Many things have changed over the years in the game of golf and the golfers who play the game— club technology, golf-specific exercise, nutrition, course conditions, etc. However, one thing remains the same: the average Joe Golfer wants to hit the golf ball farther, and golf club and ball manufacturers have been listening. They have tried to improve aerodynamics, function, and the looks of golf products with every new model. Many club companies are telling us they have a driver that hits the ball much farther than ever before. So have they done their job? Do we hit the ball farther than ever before? If so, why?
Golf balls do go farther than ever before, for many reasons. Balls like the Titleist Pro V1 have come along and changed how many play the game. The Titleist Pro V1, when it came out, went farther, was softer around the greens, and more durable. This doesn’t come at a small price; a dozen costs more than $50 at most stores.
The drivers of today have bigger heads with lighter shafts than those available two to three decades ago. They have played a part in the ball going farther as well. Irons go farther too. One huge change in golf clubs, especially irons, is that the standard lofts of the clubs are lower (See chart). Club manufacturers reasoned that if they made the average Joe’s 8-iron the same loft as his old 6-iron, he would believe he is hitting his new 8-iron farther. In essence they just slapped the number “eight” on his old 6-iron.
So as the saying goes, “things aren’t what they used to be.” Is that good or bad? For some it is good, and for others the deception concerning degrees of loft when purchasing clubs could be a negative. But to many students looking for my help in improving their games, set make-up is a major focus. What clubs do they have in their bag and why? Many are stuck on the idea of the old school set make-up. The only problem is the standard lofts, lengths, and designs of clubs today are much different.
For instance, the traditional set make-up of irons we bought in 1980 was 3-PW, and we went and bought a 56-degree sand wedge to accompany the iron set. The only problem with that set make-up now is the standard pitching wedge loft is 44 degrees, and the sand wedge is still 56 degrees. That is a 12-degree gap; way too bigfor any golfer, which is why gap wedges became popular. The gap wedge of today is between 48 to 52 degrees, and made to fill the “gap” between the pitching wedge of today, and the sand wedge that has not changed over time.
Alco, the old 5 iron is today’s 3 iron.. This is the reason hybrids became popular, because not many golfers can hit a 3- or 4-iron in the air. The typical iron set make-up that I suggest for most are 6-iron through gap wedge. I always add the gap wedge to an iron set suggested order. I suggest some longer irons for players with some speed in their swing, because, obviously, the set make-up depends on the player. The best advice for all readers when buying new clubs is this: understand that you cannot buy clubs for maximum benefit in the 21st century with a 1980’s mentality or thought process.
A couple of very important factors with set make-up when testing clubs are peak height and carry distance of the golf ball. Can you hit it in the air, and is it carrying farther as the club that is “supposed” to go shorter? For example, many golfers hit on average a 5-wood farther than a 3-wood. They might hit one 3-wood really, really far, but can’t reproduce it on average. This is because they can actually launch the 5-wood in the air, and maximize distance. Just because we think a 3-wood goes farther traditionally, don’t presume that it does. It may not, so do not bring preconception to any fitting. Don’t have a presumption just because of the number stamped on the club, and always make sure you are getting fit for any and all clubs you buy.
The decade of the 1980s is gone, and 2016 is here. If you have a slower swing speed, this is a very, very important message. I see so many golfers with set make-ups that are incorrect. Remember, the numbers on the clubs are just numbers, they don’t always tell the real story. Only the ball flight gives you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We are all individuals and any purchase of clubs needs to be addressed with that in mind. Go see your local golf professional to find the best clubs for your game.
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.