Don’t waste money on new golf clubs or gimmicks | VailDaily.com

Don’t waste money on new golf clubs or gimmicks

JOE MOYLAN

There are few things that excite a golfer more than the coming of spring and the promise of a new season.

But if there's one thing that revs a golfer's engine more than opening day at his or her favorite track, it's opening day with a golf bag overflowing with the season's latest gear.

The golf industry arguably is the best at marketing its products, perfecting its message over time to appeal to the character of those drawn to one of the few truly individual sports ever created. The American golfer may even be more independent than the rest, given their propensity for handing over hard-earned cash in exchange for products promising to unlock the secrets of a painfully frustrating game.

Examples of the golf industry's marketing brilliance are many, from a new driver promising greater distance, irons that are forgiving and accurate, even on mis-hits, to balls that guarantee PGA Tour-level precision, as long as that ball is struck perfectly.

The marketing genius has also overflowed into the golf training aid market, where famous golfers and golf instructors parade a bottomless sea of gadgets, gizmos and gimmicks guaranteed to fix a golfer's slice or hook, help generate more club head speed for greater distance or produce a buttery smooth putting stroke.

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The cold, hard fact, however, is that the millions of people who flock each year to golf outlets to trade in their one-, two- or three-year-old clubs for the season's latest and greatest, would be better served to take a small portion of that money and invest it in lessons.

The game's most prominent governing entity, the United States Golf Association, regulates all facets of equipment from materials to the size, length, shape, weight and depth of balls, clubs, shafts, grooves and everything else under the sun.

Furthermore, the three biggest changes in the USGA's rules on equipment were implemented in 2006 when officials adopted new limits on club head moment of inertia, or MOI, and in 2008 when the USGA adopted limits in the size and sharpness of club grooves and also set regulations on the adjustability of woods and irons.

In other words, even though golf equipment manufacturers have a little room to experiment within the guidelines of the USGA, the most significant innovations to the golf equipment industry in the last several years have primarily been cosmetic in nature.

Think about it.

How many golfers went out last year and dropped $300 on a TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2 driver simply because Jason Day promised it would be even more "Rocketballz-ier" than the Stage 1 released in 2012?

How many times did we bypass a sale on 2012 Titleist ProV1 golf balls to drop more than $50 on a box of 2013s because the alignment stamp changed and Titleist came up with only marginally prettier packaging?

Need more proof?

In April, Greg Hopkins, CEO of Hopkins Golf and a former 16-year CEO of Cleveland Golf, told High Country Golf that had it not been for his background in wedge and iron design coupled with his extensive knowledge about USGA equipment regulations, he never would have been able to strike out on his own and be competitive in a market already flooded with well known and trusted golf manufacturers.

However, because the USGA essentially controls product innovation, Hopkins was able to develop a series of products in a relatively short period of time that are on par with the rest of the industry. But he also went a step further to provide his customers a new level of service and has already stolen a significant share of the wedge market.

The point here is not to organize a boycott of the retail golf industry entirely. There's bound to be golfers out there playing with old hand-me-downs from the '90s or, god forbid, great grandpa's blades complete with hickory shafts. If you're a golfer in that boat and you have the funds for an upgrade, then by all means splurge.

However, if you’re a golfer who already owns clubs released this side of the new millennia, don't waste your money on a set of empty promises. There's a strong chance the clubs in your bag are just as good as what's currently on the rack.

Instead, take a small portion of that money and invest in your game by setting up a series of lessons with your local pro.

In the spirit of being neighborly, Ben Walsh, director of golf at EagleVail Golf Club, shared with us three of his favorite drills to get yourself ready for the golf season. As an added bonus, all three drills can be done using items already found in every player's bag, saving you more money on gimmicks, so you can take advantage of the next era of true golf club innovation.

Putting: proper alignment

One of the things most golfers forget, especially at the beginning of the season, is the importance of alignment in putting.

Ben Welsh, director of golf at EagleVail Golf Club, said he addresses alignment in almost every lesson he gives.

"I see too many people go out to the practice green and just hit balls before their round," Welsh said. "People tend to forget alignment and practicing a routine are two important components in putting."

It seems surprising alignment would go overlooked by a significant number of golfers considering everything the golf industry has done to make alignment as simple as possible. Nearly all modern golf ball manufacturers feature some type of a stamp — a dark line or an arrow — to help golfers line up their putts with the cup, Welsh said. Putters also have similar features to further assist golfers with hitting their putts online with the target.

The drill:

• Head out to the practice green and locate the flattest line to the hole=
• Take a couple of steps back and get a good read of the line
• Place a ball on the green with the alignment stamp pointing toward the hole
• Address the ball making sure the alignment stamps on your putter and ball are in sync and pointing toward the hole

Hit a putt and repeat

— Welsh recommends practicing this drill from a distance between five and 10 feet.
— For those having a tough time getting their putts online, Welsh said players can pull a three or a four iron out of the bag, place it at their feet and use the shaft as a putting track.

Ball Striking: The "two tee drill"

Ball striking is another area of the game golfers often struggle with at the beginning of the season.

Although some of those early season struggles are a result of rust, Welsh said a number of golfers also get too caught up in worrying about what their swing looks like, chasing the latest swing trends or trying to imitate their favorite PGA pros. What golfers often neglect, especially higher handicappers, is the importance of impact.

"If you watch some of the better players you can see that they hit the ball in the same place on the club just about every time," Welsh said. "Focusing on impact is especially important for higher handicaps because at the end of the day, if they're bringing the club face square at impact, it really doesn't matter what the rest of the swing looks like."

The drill:

• Head out to the practice tee and place a ball on the ground
• Set your club head behind the ball and place two tees in the ground, one at the toe and one at the heel of the club (give yourself a little room for error)
• Swing, concentrating on not disturbing the two tees
• Repeat as necessary

— If you hit the inside tee, that means you're catching the ball on the toe of the club.
— If you hit the outside tee, you're hitting the ball on the heel.
— Drill works well with every club in the bag.

Chipping: The "Flamingo chip"

Proper weight distribution, a quiet lower body and "wrapping" your shoulders around the shot are all key components to chipping. But after a long winter, it's easy for golfers to lose their feel.

It all starts with weight distribution, Welsh said, and the best short game players in the world generally subscribe to the practice of placing about 80 percent of their weight onto their front foot, which allows golfers to more effectively swing down on the ball.

"But, a lot of people struggle with weight distribution early in the season, which also results in too much hip rotation and an overly active lower body," Welsh said. "Chipping, like putting, requires a pretty quiet lower body."

For those struggling with too much hip rotation or too much leg action, Welsh has people practice "flamingo chips." Although the widely preferred stance calls for about an 80/20 weight distribution, the flamingo rights chipping wrongs in a hurry because it calls for golfers to place all of the weight on their front foot.

The drill:

Head out to the chipping green
Stand on and shift all of your weight onto your front foot
Drop your back toe onto the turf for balance
Chip, focusing on striking down on the ball and using your shoulders to facilitate the shot

— The lower body doesn't need to be completely stiff, but there should also be significantly less movement in the knees, hips and legs than on shots requiring full or even half-swings.