Monthly Archives: April 2003

What’s Wrong with my Irons?


I got my first set of left handed irons at Christmas 1981. I was in 8th grade and very much interested in golf. Our dad set us up that year with the beginners Northwestern clubs (I think just about everybody has hit these at one time in their lives). The set comes in a 3 wood, 3-5-7-9-iron and putter. We went out later in the Spring and got some sporty new golf shoes. I opted for the traditional look, my brother Joe got the ones that had more of a sport shoe appearance (if I’m not mistaken they are still with him), and Jeff got some as well.

For the next years through High School we would go out to the local golf course, Hillview and play some rounds. I liked learning on these clubs. The woods felt good and our natural altheticism that comes with the age made the balls go pleasingly far.

As I started to get a little better, I noticed that I had certain troubles with the clubs. First, there were times that I really wished that I had an 8 iron. Second, my 9 iron was really bothering me. I just couldn’t get it to work. I would be sitting at 110 yards and take the highest lofted club and then rocket one into the woods behind the green. Total distance- 140 yards, total loft- well… lets just call it shallow.

On one occasion, I was playing with a partner that we met at the course and he saw a few of these shots. His response to me was, “Stop using your 6 iron.” When I told him that I didn’t own one, and that it was in fact the 9 iron, he came over to investigate, under the assumption that I was swinging the club OK, and that something was wrong. He took out his 7 iron and held it against my 9 iron (its pretty easy to look at a lefty against a righty club because they mirror each other) and we discovered that the loft of my 9 iron was about a 6 iron loft. I couldn’t believe it, but it really began to make sense. I then took a look at it versus my own 7 iron and it was indeed less lofted. Eureka!

Needless to say, I scraped up enough money to eventually buy a set of Spalding Executives.

My first real set of clubs. The Spalding Executives. Driver, 3-5 Woods, 3-PW. Who could ask for anything more, right? I was working over the summer at the 99 Restaurant Pub, and every day on the way home, I’d stop by the local driving range. It was a nice open field, with a double decker setup. I spent a lot of time learning how to use each club, and started getting a good groove with my swing. The woods (made of real wood, mind you), had a nice thick sound when you hit them. They had small heads, and it really worked to get the hand-eye coordination going.

The irons were a much needed improvement over my predecessors, and I appreciated the proper lofts, and the fact that now I filled in the gaps that the other set had.

Not only was I in the vicinity of a driving range, but I also discovered that I was close to the Billerica Country Club, and that they were only charging $3 to play a dusk round. I took advantage of this and played 3 times a week, sometimes playing 9 holes, sometimes up to 13 or 14 holes. The irons were not exactly cavity backed, or blades, they were something in between. Instead of a cavity, they put more thickness at the bottom of the club, and it looked a little bit like a tear drop in the back.

I got so that I could hit the ball pretty well with them, but the combination of these clubs and the old Top Flite “XLII” balls gave me feedback like I was hitting rocks. I realized later that a lot of it had to do with the balls themselves. Every so often I find an old XLII and it usually goes back where I found it or I throw it into the shag bag (but it will never be put into play again).

I was playing enough that I felt that I really peaked with these clubs. Every so often, I would go to Newton Commonwealth and they had the latest rage, graphite woods! Let me tell you, I demo’ed one of these beauties, and on the first hole, I drove the green (about 285). Not since, was I able to keep the ball in play. It was like using a stiff whip to try and swing. If you could capture the swing in slow motion, I would have finished my swing and the club head would just be getting to the ball. So much for graphite in 1988.

More importantly, I really felt like I hit the wall with the irons. I wasn’t getting the kind of feedback that I wanted, and my mis-hits were really penalizing me. I started hearing about the new technologies with cavity-backed irons and started to look into it.

My friends Pat, Nelly and Bob were all hitting the clubs from Titleist called DCIs. I was intrigued. Nelly will tell you, that although I could hit the ball far, my game was not in as good shape as I thought when we first started playing together. I did go through a dry spell during the recession where I was scraping up money for food and the bills alone and golf was a distant memory. Once things settled down, I got back into it and thought that I could just pick up where I left off (GOLF TRUTH #1: Golf takes practice, lots and lots of practice).

Quick Side Story
I think that I averaged somewhere in the 97 range the summer of ’93, and perhaps slightly lower the next couples of years. I decided that it was time to upgrade to these wonderful DCIs that everyone was raving about, and I went to the Bayside Expo Center for their giant once a year sale. Chrissi was good enough to consider these a wedding gift and forked out the cash for them. I saw my set in a box in the corner of Wayland Golf’s setup. Now don’t forget, that left-handed sets don’t just magically appear out of nowhere, they were quite rare and I have always felt that I must take what I can get. Just go into any Guitar Center and count the left handed models. Better yet, I’ll do it for you. I think by my last count, out of 500 guitars, there were 2 basses, 1 guitar, and 2 acoustics. Lame.

I went up to the sales guy and asked him how much. He said that they were $350, so I thanked him and we walked around looking in vain for another set. Towards the end of the day, I went back and spoke with another sales person and he told me that they were $260. I said, “Sold!” He proceeded to ring them up for me and then realized that the pitching wedge was missing. Well, the other sales guy had the wedge out and was showing it to someone else, and my sales guy took it away from him (and don’t forget, there were no more lefties in the entire Expo). When he asked how much my sales guy was selling them for, his jaw dropped. I couldn’t get the credit card out quick enough!
End of Quick Side Story

I have been playing with these clubs ever since, and since I am an insane statistician out there, I keep track of just about everything you can. I know what my scoring average has been year over year since 1997, putting averages and tons of other seemingly useless kinds of information. The thing is, that this year, I have noticed one thing. Although my fairways in regulation are almost perfect (meaning that I am driving pretty accurately with my woods), my greens accuracy has never really improved.

The Problem?
In the past, I have maybe hit on average 6 out of 14 fairways and 3-6 greens out of 18. This year, I have hit an average 9 fairways, sometimes as high as 12 or 13 fairways, and yet, my greens in regulation has gone down to an average of about 3 or 4 per round. How can this be? I have tried to figure it out, but the answer has eluded me. That is until I spoke with my friend Chris who is one heck of a golfer and just happens to play the DCIs.

He told me that he played a round in Texas and he demo’ed the new Callaway irons. His take on them was that he almost felt like he was cheating out there because the ball went so straight and he hit and obscene number of greens. He then went on to compare them to his DCIs and said that he felt that he really got penalized by the clubs and that slight mis-hits (not in the sweet spot) just go left, right, short or long enough to screw up the round and lose the feeling that you can do anything out on the course.

I hadn’t really thought about it much, but then took a look at the stats, and more so, took a look back through my past few outing reviews (see the Golf After Kids and Opportunity Golf articles). Since I have started breaking down days into the four categories, I noticed that I have had a lot of “Stromone” days, where I just felt like I was swinging the club fine, I was driving the ball nice and straight, but I was not hitting greens, hitting the ball too far or too short and just having enough variability to throw off the kind of results that I am seeking.

After further research, I understood. The DCI irons are not considered to be a true cavity-back club, but rather, they are a muscle-backed iron. This means that they fall somewhere between a blade and a “player’s assist” club. Pros love the blades and muscle backs because it allows them to shape their shots (curve around that tree!), but for slightly above average Joes like me, they can really mess up the game unless you are swinging them true and more importantly “often”. Suddenly it all made sense. The reviews also made the statement that any “good” golfer would not want these assisting clubs because it hides your flaws and that the DCIs are a good blend. It really has given me some food for thought.

Final Thoughts
I don’t think that I will be running out there to buy new clubs, but I think that I understand my clubs a little bit better and I think it will allow me to work with their strengths instead of just scratching my head at their apparent weakness (forgiveness of my somewhat variable swing). Sometimes, they say, that once you start to lose faith in golf equipment, its all over, but I tend to disagree. Its not that I have lost faith at all, on the contrary, I feel almost like I have an explanation for missing a green by 3 feet, rolling down the hill into a bunker or worse, a hazard. The strength of these clubs are the they have “feel” down pat. I can tell the moment that I hit a perfect iron shot or what the mistake was if I mis-hit one and that should allow me to make those tiny little “mid round” adjustments that are so necessary to keep from falling into the huge “Bad swing habit” hole.

I think right away, I will stop playing the aggressive “go for the pin” when the pin is 10 feet from the fringe, rather I think I will be aiming for the dead center of the green and see where that takes me. I can and will not change golf gear in mid season (putters excluded) unless something breaks, but the off-season is a good time to reflect on just how many “stromone” days I have had, whether it was the irons that truly made me feel inferior and if necessary, make a change then.

Until then, for God’s sake, Fore! Fore in the pool!