June 19, 2017

I’m at the driving range at Kokopelli Golf Club, ten minutes from my house. It’s a bright, sunny late Saturday morning, the temperature already hovering around 100 degrees, and there’s just me and another guy four spots down hitting balls.

The goal of my session was to try and figure something out with my hybrids and my 5-wood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d hit them miserably during my round at Lone Tree, and I was determined to at least get to the bottom of the problem if not fix it altogether.

I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress. The 4-hybrid, in particular, was abysmal. I tried playing the ball forward in my stance, back in my stance, in the middle of my stance. Didn’t make any difference. I tried choking down on the 5-wood, playing that in the middle of my stance, then forward in my stance. Didn’t matter – just when I thought I’d found something, it seemed I’d scull the next two balls. Thin hits. Deep-trench fat hits. It was all weight shift, I knew – or at least I thought I knew – but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. After one particularly ugly swing, I slammed the club on the ground then cursed myself.

The guy who was out there with me didn’t believe in taking his time between balls. I was probably halfway through my bucket when I saw him heading back into the pro shop to have his bucket refilled again. I’d already seen him hitting balls out there by himself as I walked from the parking lot into the pro shop, then I passed him as I walked out with my bucket, he walking inside to get his bucket refilled.

It was getting hot, so I set my club down, grabbed my towel, wiped my face, drank out of my bottle of water.

“You’re not keeping your ‘V’s, mate!”

I look up and see the guy who was hitting balls walking towards me.

“Your ‘V’s are breaking down, mate. I can see it from where I’m hitting.”

Now (at least in my mind) there’s an etiquette out on the driving range that I would never, ever consider breaking. As far as I’m concerned, you keep to your own shit no matter what else is happening around you. I’m not a great golfer by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen beginners hitting balls next or near to me, flailing away hopelessly, and even though I know I could help them with a simple recommendation, I would never consider invading their space. To me that would not just be improper, but rude. I mean, who do I think I am, David Leadbetter?

But here he is, David Leadbetter, or someone who looks like a dead ringer for him, walking towards me. He certainly looked the part: tall, sunglasses, wide-brimmed straw hat (it wasn’t Callaway), that Aussie accent and him calling me mate. Were there other people there I think I would have handled it differently. But since we were the only ones out there, I resisted the urge to say, “Thanks for your concern, podna, but you’re not exactly lighting it up out there yourself from what I can see. If you had, I doubt you’d be on your third large bucket, correctamundo?” Instead, I decided to allow him some of my space.

“I can see why you’re struggling, mate. It’s your ‘V’s. They’re breaking down. Here, let me show you.”

He demonstrates his swing to me, tries to show what it is I’m doing wrong.

“Y’see, if you’re not keeping your ‘V’s, then that makes it tougher to stay on top of the ball. If you’re not staying on top of the ball, then it’s much harder to transfer your weight from back to front. And it’s damned near impossible to make consistent contact with the ball. Let me demonstrate…”

He took one of my balls – I started to raise my hand in protest – but he was on a roll now. “See, this is what you’re doing…”

He takes a swing with his hybrid and stripes it down the middle, 190 yards.

“…well, in this case I guess I made up for it. But what you want to do…” He takes another of my balls, then takes a couple of practice swings “is this…”

He drubs one down the middle about thirty yards.

“OK, well that wasn’t so good.” He then takes another ball of mine and hooks one into the far left side of the range, just next to the first fairway. He then goes into a long spiel about his swing from the ground up, then from the top down. Tells me he used to be a boxer in Melbourne, and that he learned his weight transfer from learning how to throw punches.

“But you have to always be careful not to over-swing. Even if you’re keeping your ‘V’s it won’t make any difference if you over-swing. I’m tellin’ ya mate, you keep your ‘V’s and don’t over-swing you’ll be fine.”

While he’s talking I’m only half-listening, drinking from my water bottle. He’s tall and sun-burnt. When he smiles he has what looks like a gold or wooden tooth in the front. I reach out my hand, ask him his name.

“It’s Matthew, mate.”

I ask him why he’s hitting his third large bucket on such a hot day, and he tells me he’s working on a move where, at the top of his swing, he then turns the shaft slightly to closed before starting his downswing.

“I’m already getting ten more yards with that move.”

I thank him for his time, tell him I’ll definitely take a look at my ‘V’s.

Matthew goes back, yanks his next shot way left into the first fairway. I pick up my towel, wipe my face, take another sip of water. I grab my 5-wood, put the ball slightly forward in my stance, then focus only on keeping my ‘V’s and shortening my swing. Clean contact. The ball takes off like a rocket, 180 yards or so down the middle of the my make-believe fairway. I drop another ball, same thing. Drop a third ball down, same thing.

I look at Matthew, give him a thumbs up. He smiles, drops another ball and hits a big push into the netting separating the driving range from the putting green and chipping area.

It would make for a great story if I said that every ball I hit thereafter was striped down the middle. They weren’t. But I’m guessing the ratio was 70/30 good hits and sculls. And even with the sculls I could immediately feel that I had strayed from the program. I went back in, got a small bucket and started working my hybrids into the same program. Again, 70/30 decent shots to crap sandwich.

Halfway through my bucket, Matthew grabbed his now-empty large bucket and headed for the pro shop.

I went out on Sunday with just my hybrids and 5-wood, this time at the Papago Golf Club range. Different day, different range, different conditions, little bit hotter. I followed Matthew’s advice to the ‘T’ and found myself hitting the same ratio of solid hits to poor hits – something like 70/30. More importantly, I committed myself to two very simple, easy to understand swing thoughts: keep my ‘V’s and don’t over-swing. The idea being, if I do that everything else will fall into place all by itself. Thanks to Matthew, I’m starting to gain confidence in clubs that, just a little more than a day earlier, I had zero confidence in.

Sitting in the cool, dark Mexican restaurant over a margarita afterwards, I thought back to Saturday. I had finished my small bucket, and the heat was really starting to come on. Walking back to my car, I stopped and turned around to look in time to see Matthew, the only soul in sight, stripe a hybrid down the middle, then yank the next one into the first fairway.

Matthew may not be David Leadbetter, may not even be a good golfer, but as a golf instructor he’s good enough for me.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:50 | Comments (0)
June 17, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 35
Location: Lone Tree Golf Club
Score: 50 / 53 = 103
Handicap: 23.7 / Trend: 23.7 (no change)

It’s a good thing I’ve got more than a month to go before Goodboys Invitational weekend because it’s clear that, while I’ve been working harder on my game and my swing than I ever have, I’m not seeing the kind of progress I would have expected to see at this point.

When I last played Lone Tree Golf Club a year ago, I shot 87, my lowest round ever. Now I wasn’t expecting to shoot another 87 this time out (there are too many things I’m working on), but a 103 is still pretty disappointing. Right now I just can’t seem to put good shots and good holes together. I’m having to do way too much scrambling out there, my hybrids and my 5-wood are absolutely killing me, and I just can’t get comfortable with the yardages and my new Steelhead XR irons.

A look at the raw numbers tells the story: I hit ten fairways today, yet played those holes fifteen over par and hit only one green in regulation. That’s just not getting the job done. The course played almost 6,500 yards, so there were some long par 4s, but that doesn’t excuse one quad and two triple bogeys. Granted, had I been trying to shoot as low a score as possible I would have left the 5-wood and the hybrids in the bag, but I’ve got to learn to hit them sooner or later. I thought I’d been baking progress at the range with them, but they killed me today. My putting improved a little bit (35 putts, six less than the last time out), and those ten fairways hit showed my recent work with my weight transfer is starting to pay off with the driver. I also did a better job out of the sand today than I have been doing, so that bucket of balls I hit solely out of the sand last weekend helped out.

My biggest issue continues to involve my iron play: the way I’m hitting them at the range still hasn’t translated to playing real golf. Today it seemed I was always “in between” and questioning my club choice, and then I started jumping at the ball and yanking them on the last four holes. I realize that between trying to change years of bad habits out there and breaking in new irons I’m not going to see results overnight – especially when I’m playing one time a week at the most, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.

There’s a big difference between hitting balls and scoring, and right now the scoring part is eluding me in a big way. I’m not giving myself any chances at making par right now, and as long as that’s happening one can’t expect to shoot a good score. All I can do is keep working at it and have faith that sooner or later all the work is gonna pay off. The improvement I’m seeing right now may be only incremental, but improvement it is – I’m not lost out there like I was at times last year: when I make a bad shot I know what I did wrong, and when I make a good shot I know what I did right. The 5-wood and the hybrids remain a mystery but I will figure them out sooner or later – hopefully sooner.

With the big heat coming on there won’t be much of a chance for hitting balls next week. I’ve still got four rounds of golf planned before I head back to Massachusetts for Goodboys Invitational week, and then I plan on playing at least twice before Goodboys, so there is still time, but for right now all I seem to be doing is treading water.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:07 | Comments (0)
June 4, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 40
Location: Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch
Score: 50 / 52 = 102
Handicap: 23.7 / Trend: 23.7 (no change)

Let’s start with the gory details about a round played under cloudless skies on a Saturday where the temp was 90 when we started, a blazing 106 by the time our foursome finished in a tidy 4 hours 15 minutes. The last two times I played at Trilogy Power Ranch I shot 94s, today it was eight strokes higher. I wouldn’t say TPR is a difficult course, but you have to work your way around it and bring your short game with you and today I didn’t. My chipping was sloppy and my putting on the fastest greens I’ve played in a long time was as bad as I can remember it being (41 putts). Pretty easy to see where those eight extra strokes came from, isn’t it?

That being said, I’m feeling pretty frustrated at my inability to replicate all the hard work I’ve been putting in at the driving range not just hitting balls but attempting to learn my swing – what works, what doesn’t. I started off hot today: bogeys on the first five holes without anything less than a two-putt. So I was hitting the ball pretty well. Then it all came apart: I lost my tempo, lost the feel for my driver, started jumping at the ball and over-swinging, playing the ball too far forward in my stance – all the old familiar swing demons – and I couldn’t make the necessary adjustments. And even at that, I discovered I can take one less club on all my yardages with the new Callaway Steelheads then I did with my old RAZR-Xs. So that, I guess, is a plus.

I’m still having a murder of a time trying to hit my new Cobra 5-wood and my hybrids, and today it really cost me. As much as I would have liked to simply keep pulling one 5-iron after another, if you’re not getting long off the tee (which I wasn’t) you gotta try and get some distance somehow. Not to mention the fact that on those occasions when your driver is making change on the dollar it would be nice to have another club you can fall back on, which is something I don’t have right now. Hitting ground balls to the second baseman is not a desired outcome!

The good news is that, unlike in past years, I know the way out of this mess. So it will be back to the driving range again, back to working on ball position and tempo with my irons, weight shift and tempo with my driver, and trying figuring out what I’m doing so wrong with the 5-wood and the hybrids. It’s not like I can’t hit them: I wouldn’t have bought them at the PGA Tour Superstore if I hadn’t hit them solid in the bays there – it’s a puzzle that simply has to be solved. And as far as my putting goes? I have to chip better and get the ball closer so that I don’t have to work so hard on the greens.

I’ve still got plenty of time before Goodboys Invitational weekend to nail this stuff down but clearly there is more work to do.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:05 | Comments (0)
May 25, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 49
Location: Superstition Springs Golf Club
Score: 52 / 48 = 100
Handicap: 23.9 / Trend: 23.7 (-0.2)

A warm, breezy, and dusty day out at Superstition Springs, my go-to course whenever I need a gut-check as to where my game is. Where better, then, to officially open my preparation for the 2017 Goodboys Invitational weekend? Considering the new clubs and the first time in combat with them, today’s 102 wasn’t a bad start to the 2017 golf season. Could I have played better? Yes. Did I leave a bunch of strokes out there? Er, not that many. But considering the fact that 90% of my work to date has been on my iron play to the detriment of everything else (my short game especially) I’ll take it. Anytime I can play a 9-hole stretch at the Springs in the 40s, well, that’s not bad work.

Let’s start with the positives, because there were actually quite a few. I only hit five fairways all day, but my new Cobra F6 driver was a joy to hit all day. It’s not only long, it’s much more forgiving than my old Callaway RAZR-X. That doesn’t mean I can jump at the ball and over-swing – after all, the longer the ball travels, the farther it can go OB if I’m not careful. My iron play overall was OK. Had a few thin hits but no shanks – always a good thing. Would have liked to have had a couple swings back, but what 24-handicapper wouldn’t? But it works both ways.

Two examples come to mind: I had pulverized my drive on the 338-yard par 4 2nd (“Flat Iron”), leaving me just 118 yards to the pin set in the front of a long, thin green protected by trees on the left. Just off the fairway right, my 3/4 8-iron was pushed just enough to hit the green and dive into a bunker on the left side. I haven’t practiced sand shots in a year, and I hit it over the green 40 yards. I didn’t want to hit it long and end up back in the same bunker so I hit my pitch shot too easy, leaving another chip to the green then three-putted for an 8. That, my friends, is what is called throwing away shots.

On the other hand, I’m on the always nasty, always difficult (at least for me) 386-yard par 4 14th (“The Jungle”) which is nothing resembling a jungle. What it does have, however, is water to the front and right, and further out, water left all the way to the green. And a fairway that at its narrowest point is just twenty yards wide. I didn’t mean to, but I smacked my drive further left than I wanted to be, leaving me 140+ to the green with a large tree in front of me. I figured the longest club I could hit and get over the tree was a 7-iron, but I chunked it under the tree to a bare spot 80 yards from the pin. I didn’t want to wreck my new pitching wedge and should have just picked it up and dropped it a little further back on some grass, but I chose to try and pick it instead. It chunked off right, but fortunately hit the hill protecting the green on the right just right (no pun intended), then rolled to ten feet where I two-putted for bogey. The golf gods giveth as much as they take away.

On the not-so-great side was my short game and anything to do with my hybrids and my 5-wood. As far as the former went, that was to be expected, since I’ve hardly chipped or putted anything since Vegas back in January. My putting was especially atrocious on the front nine (19 putts) but I found a little something with my stroke I had forgotten doing on #8 and had three one-putts thereafter. Same thing with my chipping, which improved steadily on the back as I started getting used to the lightning-fast and fickle Superstition Springs greens. Clearly, however, there is still much work to do as far as my short game goes.

More alarmingly was thee way I hit (or didn’t hit) my hybrids and 5-wood. I got away with a thinned 4-hybrid at the par 4 fifth (“Billy’s Bend”), but the rest of the round the 3-hybrid and the 5 cost me dearly. On the first three par 5s I was sitting pretty long and in the middle of the fairway only to top, squib, and chunk (in that order) my second shot with the 5-wood. I can honestly say I’ve never hit a 5-wood so bad as I did today. Same goes with the 3-hybrid. Hopefully, now that I’m starting to get more comfortable with my irons I can spend a little quality time trying to figure that 5 and the two hybrids out.

The big thing is that I’ve taken the new clubs out and started to learn how to use them under game conditions. Hitting balls at the range and playing golf are two different things. The Steelhead XR irons are heavier than my old RAZR-X irons were; heavier than I remember them being when I was testing irons out at the PGA Tour Superstore, so it will take some time to get used to playing half and three-quarter short irons when the distance is less than 100 yards to tricky greens. But that’s half the fun of it: learning to play shots with new clubs.

I still have things to work on: continue tightening up those irons and trusting my swing, and the never-ending battle against jumping at the ball and maintaining my tempo, but today was a good enough start. A foundation to build on in some cases, the recognition that there is much work left to do in others. But it felt good to hit balls in a way that counted, and it felt good to grind out there on the back nine – I wasn’t striking the ball as well as I did on the front, but when I’m grinding and making bogeys instead of doubles and triples it means I’m playing with some focus and making and taking advantage of the breaks. A decent start, and looking forward to getting back out there again soon.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 16:00 | Comments (0)
May 13, 2017

It was during my last test drive of irons at the PGA Tour Superstore that Cain, the sales associate and golf instructor wannabe referenced in this post, offered up a couple of suggestions after watching me hit some balls. I’ll repeat the pertinent aspects here for the purposes of this post:

…[Cain] also didn’t like the position of my club at address, it was tilted too far forward. He wanted to see the shaft pointing out of my belly button.

…Cain explained to me that having the club leaning forward in my stance and my grip taken together promote mis-hits because the club face was never square at contact.

He: “I’ll bet you pull a lot of shots to your right.”

Me: “When I’m not shanking them to the left.”

He: “No wonder you fight the shanks. You seem to have to work really hard to keep that club face square when you come through the impact zone. You need to think about the changes I suggested. Otherwise, every swing you take is a shank waiting to happen.”

Ever since that conversation I’ll admit to being haunted by it, because I knew deep down everything he had said was true. Because for the past few years, outside of a couple of nice (albeit short) good streaks I had prior to the last two Goodboys, I’ve really struggled with my irons – most especially my short irons. Hitting a green in regulation has become a distant memory. Lots of pulls and outright yanks combined with increasingly-regular visitations from the shanks. And I surely didn’t tell him that it had gotten worse – much worse – over the past six months, to the point where I’d lost all my confidence in my irons.

The first time I tried out my new irons at the Kokopelli Golf Club driving range, I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t make a damned bit of difference in how I hit them or how well they performed. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tiger Woods or a 24-handicap: put a set of clubs in your hand – any set of clubs, from any manufacturer – and you’ll end up shooting around the same score. It’s not the clubs, stupid, it’s the person hitting them.

It didn’t take my new irons long to realize they weren’t in Kansas anymore. I shanked the first four balls hit with my brand spanking new pitching wedge. After which I yanked a couple way right.

“I can’t live like this”, I said to no one in particular after apologizing to my new clubs – after all, they certainly didn’t deserve this. And it was then I decided that Cain might be right: it was time to throw out my whole set-up at address with my irons and start over. From scratch.

It was a big change I’d be making, almost like learning how to hit a golf ball all over again. Who knows how long I had taken to holding my irons like that at address? Maybe it had been years. Maybe it was just a bad habit I had fallen into recently – after all, I’ve never had the shanks as bad as I’ve had them since last fall. And I certainly don’t remember my swing coach Alex Black mentioning anything about it during any of lessons together. But when you’re hitting your irons as bad as I have been there’s clearly nothing wrong with throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Two trips to the driving range and four buckets later, I can officially say I’m in no man’s land, struggling with the new set-up, but confident that if I could ever get comfortable with the club position at address Cain suggested I’m going to hit the ball a lot straighter and more consistently, which is what it’s all about. I remember reading somewhere that noted golf instructor Dr. Jim Suttie has said it takes a thousand golf swings to implement a swing change, and I’m feeling it right now. Holding my irons at set-up without any kind of forward angle feels foreign and awkward. Instinctively, I want to use my upper body to come through the ball because I’m so afraid to shank the ball. Which is stupid, because I was having so much trouble with the shanks prior to this change. I guess that’s why Dr. Suttie also has that great saying, “Golf is hard.”

Right now I’m so in between that the ball is going everywhere: shanks, pulls, slices, chunks, skulls. But every once in a while – and today I was able to keep it together for a dozen swings for the first time before losing it again – when I’m able to stay quiet, not jump at the ball, staying quiet with my upper body and just focus on making solid contact with the ball it travels high and, most importantly, straight. I’m not worried right now about distance: I figure that will come later as I learn to make more solid contact and gain some confidence. For now I just want to hit my short irons straight.

Which is something else I’m doing different that I’ve never done before: outside of a couple of balls with every club the first time out just to see how they felt, the only clubs I’m currently hitting are the pitching wedge, 9-iron, and 8-iron, nothing else. There’s a method to the madness: these are the scoring clubs. If I want to play bogey golf (that’s still my goal; right now 2027 looks like a good target year!) I have to chop six strokes off my handicap. And the only way I’m going to do that is to get better results whenever I’m inside 120 yards. I’ve looked at my performance over the past few years and have carefully watched the games of my Goodboys I play with most regularly, and know my sloppiness and inconsistency inside that range is what has been holding me back the most. So those three clubs are the only clubs I’m hitting right now, and that’s how it will stay until I’ve learned to hit them consistently. And the same holds true as far as playing actual golf is concerned: there will be no practice rounds, either. If it takes me up to Goodboys Invitational weekend (or even beyond that), so be it – I’m committed to making this change and will do it come hell or high water.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:42 | Comments (2)
May 5, 2017

..and ready for whatever the 2017 golf season might bring. Officially, I will be playing Callaway Steelhead XR irons, Cobra Fly-Z hybrids (3 & 4), Cobra King F6 driver and F6 5-wood, and my old Ping Scottsdale putter. Not to mention a well-used Callaway X Jaws Chrome 58-degree lob wedge. An eclectic assembly of clubs, fer shure, but one I’m feeling very comfortable with, and one I am confident will be up to the task as I resume my pursuit to be a somewhat bogey golfer by the end of 2017.

Yep, that’s my goal, and I’m sticking to it.

Of course, everyone knows – especially this 24-handicapper – that clubs alone aren’t going to make a six-stroke difference in and of themselves, but the player still has to be confident in his arsenal, and this is the first set of clubs I’ve ever actually spent a relatively significant amount of time testing against other manufacturers and models before buying. Meaning, if it all goes downhill from here there’s no one to blame but the person swinging the clubs. As it always has been.

After ordering my Callaway Steelhead XRs, there were a couple of absolute rules I planned to follow before going any further: 1) I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on hybrids (I use them fairly infrequently and for very specific situations), and 2) I wasn’t going to put a 3-wood in my bag. The latter decision came down to both money and rationale: I wanted to limit my entire club and bag purchase to no more than $1,500 total, and having a 3-wood made little sense. For one thing, the 3-wood has always been my least-used club: if the hole is too narrow for driver, I’m more likely to use a 3-hybrid or a 5-wood. Secondly, I could never hit a 3-wood consistently: I practiced with it the least and (to be brutally honest) never liked the club to begin with. Finally, it came down to logistics: let’s say I hit my 3-hybrid 180, 185-190 if I really catch it. I hit my 5-wood 190-200. Driver is 210-225. For a 24-handicapper, buying a club simply to cover a distance of 25 yards makes absolutely no sense. If I’m hitting the driver well it’s my preferred club even if the holes are narrow; if I’m not, I can pull 5-wood or even 3-hybrid to just get it in the fairway.

The hybrids decision came quite soon: I had thought about ordering the same Callaway Big Bertha hybrids I had played during my Las Vegas “shank and yank” visit back in January – they had actually played nice. But getting them even in good condition from Callaway Pre-Owned would cost me ~ $280 for both the 3 and 4 – not worth it. After ordering my Steelhead XRs at the PGA Tour Superstore I was moseying around the discount clubs aisle and came upon the Cobra Fly-Zs at $60 and $70 for the 3 and 4, respectively. I took them over to one of the bays and found I could hit them pretty well, and comparable to the distances I hit my old Callaways RAZR-Xs.

$130 vs. $280? It was a no-brainer. I went back the next day and grabbed them right then and there.

As far as the 5-wood went, to be honest it really didn’t matter what particular brand and model I was going to get: whatever I ended up choosing for a driver I’d get the same model in a 5-wood. If I couldn’t hit it at first? Well, I’d just have to learn how to do so in the long run. But what, pray tell, to choose for a driver? The only rule of thumb in my book (well there were actually two) was: 1) I wasn’t paying over $400 for a driver, and 2) I had to fall in love-love-love with it: hey, if you’re gonna spend that kind of dough-re-mi on a club you better freakin’ love it, right?

I had checked around the PGA Tour Superstore site and came up with four models that looked nice to the eyes: the Ping G standard driver, the TaylorMade M2 460, the Callaway XR 16, and the Cobra King F7. I had hit the Callaway in Vegas and didn’t feel the love one way or another, but the price was right and maybe I was too sick in Vegas to appreciate its charms. So I decided to keep that in my pocket with the idea that if none of the others panned out it was a club I had played and perhaps could learn to love.

Two of my best Goodboys friends “Killer” Kowalski and “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis joined me at the Golf & Ski in Hudson, NH during my trip back to Massachusetts last week and I gave the non-Callaways a whirl. The Ping distinguished itself right off the bat with the funky metallic sound it made on contact. If you caught it flush, the ball seemed to took off, but “forgiving” would hardly be the first word I would use to describe it. Still, I loved the black Nazi U-Boat color scheme; perhaps with enough practice it could be an equally trained killer. The TaylorMade M2 was cool – a mix of white and black, reminded me of a cow. And I hit some really good shots with it. Felt good, hit good. Killer especially liked the way I hit it, so after several hits I put it aside for another go-round.

The Cobra King F7 was an entirely different breed of cat: everything I hit seemed to absolutely jump off the club face. Forgiving? Tiger can only dream of Elin being half as forgiving as this club was. Of course, the downside was the ball could jump whether you came off of it with a push or slice or a pull or hook (I’m equally adept at each). Meaning – at least for this 24-handicapper, all that distance wouldn’t matter if the last 60-70 yards of it were into the woods or over a lake. But if I hit it anywhere near square, took a little off of the swing, the ball was absolutely pulverized. I can’t say at that moment I was in love-love-love; let’s just say I was very intrigued.

There really wasn’t anything more to be discovered in a second round with all the clubs – each performed pretty much like they did the first time around. No doubt the Cobra King F7 was numero uno, but I still liked the look, feel, and performance of that TaylorMade cow driver.

I’m back home in the Valley of the Sun to pick up my Steelheads, but I’ve got mighty mo in my favor following that afternoon at the Golf & Ski. I see Mark, yet another of the associates there, and ask him to set me up with the same three models from the Golf & Ski, plus the Callaway XR 16. He sets me up in the TaylorMade bay and I have at it. I take a few swings with the Ping before Mark asks me to make a subtle adjustment before I set up: he wants me to hold the driver straight out in front of me to make sure the club face is square in my hands before I take my address.

Once again, I notice the clanky sound of the Ping – according to the machine I hit it consistently at 185-197 yards, but it’s just not a forgiving club. I decide to discard the Ping; as much as I love the look it’s clearly not the club for me. I grab the TaylorMade M2 and find it once again quietly efficient, definitely more forgiving than the Ping. My drives are anywhere from 190-206 with a high of 211 – better than the Ping and definitely more enjoyable to hit. I hit a few balls with the Callaway and find it to be a near carbon copy of the TaylorMade in terms of feel and performance, but not nearly as enjoyable to hit.

I inform Mark that my choice will be between the TaylorMade and the Cobra King F7.

I grab the Cobra F7 and the difference from the TaylorMade is noticeable. Once again, I find the ball practically jumps off the club. I’m consistently 205-210, even if they’re pushes or near-banana slices or pulls. I smack several drives straight in a row that go anywhere from 215 to 218, and I’ve pretty much made the decision to go with the F7, but there’s still something holding me back: the price. After all, between the driver and the same model 5-wood, that’s gonna be a cool $650 out of my pocket – more than I care to spend. I tell Mark I’m gonna take a walk around the store and look at bags. But I really wanted to clear my head to think about options.

I’m looking at black bags that have a cool orange trim. Between my orange Wilson balls and what looks like the Cobra driver and fairway wood I’m gonna have a lot of orange working for me, so why not the bag? I find a good basic model that runs at $100 bucks, meaning that between the bag ($100), the hybrids ($130), and the irons ($740) I’m already in for $970. I’m well under my $1,500 budget, but the King F7 driver and 5-wood will blow that all to hell. I just couldn’t see doing it.

I was getting ready to leave the store when I suddenly remembered way, way, back at the start of my iron search seeing this left-handed Cobra driver in one of the demo bags. I hadn’t hit it, I had just noticed it at the time before I even started thinking about drivers. I found the club in one of the bags and saw it was a King F6 selling for $325. Much more to my liking, price-wise, fer shure. But what would it feel like? Could it come close to the F7? I go back to the TaylorMade stall and take a few swings, and all I can say is, wowee zowee! Same performance as the F7, but a slightly different but yet familiar feel to it. And the ball if anything seemed to be jumping a hair more, my drives going another 5-10 yards further when hit on the screws. Mark happened to be watching as I absolutely pulverized one a whopping (at least for me) 227 yards and said, “I guess you like that A flex (senior) shaft, huh?”

“I knew it!”, said I. My old RAZR-X driver had the same kind of shaft, no wonder it felt so familiar. I ask Mark if he had a 5-wood in the F6 line and sure enough, he did. Case closed.

I spent another half hour hitting balls with the F6 driver and 5-wood. They felt good, looked good. I was in love-love-love, and there was no stopping me. I grabbed the driver, 5-wood, and the bag and headed to the registers, credit card in tow. Standing in line, this attractive middle-aged lady compliments me on my purchases, saying, “Great colors. Hope they hit as good as they look!”

All I could was smile and think, “You and me both, sister!”

So the search is over, Tallying up the irons, the lob wedge, the driver and 5-wood and the bag, I’d come in slightly under my $1,500 target. I’ve now got a set of clubs that I took my time selecting, and frankly I’m ecstatic over it. Of course, the ecstasy might end with the very first ball I hit at the range, but that’s the chance a 24-handicapper has to take.

Let the ball-banging begin.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 00:27 | Comments (3)
April 18, 2017

“What the [Callaway] Steelhead XR might lack in visual flair is made up for with speed and power. An updated face cup combines with improved welding and manufacturing to generate COR numbers up to the USGA limit, which results in 2 mph more ball speed over current XR irons.

The hollow bore-through hosel, last seen in X-22 irons, allows up to five grams to be shifted toward the toe, boosting head stability. The CG is positioned dead center (heel to toe) to help with forgiveness. In addition, the CG is higher in the short irons than where you normally impact the ball, resulting in a lower, boring flight. In the long irons, the CG it is below the impact point for higher-flying approaches.”Callaway Steelhead XR review at Golf.com

Third session at the PGA Tour Superstore, third different sales associate. This one, a young Texan named Cain, appeared to fancy himself as an amateur golf instructor as well, since, after I had taken a few swings with a Mizuno JPX-900 6-iron, with a Cobra F7 7-iron and a Callaway Steelhead XR Pro 6-iron awaiting their respective turns, he asked me to stop.

He: “Mind if I make a suggestion?” Oh boy, I’m thinking, here we go…

Me: “If you’re talking about my golf swing, I thought the idea was to establish the constants of machine, conditions, and clubs, with the brands themselves and the shafts being the variables. Now you want to introduce another variable?”

He: “I think with a couple of minor adjustments I can get you ten more yards with every club, maybe a few more.”

Me: “Cain, there’s no such thing in golf as a minor adjustment. I’m a 24-handicap. Ten more yards to a good golfer might make a world of difference, but to The Great White Shank it amounts to bupkis. I’ll listen to what you have to say, but I can’t make those changes part of this test. Deal?”

It seemed Cain didn’t like the position of my top hand in my grip, said he likes to see two knuckles whereas I was only showing one. He also didn’t like the position of my club at address, it was too far forward. He wanted to see the shaft pointing at my belly button. He then asked me to take my normal address, close my eyes, and stick the club out straight. He turned the club head in my hands slightly (for me) counter-clockwise, perhaps no more than an inch, maybe two.

He: “Does the club feel lighter in your hands?”

Me: I dunno, maybe a little.”

Cain explained to me that having the club forward in my stance and my grip taken together promote mis-hits because the club face was never square at address.

He: “I’ll bet you pull a lot of shots to your right.”

Me: “When I’m not shanking them to the left.”

Cain asked me to just consider what he was suggesting. Now I didn’t know this Cain from Abel, and I’d never heard my swing guru Alex Black over at Superstition Springs make either of those suggestions. I will grant him this, however: he was definitely onto something when he asked after watching me take a few more swings (this time with the Cobra F7), if I had any mobility issues with my back. When I replied none that I was aware of, he mentioned I had this annoying (to him) habit of sliding into the hitting zone, and not turning with my lower body.

He: “No wonder you fight the shanks. You seem to have to work really hard to get that club face square when you come through the impact zone. You need to think about the changes I suggested. Otherwise, every swing you take is a shank waiting to happen. There’s one good thing, though…”

Me: “I’m all ears.”

He: “Your shank is a heckuva lot easier to fix than a slice or a hook would.”

After hitting the Mizuno (very nice feel, but still to expensive for my pocketbook) and the Cobra F7 (from the very first swing I ever took with it to the last, very consistent in its performance) it was time to take some swings with the Steelhead XR. I didn’t look at the club, I just assumed he gave me the same club I’d been using in my prior two tests. After three balls I knew something was up.

Me: “This isn’t the same club I’ve been hitting. And it looks different, too.”

He: “I gave you the Steelhead XR Pro. It has a thinner clubhead, supposed to be more forgiving.”

Me: “Well, maybe that’s true for a pro, but I can tell you it doesn’t feel more forgiving to this 24-handicap. It feels like a completely different club altogether.”

Cain fetched a Steelhead XR, and from the moment it was in my hand I knew this was the club for me. I liked the steel shaft, the way the ball jumped off the club face, it felt very familiar to me, but Cain persisted (after all, in addition to golf instructor wannabe he was a sales associate) in that he still felt like he could get an extra 5-10 yards if I went with a graphite or another kind of shaft (I forget the name) that’s kind of a hybrid between steel and graphite. I was ready to pull the trigger, but hey, I’d come this far, I might as well go the distance.

I hit a number of shots with both the graphite and the hybrid shafts. Cain was watching the machine and analyzing all the stats it pushed out, said he’d recommend graphite shafts, but asked me what I thought. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference one way or the other, and steel was cheaper, so…

Me: “I’m ready to pull the trigger, let’s close the deal.”

He grabbed a ruler, asked me to stand up straight with my arms at my side, told me there was no need to special order. Said I could take the set they have in stock right off the rack if I wanted. That wasn’t going to happen because I already knew that I’d want the 4-iron that came standard swapped out with a sand wedge, which didn’t, and at no extra cost except for the shipping and handling. Which he was willing to do. The end result being, I got a great deal on what I hope will be a great set of irons for years to come.

I’m glad I went through the process and took the time I did. It was fun working with different sales folks and getting their input. Now it’s on to the next step, which is to pick out a driver and a fairway wood. Let the process begin!!

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:52 | Comments (2)
April 14, 2017

Sure enough, after yesterday’s tryout at the PGA Tour Superstore I couldn’t get the look and the feel of that Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron out of my head. Maybe I had, after all, fallen in love with that girl that looked, talked, and moved so nice – I fall in love so easily!

But there was something bothering me about this whole clinical trial business: it was all being done under the same controlled conditions. In some ways that’s good – anyone who ever had a 8th grade biology class and dissected fetal pigs will tell you any experiment worth its salt requires a control along with the variables. In my case, the control was the PGA Tour Superstore setting and the clubs they gave you to try out; the variables being The Great White Shank’s swing and mental attitude that can change from one day to another.

It was late last night, and it was lovely sitting under happy pineapple lights with a glass of Pinot Grigio, the palms stirring restlessly in a slight breeze, the bright moon basking the patio in a liquid silver. I liked that Steelhead XR a lot, I thought, but what would I really accomplish by heading to the PGA Tour Superstore and hitting the same club again? How could I be sure? How could anyone be sure in my position? And what’s really behind that Ben Affleck / Jennifer Garner divorce? Did they just outgrow each other? Did Jennifer get tired of picking Ben’s clothes up off the floor? Did Ben get sick of Jennifer’s routine of sitting in front of the TV, eating bon-bons and watching Lucifer reruns?

The important questions. Mind you, I never thought JG was that cute to begin with, so maybe I’m on Ben’s side on this. But what do I know?

It was then I decided I was going to do something completely uncharacteristic. I’d go to another golf place, Van’s Golf Shop, and roll the dice. Play dumb and see what they offered me to hit along with, oh by the way, a Steelhead XR (if they had one I could hit). And then hit balls under entirely different conditions.

I had been at Van’s before and I wasn’t impressed. The PGA Tour Superstore is big, bright, and open, whereas the Van’s is a kinda small – claustrophobic even – a store that reminds me of the golf version of the old Building 19 1/2 outlet chain back in my Massachusetts days. Everything crowded into a small place with a few nets you could hit into. They didn’t have a huge selection, but Brandon the sales associate set me up on a spot with a lower-tech version of the swing machine that PGA Tour Superstore has in spades. He had the Steelhead XR 7-iron and he had a Ping G30 with a graphite shaft that I could compare against.

I took a couple of practice swings with the Steelhead and just felt like my swing was off from even yesterday’s clinical trial. Still, we set up and I proceeded to hit a few pushes, a few pulls, and a couple of straight ones, all traveling between 143 and 150. Hell, the most I used to get out of my old RAZR-X 7-iron was 135-140! I grabbed the Ping and hit a bunch of shots, none of them exceeding 135 yards. I’m thinking that can’t be right, so I asked Brandon to make sure I was setting everything thing up exactly the same so I could hit three balls apiece with the Callaway and the Ping.

I actually hits some pretty good shots – at least for The Great White Shank. The Steelhead went 143 (a push), 142 (a pull), and 153 yards (on the screws), in that order. The Ping went 133 (straight), 135 (straight), 133 (a push).

“Wow”, says I. “That’s quite a difference. Do you think it’s the graphite shaft?”

Brandon smirked. “Must be, it’s never the person swinging the club.”

So that as they say is that. I’ve hit the Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron on two different occasions, in two different locations, using two different 7-irons, and with two different kinds of machines to measure swing and distance. That’s enough variables in and of themselves, dontcha think? And in both cases, I’m consistently hitting that 7-iron nearly ten yards further than I hit my old RAZR-X 7-iron. I mean, what’s up with that?

I’m thinking a decision is about to be made.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:52 | Comments (0)
April 13, 2017

It’s my second outing at the PGA Tour Superstore down the street as I try to come closer to making a decision on what irons I’m going to put in my as-yet-to-be-purchased bag for the 2017 Goodboys Invitational and beyond. After last week’s session, I had spoken to my good friend and fellow Goodboy “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis and he suggested I take a look at the Callaway Steelhead XRs; so, because I wasn’t impressed with the Callaway XRs I had already tried, when Tyler the sales associate came over to me, I asked him for samples of three clubs:

Mizuno JPX-850
Cobra King F7
Callaway Steelhead XR

Tyler set me up in the TaylorMade performance booth and I went to work. Strangely enough (or perhaps not so strange), I felt just a little bit out of kilter as I warmed up as compared to how I felt last week. But that was OK – I wanted to try hitting these clubs under every kind of Great White Shank condition (and when you’re a 24-handicap there are always a lot of conditions!) possible. Since I hit the Mizuno so well in last week’s trial I grabbed it again and proceeded to skull my first ball approximately (so the machine said) 50 yards. My second ball was a shank that didn’t even register on the machine – after all, it can’t measure anything the ball doesn’t hit.

I didn’t panic at this point, and was damned glad to look behind me and see that Tyler was helping another customer. I almost expected to hear over the loudspeaker, “Shank in the TaylorMade booth! I repeat, shank in the TaylorMade booth! All associates to the TaylorMade booth!!”. So I now knew that the Mizuno JPX-850s, for all their cost (they run about $1K for the iron set) didn’t feature any kind of anti-shank technology in its design. Which, in some ways, was good: it made me realize that my handicap, my swing, was just like a PGA Tour pro in the sense that it really didn’t matter what clubs I ultimately chose; there’s no set of clubs that’s going to turn me into a, say, 16-handicap no matter how good or how expensive they are.

Fortunately, I didn’t let those first two hits bother me. I grabbed another ball, striped it 156 yards – a good five yards further than I normally hit my 6 (by this time Tyler was watching and said, “good swing, really solid”). I hit a bunch more and set the Mizuno aside.

Next up was the Cobra F7 7-iron. It’s funny how your memories of recent experiences can change in such a short period of time. At that first session I remembered the Mizuno 6-iron having a kind of heavy feel to it, and the Cobra F7 7-iron as being light as a feather. Today it seemed just the opposite. Still, I seemed to hit it about the same as I remembered from last week. It’s a nice club, for sure, but nothing that stands out and screams, “HIT ME TO THE CENTER OF THE GREEN AND I’LL LEAVE YOU WITH JUST FIVE FEET FROM THE PIN, YOU DUMBASS!.”

Tyler had disappeared again at this point. He had had a pink purse in his hand (I didn’t ask), so I’m guessing (hoping) he was off to the lost and found. I grabbed the Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron and immediate said out loud with a shake of the head and a grin, “You bastard!”. Not sure if anyone heard me, but I was talking to The Funny Guy, the one who had suggested trying out the Steelhead XRs to begin with.

(You see, here’s the thing about The Funny Guy: not only is he infuriating in the amount of times he’s right about things, but he also excels when it comes to spending other people’s money. I could tell y’all the story about when – and I’m talking years ago, like decades – he took Tracey shopping for golf-related Christmas gifts for me. But it’s best I not, and for everyone concerned!)

Like I was saying, The Funny Guy has this way of combining knowledge, audacity, and out-and-out chicanery when it comes to knowing how to spend other people’s money – especially mine. And I have this sneaking sense that after all these years he has come to know my swing better than anyone, even my swing coach, Alex Black. At any rate, after taking that first look at the Steelhead XR 7-iron, I knew it just looked right to my eyes. And the first few hits? Well, all I can say is that it is one damned forgiving club. Even the slight mis-hits I made seemed to have little difference in terms of trajectory and distance. By the fourth swing that I had hit my usually-reliable 130-135 yard 7-iron 142, 147, 149 and 138 yards, respectively, upon which Tyler remarked, “nice turn, nice swing!”.

But this is one time I refuse to fall in love with the girl simply because she looks, acts, talks, moves, and smells great. So I played it coy and set the club back down and grabbed the Mizuno for several swings. I was starting to feel a little more comfortable and made some nice shots. That Mizuno is a damned nice club, one I’d have no hesitation about with dropping in my bag (if I had one, that is). I also hit a number of decent shots with the Cobra F7, although I have to admit the feeling stayed with me that there was nothing exceptional about that particular club.

I went back to the Callaway Steelhead XR and I again hit some nice shots: a big push or two and a pull or two as well, but there was no doubt in my mind that it’s a very, very nice club. And at $699 for a set, the Steelheads are $200 cheaper than the Cobra King F7s and a whopping $400 cheaper than the Mizuno JPX-850s. I realize now that I was hitting the wrong Mizuno model – I meant to ask for the JPX-EZ (much more affordable), and hope to do that on my next – and hopefully final – trip back.

So, after two rounds here is where things stand:

1. Callaway Steelhead XR
2. Mizuno JPX-850
3. Cobra F7

It’s my plan not to let this whole process drag out a whole lot longer – I am, after all, a 24-handicap, and you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. But I will admit – and damn you, Funny Guy! – I have a feeling that as I fall asleep tonight I’m going to be thinking about those first few hits with that Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron. After my Las Vegas disaster I never thought I’d ever be playing Callaway again (and I might still not, I gotta get my hands on those Mizuno JPX-EZs!) but I could sure do a whole lot worse.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:30 | Comments (0)
April 4, 2017

It’s been over a month since I last hit a golf ball, sinking that 3-footer for a crowd-pleasing triple-bogey seven on the last hole at Las Vegas National, and I’ll admit I was starting to feel itchy. Even more so after talking with my good Goodboys friend The Funny Guy about getting my swing checked out at the Hudson, NH Golf & Ski when I’m back in Massachusetts the last week of this month. The idea being, ask to try a few different brands of clubs out in their bays where you can hit outside – not at a damned screen – and see what feels good.

I had a ton of work today but had to go out and get a haircut, so I was already in the general vicinity of the PGA Tour Superstore five minutes away from me and on a whim decided to stop in. I have to admit, just being around something associated with golf rekindled a kind of excitement – after all, being a free agent with no clubs in my garage except my Ping Scottsdale putter is a position I’ve never been in. And with more than three months still to go until Goodboys Invitational weekend I have the time and leisure to pick out the kind of clubs I want and do it in a way that allows me to make a good and informed decision.

I sauntered up to the counter by all the hitting bays and talked with Ryan, told him my situation, told him I was a 24 handicap, told him I hadn’t hit balls for a month and that I was just getting over an acute case of the shanks, and – most importantly – let him know the process I was planning to follow. That right now I just wanted to try out a few different kinds of irons just to get a feel for what would be a different set of clubs, no matter what happened. Steel shafts off the rack would be fine. That at this point I didn’t even want to think of woods and various combinations, that I just wanted to hit three different brands of irons.

I had already stopped in a couple of weeks go just to feel the different kinds of brands out there and felt comfortable narrowing my search in irons to the Calloway XR, Cobra King F7, and Mizuno JPX. If I didn’t like any of those, then I’d toss something else into the mix. Afternoons are quiet at the PGA Tour Superstore this time of year – everyone’s out playing golf – so there was no rush, all the bays being empty. And Ryan, being the astute sales associate (and PGA professional) that he was, knew this was no time for a “my way or the highway” attitude: after all, new club sales for anything except the most exotic and boutique stuff are pretty flat and that it was in his interest to make me comfortable with my process.

He gave me a Mizuno JPX 6-iron and 7-irons for the Callaway and Cobra, told me to take my time and have at the machine. I’ll admit to being a little nervous as I put on my golf glove. Would I shank the first ball I hit? And if I did, what then – hit a second? And then what if I shanked that one? I guess I’d just take off my glove, hand the clubs back to Ryan, and go home to craft my farewell letter to my fellow Goodboys in the nation. I mean, that’s how bad my last two golf experiences were. Maybe it was because I was so sick at the time (and sick I was, I ended up losing fifteen pounds and it was only last week that quick moves no longer left me lightheaded), but gee-whiz, what if it wasn’t because of that? What if I was a casualty of the game in the making like Ian Baker-Finch was – after all, he had to quit the game because it was destroying him psychologically.

So there was a lot riding on that first swing at some stupid bay at a PGA Tour Superstore this first week of April. I grabbed the Mizuno 6 and took a swing. Didn’t even take a practice swing, just grabbed a ball and hit it. Amazingly, it actually went straight! As did the second one. I topped the third, then yanked the fourth, but I started to enjoy myself, feeling the anxiousness leave me as I took a few more swings. I then grabbed the Cobra 7 and hit some pretty decent shots. Ryan encouraged me to start swinging a little harder to try and get as much out of the clubs as I could, telling me that was the only way I’d get a real feel for what these clubs could do. So that’s what I did, and I could actually feel a little more confidence coming back. Perhaps being sick in Vegas had left a swing thought of just swinging easy as a way to get through the rounds and it was doing that that encouraged the shanks – I mean, who knows?

What a head case I am.

Anyways, I tried the Callaway 7 and really didn’t like it. I’m not sure why, but after a few swings I found myself gravitating back to that Mizuno 6. I really liked that club, felt like I could really wail away at it. Then back to the Cobra, then back to the Callaway. After a good 30 minutes, I had racked up some pretty decent golf swings, being complimented by Ryan on several occasions. I told him I’d be back to try them all again because with my swing, who knows what will show up on any given day. But here are a few thoughts:

1. If I were to rank the clubs I hit today it would be the Mizuno, Cobra, and Callaway in that order.
2. I’m really not interested in a complete set of the same brand just for the sake of playing a single brand.
3. By the time I hit the Golf & Ski I’m going to be down to two iron choices and start looking at drivers and woods.
4. Depending on how the sets play out, whatever serves as hybrids (#3 / 4 iron replacements) will be a crap-shoot.

Arriving home I cracked open a Sam Adams (I knew I was finally over being sick this past weekend when a Sam Adams Boston Lager actually tasted good for the first time since, like, forever) and put on some mellow surf music. And it all felt good. And it all felt right.

The Great White Shank had taken his first step forward to rejoining the golf-playing community.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:27 | Comments (3)

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