A Golf Evangelist
Like many of you, I’m perpetually trying to get more people to play golf. From my wife (check), to my kids (results pending), to my friends (mainly failure), I want more people to enjoy the game that I love so much.
Recently, PXG gave me the opportunity to turn one my biggest Ls into a W. They asked me to identify a new or potential golfer in my life and to provide some info about them. A few days later, a giant PXG box appeared on my porch with the 0211 Z Full Bag built to the specs of one of my best friends.
I’ve written a full review of the clubs [find it HERE], but I wanted to write this piece to address the broader question of whether or not new golfers need fitted clubs.
What Does “Fitted Clubs” Mean?
Before we proceed, it’s good to define our term because “fitted clubs” can be used to describe a wide range of things. If you take the time to buy the box set that’s built for your height, that’s one end of the spectrum. The other end would be a fully custom set from a place like Club Champion with the ideal specs, shafts, heads, grips, etc.
What I’m advocating for is something in the middle. To start, every golfer should play clubs that are fit for their body. There’s no reason why a golfer who’s very tall or short should play standard length clubs. There’s no reason why kids should swing clubs weighted for an adult. The game is hard enough.
Beyond the basics of length, grip size, and some consideration for weight, new golfers should play clubs that are appropriate for their skill level. I started playing with forged blades and persimmon woods. It didn’t turn me into Ben Hogan; it made me miserable. If I hadn’t already committed to the idea of being a golfer, I’d be writing about something other than golf right now.
One Good Shot
Through the Plugged In Golf Podcast [listen HERE] and conversations with playing partners, I’ve asked dozens of people how they got started in golf. Almost every single person has the same answer, “I hit one good shot, and I was hooked.”
If our goal is to turn more people from “I have a set of clubs in the garage” to “Yeah, I play golf,” we need to get more people hitting that one good shot. Nothing is going to get them there faster than the right clubs.
Golf is intimidating. There’s a lot of equipment. We have books full of etiquette and rules. It’s expensive. And, it’s hard.
Of all the things that Ricky told me about his new clubs, one thing stands out more than anything else: “The clubs did make me feel pretty cool.” As golf evangelists, we need to remember this simple, honest statement. New golfers want to feel like they belong at the course. And until my work to end golf snobbery succeeds [join the movement HERE], a big part of that is having nice gear.
This is Ricky. I’m going to turn this section over to him, so he can tell you, in his own words, about being able to play with fitted golf clubs.
How did the set look?
“I thought the set looked really slick. The green and silver pattern on the black Cypher shaft had a futuristic feel to it. The heads looked sturdy and were marked nicely to show where I should be trying to strike the ball. Overall, they look like they would belong to someone who knows what they are doing, rather than an amateur who rarely gets to go out like myself.”
How did the clubs perform?
“The clubs felt light enough that I could keep a decent swing speed, and also had some rigidity to them to help me make better contact with the ball. Actual shots felt good and seemed to be getting good height and distance. I still had my mishits, but the clubs definitely seemed to be more forgiving of slight mistakes I might make in my swing. There seemed to be a lot fewer slices than I remember hitting with other sets of clubs, particularly with the drivers. That might be the most consistently I have hit a driver.”
Did these clubs make golf more fun? Are you more likely to play now?
“While I may not have a lot of time to go out very frequently, the knowledge that I have these clubs, and the desire I have to use them, will encourage me to try a little harder to make time, and help me feel a bit more confident on the course knowing I’m not using my Opa’s 30 year old set of clubs.”
For background, Ricky is a good athlete, a three-sport competitor in high school. He’s also very humble about what he was able to do with his fitted clubs. To my knowledge, Ricky had not swung a club in years prior to our trip to the golf dome with his new PXGs. Without warm up or instruction, his first iron swing produced a high, straight shot. So did the second and third.
While I don’t want to sell his ability short, the impact of the clubs was substantial. From the driver through the wedges, the difference between his old clubs and his new fitted clubs was obvious. In all the shots he hit with his new set, there was one really ugly result, a little grounder. Looking at all the shots he hit with his old set, the bad dramatically outweighed the good.
With his new clubs, Ricky walked away from the session looking forward to the next outing. Had he gone to the range with his old set, I don’t think that would have been true.
Clubs vs. Lessons
This being not my first rodeo, I know that the most popular comment I’m going to get is, “They don’t need new clubs, they need lessons.” Please feel free to read that in the “Get off my lawn” voice.
I have two responses to this. The first is short, and entirely sufficient: it’s not either/or. You can get them lessons and well fit clubs.
However, since the internet is where nuance goes to die, I will add this: clubs are better than lessons, especially for new golfers. First, there are a boatload of bad golf instructors out there. A new golfer has no idea what to look for in an instructor. Very few golfers do. The odds that they end up with a great instructor are slim. The odds that a big SGI iron will help them get the ball airborne are 100%.
Second, they have you. I am not suggesting that the average golfer is fit to teach. However, you are more than capable of showing them how to address the ball. Give them an athletic posture, put the ball in the right spot, and get out of the way.
Third, in the absence of you, they have the internet. Do I think YouTube is the optimal place for golfers to go from a 15 handicap to scratch? Absolutely not. I can’t type “NO” strongly enough. However, YouTube is a perfectly good place for a beginner to learn about the grip, ball position, and posture.
Fourth, lessons require work, clubs do not. As I noted above, new clubs made Ricky a better golfer instantly. Even if we assume that a new golfer gets great lessons, they need to put in consistent effort to see results. This can be an unrealistic expectation for a seasoned golfer, let alone someone deciding whether or not they like the game.
Finally, I have seen many new golfers, and I have taught many new golfers. I have never seen a player so hopelessly unathletic that they couldn’t take a big, forgiving club and hit a shot that makes their eyes light up. On the other hand, I have seen a former NFL defensive back who had the athleticism coached out of him so thoroughly that he couldn’t make contact with the ball. In the battle between clubs and lessons – which, again, does not need to be a battle – I will take clubs every time.
What Should a New Golfer Buy?
If I were advising someone with a limited budget on what to get for a new golfer, I would suggest a four-piece set.
First, get a putter that’s the right length. Every golf store has used putters that can be picked up for a song.
Second, find a big, forgiving driver. This is going to be the most expensive part of the kit, but it will be worth it. There are two good routes here. One option is buying used. This requires a bit more know how on the part of the golf evangelist, but there are deals out there. An easier route is buying new from a line like Tour Edge’s Hot Launch. Their current driver is $250 and that includes a number of custom options.
Third, pick up a big, forgiving 7-iron. Again, you can buy new or used. Most golf stores are full of old demo irons that they’ll sell for $10 or give away. Alternately, you can order one single iron from any OEM. This will cost more, but you’ll get a new club built to your specs.
Finally, grab a sand wedge. For the new golfer, something from the used bin will be fine for now.
With these four clubs, you can go the range, start learning a swing, and even head to the course as a minimalist golfer. What’s important is that you’ll be playing golf with clubs that are going to help you in the search for that first great shot.