2015 Golf Equipment Guide.

Hate to Say It...

Hate to Say It…

First blog post since before the NFL playoffs.  How did they turn out by the way.  This would have been a niche post back when people actually visited the blog, and now I’m mostly just doing it for my own amusement.  I do love golf equipment.  Even if I never actually buy any of it…

DRIVERS:

 

A G30 For All Occasions.

A G30 For All Occasions.

Callaway has a campaign out there right now called “Pathway to Distance,” the thought being that there are only a few ways to gain distance with the driver and they have a driver for each category.  I hate to parrot advertisements, but there is some truth to what Callaway is saying.  We are running out of ways to get longer with the driver.  The spring of the face has been maximized.  The size of the club head has been maximized.  So, the bad news could be, if you have an R11s, or a G25, or 910D3 and you hit it consistently with low spin you probably aren’t going to find much distance in a new driver.  The only way to gain distance anymore is by reducing the spin for a high spin player, or to give a vastly more forgiving club to someone who is not a consistent ball-striker.  For me, that puts drivers into two categories.  Easy to Hit and Low Spin.

Easy to Hit Rankings: 

  1. Ping G30 Standard & SF Tec
  2. Callaway XR
  3. Nike Vapor Speed
  4. TaylorMade Aeroburner
  5. Callaway Big Bertha 815

Ping took a really forgiving driver in the G25 and improved on it with the G30.  I can’t honestly say I’ve seen the turbulators add a lot of club head speed for many golfers, but the performance across the entire face of the G30 is remarkably consistent.  The SF Tec head, which stands for Straight Flight, is a draw-biased head that will help slicers a good bit more than any hosel adjustment.  Elsewhere, the Nike Vapor lineup has some of the best feel I’ve felt on a driver in years, and the Aeroburner is a no-frills, non-adjustable offering that with remind you of the originall RBZ.

Low Spin Rankings:

  1. Callaway 815 Double Black Diamond
  2. Ping G30 LS Tec
  3. Nike Vapor Pro/FlexFlight
  4. TaylorMade R15
  5. Callaway XR Pro

Note 1: These rankings are based not on my preference, but on the ability of the club to reduce spin for a golfer who makes no other changes.

Note 2: The rankings omit the still unseen Titleist 915 D4.  The Titleist 915 D2 and D3 are both very good drivers, but don’t quite make either list.  Neither is the most forgiving and the D3 cannot compete spin wise with some of these other options, but the drivers would still fit many players.

Taking away spin is all about sacrifice.  How much forgiveness can you give up?  What about launch angle? I prefer the drivers on the lower portion of this list and the 915 D3, because I launch the ball quite low.  The G30 LS Tec launches like a low knuckleball for me and rolls for days, but I don’t carry it anywhere.  But, take someone who easily launches a driver at 13-16 degrees and the club can turn into an absolute cannon for them.  The Double Black Diamond is the least forgiving head on this list by a margin in my opinion, but if you must reduce your driver spin, it is a must try.  And, TaylorMade is back this year with a much better line of drivers.  The R15 has all the positives of the SLDR, but is much easier to hit for a mid-handicapper.

Sleeper Driver of the Year: Nike Vapor Flexflight

If you happened to stumble upon this post from last year, you would have seen me touting the Bio Cell Plus as last year’s surprise driver.  For me, it was one year ahead of its time.  Very low-spin, but not impossible to hit.  This year’s Cobra offerings, the Fly-Z series, is still quite good,  but perhaps suffers from comparisons to the Bio Cell, which felt like a real jump in technology.  So, this year’s Bio Cell for me is the Nike Vapor Flexflight.  I picked this driver up with almost no expectations.  There is no bigger Nike equipment hater, so I wasn’t surprised to not like the decal on the head or the stock shaft offering.  Then I hit the club.  It feels like you are crushing it–every time.  It launches easier than the Ping, or the Bertha and keeps the spin lower than the R15.  It’s not markedly longer than any other driver, but for me it was a lot easier to get my best hit out of it.  Put it, or any of the Vapor family in the running is all I am saying.

Oh Mizuno, You Little Devil.

Oh Mizuno, You Little Devil.

IRONS:

Irons fall into more categories than drivers.  There are the true blades, which I don’t review, because I’m not good enough to play them and if you are you don’t need any help.  There are the small cavity backs, the game-improvement clubs and then the category which I call, “Big Ole’ Bag of Hybrids.”

Player/Poser Irons:

  1. Mizuno JPX 850 Forged
  2. Callaway Apex Pro
  3. TaylorMade RSI TP
  4. Nike Vapor Pro Combo

Mizuno has always made great irons, but many of their offerings had always been a bit penal for me. Please see my failed MP-14 Experiment of 2003, and they tend to only offer one game-improvement club that was too far on the other end of the spectrum for my taste.  So, while the MP-15 is a great iron and the MP-4 is a leading blade, I’d never have them even if I was about to spend $1000 on irons. The 850 Forged is a different story.  Small enough to feel like you’re playing a real Mizuno, but you don’t immediately lose 20 yards if you’re 1/8″ off the sweet spot.  Plus, Mizuno has a great shaft program going, where you can pretty much get anything you want–short of Steelfiber–for no upcharge.  The Callaway Apex line is a carryover from last year, but still a must try for anyone who wants forged distance.  The RSI TP and Vapor Pro Combo are both EASILY longer and more forgiving than the AP2 and feel incredibly solid as well.

Game Improvement Irons: 

  1. Callaway XR
  2. Ping G30
  3. Titleist AP1
  4. TaylorMade RSI 1
  5. Nike Vapor Speed

I had a conversation with a Callaway rep a couple weeks ago and we were talking about the stronger lofts of modern clubs.  The constant refrain on these news clubs being, yeah you hit your pitching wedge____yards, but it’s 44 degrees!  What they told me is that while the decreased loft does add distance, they are fitting trajectory windows.  If you picked up an 845 PW (48 degrees) and and G30 PW (45 degrees) you would likely hit them on a similar trajectory.  A 48-degree modern club would go straight into the air.  So, for game-improvement sets, the stronger lofts are a good marketing tool, but also a bit of a necessity.  Which brings me to the Callaway XR.  It’s a 44 degree PW!  But, I’ve never seen people consistently gain distance with a club as much I’ve seen with this one.  If you want to hit the ball longer, this is your first stop.  I have no doubt it’ll be the iron of the year and continue TaylorMade’s woes.  The rest of the clubs on this list are all good, almost laughably good on mis-hits, and you really couldn’t make a bad decision with any of them.

Big Ole’ Bag of Hybrids:

  1. Callaway Big Bertha
  2. Cobra Fly-Z XL
  3. Ping Karsten
  4. Various Adams Discontinued Sets

No real advice here.  Pick your price point, and try out those hybrids.  A good mid-priced option if you can find a set around is the Callaway Edge from last year.  Very easy to hit/high launch.  Unfortunately discontinued.

Titleist Makes an Appearance.

Titleist Makes an Appearance.

Fairways and Hybrids:

I’d love to see people get a little less distance oriented with these clubs.  Consistency and trajectory are so key.  A 3w going 260 is great, but how much of that is roll?  How often is that hybrid going a mile left?  Unless you cannot hit a driver, I wouldn’t use distance as a deciding factor on a fairway wood.  Also, the 3-wood is becoming a bit like the 3-iron for average to below average players.  A lot of them would be better off going to something with more loft, a 4 or 5-wood.  This can also save you money or save you some room for an extra wedge.

Overall Fairway & Hybrid Rankings:

  1. Titleist 915
  2. Callaway XR
  3. Ping G30
  4. Adams Tight Lies
  5. TaylorMade Aeroburner

Titleist gets the nod here for taking a big step forward from the 913, while also offering two different shapes and a mix of stock shaft offerings that should fit most players.  This is a nice feature, even though, I am tired of hearing, “Is that a real white board?”  If you have to ask….Anyway, the 915 brings competitive distance and ball speed to the always reliable look and consistency of Titleist.  If you are thinking distance the XR and AeroBurner are both very long and high swing speed players should not be scared off by the Aeroburner line–try the TP shaft.  Ping and Adams offer incredible forgiveness and easy to launch options.

If You Must Try Something New.

If You Must Try Something New.

Putters & Wedges:

All the counterbalancing, large grip stuff just feels a bit like a gimmick to me with the putters.  People are always desperate for something new in this category, though, and that’s probably why I’ve seen the Odyssey Works line take off.  They are nice putters, but I don’t know, maybe I’m just a doubter from way back on the putter.  If you want to try something new for your short game, aside from inserts and groove technology, you should track down an Edel fitting location.  If you end up buying any clubs, it’s going to cost you a good bit, but the fitting itself should be eye-opening.  Edel uses a totally different way of fitting a putter that might open your eyes even if you don’t buy a club.  The wedge system is a lot more simple, but equally intriguing.  It can take you one step past, “Give me the TOUR GRIND!”

***

I think that’s it for now, feel free to leave any questions, especially about older or more affordable stuff…

Advertisements

On Riches and Embarrassments: The Golf Digest Top-50 Instructors.

20 Grand To Tell You About a 4th Wedge.

20 Grand To Tell You About a 4th Wedge.

Perhaps you know that golf has a bit of an affordability problem.  It’s never going to be a game that will have a truly broad reach, but even the middle class is probably starting to feel a bit closed out.  I played nine holes of golf on Sunday afternoon. Late, it was almost evening.  It was at the least glamorous course you could imagine.  The least expensive place around.  It cost $28.  And what struck me most was that the course was almost deserted.  Late Sunday afternoon is not a popular time for golf during football season.  Wouldn’t the course be better served with a $15 rate?  Or even $20?  It is October.  Wouldn’t this scare up a few more groups?  Or, would charging that much invalidate the people who pay $50+ earlier in the day?

For most of my life I didn’t pay to play golf.  When I was a kid my parents paid the bill.  I was on the golf team in college and that allowed me to play plenty of free golf.  After college it was working at golf courses.  For a five-year stretch or so through my late twenties I might have paid two or three greens fees a year while playing the most golf of my life at top-level courses. During this time I also got balls, clubs, gloves, tees, range balls and any number of things for either no or little cost.  This is a great way to play golf.  But, it ends, and when I stopped working at the golf course I came face to face with a hobby that I could barely afford.  I’ve played fewer rounds of golf in the past three or four years than I’ve ever played in my life.

Part of this is just life, it’s just time.  Golf is time consuming and when you aren’t already at a course and can’t hit a few balls quickly after your shift or play nine holes for free before dark it can be hard to motivate.  It’s hard to coordinate a group, or find the right tee time.  But, another reason is that without free golf and free practice, I’ve become a good bit worse.  I was never a great player, but I was all right, and I got accustomed to playing at a certain level.  But, to stay at that level, I’d need to practice and play a lot of golf.  I simply can’t afford to do that.  I don’t really practice much anymore, I settle for rolling the dice when I go out to the course.  There are times I play like I used to and there are times that I play so poorly I don’t really recognize my own shots.  I’m getting better at becoming a casual golfer, but it’s not easy.

Of course, I could always take a lesson or two to improve my game, but there’s another dilemma.  Golf lessons aren’t cheap. Never has this point been hammered home more efficiently than it is in the most recent Golf Digest.  The magazine proudly unveils its list of the game’s best instructors.  The bold font on the cover says, “I can help you,” by Sean Foley.  Sean Foley is Tiger Woods’ instructor.  Inside the magazine Foley has a tip for hitting your fairway woods.  He says you should swing at them smoothly and consistently.  He suggests you approach a 3-wood like a 9-iron and even recommends alternating between the two clubs on the range.  I’ve got two things in response to this.  First–what if you can’t hit your 9-iron?  Second, this is the worst, most general tip I’ve ever heard.  And, Golf Digest is constantly full of wisdom like this.  Some stupid blurb re-packaged by a famous player or coach.  You’ll never learn golf from blurbs.  But, this is as close as you’ll ever get to having Sean Foley actually help your game.  I imagine it’s not the easiest slot to get, but if you can, Foley charges $250 an hour. Compared to his peers this makes him a shocking bargain.

Among the top-50 teachers listed in Golf Digest, exactly ONE of them charges less than $100 an hour.  That’s Manuel De La Torre of Milwaukee Country Club.  He charges $80 an hour.  Hats off, Manuel.  More commonly on this list you’ll see 2, 3, 5 hundred dollars for a lesson.  And, then things get comical.  Fifteen thousand dollars for a “day” with Hank Haney.  Twenty thousand will get you same with Dave Pelz.  Can you get a good short game in a day?  NO.  Can you be swindled?  Certainly. I should throw in a disclaimer here that all of the teachers on the list would probably be a great help to your game over a period of time, but really where do these exorbitant fees come from?  Should learning anything cost so much?  I guess these guys have the right to make as much money as they can, but when did coaching become something you got rich doing?

Even if you throw out the outlier, high-end guys like Haney, what is the purpose of this list in Golf Digest?  Is this their only clientele?  Certainly people who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on instruction read Golf Digest, and if that is who they are targeting doesn’t that say enough about golf in itself?

The magazine publishes a list of the best golf courses and just like this list of teachers who will never teach the average player, the average player will never set foot on the Top-100 courses.  But, a course is something different.  It’s something you could appreciate without playing and who knows, maybe you get on one day.  Maybe you save up for a Bandon Dunes trip.  But, whose goal is to spend ten grand on a lesson?  I think the number of people using a picture of Cypress Point as their desktop background outnumbers the ones who use a picture of Dave Pelz by about 10 million to one (the one is probably Pelz himself or Phil Mickelson).

The point of all this is, I’m disappointed in Golf Digest.  I’ve never been a fan of their instruction sections, but it’s almost impossible to learn from a magazine anyway.  Here’s a chance to actually help, but this list seems like an especially big waste of time.  Singling out teachers who don’t need the accolades while there are plenty of decent teachers who are probably scraping by and plenty of players who would like to know where to go to find these people who give affordable lessons.  I know Golf Digest will always have a place on the tables in the locker rooms of country clubs, but I wonder if the number of clubs, and the number of people who gather around those tables will continue to get smaller.

I still like to play golf, I just wish I had the money to play it more often.  I fear I’m not alone in this sentiment.