A Lesson in One Sentence
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the whole lesson in one sentence:
Golf equipment matters because it affects the results of your swing and the swing itself.
Hopefully you’ve got a few minutes, because I would like to go into a little more detail.
A Light Bulb Moment
The person who first got me thinking about the importance of equipment was Bruce Rearick. Bruce is a marvelous teacher and one of the most knowledgeable people in the game. He also has a knack for saying things very simply. When discussing the importance of equipment he simply asked me, “Can you hit your pitching wedge as far as your driver?” Point made. Equipment is a key part of the equation of golf.
Equipment as Input and Swing Modifier
Think of a golf shot as an equation. For any given shot:
Swing + Club = Result (Ball Flight)
We all have a result in our mind that we’d like. Let’s take the most common one: a long, straight shot. How can we produce that? Here’s one way:
Neutral Swing + Neutral Club = Long, Straight Shot
*We will use “Neutral Swing” to mean that the path and face are square to the target and “Neutral Club” to mean a square-faced club with a well-fit shaft.
Now, let’s leave the swing alone but change the club. Say, for instance, your significant other just bought a new driver for you. Now you may have this:
Neutral Swing + Closed-Face Driver = Duck Hook
After a couple rounds, you’re wondering what’s going on. It can’t be the club, right? The club is good, it was on the Hot List (that’s sarcasm, folks). It must be your swing, so you go to the range and hit balls until you’re back to hitting long, straight shots. How did you do it? Like this:
Open-Faced Swing + Closed-Face Driver = Long, Straight Shot
And that’s great…until you get another new driver or start to overdo the open-faced swing…
Factors to Consider
So how can equipment impact your swing and your ball flight? Let’s make a list:
Club Face Angle
We know from the Ball Flight Laws Series that the club face is the primary factor in controlling ball flight, so we know that the club’s face angle will affect our ball flight. Golf clubs, particularly drivers, can be designed with open, closed, or square faces, and, of course, they can be changed through adjustability. Knowing the face angles your clubs have will be very helpful in understanding their tendencies.
Offset tends to make the ball launch higher and further left. It can also have a major impact on alignment. Additionally, it tends to be one of the most polarizing visual elements in a golf club. Some players hate offset, but it’s a security blanket for others. Don’t underestimate the importance of this visual preference.
Clubs that are too long or too short can dramatically impact your posture and your ability to make good contact with the ball. Contact, good or bad, will have a huge impact on your ball flight in terms of both distance and direction. Fitting for proper length is the most basic element of club fitting, and no one should overlook it.
Lie angle, much like length, can impact your posture, and it can also have an effect on the direction of your shots. Clubs that are too upright will cause the ball to start too far left (for right handed players) and clubs that are too flat will tend to start the ball too far right.
Shaft Flex, Weight, and Torque
These are particularly tough for people to recognize because they can’t be seen, but they will definitely have an impact – primarily inconsistency. Though there are some rules of thumb about shafts, they’re broken so regularly that they hardly bear knowing. I would simply suggest this: if you don’t like the feel of your shafts for any reason, work with a fitter to find something better.
The Cycle of Equipment and Swing Changes
Let’s think about the swing and the club as puzzle pieces. When well fit, they make a perfect picture: a booming 5-yard or a high cut to a tucked pin. The problem is that one of these puzzle pieces – your swing – is always changing. This is inevitable because we wake up a little different every day. Over time, those little differences add up: we lose (or gain) significant amounts of weight, we get more flexible, we lose strength, etc. Additionally, many of us are actively working to change our swings.
What this means is that we can do one of two things. We can either A) accept that our swing is changing and modify our equipment as necessary or B) fight to keep our swing as constant as possible. Since Father Time remains undefeated, I would strongly suggest that you develop a good relationship with your club fitter and see him (or her) as necessary instead of trying to hold back the tide.
Dealing with the Naysayers
There are two common refrains I hear from people who think that equipment doesn’t matter:
1) The pros could play with any clubs and still be good.
2) Equipment doesn’t matter for me because I’m not good enough.
Both are wrong. Here’s why:
1) Yes, the pros would still be talented, but do you really think they’d be as good as they are now with clubs fit for a five foot tall, 60 year old woman? What if they had to trade clubs with an NBA center? They might learn to adjust eventually, but they’d never perform as optimally as they do with their current, properly fit equipment.
2) Equipment matters to everyone. Just because I’m not Norm Abrams doesn’t mean I should use a rusty saw. The tools you use will influence the way you work. There is no reason not to use the best tools for the job.
There are a number of things I’d like you to take away from this lesson, but the most important is simply that your golf clubs do matter. While I’m not suggesting that you blame your clubs for bad swings or that buying new clubs will fix your game, I am saying that evaluating your equipment is a critical part of improving as a golfer.
As always, please feel free to post any questions or comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.