Let go of your ego: The papaw driver

August 3, 2015

Civilization requires hypocrisy. When a friend of mine expressed his distaste for golf recently, I agreed that it is an expensive, prodigal pastime designed to appeal to rich and idle people. Golf culture is generally boorish, consumerist and elitist. And playing the game should not count as exercise.30147764_im__________0_gsi

It is a ridiculous and immoral activity. But I love it.

One of the reasons this blog exists is so I can feel better about my obsessions. This is a place where I can write about the game and it’s role in my life in exquisite, tortuous detail. This is a safe place to talk about lie angles and shaft tipping and the intimations of one’s mortality that invariably creep into the sort of masculine glory days discussions golf stories engender.

Those of you who attend to this blog know I haven’t been writing much about golf lately. Some of you have noticed and asked me about that.

I haven’t been playing as much golf this year for a number of reasons. I’ve had a little outside work to finish: I’ve got a new book coming out later this year and I’ve contributed pieces to two other forthcoming books. Two, the weather hasn’t cooperated. We had a couple of very rainy months.

Maybe most importantly, I just feel busier than I have in years. Maybe I actually am. Not that I’m complaining — I’ve started writing semi-regularly on books for the newspaper, something I’ve wanted to do for several years now. I’m still writing songs and maybe if no one else wants to record them I might put out a third album in a year or so. (The first two have actually made a little money — not enough to buy a new car but enough to buy most off-the-rack guitars.)

But the decrease in the number of rounds I’m playing is relative. By most measures, I still play a lot of golf. Most of it solo, early in the morning, but that’s kind of the way I like it. I’m spoiled — I don’t want to spend five hours on a Sunday afternoon on the golf course. I like my buddies and I like golf, but I don’t like waiting to hit. I can play a couple of hit-and-giggle scrambles a year, I’m fine with that, but what I’m really after is the feeling that solid contact between a club face and a golf ball gives me. I like the melty bloom feeling you get from hitting it pure.

And I can get that on the range. (Well, I could if the range supplied Pro V1s.)

All this to explain that I’m just starting to get into form. I have played 18 holes every Saturday and Sunday morning for the past couple of weeks, and I have concluded that I can still play a bit. Maybe as well as I ever have. (That’s one of the things about golf, age doesn’t always take as much from you as experience gives — you really can play better in your 40s than you did in your 20s. You just have to go about it differently.)

I’m not as long as I used to be. I was a bomb and gouge player in the ’70s and once I figured out how to hit a graphite shaft with a titanium clubhead attached, I got really long in the ’90s. (Not professional softball player long but long enough to win a bunch of long drive prizes and to hit irons into most par fives I encountered.)

This is from 2013. I don't hit it this far anymore. Not usually anyway.

This is from 2013. I don’t hit it this far anymore. Not usually anyway.

My distance off the tee continued to be a strength of my game until, I guess, four or five years ago. About the time I added a real editorship to my professional obligations and lost the opportunity to sneak out once or twice during the week. I could still bust a occasional drive — I was still OK — but my swing speed dropped from around 118 mph to about 103. Now, right out of the box, I’m probably swinging my driver at about 98 mph. After I get loosened up it’s a few tics higher — maybe.

Now if you read as many golf magazines as I do, you probably realize a couple of things. First of all, almost everyone overestimates their driving distance. When I was really bombing it, 10 or 15 years ago, I think I legimately averaged about 280 or even a little more off the tee. And given the courses I played, with their relatively soft fairways and lack of altitude, that was pretty good.

Last year — and I know this, because I used one of those satellite tracking systems to compute my stats — I averaged just a touch over 262 yards with my driver. (This is still way above average in the real world, especially for a 56-year-old newspaper columnist, though on internet golf forums it makes me kind of a wuss.) And this year, I didn’t seem to be hitting the driver that far.

Part of that was because I’ve hardly played a dry course this year. But part of it might be that I’m not getting the most out of my swing. I hit shots that look and feel good, they just don’t fly as far. And this year, it’s not just the driver where I’ve lost distance. I used to hit my five-iron about 200 yards. Now it’s more like 185, which used to be my six-iron. (But my shorter irons are still about the same as last year — my eight-iron is still my 160 yard club.)

I still carry a four-iron, but I wonder if it’s still an efficient club for me. I really am not fond of hybrids (I hook them; often badly and off the tee I can hit what looks like a topspin forehand with one) but if I have to carry a shot 200 yards they’re my only real option. I’m thinking of ditching the four-iron and adding a 20 or 21 degree, to augment the 18.5 model I’m carrying now.

I’ve got a 14 degree mini driver — the TaylorMade AeroBurner TP edition — that I absolutely love, and which I have no problems hitting off the deck (though I probably wouldn’t use it from gnarly rough). It’s a perfectly adequate driver alternative on most holes — if I turn it over I can run it out there 250 or even a little further.

Which leads me to the driver. Which, as always, seems to be in transition.

I started out this year hitting last year’s driver, a Ping G30, nine degrees, with an 80 gram tour stiff shaft. But I was also messing around with a Cleveland 588 Altitude driver (a genuinely great stick that you can find for as little as $79 now online). Not to get too technical, but it had a lighter, somewhat less stiff shaft, and that special soft explosive feel that Cleveland somehow manages to build into all their drivers. (Which, I understand are being phased out in favor of the Srixon branding. Pity. ) For a while I thought the Cleveland had won out — but looking at the data objectively, I realized the Ping is actually a better performer for my particular swing.

(I’ve juist got my my hands on a Taylor Made AeroBurner TP model — 9.5 with the stiff Ozik White Tie. I’ll be testing that next. But that’s getting ahead of myself.)

But then, I tried someothing on a whim. I took advantage of a launch monitor at my local golf store (they indulge me when they’re not too busy) and tried all kinds of different head and shaft combinations. And the numbers suggested that the clubhead/shaft combination that gave me absolutely the most distance was a 12 degree Taylor Made R15.

With their stock “M” shaft.

“M” as in “mature,” I guess.

That’s a senior flex, guys. That’s a grandpa club.

But the numbers! I was carrying the ball 20 yards further with this set-up than my current club. At least according to the machine. (This was mitigated a little by the fact that the ball was spinning more and I wasn’t getting as much roll.)

And, as you probably guessed, I was hitting it straighter (and much higher) as well.

Now, this is indoors on a monitor, which isn’t the same as on the course. My feeling, which might be wrong, is I always pick up a little extra swing speed outside. But the difference couldn’t be ignored. So I borrowed a demo club, a 12 degree Ping G 30 with a “SR” (which Ping says stands for “soft regular” not “senior”) and took it out on the course for a couple of rounds.

Boom. I hit it well. It felt great. It didn’t quite give me the length that I get when I hit my gamer right — but it was better than respectable. It flew high and straight. I could even coax a soft little fade with it. My long drive with it was — according to the GPS — 267 yards, which was on a 478-yard par four. But my shorter shots were in the 240 range, about what I normally hit the three wood. And hitting the 12 degree pawpaw club was really stress free. I didn’t hit anything badly off line, I didn’t scream any hooks into the trees, I didn’t even leave one hanging way out to the right.

If I were smart, I’d probably carry something like this.

So I am, at least for a little while. Not this exact set-up, my ego won’t allow me to hit a “M” or “SR” shaft, even if that’s what some machine says I should be hitting. But I did pick up a 10.5 degree G 30 head. I tweaked it up to 11.3 degrees of loft (I’m not really a fan of adjustability in a driver but it’s kind of neat to be able to do stuff like this) and a screwed it onto a Ping TFC 419 “regular” shaft. (Though we all know that there’s no real standard — and I still think I might end up dropping the Ping Tour 80 in it just to see how it plays. Below find a video comparing the two shafts. )

My first drive with this set-up missed the fairway — I hit it a little right and it didn’t quite draw back far enough. But I hit it about 270. I hit about the same shot on the second hole. I missed my next one pretty badly — I was trying to bomb it on the aforementioned long par four, overswung and hit a poor shot, but on my next opportunity I split the fairway with the best drive I’ve hit this year. It left me about 240 out on a 539-yard par five. (I hit a hard drawing four iron that surprised me by rolling up — the fairway was really firm — onto the front of the green and sank a 40-footer for eagle. Yay me.)

Idiot that I am, I’m still not quite sold on this combination, but it’s clear to me that hitting a “regular” shaft in my driver won’t destroy my game. (I’ve played around with softer shafts in my irons too — for now, I still get a little bit more out of the S’s than the R’s, but it’s not a huge difference.) So what I’m thinking I might do, at least for the next couple of rounds, is carry this papaw driver along with the gamer — or more likely the new AeroBurner. I’ll try them side by side and maybe I’ll end up putting both of them in the bag permanently.

I’m planning on using the papaw safety driver the same way the big kids use their three woods. For control off the tee. And I’ll keep the other driver (whatever it turns out to be) in reserve for the big rips on the par fives and a couple of other holes. And as a tonic if and when the swing goes hinky.

I’ve considered going to a two driver set-up before — and for the past couple of years I’ve usually carried some sort of alternative driver. For a while I had a Cobra Long Tom two-wood. Then a SLDR mini-driver. Now the 14-degree AeroBurner TP.

I could sideline it or, more likely, my 17 degree four-wood to make room for the extra driver.

My three-hybrid, if well-struck (not a given) can run out to 230. My four iron is normally my 200 yard club now — if I don’t have to carry it over a hazard. I’m not really good enough to worry about the gap between those clubs — I don’t know how often I hit a green from 210 yards out or so, but I imagine it’s no more than 20 percent of the time. Honestly, I’m happy to get the ball around then green, to have a chip at birdie. Like everyone else, I’d probably score better if I concentrated more on chipping and putting and less on trying to hit the driver as far as I possibly can.

On the other hand, what I like about golf is how it feels when I make solid connect with the ball. Ball go far. Something sweet transmits up the shaft. That’s what it’s about for me. That’s what I’m chasing — not lower scores.


1 Comment

  • Comment by Wmbward — Aug 6,2017 at 11:04 am

    When I started reading this, my first thought was – get a more lofted driver. Bingo! I use a 10.5 Cleveland Hi-Bore (which they don’t make anymore). You didn’t talk about what balls you use, but when my swing speed slowed down, I did two things: 1) bought much lower compression balls, usually a Wilson ’50’ compression; and 2) shortened my back swing and started exploding through the ball better. I don’t hit it as far as you, but I am driving straighter and longer than I did in my 50’s. (I am now 68). Happy swings!

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