such a high level.  I wouldn't admit it to them, but my view on golf started to change and I thought to myself, maybe golf wasn't just for old people.

The guys in the neighborhood were planning a big trip to Myrtle Beach and while the golf still didn't appeal to me, the description of the night life after golf sounded fun, I was in.  Two weeks before the trip I decided I needed to buy some clubs since I was the only lefty in the group.  I went to Sports Authority, bought a set of Knight irons, Dunlop driver, chipper, Wilson putter and a golf bag for a total of $135, I thought to myself, wow, golf is expensive, little did I know how expensive.  A friend happily took me to our range and to teach me how to hit a golf ball.  I watched him crush the ball and figured it would be easy for me given my past athleticism, boy was I wrong.

I took some ribbing for my Knight irons as they were cheap blade like irons (what did I know) that were not going to offer me much forgiveness.  He gave me the basics of the golf swing and I started hacking at the ball under his guidance.  It wasn't pretty, between missing the ball completely, shanking it a few feet or just rolling it out into the range I was getting pretty frustrated with myself.  How could those old, fat out of shape guys on television make it look so easy and yet I'm struggling.  I remember the first shot I got into the air and the feeling of accomplishment I felt that I finally had hit a good shot.  Of course, that was an aberration, as I'd only hit a few in the air compared to the many I'd shank or top.

My hands were blistered and bleeding by the time I finished that first medium sized bucket of balls.  Despite the pain and all the crappy shots I hit, I went home, bandaged my hands and thought about the good shots I hit (the addiction).  I figured next time it would be easier, little did I know my hands were so messed up from over gripping the club I'd only get to visit the range one more time before my trip to Myrtle Beach.

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These are the irons that made me the butt of many jokes during my early golf days.