This Golf Accessory is a Ripoff, but it Kind of Works, So Far

I’ve owned or tested a number of pushcarts, and so far the one I’ve liked best and would recommend for most golfers is the Clicgear 3.5+. It’s a substantial piece of machinery, yet it folds down into a reasonably compact unit, which I have no trouble fitting into the trunk of my car as long as there’s nothing much in my trunk other than my golf bag and my pushcart.

The Clicgear does have an annoying design flaw, though—as you can sort of see in the  first and third golf carts in the photo above: some bags sit so low on the cart that they come very close to the front wheel, and even scrape. The reason is that each cart’s bag rest, a padded metal loop, doesn’t stick out far enough and is at least an inch too close to the wheel. Clicgear has acknowledged that this can be an issue for “tour and large size golf bags,” but it actually affects small bags, too. I’ve got a lightweight Sun Mountain carry bag, and after about a year the wheel began to rub. I dealt with the problem at first by resting the bottom of the bag not on the bag rest but on the little folding arms above it, which are meant to secure the bag to the cart, but when I did that the bag wouldn’t stay put. More recently, I gave up and spent ten bucks for Clicgear’s solution: a “booster clip” that clamps onto the bag rest and is supposed to add an inch of clearance.

At least part of the issue with Sun Mountain and similar carry bags is that their bases are beveled, to accommodate the lever that pops out the legs, and the Clicgear bag rest doesn’t extend far enough past the bevel: it’s too short to engage the actual bottom of the bag.

I hate the idea of spending ten dollars on a piece of plastic that must have cost a millionth of a cent to manufacture and that wouldn’t be necessary if Clicgear had ever bothered to correct its own design flaw. (The bag rest has been the same since the beginning, in models 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5+.) And even the booster clip is poorly designed, since it has a rounded front that reduces its effective thickness for bags like mine. A much better solution would have been to redesign and replace the bag rest itself. But the clip does lift my bag just high enough that it no longer scraps—for now. We’ll check back in a year.

 

Beef Box: Don’t Call Fairway Woods “Metals”

My first driver—which was partly responsible for my decision, at the age of thirteen, to give up golf for more than twenty years—was a two-generation hand-me-down with a head that could have filled in as the foot of a Queen Anne chair. Nowadays, though, even seven-year-olds demand titanium. A few years ago, I played in a senior event with a guy from another club who carried an ancient Spalding persimmon 3-wood, but he was the only Luddite in the field and he never hit a good shot with it. Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three. You seldom see actual wood anymore even in the golf bags of estranged wives, who occupy the lowest rung on the club recycling ladder.

The question, though, is whether this change in technology necessitates a change in terminology. Various prominent television commentators,  Johnny Miller among them, have decided that it does. They refer to woods as “metals,” saying, for example, that a certain player has elected to go for the green with a “fairway metal” of some kind—perhaps a “3-metal.” Jim Nantz, on CBS, sometimes refers to a fairway wood generically as “a metal-headed club.”

There are three things wrong with this trend. The first is that it creates more confusion than it eliminates, since almost all modern golf clubs, including irons and putters, are “metal-headed.” The second is that “wood” is no more anachronistic than “iron.” (Irons haven’t been made of iron since Britain was ruled by Romans. Should we start calling those clubs “alloys”?) The third is that avoiding “wood” is excessively fastidious, like objecting to the use of the (useful) word “hopefully.” The television commentators are proposing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Besides, retaining an archaic expression creates the possibility for creative revisionism later on.

“Why are woods called ‘woods’?” your great-great-granddaughter may ask you someday.

“Well, Little One,” you can explain, “there was an awfully good player back around the turn of the century. He hit the ball farther than anybody else, and he won every prize there was to win. In fact, I taught him everything he knew. Woods were named after him.”

How to Buy a Driver for Someone You Love

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In an early episode of The Simpsons, Homer gives Marge a bowling ball for her birthday. She seems disappointed, so he says, “Well, if you don’t want it, I know someone who does.” (He’s already had his own name engraved on it.)

In the same spirit, you might consider giving your wife a Mizuno JPX 900 driver. I’ve been playing with one for the past six weeks, and, although I haven’t had my name engraved on it yet, I’m sure that after Christmas it will still be in my golf bag—and not only because my wife doesn’t play golf. It even sounds great when you smack it.

As with many newish drivers, you (or a club-fitter) can make a number of potentially helpful adjustments on a JPX 900: loft, lie, launch angle, hook, fade, etc. A company representative suggested that I settle on the loft first, then fool around with the other variables. I cranked it all the way up, to 11.5 degrees, and since then I’ve been trying the two 8-gram “Fast Track” weights in different positions—currently, right in the middle. To move the weights, you loosen them with the included torque wrench, then slide them into new positions and tighten them until the wrench clicks in a way that makes you think you’ve broken the club.

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And you do have to turn the wrench until it clicks. A couple of weeks ago, Rick began hitting uncharacteristically lousy shots with his own driver, which is several years old. Eventually, he realized that the shaft had come slightly loose. He borrowed a wrench from the golf shop when we made the turn (this was just a friendly round), and resumed booming it down the middle.

Mizuno sells the JPX 900 with a Fujikura Speeder EVO II graphite, in either regular or stiff flex. My clubs have always had stiff shafts (except when I’ve accidentally bought one that didn’t), but I’m getting on in years and decided that it was time to try something more age-appropriate. So my new driver has a regular shaft that has been “tipped” slightly—that is, a little bit of the skinny end was removed before the shaft was installed. That made it stiffer than a regular shaft, but less stiff than a stiff one—a baby step toward the grave.

Addison, conversely, has golf clubs with stiff shafts that have been tipped, making them a little bit stiffer than stiff. But he’s 25.

What’s in My Bag: An Old Curmudgeon

Nat Ehrlich, a reader in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a retired university professor whose main academic interests are human-performance psychology and statistics. He took up golf in 1961, and he was the golf coach at the University of Michigan-Flint in 1971 and 1972. He’s 76 years old now, and although he hasn’t shot his age he’s come close. He’s a regular at Radrick Farms, the University of Michigan’s golf course and one of Pete Dye’s earliest designs:

Looking down on the green at the par-5 fifth hole at Radrick Farms Golf Club.
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He’s also an old curmudgeon. Recently, he sent me a photograph of his golf bag, which is totally from opposite land by comparison with mine:

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He wrote:

“During most of this season, I used modern equipment — TaylorMade SLDR, Ping 4-wood, Titleist hybrids (19 and 21 degrees), and Callaway Big Berthas — but I shot my best round of the year (age +3) after switching back to the Hogan Apex PCs and the Citation driver and 3-wood. And that was with 35 putts. The Hogans have no offset and zero bounce, except for the two sand wedges. That makes them easier to aim (no offset) and better at slicing through the rough. And I have no problem hitting the driver from a decent lie in the fairway. Here are two pictures that show why my bag is full of ancient equipment:”

“As you can see, the ball looks bigger in close proximity to a smaller clubhead. That signals the brain that it’s an easier target to hit. Also, the smaller clubhead is a signal to the brain to be more accurate. No learning required. Of course, the degree to which one misses the 1/16th-inch sweet spot, which is the same for all clubs, gives you more feedback with the smaller head, and that makes you swing more accurately.

(He’s right about the “sweet spot” being the same size on all clubs—it’s a spot—although modern, perimeter-weighted clubs yield better results when you miss it.)

Back to Ehrlich:

“More accurately doesn’t mean much more slowly, though. Yes, I get about 4 mph more from the 45.5-inch driver shaft than the 42.5-inch shaft on the old Citation, but my percentage of fairways hit drops from 75-80 per cent to about 45-50 per cent. And 4 mph translates into about 10 yards, whereas I lose 20 yards hitting from the rough vs. the fairway. And, of course, I don’t need to tee the ball way up or way forward. As for club fitting — don’t make me laugh! When I play every round off a perfectly level mat. . . . not even then.”

Golf Clubs in a Museum Devoted to Trash

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Nelson Molina worked for New York City’s Department of Sanitation for 30 years, driving a route that included the East Harlem neighborhood in which he grew up. When he found something that he felt shouldn’t have been thrown away, he put it in a bin on the side of his garbage truck and took it back to the garage, on East 99th Street. Today, items he recovered fill most of the building’s second floor — maybe a quarter of an acre. He retired last year, but he returns to the garage three days a week to tend the collection, which he calls Treasure in the Trash. I wrote about Molina in an article in a recent New Yorker. His collection looks a little like the housewares department at Sears and a little like the closing scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The stuff Molina rescued includes a fair amount of sports equipment—including tennis rackets:

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And baseball and hockey memorabilia:

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And yo-yos:

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But it doesn’t include all that much golf stuff:

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The reason can’t be that New Yorkers don’t play golf, because they do. There are 13 municipal courses inside the city limits, and many of them are not only terrific but also crowded a lot of the time. Maybe the answer is that New Yorkers play with the same old crap forever—or that when they become fed up with the game they heave their clubs onto the Belt Parkway rather than lugging them home on the subway and setting them out on the curb. Or maybe the city just has fewer frustrated golfers than frustrated writers:

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Incidentally, I don’t blame the person who threw away The Square-to-Square Golf Swing, an instruction book written by Dick Aultman, with help from Jim Flick and the staff of Golf Digest, and published in 1970. The square-to-square idea hurt at least as many golfers as it helped. As the legendary British golf instructor John Jacobs told Jaime Diaz in Golf Digest in 2010, “Many theories come and gone. Most of them I’ve disagreed with. Many arise from the originators being focused on fixes that apply to their own games. When the Square-to-Square theory was unveiled in the late ’60s, advocating that the takeaway should be initiated with a counterclockwise curling under of the left hand, I found that both co-authors—my good friends Jim Flick and Dick Aultman—had flattish actions begun by rolling the face open. If I’d been teaching them, I might have advised them to feel as if they were curling under. But that doesn’t mean that fix should have been given to the golfing population at large.”

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Oh, I Know What It’s Like to be Abandoned by Nike Golf

Nike’s announcement that it’s getting out of the golf club business was nothing new to me. Six of the clubs in my bag—a 16-degree Sumo Squared driver and six Sumo Squared hybrids—are clubs that Nike stopped selling years ago:
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Two of those six clubs are among the greatest ever made. The most magical is the highest-lofted club in the group, the 34-degree 7-hybrid. I bought mine at the urging of my friend Tony, and, as he promised, I hit it longer, higher, straighter, and more consistently well than my 7-iron, which I’d had custom-fitted in Arizona a couple of years before. Not long after that, Tony and I played a round with a visiting friend of his, and we used our magical clubs on a 150-yard par 3. We both hit high draws to within six feet of the hole, and the friend said, “Gee, you guys could play on the LPGA Tour.” He meant to be devastating, but I’ve adopted his remark as a swing thought. And I carry four other Sumo Squared hybrids, too, even though they all go pretty much the same distance.

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The other magical club in my bag the 16-degree driver, which Nike called the Sweet 16 and I call Baby Driver. I carry a regular driver, too, but Baby Driver is indispensable in certain critical situations: long par 3s, short par 4s, and tight holes of all lengths on which a hooked or sliced drive would be lethal. It’s basically a strongish 4-wood, but with a head that’s too big to slide under a teed ball—a consideration for those of us who occasionally make less than perfect contact. I sometimes hit it from the fairway, too.

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I once asked a Nike rep whether the company didn’t have a few old Sumo Squared clubs stashed away somewhere, maybe in a storeroom or on a shelf in a closet or under a table in the employee cafeteria. I was thinking that I’d offer to buy the lot, to keep on hand as spares, but he said Nike hadn’t saved anything—not even a few heads. He also claimed, preposterously, that the company had never sold a 34-degree hybrid—denying the existence of one of the greatest golf clubs of all time! No wonder they’re calling it quits.

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Woman Uncovers Corporate Golf’s Darkest Secret

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Nobody else could play on Saturday, so I decided to do chores and pay bills. But then I noticed that the temperature was almost 60, so I took the dog for a quick walk and went to Candlewood Valley as a single. The starter sent me out with Barbara, who had followed a similar logical path to the golf course. We were joined by Kevin and Steve:

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Steve was trying to master a new 65-degree wedge, which he had ordered from an infomercial. It’s the ideal club if you want your ball to end up either almost exactly where it started or in that pond over there, on the other side of the green. Kevin started playing golf just this year. Pretty quickly, Barbara and I learned that when he was hitting the best place to stand was either a little bit behind him or to the left. Nevertheless, he did hit a few good shots, including this tricky one, on the seventh hole:

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Barbara is the technology person at a private school for special-needs kids. She began her career, in the late nineteen-seventies, at IBM, and she took up golf when she realized that most of her male coworkers played. More recently, a friend from work invited her to fill in for his regular partner in his weekly golf league, which was all men. Some of the regulars grumbled, but the pro told her to ignore them, and after she had subbed a few times they invited her to join the group. Because of her experience in the business world, she understands one of golf’s darkest secrets: most of the men who play in corporate outings suck, and a women who can hit her driver even a hundred yards can end up being her foursome’s most valuable player, since she gets to play from the forward tees.

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Barbara recently switched from women’s shafts to senior men’s shafts, and when she did, she said, she picked up twenty-five yards with her driver. Her mother, who is 90, also plays golf. She took it up in her fifties, and when she was in her mid-eighties she won the women’s nine-hole championship at the club she belongs to, in Florida. “I would put her chipping and putting against anybody’s,” Barbara said. Barbara has four grandchildren, and she is trying to get them interested in playing, too—so far without much success.

I went back to Candlewood the next day, with the Sunday Morning Group.

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We played an old game of ours, called Fathers & Sons: the four oldest guys versus the four youngest. It was the second round of our winter-long competition, the Jagermeister Kup.

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The course was crowded and slow, and we were pretty sure we were going to going to have to finish in the dark, with glowing balls, since at this time of year the sun is basically gone by 4:15—and when we made the turn, at 2:45, we saw that there were three groups on the tenth hole, which is only about three hundred yards long. But then the starter suggested that we replay the front, which was now empty except for a single two holes ahead. Plus about a million geese:

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We ended up playing a four-hour round the hard way: two hours and forty-five minutes for the first nine, an hour and fifteen minutes for the second. Everybody played better, because there was less time to think between shots. And on the last hole we caught up to the single. Out of the way, pal!

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The Sons beat the Fathers by a stroke, after making a miraculous charge on the second nine. Damn. But we had fun, and in the parking lot, as we were leaving, I spotted a solution to my car-clutter problem:

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We’re going back on Friday, unless winter suddenly arrives.

Why is the Solheim Cup Called the Solheim Cup?

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The Solheim Cup was founded by Karsten and Louise Solheim in 1990, to serve a the women’s equivalent to the Ryder Cup. Karsten, who died in 2000, at the age of 88, was the inventor of the modern golf club; Louise, who turned ninety-seven in June, was a major contributor to the success of the family business, the company that manufactures of Ping golf clubs. Both were committed supporters of women’s golf. Here’s a little about them:

Karsten was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1911. When he was two, his family emigrated to Seattle, where his father, a shoemaker, hoped to find the prosperity that had eluded him at home. A short time later, Karsten’s mother, who was twenty-one, died while giving birth to his brother, Ray, and a short time after that his father went to Alaska to look for gold. Karsten and Ray were left behind, in the care of separate foster families. During the next three years, Karsten lived first with a German family, then with a Swedish family. When he was six, his father returned to Seattle, remarried, and reclaimed his sons.

In the early 1990s, I asked Karsten about those years, and he answered vaguely, then changed the subject. Louise told me later that in nearly sixty years of marriage she had heard him discuss his childhood only rarely . “When I think about it, I feel very sad,” she said. “He must have felt really lost. His mother was gone, and his father had left him with a family that didn’t speak Norwegian, which was the only language he understood. When his father remarried and took him back, Karsten hardly knew what language to speak. They didn’t start him in school until he was seven, because he couldn’t speak English, although I think he would have learned better, and faster, if they had put him in school immediately. But he never talks about those days, and he never complains, and he doesn’t seem to have any bad memories.”

After school and on weekends, Karsten worked in his father’s shoe shop. He was unusually small for his age until a growth spurt in late adolescence, and to talk to customers over the counter he had to stand on a wooden box. After high school, he spent a year studying engineering at the University of Washington, paying his tuition with money he had earned with an early-morning paper route. He couldn’t afford to stay. The country was in the depths of the Great Depression, and his father needed him in the shoe shop.

A few years later, at church, he met Louise Crozier. She had been born in Spokane, and her mother had died when she was a month old, and her father had sent her to be raised by an aunt and uncle in Texas. She was precocious, and had learned read before she was four. When she was ten, her father, who taught science and business in a school district outside Seattle, decided he wanted her back. Louise didn’t want to go, but accepted the change stoically. “I remember that when I got on the train, a tear was rolling down my nose, but I held my head up high so that no one would see it.” She and her father boarded with another family for a year, then moved to the country, where he supplemented his teacher’s salary by raising chickens.

Shortly after Karsten and Louise met, they heard a sermon by a visiting evangelist, who was a grandson of the founder of the Salvation Army. The evangelist said that the ideal age for a woman to marry was eighteen, and the ideal age for a man was twenty-five. After the sermon, Karsten asked Louise how old she was. She said she was seventeen. She asked Karsten how old he was. He said he was twenty-four. Neither said anything else, but ten days later Karsten proposed, and six months after that—in June of 1936, just after Louise’s eighteenth birthday—they were married.

They spent their honeymoon in northern Washington. As they were driving home, Karsten’s Model T stopped dead. “I got down under the car, and took the pan off, and realized that the connecting-rod bearing was gone,” he told me. “Well, there was a farmhouse right there, and I asked the farmer if he had any bacon rind. He got me a piece, and I trimmed it a little, and I put that bacon rind where the bearing should have been, and I tightened up the cap, and we drove the forty miles home without any more trouble. Of course, when we got there, the bacon was crisp.”

Golf, Physics, and Shaft Length

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I was sorry that my old bridge buddy John Friedman—who died a few years ago, in his sixties, from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—wasn’t around to see this year’s U.S. Amateur. Like Bryson Dechambeau, the champion, he had majored in physics (at Princeton) and believed that the shafts of golf irons ought to all be the same length. (You can read about DeChambeau’s clubs in this post by Mike Stachura.)
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John could be challenging bridge partner. He had trouble remembering bidding conventions, so we allowed him to respond to one of them by holding up fingers. And he wasn’t a very good golfer. But he was a firm believer in his shaft-length idea, which I enabled him to test, finally, by finding him an old set of Tommy Armour E.Q.L. irons on eBay. (Those clubs, which were sold briefly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had shafts that were all 6-iron length.) I think I can say with confidence that he didn’t play any worse with them than he had with his previous set.

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John wasn’t much of an athlete, but he played football in high school, and he applied his knowledge of physics there as well. His school’s practice field had an enormous cylindrical blocking dummy hanging from a bar, and according to legend only one lineman in the history of the school had ever succeeded in hitting it hard enough to spin it over the top. John wasn’t a big guy, but he understood force. He studied the dummy after school one evening, and decided that the reason no one else had replicated that feat was that they were hitting the dummy too low. At practice the next day, he laid his shoulder as close to the top as he could, and, to the astonishment of his coaches and teammates, sent it over the bar

Florida Man Dumps Irons for Hybrids and Rekindles Interest in Life

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Scott Armatti is a forty-six-year-old special-education teacher at a high school in central Florida; he also coaches the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams, and is the football team’s offensive coordinator. He took up golf two years ago, and, like all golfers, he finds the game alternately intoxicating and exasperating. During an especially annoying session at the range, he realized that the only club he was hitting decently was his 5-hybrid (part of a Cleveland Mashie game-improvement set). “When I returned home,” he told me recently, “I ran a Google search for ‘play golf with only hybrids.'” That search turned up a Golf Digest article of mine from 2012, called My Hybrid Advantage, in which I explained why I’d gotten rid of my irons. On eBay, he found a 34-degree X9 Extreme MOI hybrid—the equivalent of an 8-iron—and ordered it:

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He told me, “I unwrapped the cellophane at the range, placed the club next to the ball, and immediately had the best swing thought you can ever have: That is juicy—I’m going to crush that little white sucker.” He liked the club so much that he ordered three more from the same series. “Currently, my bag contains my four X9 hybrids, an old Orlimar 3-wood, a driver, a 56-degree sand wedge, and a putter,” he said. “I’ve been playing for a couple of weeks with just these eight clubs. Yesterday, I played a local course with my son, who was home from college for the weekend, and shot 91 from the middle tees. I wasn’t hitting the driver particularly well, and I missed three gimme putts, but I hit most greens from inside 130 yards (and just missed from 130-160), and I really enjoyed playing golf the entire day.

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Armatti grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “My best friend, Gary, and his entire family were big golfers,” he told me. “Gary always tried to get me to play, but I never wanted to ask my parents for clubs, because I was saving my ‘big ask’ for ski equipment. Gary and I were like brothers for most of our lives. He lives in Ft. Meyers now, about three hours away, and two years ago we got to play golf together for the first time.”

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Last summer, during a vacation in Michigan, Armatti also got to play with his cousin Cory, on the home course of Northern Michigan State University. “Cory had to rent clubs that day,” Armatti said, “and he didn’t know until we got to the first green that he had been given a junior putter.”

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Let’s all try that next.

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