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 (2)
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)
March 11, 2017

We’re less than a month away from the Masters, and just a little over four months away from Goodboys Invitational weekend, and the only golf club I have left in my possession is my Ping Scottsdale putter. The newer Callaways I got to replace the older Callaway woods and hybrids that were stolen have been returned for a 90% refund, and my RAZR-X irons have been sold to the Golf Liquidator folks for a whopping $100, which is just about all they were worth.

In golf equipment terms, I am officially a free agent.

To those wondering what the hell happened, I guess it all started on the #6 hole at Las Vegas National a week ago Wednesday. Because we started off on the back nine, it was my fifteenth hole of the day. As mentioned in an earlier post, I was feeling like crap and battling the shanks and the yanks for the second straight day. #6 is a lovely hole – one of my favorites, actually – a slight doggy left with a good-sized landing area. I had yanked my drive way right, my ball stopping just before a ditch that marked the OB line. Meaning to just get out of trouble, I pulled a 5-iron and shanked it across the fairway and through a fence that marked OB on the left. I found my ball and pulled a 7-iron to coax it back out under the fence. Imagine my surprise when I saw being pulled out along with the 7-iron what seemed to be half the inner lining from inside my bag. Just what I needed, right? And that’s when I also noticed a hole the size of a half-dollar on the side of my bag, probably the result of one of the trips to and from Massachusetts over the years.

I didn’t know what to do. Resisting the urge to tell my playing partners I was done and just walk off the course, I stuffed the lining back inside the bag best I could and took a good look at the 7-iron I had pulled. The grip worn out, a couple of good-sized hacks at the bottom of the club, the hole in my bag, me feeling like crap. What on earth was I trying to accomplish out there? It was at that moment I knew the Callaway replacements were going back, and I was getting rid of everything else as well. I’ll admit it: this time having the shanks as bad as I did really frightened me. The yanks? I could always chalk them up to playing with woods I wasn’t yet fully familiar or comfortable with. But those shanks, and with my old reliable Callaway RAZR-X HLs? That bothered me. Still does. And not just because I didn’t know what I was doing to cause them (which I didn’t and still don’t) but because no matter what I tried to do I couldn’t fix them. I couldn’t fix me. So either I had to go, or the clubs did.

I chose the clubs.

So all the clubs are gone, except for the Ping Scottsdale. Even if we haven’t always seen eye to eye, that’s a club worth keeping and taking care of – heck, I’ve even bought a replacement cover for it.

So where do I go from here, you ask? Well, I haven’t received my invite to the Masters, so there’s no real rush to find new clubs. And even if I had clubs, I wouldn’t really start preparing for Goodboys Invitational weekend until April at the earliest. Original plans to perhaps travel to San Diego for some golf in May have been cancelled due to more important stuff, so there’s really no need to have clubs until around, say, oh, the second weekend in July when (at least theoretically) I’d be wanting to start hitting balls in Massachusetts as part of my last-minute Goodboys Invitational preparation. So I’ve got plenty of time.

More than anything else, I’m not even going to think about trying new clubs on for size until I feel a whole lot better than I do now. I’m on the mend for sure, but my legs are still shaky and I haven’t even got the strength to get back to the gym, let along try out new clubs and hit golf balls.

So I’m going to take my time this time. Maybe go down to the PGA Tour Superstore come April and have Chris do an analysis of my swing. And if I start shanking the ball again, maybe he’ll suggest I try ping-pong or tennis. And if that happens I’ll just give it all up. Hopefully, though, that won’t be the case. With my handicap (presently 27) there’s no point in spending big dough-re-mi on brandy-new clubs, but it would be nice to find clubs with only a year or two of use. Maybe I’ll look at some of the later Callaway models, but I’m thinking it’s time for a change. I like the look of the new Cobra stuff, and I still remember that set of Mizunos I played in (I think) Vegas a few years ago; they were really nice. But no matter what I end up choosing, having clubs fitted for my size and swing can’t hurt – heck, my swing coach Alex Black has been encouraging me to do that ever since we started working together.

After last week, I’m ready for a fresh start. And I’m gonna take my time going about it.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:35 | Comments (0)
March 1, 2017

Wish I felt better to spend my three nights in Vegas anywhere else but my hotel room, but let’s face it: you can do a whole lot worse than spending your nights trying to get your strength back at the Wynn Las Vegas looking out over a beautiful landscape, the mountains and lights spreading out all before you. It doesn’t get old in its breathtaking brilliance. A nice bed, a couple bottles of bottled water, and a good book – well, it just goes to show there really are a hundred ways of enjoying Vegas, and after this visit I can honestly say I think I’ve tried ‘em all and they’ve all been good.

I wish I could say the same thing about my golf game. Two rounds on beautiful courses, with nines of 61-59-59-63. That’s right: a 120 at Stallion Mountain, a 122 at Las Vegas National. So how does a supposedly great ball-striker like The Great White Shank shoot such bloated scores? Well, for one thing, by living up to his nickname. Look, I don’t about the shanks and where they come from. No one does. All I know is, after a couple of decent (albeit abbreviated) range sessions last week, I grabbed my pitching wedge at the Stallion Mountain driving range and proceeded to hit three shanks in a row. I then grabbed a 8-iron and did the same damned thing. And then grabbed my new 3-wood and hit a couple of big yanks right. And did the same thing with my new driver. I didn’t know what to think, but figured out I’d work it out on the course.

I didn’t.

The shanks stayed with me the entire round, on virtually every iron I tried to hit. And the yanks did as well, on virtually every wood I tried to hit. I was in defense mode all day long. Never had that happen to me in as long as I can remember, if ever. It was as if some stranger had occupied my golf body, making it do things I couldn’t stop from happening. I didn’t know who I was, had no clue as to what I was doing out there. Heck, I was even shanking my chips from just off the green. Try doing that at home, folks. Fortunately, the people I was playing with were also just a bunch of hackers, so they didn’t care: we all had a good time just moving the ball around.

—-

I was hoping to be able to try and work out the shanks on the range before my round at Las Vegas National, but it didn’t work out: I was just getting ready to hit my first pitching wedge when the starter came over and asked if I’d mind hooking up with the twosome already on the first tee. What could I say? When the starter says go, you go. So less than fifteen minutes after pulling into the parking lot I’m getting ready to hit with two real Las Vegas showbiz types: Bill, a lawyer to the entertainment industry here, and the other guy (I forget his name) who plays a Frank Valli-type role in a show at Bally’s. He even looked the part. Real nice guys, lots of laughs to play with, lots of showbiz names being dropped between shots throughout the round.

Unfortunately, I really could have used that range session. From beginning to end I had zero clue where any ball I was hitting went. I just couldn’t play a clean hole from start to finish. Decent drive? I’d chunk or shank my approach shot. Lost ball yanked off the tee? I’d make a decent enough before completely messing up around the green. And don’t even get me started if my ball ended up in the sand. I was totally lost. In the end it wasn’t all for not: I got comp’d for the show at Ballys and heard a couple of some funny stories about Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon (none of them flattering) and others. Danny Aiello sounds like a really nice guy.

But to be truthful, as enjoyable as the two rounds were, and they were enjoyable – I had a great time – but something came out of me as a result of all this. It was a lot of work out there, and I really don’t feel like picking up a club anytime soon. As I texted my good Goodboys friend Killer after the round, golf is a harsh mistress. You put so much time and effort into it, and very seldom do you get anything near in return for it. I finally hit two really good pitching wedges on the last two holes, from 90 and 98 yards, but there was no joy in it. All I could ask was why. I didn’t feel like I did anything different on those two shots than two holes prior when I shanked not one, not two, but three 6-irons in a row OB. And if there was another hole or two left to play what’s to say I wouldn’t shank something else? Is it rhythm, tempo, technique, stupidity? I mean, who wants to deal with that? And what’s to say that, even if I were to, say, hit the range and the shanks weren’t there, what’s to say they wouldn’t appear the next time I’m warming up for my next round of golf? Because I know they’re there, a monster within, just like that TV show.

So I honestly don’t know where my game (or lack thereof) goes from here. The sad thing is, I really felt late last summer and early fall I was really close to playing something akin to bogey and a half golf. Now I can’t even come close to double-bogey golf. Maybe it’s time to just give it all a rest. Or maybe I need to take this whole experience to my swing guy Alex Black and learn some coping mechanisms. Or most likely both, but all in their own good time.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:10 | Comments (0)
February 22, 2017

Yesterday I got a chance to hit balls for the first time in nearly four months. Chamber of Commerce weather: the sun shining bright, 74 degrees, and the driving range at Kokopelli Golf Club packed with men and women of all ages. Still feeling a little woozy from the flu, but I just had to get out and give the new clubs a look-see. The verdict? I have to say that, between using a different eye and trying out the new hybrids and woods, everything went OK. The adjustment to using my dominant (lead) eye was fairly seamless as soon as I got used to playing the ball just a tad further back than what I was used to. A few balls were topped, but I chalk it up to just getting a little more familiar with the hand/eye coordination.

The new clubs are fine: the Big Berta hybrids have a little more substantial feeling than the old RAZR/X ones I had, which always seemed so light that they were like twigs in my hand. The Big Berthas have a little more weight and a bigger club head; I found them easier to take an easy swing with. The XR 16 fairway woods and driver I wasn’t able to try out with more than a ball or two – after about thirty balls I was already sweating my brains out and feeling fatigued from being sick – but they all seemed just fine. At my level of competency all you’re looking for are clubs that feel good in your hands to swing, anyways.

I left a dozen balls or more behind and was really interested in seeing what it would be like to putt and chip with a different eye. I’m pleased to say I really didn’t notice much of a difference. Again, I think I have to play the ball just a smidgen back in my chipping and putting stance to accommodate what my lead eye sees as opposed to what my trailing eye did. But it all went OK.

Over all, I’m very pleased at my so-called “coming out party”. In particular, I was very pleased at my overall swing and tempo. As I mentioned in my other post, while I hadn’t actually been hitting balls these past four months, I’d been thinking about golf in more abstract ways, and one of those ways involved my whole approach to swinging a golf club. For some reason, I kept going back to that Hunter Mahan article in the February 2015 issue of GOLF Magazine and his seven keys to hitting irons – in particular, his comment about practicing how you want to finish. His point being, if you can finish on your front foot, hands high, chest facing the target, and completely balanced it really doesn’t matter how you get there: you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a successful shot. And that’s what I tried to do yesterday: in fact, I found using my lead eye made it easier for me to stay on top of the ball and therefore promote a better finish. And it showed in the number of quality results. So I was very pleased about that.

And so, the first test was passed. I was hitting off of mats because of all the recent rain, so this weekend I hope to head out to my old haunt of Superstition Springs and hit off of grass and do a little more putting and chipping to see how it all still feels. Then next week, if the weather holds, I’ll be playing Stallion Mountain and Las Vegas National in Sin City. No expectations, just seeing if I can move a golf ball around a course.

I know one thing: the days of hitting large buckets every week (or more) are over. From now on, whenever I go out I’ll just hit a small bucket, and even at that perhaps only a dozen balls or so, solely to work on rhythm and timing. I just think you fall into bad habits trying to do more than that. If I can hit a small bucket and play a round of golf every three weeks or so I think I’ll have achieved the right balance I’m seeking. And I’ve got a great new Hawaiian shirt to show off in Las Vegas and when Goodboys weekend comes around!

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 19:53 | Comments (0)
February 20, 2017

…a nod not as much to John Lennon’s song, but more so to the fact that he and George Harrison, as Phil Spector music fans, seemed to enjoy putting words in parenthesis as part of a song’s title – something Phil did quite a bit.

A lot has happened since the last time I picked up a golf club, which was late October of last year. There was, of course, the election of Donald Trump. The holidays (mercifully) came and went as a much ado about nothing. You had the much-ballyhooed comeback of Tiger Woods that lasted only three rounds; now it’s an open question whether we ever see him pick up a club in competition again. On the personal front, we finally completed the work on our living trust, all the work involving my sister-in-law’s divorce is complete (just waiting for the formal judgment to be released), we refinanced our house, and for the first time ever not only have our financial affairs completely in order, but, working with the folks at Edelman Financial, a strategy to keep our retirement plans on track. Taxes are ahead of schedule for the first time in years, and work is finally starting to quiet down from the frenzied pace of the last few months.

All of this taking place since the last time I touched a golf club.

And not that there isn’t still more to do – heck, there’s always more stuff in the queue: taxes to complete, living trust documents to update, and stuff involving the house that has patiently been waiting its turn while all this other “must be done” activity is put in the rear-view mirror. But the brightly-colored and highly-organized file folders that sit on our dining room table once numbering eight has been reduced to four, and even that is about ready to drop to only two as soon as I get around to filing them.

In short, it’s time to start thinking about golf again.

Typically, the end of February is when Exec-Comm (those chaps at the top right) starts thinking about what they want to do about Goodboys Invitational weekend (third weekend of July). I know a few of the boys are already have travel plans in place for spring golf in some very nice places, and I’m actually planning on a few days in Vegas next week without the laptop as a gift for the nose-to-grindstone work I’ve driven these past five months. Tracey would like to go to San Diego in May, and if we do there will have to be a return trip to The Crossings, the nicest course I’ve ever played. So now sounds like a good time to start thinking about picking up the clubs again.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about golf during this time away, mostly in an abstract way. I know at one time I had actually planned on committing myself to lopping a whopping six strokes off my MyScorecard.com 24-handicap (actually 23.9 right now), or at the very least get it down below 20, but looking back I think that was more about giving myself something to focus on in the wake of my Mom’s passing three months earlier. My good Goodboys pal “The Funny Guy” has always stated that hackers like us are what we are, and no amount of effort short of completely giving everything else up and playing and working on golf 24/7 with a bona fide instructor is going to change that. Could a goal of, say, lopping one stroke off my handicap this year be more reasonable and lead to enjoying the game much more? I think that’s where my head is more or less at right now – anything beyond that just seems too difficult and too time-consuming to pursue.

There are other challenges I’m going to be facing as I pick the game back up. For one thing, as I mentioned in an earlier post, someone stole my Callaway RAZR/X woods and hybrids from my garage the other day. I still can’t believe they’re gone. Not that they were valuable in any way (they were five years old and used at that), but more than anything else they were my golf companions even if I never truly figured out how to hit any of them with any consistency (especially the hybrids!). In the mail are Callaway Big Bertha hybrids (3 and 4), a Callaway XR 16 driver, and XR 16 3- and 5-woods. All pre-owned, of course – no need for spending big dough-re-mi on clubs that won’t make a huge difference in my scores one way or the other.

The biggest change – and challenge – I’m going to face is having to use my right eye as my dominant eye instead of my left as I’ve done ever since picking up the game. My eye doc says I’m at the age where they can only put so much prescription in my left eye to accommodate distance (since my LASIK surgery in 1999 I’ve had monovision, meaning that without glasses I use my left eye for reading and up close and my right eye for distance). But I’ve always been more comfortable using my (as a lefty) trailing left eye as my main eye for golf. I could really feel the change in my prescription last year and was having such a hard time seeing the ball clearly with my left eye that I know my friends got tired of me asking, “did you see where that one went?”. It was really impacting my game, and I was hoping new glasses would help get my left eye distance vision back to where it needed to be. It now seems like that’s no longer going to be the case. So, starting this year I’ll be attempting to use my dominant (lead) eye for golf. Will it matter? I’ve consulted all sorts of golf sites and there seems no right or wrong answer. Frankly, I’m a little nervous about how it’s all going to work out, but maybe it won’t be so bad or as much as an adjustment as I think. We’ll see.

And finally, recognizing that I’m a hacker and will always be so means I’m going back to what I liked best about playing golf – wearing my Hawaiian shirts and hitting those orange Wilson 50s. I’ve got four dozen in the garage ready to go, and I won’t be afraid of losing them nearly so much as I would those really nice Callaway Supersofts I’d been using the last couple of years. The way I look at it, it just gives me less to worry about out there: have I marked my ball or marked it correctly? Did I just hit someone else’s ball by mistake? I’ve played literally hundreds of rounds and have yet to come across someone else playing another orange ball, let alone a Wilson 50. I figure I’m going to have enough to worry about just keeping my own shit together out there without having to worry about how to look and act like a golfer. So keeping it simple and familiar and focusing on the basics (see the ball, hit the ball, keep moving) seems like the way to go.

The Great White Shank is back.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:11 | Comments (3)

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