Equipment

How to Buy the Right Driver: Scott Kramer

kramercoverVeteran golf equipment writer Scott Kramer has published a new e-book, How to Buy the Right Golf Equipment. The easy-reading book helps simplify the process of buying clubs, shafts, balls, bags and shoes — as well as buying equipment for other people, including your kids. The following excerpts are the chapters on buying drivers and putters (scroll down). For the complete book, visit amazon.com for the Kindle version or lulu.com for the instant pdf download.

The latest drivers include a slew of 460cc clubheads that collectively hit the ball as far as they ever have. Because drivers are usually about getting you distance, you want the model that helps you produce the fastest ball speed for your swing. After all, ball speed translates directly to distance. However, you also want to keep the ball down the middle in most cases, and that means finding a driver with a high Moment of Inertia (MOI) that helps stabilize the clubhead at impact, so that the ball doesn’t veer off to the left or right. There are models commonly featuring a draw bias. This simply means that it uses offset, a closed face and/or internal weighting, to help produce a draw – which helps the many golfers who tend to fade or slice their tee shots. But if you tend to hit the ball straight or draw it, stay with a more neutral driver.

Some of the latest models also have movable weights, as well as shafts that can be rotated and locked into various settings, which essentially allows you to customize the driver to your exact swing. That’s great – but you really should have a golf pro or knowledgeable golf retailer initially help you find the right setting combinations for your desired ball flight. After that, you can tune the club any way you see fit for a specific golf course or weather conditions, and always know that you can simply switch the settings back to your “base zero” positions.

There are some other factors to consider when buying a driver, including how it looks while you’re standing over it. You have to be comfortable with its aesthetics, shape and color. Then there’s the sound it makes at impact. If it’s too loud, too tinny, too muted, or whatever, then skip it. It has to be music to your ears. Most golfers associate more loudness with more distance – but that’s an inaccurate assumption to make: Just because its impact sound turns heads on the driving range, it has nothing to do with how far the ball is actually traveling. Beware of deception: If you test a driver indoors, it will sound vastly different than it will on the course. That all said, it’s human nature to associate the sound with feel. And you definitely want to ultimately select a driver that feels right to you.

The best way to decide which driver is best for you to buy is to take the club out and give it a try. Use the store’s hitting bay or the golf course’s range – before you shell out your hard-earned money. With the increase of launch monitors available, it’s also helpful for you to utilize one of these systems if it’s available where you’re buying it. This will provide you a better understanding of how the ball reacts to the club you’re considering. Launch monitors also help you determine the best loft, lie angle, clubhead style, shaft flex, and maybe even the most appropriate ball for your swing. •

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Putters:

Put more thought into buying a new putter than any other club. Why’s that? Because you take more strokes per round with it than any other club in your bag, and there are so many intricacies to putters that choosing the right one will help you sink more putts. The wrong one will actually hurt you often. And when you consider that most golfers mis-hit the ball toward the toe of the putter, you quickly realize that the wrong type of putter will only exaggerate your misses. What to do?

First, pay attention to the feel of a potential new putter. You have to pick it up and make sure it feels comfortable in your hands. Then consider its looks – any distractions and you won’t be able to focus on the stroke. If it feels good and looks good to you, then you’re much more likely to put a good stroke on the ball with it. But you generally cannot base your choice on feel alone.

Strongly consider getting fitted for your putter, to find one suited to your physique, stance, stroke and preference. A fitter will find your proper length, lie, loft, grip, offset and head style. Regarding length, if you need to set your hands lower on the grip, to get closer to the ball so that your eyes are directly over the ball, then you probably need a shorter putter. Putter manufacturers differ in how they measure the shaft. Some calculate it from the butt end to the heel of the sole, others from the butt end to the center sole of the putter. So one company’s 34-inch model may be another’s 35. Experts claim that most golfers use a putter that’s too long for their stroke. Tell-tale signs that your putter shaft’s too long: At address, you stand farther away from the ball and your hands will tend to be too close to your body, and thus you’ll inadvertently raise the toe of the putter and exaggerate the arc of your stroke. Also, the butt end may poke at your gut. Finally, the putter’s head will feel heavier on a longer shaft. If the shaft is too short, you’ll stand too close to the ball and will raise the heel and, consequently, dig the toe into the grass. And there may be no feel to the head. Thus, make sure that the putter sits flat on the ground when you take a comfortable stance. Try holding the putter loosely in one hand and letting the sole rest on the green. Then take your stance – without moving the putter — and see how it feels. You may find that the right length putter requires a more- or less-upright shaft angle or lie angle than you’ve been playing. But don’t bend the shaft or hosel to fit your stance, as it can drastically alter the putter’s loft. Some experts claim that the optimal length varies with where your eyes are at address. Contrary to common belief that you should position your eyes directly above the ball, some insiders insist that your eyes should be positioned one inch back from the ball at address, so that the ball is under your left eye, if you’re a righty.

Mind the putter’s weight, too. If it’s too lightweight, you might overcompensate by adding too much right hand into the stroke, and you’ll pull the putt. Getting fitted for lie angle – the angle you rest the putter’s sole on the ground — is key to making a center hit on line. If you set the putter up too upright, you may scrape the toe along the green during your stroke, sending the putt to the right. Too flat and you’ll graze the heel against the grass, veering the putt left.

As for offset, most putters in your favorite golf shop have some degree of offset, in which the shaft is positioned ahead of the putter head. This is to help golfers see the ball better and release the putter at the proper point in the stroke. Should you use a putter with more offset? It comes down to what you like to see when standing over the ball. Beware, though: If you switch to a putter with more offset, the click of impact will come a little later than you’re used to, which you may find distracting. Also, the more offset your putter has, the more you’ll pull the ball: Offset putters are like offset drivers which “correct” slices by forcing your hands to pronate through the impact zone.

Then there’s loft to consider. When a ball’s sitting on a green, it’s actually resting in a slight depression in the grass. The putter’s loft — traditionally four degrees — helps lift the ball from that depression. If it lifts the ball too much, it imparts backspin. Not enough lift and it forces the ball to skim the depression’s edge, thus causing it to skip. A solid putting stroke naturally closes the face as it strikes the ball. At impact, the ideal loft is bet, because most putter manufacturers derive the ideal loft in their putters. Dynamic loft – the putter’s loft at the point of impact – is the most important loft.

But you need high-speed analysis within a fitting session, to know what yours is. In fact, all of these factors add up to justify why a fitting session will save you a lot of heartache on the greens later on. Armed with the right data, you can buy a putter perfectly tailored to your natural putting stroke. A fitting session can reveal exactly what putter you need and why. Knowing if you’re better off with a blade or a mallet partly depends on your stroke path. If you take an open – or inside — backstroke, square it at impact, then proceed with an inside follow-through, you’re probably best off playing a heel-shafted, toe-weighted blade putter. That’s because as you stroke, the heel moves through the impact area faster than the rest of the clubface. But the toe weight helps the rest of the head rotate through the impact zone, squaring it at impact, and imparting a straighter ball roll. If you were to take that same stroke with a mallet, its built-in face balancing will prevent you from closing the toe by impact, meaning you’ll push the putt to the right (assuming you’re right-handed). After awhile, you might even overcompensate for the push and begin to pull your putts.

If your stroke stays straight the entire way through, you’ll likely benefit from a mallet, which twists less than a blade at contact with the ball. Most mallets are center-shafted (the shaft axis runs through the center of the putter head even though the shaft, itself, may bend near the tip and enter the heel end of the head), so it creates a deep center of gravity that helps the ball roll straight, when used in a pendulum-like stroke.

A lot of golfers wonder about face inserts in their putter. How can you tell if an insert is right for you? First of all, their underlying premise is to make putts feel soft yet roll consistently. Each insert has a distinct feel. You have to be the judge if it works for you, since feel lies subjectively in the ears of the beholder.  Inserts have a lower frequency vibration than steel heads, so they sound softer. And people tend to think what they hear is what they feel. Many golfers want to hear a click at impact, as it sounds crisper than the metallic click a steel head makes. But just because a putter feels soft doesn’t mean the ball will react softly off the face. Softer faces briefly prolong the length of time that the ball sticks to the clubface, resulting in more topspin and a more immediate roll than a steel head typically produces, with less skid and skip. You may also come across putters bearing grooves on the face. They’re designed to prevent the ball from rolling up the putter face at impact, thus minimizing backspin and encouraging topspin – to get the ball on a truer roll more quickly.

In the past few years, putters with unusual geometries have come on strong in the market. Essentially, these have a high Moment of Inertia, which means they’re more stable at impact than conventionally shaped models. There has also been a slew of models with interchangeable weights that allow you to fine-tune the putter’s feel to your preference or to the green conditions. In other words, you can make it heavier for slower greens or lighter for faster greens. This is a great option to have, as long as the putter fits your stroke properly. No matter what putter you think you want to buy, test it first a few with your favorite ball on a real grass green – and not on an artificial turf green inside a golf shop. •

Discussion

One comment for “How to Buy the Right Driver: Scott Kramer”

  1. Although buying a good putter is important there are a few basic tips for better putting for the averages joe that are overlooked….make the sure contact is made on the sweet spot….make sure that eyes and shoulders are parallel to the putting line…take a good quick look at your target and then swing….many amateur “overthink” the process…line it up and putt!

    Posted by Dave McCanna | July 4, 2009, 1:19 pm

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