A good worker never blames his tools, they say, but that isn’t the case in golf. Your clubs need to be specific to your needs. Here’s what to look for:
Shafts that are short will cause you to bend over too much and stand too close to the ball. Shafts that are long will force you to stand too tall and too far from the ball. Either way, the plane of your swing is going to be affected.
A club that sits too upright means your hands will be too high at the address. A club that sits too flat leads to your hands being too low at the address. Again, your swing will have to compensate for either.
If a grip is thick or thin, the ability of your hands to work properly during the swing will be affected. That’s important. Your hands are your only points of contact with the club, which is what makes contact with the ball.
A shaft that is stiff for your swing will cost you distances. A shaft that is “whippy” will tend to make you less accurate than you could be.
In a misguided attempt to hit lower shots and/or gain yardage, most golfers use a driver that doesn’t have enough loft. More loft means less sidespin which means greater accuracy. And, invariably, doesn’t cost you much in the way of distance.
Are you making the most of the fourteen clubs that the rules of golf allow you? There are many different factors. But the common factor is that any mistake in your clubs has to match up with a mistake in your setup and/or your swing. Let’s look at each in turn.
Length and Lie
Clubs have always been made for the average height individual, but over the years this has changed. For example, the center on the basketball team used to be 6½ feet tall. Nowadays that’s the guard’s height. So everyone is getting taller and clubs, in turn, are getting longer. When I was growing up in the mid-sixties a normal 2-iron was 38½ inches long. Now it is 39¼. So, if you are not of average height, chances are your clubs don’t fit you. The most important aspects of any club are the shaft length and the lie.
They work in conjunction. Lie angle affects how far the butt end of the club is up off the ground. If you add an inch to the length of a club you don’t really get the full inch because the shaft rises at an angle. If you want to make your clubs effectively longer, you need to make them more upright, too.
Always go in increments. A little at a time. For every degree more
Upright a club is, you effectively make it about an inch longer. That’s why, if your height, posture, and length of arms make me think you need longer clubs, I don’t only recommend you lengthen the shafts. You need to make them more upright, too.
Moving away from the ball isn’t necessarily going to help your swing. Every golfer needs a good posture (more on that later), the hands hanging down beneath the shoulders, with the bend forward from the hips around twenty degrees.
The length of your back, arms, and legs are all factors in how long your clubs should be. But the most important aspect is the distance between your knuckles and the floor when your arms are hanging by your sides.
Fingertips to the floor are no good because you might have unusually large hands. Small or big hands and/or short or long fingers can skew the measurement. Besides, either or both indicate you need a different grip size, not shorter or longer clubs.
What to Look For
The first indication that something needs to be done about the length of your clubs is a faulty posture. Lie and length influence your posture. And your posture influences the plane of your swing and your ability to pivot your body correctly. So it follows that the lie of the club and the way that the clubface hits the ground influences the way the ball takes off and flies.
As I watch a player I always ask myself if he could sole the club properly on the ground if he did have the correct body angles. Sometimes posture is bad because the player is trying to solve the club but can’t because his clubs don’t fit him.
The shape and depth of your divots can also tell you a great deal about how well suited you are to the clubs in your bag. For example, if you are making “toe deep” divots, then the lie of your clubs is too flat. If they are “heel deep” — which is rare — your clubs are too upright. Most times, however, the divots are toe deep.
That being the case, there are three possibilities. Either you are too tall, or your arms are too short, or your swing is too upright. While there isn’t much you can do — barring surgery — about the first two, you have a choice with the third. You can work on flattening your action (difficult) or simply make your clubs more upright (easy).
I recommend a combination of the two. You can change your ball-flight dramatically just by changing the lie of your clubs. The flatter the lie, the more you will hit the ball to the right; the more upright and the ball will go left.
The differences can be quite dramatic. If you take a 5-iron that is two degrees upright and hit the ball, say, 180 yards, then take another 5-iron, this one-two degree flat, and hit it 180 yards also, there could be as much as 20 yards difference left and right between the two balls. Of course, that illustration wouldn’t hold true for long; only one or two swings. You’d soon start compensating. And that’s where the inconsistency comes in. One compensation leads to another and another.
So never say just “lengthen the club.” It has to be “lengthen and adjust the lie.” If you need longer clubs, start with one degree upright and maybe a quarter inch longer. Then another degree and another quarter inch. And so on. You never want to have a set an inch longer than isn’t two or three degrees upright.
The same thing when you go shorter. I never want to see clubs more than two degrees flat, no matter how short the person is. If the club gets excessively flat, it forces you to swing on too flat a plane and it gets difficult to make solid ball-turf contact. Your club is just too close to the ground for too long a period of time if you develop a swing to
match clubs that are more than two degrees flat. Where you might go as much as four degrees upright, you never go more than two degrees flat. If you need a flatter club it’s better to go shorter.
Problem is, when you make a club shorter, it can cost some clubhead speed. The arc of the swing gets shorter and you can’t swing the club as fast. It is almost always better to have clubs a little long and/or upright as opposed to short and/or flat.