A Trip Back in Time
I am, by nature, a nostalgic guy. I love history and most things old. My home is a German cottage built in 1930. I have a number of antiques from my grandmother’s house around the living room, as they make me feel grounded somewhat. I like old guns, old cars and old movies.
And I often reflect on the changes to golf that have resulted from the advancements in the equipment we play. So, finally, I decided to do something to just find out how dramatic those changes really are. I went to eBay and began shopping. And by early next week, I’ll have a bag with a set of 1960s vintage Ben Hogan speed slot persimmon woods – 1,3,4 and 5. And I’ll have a set of 1960s Hogan Bounce Sole irons – 2 – Equalizer. This bag is going to be very close to mine when I was in my late teens.
Then I’m going to go out, even with the modern golf ball, and play a few rounds at my club to see just what that golf course offered up to the average golfer back when I was a kid. And I’m going to challenge my golf professionals to take my new/old bag and do the same, especially the younger ones who’ve never even hit a persimmon wood or classic forged blade. And I’m going to extend that challenge to some of the younger low-handicap players at our club to see what they can do. This is going to be one very interesting experiment, I’m sure.
Is Golf In Trouble?
I’m concerned about golf. And it’s future. We see a decline in participation and many efforts to try to stem that tide. Industry stalwart Barney Adams is pushing a move to have all golfers move up to sets of tees that make the courses shorter. Probably not a bad move for most, but I really don’t think it’s the length that beats up on most golfers. What about the more and more diabolical protection of that tiny 4-1/4” hole the architects come up with – water, deep bunkers, thick rough, speedy greens, etc.
But the number one threat to golf’s participation by recreational golfers is, in my opinion, the almost maniacal focus on distance. When I was a kid growing up playing golf, my dad and my golf pro pounded on me to learn how to hit real golf shots, make the ball do what I wanted, hit it where I was looking. “Distance will come with growth”, they both promised me. And it did. I was always a smaller guy than my peers, but learned to hit it with them by focusing on fundamentals and rhythm/timing. I have always been respectably long for a 5’7”, 160 lb guy who’s now pushing 60. And I’ve never been afraid of longer courses, because I have no fear of an approach from 190-215 with a 4-iron to 4-wood in my hands. That’s because I was taught to make solid contact with a repeatable, controlled swing.
I see the local high school kids all out trying to hit it as far as they can with every club in their bag, and they shoot atrocious scores because of it. None of them are trying to learn how to hit it better, more solid, and to score. All they apparently want to do is bomb it.
I kind of got off track from my trip down nostalgia lane, but I really believe that if you want to get better at this crazy game, almost every golfer should learn how to hit it better, not longer. And that your best distance with every club in your bag is about a full club shorter than you think you hit it.
Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how the experiment with the old Hogans progresses.
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I also feel that distance is overrated. Besides, as you have said before, a smooth swing with solid contact on the sweet spot is going to give you more distance than if you try to bash the living daylights out of the ball.
I don't think your experiment will result in any shocking revelations, though. Those clubs are tough to hit unless you strike down on the ball near the middle of a relatively square clubface. Most of the lower handicap players are going to be able to use them. But I don't see technology connected to the decline of golf. If you want a culprit for distance obsession, I would point you to machismo. What separates the good high school golfers from the poor ones is that the good ones understand that there are times when you can hit it as hard as you want (when the reward for a bomb absolutely outweighs the risk of missing the fairway) and there are times when you need to hit a seven iron off the tee and a five iron into a green.
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