Mental Mondays: Evaluate Your Club Mix


In 1960, the average golf score was 100. Forty years later, in spite of all the innovations in clubs, balls and instruction, the average golf score is … still 100. In fact, only 20 percent of all golfers will ever break that mark.

Here’s the problem: Even with all the improvements, the one thing we haven’t been able to improve is the golf intelligence of the players. Most hackers—and more than a few better players—just play dumb golf. So here’s part one of a series on playing smarter golf. I’ve been collecting mental game golf tips for years in a series of notebooks, on my palm pilot and in various computer files. They’ve helped my game. I know they’ll help yours

The clubs you put into your bag make a difference. Thanks—or no thanks—to the influence of the manufacturers and the pros, the typical weekender I see carries a driver, putter, 3-PW, SW, two woods and a specialty wedge—often a sixty degree model, but sometimes a gap wedge.

It’s worth thinking seriously about which clubs you carry, which you use, and which you might need. Your bag should reflect your unique game, not some pre-determined set.

When tracking your distances and your shot tendencies, also pay attention to the clubs you are using. It’s likely that there are a couple of clubs in your bag that you use once a round or less. Another possibility is that there are two clubs that overlap in terms of distance. If either of these is the case, it makes sense to substitute something with a little more utility.

Dropping a little-used long iron for another wedge is a typical move. It is also eminently sensible. Half and three-quarter wedge shots are tricky and adding a club to fill in a distance gap can save shots. If chipping is a weakness, you might drop an unused club for a specialty chipper.

Crowne Plaza (43 of 60)For others, dropping the driver would be a bold, but practical move. Studies have repeatedly shown that weekenders typically hit their three wood just as far—if not further—than their driver. If you’re one of those, get rid of the big dog and add a scoring club.

Later, if you’re on the course and find you need the missing club—say, a four iron—take a longer stick and either choke down or swing easy. (But for heavens sake don’t take a shorter club and swing harder).

Players who have thought seriously about their set often end up with unusual combinations. On fellow I played with had no driver, but carried two putters: one, he explained, was for long shots; the other for short ones. Another, perhaps running counter to conventional wisdom, had dropped the fairway woods—which he did not hit effectively—in favor of a couple of wedges with different bounce angles.

The point is to treat your clubs like a set of tools—and to carry the tools that are most likely to help you accomplish the task at hand: getting the ball into the hole.

This tip is an excerpt from The Five Inch Course: Thinking Your Way To Better Golf. The complete book is available in Kindle format at Amazon.com.

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7 thoughts on “Mental Mondays: Evaluate Your Club Mix”

  1. I have stopped the two driver thing, which I did on and off since Phil did it a few years back.  Usually this involved by Burner Draw and carrying the Callaway X-460 and later the Callaway FT-i.  The Burner draw was more difficult for me to hit on the screws correctly especially near the end of the round so the Callaways were for safety and security, and so I could finish the round well if the Burner started trouble.  But I started hitting the FT-i with such a high percentage I stopped carrying the Burner, I was going 3 rounds with maybe a couple poor drives with the FT-i – giving up distance, but center of fairway is always better than distance. 

    As I moved to the new FT-iz (and temporary flirtation with an FT-iq) I did have a few two driver days, but I am finding quicker adjustments by taking the new driver only.  Sunday, in round #4 with the FT-iz, the first bad drive on the first hole went in the water, and I ended with a 10 – but for the second hole, it came back strong on the 220 Par 3, I used driver and it stayed on line with the flag to leave 15 feet straight uphill for the putt.  I am hitting some of the best drives this year with the FT-iz, and it is almost as forgiving as the FT-i.

    On the south side of the bag, I am suffering a little- I carried 4 wedges most of the year, PW, GW, 54 and 60.  Not to long ago I put the GW and 54 away and moved to a 52.  I use a 60 degree out of bunkers with high reliability, and from the fringes, I like the 60.  That plan of the PW, 52, 60 was pretty good, but I decided to go with a Cleveland Niblick 49 and take out the 52.  That is leaving me with a fairly large gap – which makes me uncomfortable, but the Niblick is great, and honestly, I usually do a lot more delofting with the 60 to get it down to 56, 54, 52 anyway – but it is bothering me mentally.

    On the highside, I have a new overlap, carrying a 5w and a 3h, the 5w is so sweet, and I can get the ball up high and fly trees, but in the rough it is worthless.  Distance is very close, with the 3h when I hit it well being 10 yards shorter of the average 5w hit.  (180 vs 190)  3-hybrid I am not as comfortable, but twice yesterday I came out of thick rough to 170-180 yards with the hybrid (100% for two attempts). 

    The two putter thing, I have honestly thought about.  I have carried them on occasion before, but it quickly was shown to be a mistake.  I am still playing the best putter in Starfleet, the Golfsmith Enterprise, which I usually receive a couple theft threats a round for—which is why I have a boxed one as backup in storage.  But the Enterprise has a very soft insert, and putts over 20-30 feet get difficult to get to the hole.  Yesterday, I had an 80 foot putt, and I managed to get it within 8 feet, exactly online, and without the hop, skip and jump I usually hit my long putts with.  I just about feinted when the ball just started with a good roll.  When I carried various Odyssey White Steels (blade, Tri-ball, or two ball) – all of them are much faster off the face, (steel vs polymer, duh!) – but where I had probably 14 lags to within 3 feet (including the ones where I holed out) yesterday, I would never get that percentage with the Odysseys- but I could get the ball on a reasonable line to the hole on the very long putts. 

    My group is not often strict with the 14 club thing, but since we are entering the club championship and a bracketed match play tournament right now, with the city opens coming up, everyone is going 14 clubs only and trying to stabilize their bags, and it does take a lot of thought!

  2. Funny story a couple years ago, my now 5-year old (she was 3-4 then) was trying to count to bigger and bigger numbers, and I had both sets of clubs and the others all laying out on the floor, I was cleaning and checking grips and such and trying to assemble two bags I would be happy with.  She kept counting 1,2,3,4….  As she got to the 40s, I was like, no way.  I really hadn’t thought about it.  She stopped at 54.  So I counted them up, taking actual inventory of where I was – 6 putters, 5 drivers, 8 fairway woods, etc. 

    Somewhere I lost track of the girl, but she turned up later, when I went downstairs for dinner, appearantly the ladies of the house had been talking because somewhere in the middle of dinner, my wife asks “How many golf clubs to you carry in your bag?” and I answered 15 or 16 usually, but 14 is legal.  And then it came- “so your daughter and I would like to know why you have 54 clubs”. 

    I guess part I would have really been in trouble if she had found out that I actually knew of about 3 or 4 more clubs which would have put me over 60, which I keep in her golf bag which was deeper in the closet (because she doesn’t play) and I really would have no use for those clubs anyway.

  3. No driver here; 3, 5 and 7 woods. 4-9 irons, two wedges (PW & 65 deg), two putters.

    Now if they made golf ball mortars legal…

  4. Great advice. I have always had issues with my driver and can blast my 3 wood well. I always find myself thinking I need that driver while I should be thinking of them as my tools and bringing the ones that I work best with.

  5. Nice post. I dropped the driver out of my bag for two years and teed off with a 4 iron. I got really good with that iron and hit it about 210 in the fairway consistently. I can’t get much more distance than that with a driver and I’m way less consistent with the driver. However, I have recently learned how to drive pretty well and I have to admit, as a stupid weekend hacker, there’s nothing quiet like blasting a long drive on an open fairway.

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