As golf teachers and coaches, we work on technique and the mental game, but often overlooked is the equipment that our students are using. Most of us farm that aspect of their games out to clubfitting experts, and that’s okay. And most of us have a good basic understanding of equipment, such as shaft flex, driver loft, etc., but there are some often-overlooked and subtle equipment tweaks that will benefit some of our students for whom traditional teaching instruction isn’t helping them as we think it should.
The problem may indeed lie in their equipment. Here are some considerations for certain problems that we see time and time again:
Driver lengths for men today average 45 ½ inches (116 cm). However, did you know the average driver length for male tour players is 44 ½ inches? Now, why is it that the best players in the world don’t play drivers the same length that are sold to everyday players at retail stores?
Korn Ferry Tour player Corey Pereira said he plays a 44 ½ inch driver “…for control. I already hit it far enough.” If you were to ask any other tour player who plays a shorter driver, they likely would say the same thing. Think about this: If a tour player has a hard time controlling a 45 ½ inch driver, then many our students will, too.
In the days of the persimmon driver, the standard length was just 43 inches. Today, that’s the standard length of most companies’ 3-woods. While we’re not advocating a return to the 43-inch driver, consideration should be made to cut the driver length for our students who have control issues. If a driver is cut down one inch, that would lighten the driver by six swingweight points. To restore the swingweight to the original, 12 grams of lead tape would have to be added to the clubhead. The problem then is that the shaft dynamically may be too flexible, even though by shortening it the shaft dynamically is stiffened. So instead of restoring the club to its original swingweight, adding six grams of lead tape – a compromise – should keep the feel of the shaft nearly the same.
Using a 3-wood
In the late 1980s, Golf Digest printed some at the-time astonishing information. They said that if someone could not carry their driver at least 150 yards, they would be better off hitting a 3-wood as it would provide more distance.
Today we know why. Lower ball speeds mean that a ball not launched high enough would fall out of the air more quickly than desired, as the aerodynamic properties of the ball are not being utilized as they would with higher ball speeds. If the ball speed is high enough, the backspin of the ball would provide enough lift to keep the ball airborne at lower launch angles.
While that 150-yard number may be up for debate, the fact is that many of our students need either a driver with a lot of loft – perhaps in the 15° range – or a 3-wood off the tee. And speaking of a 3-wood, many of our low-ball-speed students would probably do well to ditch it when hitting off the fairway in favor of a 5-wood for the same reason.
Iron lie angle
We’ve all been told that it is desirable to have the iron’s leading edge lie level at impact. This works for more skilled golfers, or golfers who hit the ball fairly straight. But what about those golfers who consistently hit a draw or fade with more curvature than is desired?
There’s nothing wrong with adjusting the lie angle a maximum of +/- 2° to help mitigate the problem. On his Sirius/XM radio show, former tour player Larry Rinker said that many tour players deliberately play their irons 1° too flat to help eliminate the dreaded leftward shot (for a right-hander), and they often flatten the lie angles on their wedges 2° for crisper contact and greater control. Most irons have a cambered (rounded) sole, so even if the iron isn’t perfectly level at impact, turf interaction should still be good. Lie angles that are more than 2° off from a level leading edge at impact run the risk of making centered contact too difficult, and for some players, even 2° is too much of a difference. But almost everyone can be 1° from a level lie angle at impact with little problem.
Toe-hang vs. face-balanced putters
According to Ping, if a player is consistently missing putts to the right (for a right-hander) and they are using a toe-hang putter, they should use a face-balanced putter. Their theory is that, in this case, since a toe-hang putter tends to open on the backswing, the golfer is unable to adequately square it at impact. And if a player is consistently missing putts to the left with a face-balanced putter, they should use a toe-hang putter. This makes sense, except that…
Callaway/Odyssey says the exact opposite! So, whom are we to believe? The best course of action is to have one putter of each design handy and see how your students use them. It is still thought by both, and other, companies that a straight-back and straight-through stroke would benefit most with a face-balanced putter, and an arcing stroke would benefit from a toe-hang putter. But if misses are consistently one way or the other, having a student try a putter with different characteristics is a good option to see what works best for them.
Many of us have been told that grips that are too large will prevent golfers from adequately releasing the club through impact, and grips that are too small will promote too much hand rotation. This may or may not be the case; individual results may vary, as they say. Longtime USGTF professional Leslie Duke has said that if he uses grips that are too small, he actually tends to hit push shots as he’s conscious that the smaller grip may make him pull shots!
Professional golfers for years have had the lower-hand part of their grips built up with extra wraps of tape, but now that trend has come to grip design. Golf Pride has a series of “+4” grips, which feature less taper and are built with the equivalent of four extra wraps of tape under the lower-hand portion. These grips can be especially beneficial to our students who fight a hook.
There are also many resources online that further delve into the topic, so we would do well to explore them. For example, a lot of good information is available at www.GolfWrx.com, as many industry leaders hang out there. The bottom line is it benefits us to learn as much as we can about how equipment works and the tweaks that can help our students.