South Africa

JOHN COCKAYNE: Can fancy kit turn a green gopher into a zingy swinger?

Before a recent drive to the KwaZulu-Natal coast, I looked to see what clubs I had in the garage as my normal set was languishing in France. A motley collection of golfing “utensils”, including several hickory shafted clubs and not one, but two, Gary Player signature limited-edition Ping Anser putters, were uncovered, along with a set of Mizuno tour blade irons.

I have not been afraid of much in my life, but these irons and the thought of trying to hit a ball with them scared the living daylights out of me. I therefore abandoned the idea of taking clubs with me and resolved to scrounge a set or two as needed during the trip.

However, the rummage in the garage, especially with all the recent talk of technology ruining golf, prompted me to assess what equipment design had done for me.

I seem to hit the ball as far (or perhaps as short might be a more accurate description) as ever, so technology has helped me keep to pace with my own mediocre standards. It has not turned me into a John Daly off the tee, so I decided to ask Jason Rowe (JR), the CEO of The Golfers Club, if one could actually “buy” a game, and his responses were interesting.

JR You can definitely choose a set of clubs and/or woods that will bring out the best in you. Perhaps the biggest change since you last bought clubs (I just know Rowe had the 1890s’ Rinderpest in mind when making this remark) has been that matched sets from 3 iron to sand wedge with a 1, 3 and 5 wood are a thing of the past.

Most sets now run from a 4 iron to a 9 iron or pitching wedge and the set is completed by a mix of utility clubs that might not even be the same brand as the other clubs. This applies particularly to wedges, and with the advent of utility woods, long irons are redundant and many players’ woods do not “match” at all in a brand sense, and they will be in the player’s bag because they are the best fit for them.

JC. This is interesting, but seems to skirt the issue of whether you could buy a game.

JR. You can in the sense that technology gives us a much better idea of the performance characteristics that would best suit a player’s swing. Feedback such as a player’s swing speed and smash factor make fitting golfers with the most suitable equipment a lot easier than it has ever been. This does not mean we can turn poorly co-ordinated high handicappers into single-figure handicap players just by fitting them with the right set. However, we can certainly minimise the problems caused by ill-fitting equipment and, with practice (yes, I am afraid there are still no short cuts around this), provide a player with the platform in an equipment sense from which to make sustainable game improvements.

JC. I was always particularly adept around the green and prided myself on my ability to be able to get it “up and down” from almost any lie anywhere near the putting surface. Most golfers fail to realise the need to practise and that for every hour hitting long shots they should invest double this amount of time on their short game. Are there any shorts cuts in this key area in an equipment sense?

JR Yes, there certainly are. You come from an era where you had to learn to play shots and where the successful execution of a high-flying wedge shot would have been the result of hours of practice and learning to lay a wedge on its back with the face wide open.

With multiple options in terms of the loft, bounce and head shape, most of the terrors posed by these shots have been removed for the average player. Putters are also a lot more forgiving than the typical blade-type options such as a Golden Goose, which were standard fare up until the 1970s, as is the case with club head design prompted by the arrival of Ping and TaylorMade.

JC. I am sure all these “solutions” come with a hefty price tag, and I am seeing individual clubs with prices that make my eyes water.

JR As you know, there have always been expensive top-end clubs for players for whom the price is a relatively unimportant consideration. However, it is worth remembering that a well-matched set of cheaper clubs will allow the player to perform a lot more effectively than he or she would with top-end equipment, which doesn’t “fit” them correctly.

JC: So, some good news, and it would seem technology does help. And if you want to follow Bryson DeChambeau’s example, you won’t need to break the bank to get the right fit — a very comforting thought with the need to start thinking about gifts with our first Covid-19 festive season just around the corner.

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