A March Toward Obscurity

October 6, 2010

Ever notice that guy on the golf course who doesn’t have a single club you’ve ever heard of before? Think about it–you’re out on a Sunday, you’re randomly paired with a guy–let’s call him Joe. You look in Joe’s bag–nothing special, maybe a Titleist stand bag. A no-name driver, a 3-wood you’ve never heard of, irons that look like knock-offs of a set you’ve seen in a golf shop before, maybe a Cleveland or Vokey wedge, but, all in all, a pretty lackluster set.

Then, you see him hit the ball. Joe has a funny looking swing, but he gets the job done. No frills, but he always seems to know where the ball is going. He never loses his cool–he seems to have complete confidence, even when he doesn’t hit a perfect shot. You think to yourself, “Man! If only this guy had some REAL clubs! He’d be, like, 3 under par right now!”

Then, you look at your set. Your Taylormade R9 driver hasn’t hit a fairway all day. You topped your Titleist fairway wood a few holes back. The Callaway hybrid has been hitting solidly, but not as far as you need it to go. Those Mizuno irons haven’t made good contact all day. And, the last time you were in the sand, it took you 4 shots to get out with your Vokey wedge. You’re on the 17th hole and looking at a 95 if you don’t par the next two holes.

What’s going on here?

Golf equipment manufacturers have taught us to believe that the equipment they make can solve your problems. “If you only pay $400 for OUR driver, we can GUARANTEE you’ll get 15 yards more distance;” “These wedges will give you NO PROBLEM getting up and down;” or “nothing quite feels like THESE IRONS.” Slowly–but very surely–OEM equipment manufacturers have taught us to believe that their equipment is the one thing we need to solve our games.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that mass-produced equipment CANNOT solve your problem. Here’s the thing: every single person is different. We’re different heights, weights, and sizes; some of our shoulders pop, or our backs hurt; some of us have knee issues or hip problems. No matter what, everyone is different. Moreover, people’s golf swings are as different as we our. Some swing more upright, some flatter; some have a loop or hitch; some have pronounced turns or weight shifts; some people are unable to make the right move.

So why would one or two clubs be perfect for everyone? Of course, they’re not–and everyone has to find what works for him or her.

But, unfortunately, most OEM (Titleist, Taylormade, Callaway, Bridgestone, Mizuno, etc) clubs are made the same way. So, it’s very difficult to find something that truly “fits” your game. For example, most OEM drivers (Titleist excluded) are built with closed faces because the average golfer has a problem with slicing the driver. However, a closed face doesn’t “counteract” a slice; all it does is turn your slice into a straight pull (left). Ever wonder why you’re always slicing the ball and then the one time you play for it, you hit it left? Now you know why.

So what do we do? These OEM companies will build you a custom club–if you specially order it from them. But most of us don’t have the money (or time) to go into a golf store, pay the custom fitting fee for the shop, then pay for the custom order fee with an OEM company, then wait 3-4 weeks for the OEM to fill our orders. The answer is what I have termed “The March Toward Obscurity.”

Now, we must take a step back. 18 months ago, my bag included a Cleveland driver (Hi Bore), a Titleist 3-wood (904f), a Mizuno iron set (MP-14), and Cleveland Wedges (588). With this set, I made it to a 1.5 handicap. Today, my set includes an SMT driver (DB Plus), a Sonartec 3-wood (NP-99), KZG irons (ZO), and (still) Cleveland 588 wedges. WHAT HAPPENED!?! The March Toward Obscurity.

One day, I decided I was never going to hit more than 7 fairways in a round with my Hi Bore. I had to get something new. When I started researching, all the usual brands came up–the OEMs. But, when I looked around more, I found a company–SMT Golf (www.smtgolf.com)–that produced high quality driver heads. And, more importantly, they were reasonably priced–under $150 for a driver head; way better than the $400+ for OEM clubs. Moreover, SMT sold their heads in component form (the club heads only), if you wanted to buy them that way. What this meant was that I could put in my own shaft and grip that was specific to my swing, buying my own shaft separately from the club head. Even better, I could call and “custom order” a head that was closed, open, or square, or even one that was at an odd loft–for example, 8.7 degrees (as long as they had it in stock, which they always did). What was the fee for a “custom order?” Nothing. In the end, I got a club that I hit as long or longer than my Cleveland driver, and now I’m consistently hitting 9-12 fairways, just because I was able to get exactly what I wanted–and what worked for my game. I’m now at a solid 1.1 and feel like I will be making progress very soon.

My experience was so great with SMT, I started researching other clubs that I hadn’t heard of before; maybe there were irons, woods, wedges, putters that I had never come across that were every bit as good–or, dare I say, better–than OEM clubs. Turns out, there were.

So, next time you’re on the course, don’t judge the player next to you by the obscure clubs in his bag. Just because he doesn’t have OEM equipment, it doesn’t mean he’s not in tune with his game. Joe may just know more than you.



Comments from LG:

JK makes a fair point.  This being said, let’s get the full disclosure.  You game what putter and what ball? 😛

That being said, I agree with JK’s perspective on this one.  The most important thing, for any player, is confidence in your ability to hit the ball well with whatever club is in your hands.  If you’ve reached the point in your life (or game) where the name on your club doesn’t create as much confidence as the last shot you hit with it does, consider building your own.

Don’t be afraid to try out something you’ve never heard of just because the latest winner on tour doesn’t have their logo pasted across his forehead!

It’s also pretty nice to be able to build a driver for $50 that you can hit just as far and more consistently than something you buy for $400.  I recently built two SMT drivers to try to get different ball flights.  The result is one club that hits the ball high and is very forgiving, the other is a “wind” driver that keeps the ball low and provides tons of roll.  Total damage?  $100.  Good luck getting that deal at Golfsmith.


Response by JK to LG’s comments:

Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport Beach

Ball: Titleist Pro-V1x

Great comments, LG, but the main point of this posting was to emphasize that players need to find something that works their individual games. In my case, there is no putter like the Newport Beach (I know we’ll debate this later), and, although I’ve tried numerous times–mainly in an effort to save cost–there is no ball quite like the Pro-V1x…..at least for me. I play the best equipment for my game. I suggest that every golfer do the same, if he or she wants to get better.

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