For Those With Cabin Fever.
I’m not sure when the tees are going to go back in the ground in Pennsylvania. It’s going to be a while. I’ve never been one to play golf through the winter, but by Mid-February you start to think about possibly stealing a round. Not this year. So to pass the time a bit, quench the thirst, I thought I’d offer up a little equipment guide for those with the itch. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m nothing if not opinionated. Find the key to shaving zero shots off your game….
It’s Callaway’s Year.
It seems like TaylorMade is finally suffering some backlash from consumers who don’t appreciate their short product cycle. If you ever really want a T-MAG driver, be patient, it’ll save you a bunch of money. Along with killing the value of their clubs in trade, TaylorMade is now well into the life of its “speed pocket” technology. What felt like a revolution with the original RBZ woods barely moves the needle in the Jetspeed driver. On the other hand, Callaway is making a huge push with its Big Bertha marketing campaign and has a piece of real innovation with the gravity core in the Big Bertha Alpha. Unfortunately, that driver will cost you half a stack ($499 retail).
Best New Driver: Callaway Big Bertha.
The Big Bertha, just released on Valentine’s Day, is creating more buzz than any driver I’ve seen in past two years. For most consumers, they’re simply looking for yardage, and for an average player that means more distance from all spots on the face. Spoiler, if you are a 18-handicap you probably don’t center it up THAT often. The Big Bertha accomplishes this forgiveness and still gives the player several adjustability options with a sliding weight on the back of the club and two adjustable weights for the heel and toe.
Best Drivers for Better Players:
*The Titleist 913 series remains a standard in this category, but since it’s been over a year since its launch, I’m not going to include it on this list.
For a lot of good players the quest for a driver involves reducing carry-robbing spin. If you’re on the PGA Tour and have this problem you can get hooked up with a $500 shaft and all is well, but we’re starting to see some lower spinning clubheads that allow high-speed players to use a bit more loft and start maxing out their carry potential. There are two leaders in this category…
Big Bertha Alpha: The Alpha’s gravity core can lower spin by several hundred RPMs without any other adjustment to the golf club. This is a huge technological advancement. But, since the Alpha is $499, and the lower spin won’t benefit the average player, beware buying this driver just because it is the latest and greatest. Most players will be better off with the regular Bertha, or even the X2Hot.
TaylorMade SLDR TP/SLDR 430: The SLDR is TaylorMade’s best advancement in a while and the driver has been incredibly popular with their Tour Staff. The issue with the low-spinning SLDR is that it is not for every player and you need an experienced fitter to set you up with the correct loft, etc. Again, most players will be better off with T-Mag’s Jetspeed line, but these clubs aren’t a huge departure from other recent releases.
Sleeper Driver: Cobra Bio Cell/Bio Cell+
You may have not given a second thought to Cobra since you saw your grandfather playing the original King Cobra Offset woods in the nineties, but with an increasing presence on Tour, Cobra is responding with some serious clubs. They may look awful, and you may not be craving an orange driver in your bag, but if you are looking for pure distance, the Bio Cell is a must try. Solid stock shaft option as well.
I Like My Fairway Woods Like I Like My…Nevermind.
My general advice on fairway woods is that you should never, EVER, abandon a fairway wood like you like and consistently get in play in pursuit of a few extra yards. Does it matter if you hit your 3-wood 235 or 241? Not really. And that is true regardless of the wood and how far you hit them. However, if you are in the market for a new fairway wood…
Best (Newish) Fairway Wood: Adams Tight Lies
As I said, most of this is personal preference. Size of head, depth of face. I actually prefer the look of a little bit deeper faced fairway wood. I like the XHot Deep Series (X2Hot Deep Coming Soon) and the 913 FD, but I found it tough to argue with the performance of the Tight Lies. It has velocity slots on the top and the bottom of the club, making it not the most beautiful club at address, but this thing is a rocket. And, it launches surprisingly high and offers forgiveness as well. Great all-around club. And, this is coming from someone who equated the original Tight Lies club with the Alien wedge.
Longest Fairway Woods (In Addition to the Tight Lies):
- TaylorMade Jetspeed
- Callaway Big Bertha
- Cobra Bio Cell
- Callaway X2Hot
The TaylorMade Jetspeed is undoubtedly a monster. It carries forever. The Callaway Big Bertha is also a very long club as is the X2Hot, but I don’t see the technological advancement in comparison to the original XHot to make the upgrade. And again, the Cobra is a sneaky long and quality option.
Touch ‘Em All, You Just Went Yard.
My advice for fairway woods holds true here as well, though I would encourage seeking out more carry distance in your hybrids. These are some of the most important clubs in the bag as executing from 175-230 can drastically improve your game. If you can suddenly get to a 210 yard par-3 instead of hoping to get somewhere around the surface, that can be a big help.
*Much like the 913 Drivers, I must mention the Ping G25 Hybrids. These are probably my favorite hybrids on the market right now and the whole G25 line, while not brand new is great equipment. Unfortunately Ping has a long product cycle and it can sometimes feel like you aren’t getting great value paying full retail for a club more than a year after its release.
Best New Hybrid: Callaway x2Hot.
If you are starting to think I’m a paid advertiser for Callaway, I’ll just mention that I thought the original Xhot hybrids were mostly garbage. I didn’t like the shape (I prefer my hybrids to look like mini-fairway woods as opposed to driving irons) and I didn’t see anything noteworthy in the performance. The X2HOT changes that. Callaway has put their cup face fairway technology into the hybrids and the result is more distance. A LOT more distance.
Best of the Rest:
- Adams XTD
- Taylormade Jetspeed
- Nike VRS Covert 2.0
Adams makes a really good hybrid and I’ll be anxious to see the new Pro Series that will launch later this year. For now, the XTD is a monster but probably only for better players with some wallet ($300 for a hybrid). TaylorMade has always done well in this category, and don’t be afraid to try an original RBZ if you are new to this market. The performance will be comparable for half the price. I have vowed in the past to never say a positive thing about a Nike club, this came on the release of their fabled Slingshot irons years ago, but they’ve come a long way and the Covert 2.0 hybrid is a solid option and the 2.0 Driver isn’t terrible either. Won’t be in my bag, but trying to be fair here. Also, for the average and recreational player, don’t be afraid to re-explore the Cobra Baffler or Adams New Idea.
If You Ever Wanted to Try Mizuno…
Iron technology moves faster than you might think. Thin faces and strong lofts have created a boom in iron distance. If you are at home swinging a set of 10-year old irons, I promise you will gain at least a club in distance just by going to the new technology. You can put your same horsebleep swing on it–promise. Part of this is what used to be a 5-iron is now almost a 7-iron, but also the equipment companies are making thinner iron faces while not sacrificing the solid feel that most golfers crave.
*Note on Blade Irons: If you play blade irons, you probably don’t need any advice from me. On the other end of the spectrum I wouldn’t encourage anyone to get into blade irons from a CB model just feel like a player, or in pursuit of “feedback.” If you want blades, the same companies have been making the best for a while. Mizuno, Miura, Titleist…
My Favorite Irons Across A Few Categories:
(Mostly) Players Iron: TaylorMade TP CB. One of my favorite iron sets ever was the Taylor Made 300 Forged. If someone ever wants to get me a present, you can track down a set of these for me. I could probably no longer hit the 3-iron, but they were gorgeous. And the feel was incredible. I don’t know if TaylorMade has reached that height since, but the most forgiving of their new TP line is my favorite. Unfortunately, these are not forged, but still offer pretty solid feel.
Forged Forgiveness: Mizuno EZ Forged. Mizuno with their forging and weak lofts isn’t for everyone, but you aren’t going to find many better or consistently made forged clubs out in the market–especially from a major manufacturer. The new EZ line opens up Mizuno to a new cast of players. Longer than previous iterations of their game improvement irons, the EZ line reminds you of some of Ping’s best work. The EZ Forged doesn’t look like a traditional Mizuno forged club, but the feel is there and they are surprisingly easy to hit.
Runnner Up: Callaway Apex–Long and Forgiving for an iron of their shape and construction.
Players Cavity Backs: Titleist 714 AP2. I’ve heard some lament the new AP2 saying it’s not forgiving, doesn’t go anywhere, among other things. Personally, I think the club looks great and feels great–when you flush it. I am probably looking for a bit more forgiveness at this point and maybe trying to squeeze a few yards as well, but there is nothing wrong with this club. Beautiful package.
Worth Noting: Callaway X2Hot Pro: A much more forgiving and longer iron in a pretty compact package.
New Irons to Buy if You Aren’t Good:
- Ping Karsten
- Taylormade Speedblade
- Adams Idea Hybrid Iron Set
- Cobra Baffler XL
The majority of these clubs will look hideous at address, but if you don’t know any better–who cares? They’ll get it in the air, they’ll correct your mishits, and make the game more fun. The Ping Karsten is one to watch, the first iron Ping has made where they are focusing on distance. Could be a winner for them. The Speedblade is not a super game-improvement iron, but is the most forgiving club currently in T-Mag’s lineup. Always a contender when seeking distance in this category.
The World Eagerly Awaits.
There isn’t much to say on wedges. Instead of recommendations, I’ll offer a few tips for getting your wedges:
1. If you have custom specs, or are a low-handicap player, do not buy wedges off the rack. If you have a Dynamic Gold x100 in your pitching wedge, you probably shouldn’t have a basic wedge flex shaft in your sand wedge. Also, if your other clubs are long/short or have a lie angle adjustment, it makes sense to do this to your wedge also.
2. Don’t get too bogged down in sole grind. Different grind options on the sole are the newest things we’re seeing in wedges, but this matters more to very good players, or players who can afford to switch out their wedges based on conditions. You probably want the wedge that is most versatile for the conditions you usually play in, not a wedge that Phil had specifically designed for Augusta. The grinds that offer a variable bounce angle are worth looking into.
3. Mid-Bounce is almost always the way to go.
4. Check your spin. For most players the spin of a wedge is the most important factor. Don’t just buy a Cleveland or Vokey because you think you are supposed to, go somewhere you can see how they perform for you.
You’ve Seen These Heads Before.
Not a soul out there should be taking putting advice from me, not only am I a very average putter I don’t really feel the difference between a lot of the available options. There are certain putters that could better fit your stroke, but other than that I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending one putter over another. Of what’s out there right now, I like the feel (I think) of the TR line from Ping, the newest of which can be found in the Karstens you see above. Also the first putter I’ve seen available in that old copper finish in a long time. I also reluctantly like some of the putters in the Nike MOD line, and new Scotty Camerons will be available this spring including the return of one of my favorite heads–the Squareback.
Thoughts on Counter-Balanced Putters: In response to the ban on long and anchored putters, a lot of manufacturers are offering counter-balanced options. This is a putter in the 36-39 inch range with a heavy head and a heavy grip. They are designed to be choked-up on, and the argument is they greatly stabilize the face. I find these putters roll out very well, and do swing nicely, but whether or not they are here to stay remains to be seen.
How’s 38 Compression Sound?
Things have changed a lot since my days on the college golf team when I would proudly tee it up with a Titleist Professional 100 every time out. Back in the day MEN used 100 compression. Of course the golf balls had rubber bands in them…
Personally, I cannot tell the difference between most tour balls. It is important to know however that if you want the performance of a tour ball there are now more options than there used to be. Most players would benefit from exploring the Bridgestone B330 RX line, Callaway’s Speed Regime 1/2, and other balls that are designed for less than tour clubhead speeds.
If you are an average player, who is looking for distance, doesn’t spend a lot of time on fast/penal greens and doesn’t want to spend a fortune, please buy the following:
- Callaway Supersoft (38 compression–goes forever)
- Wilson Staff Duo
- Titleist Velocity
- Maxfli Noodle
- Bridgestone E-Series
Footjoy Steps Up.
When I was in high school there was little I wanted more than a pair of Footjoy Classics. This is what the guys on tour wore, they were leather soled, probably uncomfortable for the first 20 wears and the opposite of light. But, they were also a status symbol. I never got a pair. They were QUITE expensive. By the time I could afford a pair, the Classics were replaced by the ICON–Footjoy no longer making a leather soled shoe. Even though I never got the Classics, my taste in shoes has remained traditional. I still wear spiked shoes and play most of my rounds in Dryjoy Tours. But, I’m starting to come around a bit on the weight factor as companies combine lightness with a look that doesn’t scream soccer or sweet, sweet skating…
My Top-5 Shoes:
1. Footjoy DNA. I wish I could still wear “nails” as they were called so I could dig in and take a pass at the ball. This is why I try to get as much spike as I can for my money. The DNA has serious traction, but is far lighter and more comfortable than the Dryjoy Tour.
2. Nike Lunar Control. Rory’s shoe. Very light and tons of cushion, but still feels substantial and stabilizing.
3. Footjoy Dryjoy Casual. Kind of like the old “shop shoes” which I also always wanted, but a bit more stylish and very lightweight.
4. Ecco Biom Hybid. I prefer the look of the Tour Hybrid (a dress shoe look), but the other style currently worn by Fred Couples/Graeme McDowell etc., are much more popular.
5. Adidas Adipure. I’m pretty sure these are out of the line for 2014, and that’s a shame. Adidas’s best shoe by a mile.
That’s it…feel free to ask questions, I’ve hit them all (badly).