Category: ClubTest 2011
PALM BEACH GARDEN, Fla. — Thursday morning found Golf Magazine's ClubTesters on the practice green at PGA National Resort & Spa. Several large golf bags stood by, filled with heel-toe-weighted blades, mid-size mallets and several high-MOI putters.
For any player who struggles when it comes to rolling the rock, this would have been a cornucopia of hope.
But Drew Iassacman doesn't look for hope; he coldly looks for results.
"I think that most amateurs give themselves too much credit for being good putters when they actually aren't," Isaacman said. "I track it, and if I hit 10 greens and make less than 30 putts, then I think that I'm playing pretty well."
The video below shows Isaacman hitting a downhill, 20-foot putt using one of the putters he liked a lot. And in case you're wondering ... yes, it was the first putt I taped.
The first thing that Isaacman looks for when he evaluates a new putter is how it handles short putts. "Three footers ... if they track straight on short putts," he said. "If the short putts go where I'm aiming and the putter swings where I'm aiming it. If it doesn't, then the other stuff—looks, feel—doesn't matter. Nothing matters if the short putts don't go straight."
While he plays a mid-size mallet, Isaacman is open to most putters as long as they are not too big. But he does have an interesting prerequisite: "I would never buy a putter that I couldn't have bent flatter or more upright," he said. "If I get a putter that has a hozel, then I know that I can always get that done."
Fifteen feet away, Tom Jennings was shaking his head. "I'm makin' putts with it," he said in disbelief while looking at a uniquely-shaped putter. "I'm not especially fond of the way it looks, but I'm making putts with it so it's lookin' better and better."
In his thick Georgia accent, Jennings told me he recently yanked his heel-toe-weighted blade putter. "I wasn't putting well and went to a high-MOI putter that looks like a metal detector or a satellite dish," he said with a chuckle. "I started making putts, but of course then I stopped hitting greens … that's golf."
Since he spoke so colorfully about the look of different putters, I asked Jennings if he would use a putter that didn't please his eye but performed well. His answer was yes, but he admitted that wasn't always the case.
"This is my first time doing putters at ClubTest," he said. "So my eyes are being opened to what's out there. I mean, look at the variety of putters we've got over there. Anybody can find something. Normally, you just go and pull one or two putters off the rack and go putt with them, but this is like Christmas in July."
Isaacman provided a sage summation as to why golfers should be open to trying new flatsticks. "Your putter has got to have the best ratio of dollars you spend to strokes you can save," he says. "A new driver can easily cost $400, but even the most expensive putter here at ClubTest is less than that, and you'll likely use your putter on more than one-third of your strokes."
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Forty golfers are getting a chance to hit the newest clubs here at ClubTest 2011, but millions more will see advertisements featuring equipment from big companies with multimillion dollar marketing budgets.
The brands wouldn't spend that money if it didn't deliver benefits, but ClubTesters say marketing isn't what makes them reach into their wallets.
Mike Gorski, a 15-handicapper from Glendora, Calif., says advertising makes him aware of what's out there, but he relies on research when it comes to finding the clubs that are ideal for his swing and game.
"I'll look at the magazines, I'll look online at blogs and if someone seems to know what he's talking about I'll take that into consideration," he said Wednesday morning. "I'll talk to friends who are golfers too. I'll watch and see what the pros are playing but I'll take that with a grain of salt because I assume they're getting paid for it. But a lot of it is my own research. I want to go to a Demo Day and try these things."
Lynn Altadonna, who is taking part in his eighth ClubTest, echoes that sentiment. "The advertising gives you a place to start, but the proof is in hitting the clubs," he says. In fact, Altadonna thinks that it can easily take more time to find the ideal set of irons than it does a new house. "It can take a few months worth of researching and hitting."
However, that doesn't mean that the golfers at ClubTest are immune to flashy ads and endorsements from top players.
"For me, the No. 1 thing is still the marketing," says Tom Jennings of Athens, Ga. "What we hear, what we see, what the pros are playing. That's where I go first—probably just because I'm stupid and lazy. I go, 'Okay, Titleist and TaylorMade, Callaway, Nike … let's go look at those.' From there I might go on to an Adams, probably because I've tested it and I'm aware of who they are, but my first reach would probably be to a big brand."
Listening to Jennings, Bud Adler from Gold Canyon, Ariz., shook his head. "Not for me. For instance, I use Sonartec hybrids because I hit them the best. I hit them best back when I first tried them at ClubTest and when the company went out of business I went out and bought a bunch of them."
For years Adler says he played MasterGrip irons because were inexpensive and he hit them well. But he recently made a switch to another brand. "Not because of the advertising, but because I hit them better," he said. "Before I bought them I tried Callaway, Titleist, and Adams."
Adler says that he still hits a driver he bought it 2007 because he hasn't found anything better, but he thinks he may have found something at ClubTest 2011 that could replace it.
All four players agree that their playing partners are not as vigilant about trying clubs before buying them. They cite a combination of laziness and a desire for instant gratification as the main reasons for the quick decisions.
"We've had the chance to be fitted for drivers and shafts that are supposed to work for us," Gorski says. "They don't always, but they're supposed to. So our range of errors has been narrowed greatly and [golfers back home] don't know that. I see so many guys who have drivers that have bad shafts and terrible lofts for their swing. I try to preach to them that all you need to do is have a reasonable fitter or teaching pro narrow things down for you."
Sounds like a great tip for golfers across the country.
See-Try-Buy: Schedule your own fitting with GolfTec.
We can't show you all the cool new gear at ClubTest - some of it is still top secret - but we can take you behind the scenes as real golfers from all over the country put 2011's new clubs through their paces at PGA National. Click here to see what the ClubTesters are up to, and some of what they're playing with.
"C'mon Doug, your wife knows," I said.
"Oh no she doesn't!"
Eventually, Lair, a native of Oklahoma City who now lives in Austin, Texas, admitted to owning 10 sets that date back to the early 1980s, but I have a feeling that in the back of his garage, tucked behind the lawn mower and some old boxes, I might find a few more.
He's a true gear geek, and this week Lair is totally in his element at PGA National Resort & Spa because he's attending his ninth ClubTest.
Six weeks before he arrives at Golf Magazine's annual golf equipment test, Lair plays the front nine at Twin Creeks Country Club with one set of irons and then switches to another set at the turn. The idea is to get used to switching back and forth between clubs.
With his slow Oklahoma drawl, Lair told me that when he applied to become a ClubTester he knew he could do the job. "I had been a big fan of the article for years," he said. "I filled out an online form, started e-mailing back and forth with Rob [Sauerhaft] and then got invited."
"He's incredibly thorough, has attention to detail and has a passion for equipment and testing," says Sauerhaft, Golf Magazine's managing editor for equipment. "There are so many subtleties among the different clubs, and Doug makes it his business to determine what those subtleties are."
But that doesn't mean Lair's experiences at ClubTest have all been smooth sailing. "My first year was during the infamous monsoon at Innisbrook," he recalls. "I think we got about three inches of rain that first day. I found out the hard way that cheap rain suits are not the way to go."
When Lair started participating in ClubTest, he was a 13-handicap. But after his first year, when Lair admits to running out of gas, he vowed to be better prepared for the following year's ClubTest.
"I went out and bought two sets of irons, one total game-improvement and one a player's cavity-back," he says. "After I'd put my daughter to bed, I'd head over to the driving range and hit one set, then the other set. After a while I felt like I could hit pretty much anything, and my handicap dropped to a seven!"
The short video below shows Lair hitting a yet-to-be-released Callaway iron from 177 yards to 12 feet on Tuesday.
When asked about some of his all-time favorite clubs, Lair offered these words:
"The drivers get better and better every year. But The Callaway FT-3, that had that crazy sound, is one. As for fairway woods, the original Cleveland Launcher fairways, with that gold shaft, were great—springy and long. The gold standard for irons was the Mizuno MX-23. Everyone loved those things -- high, low and otherwise."
But that doesn't mean he'd recommend those clubs, or any of today's, for everyone. "Everything they build today works, and these guys [the club makers] are smart and they know what they're doing," he says. "But the clubs work for a certain type of swing style and a certain group of people. Some clubs just aren't going to work for you. That doesn't mean it's a bad club—it's just a bad fit."