Ask the Gear Doc

Even if the grooves in your old irons are still sharp, advances in technology make new irons a lot easier to hit.
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Each week in this feature, we'll tap into the expertise of our exclusive research partner, Hot Stix Golf, to answer reader questions. If you have a question for the Gear Doc, e-mail it to geardoc@hotstixgolf.com. He'll answer a few lucky readers' questions every Wednesday on GOLF.com.

Dear Gear Doctor,
I have a question about wedges in an amateur's bag, and how we should know when it's actually time to replace our favorite club.

I use a sand and a lob wedge from one of the manufacturers using extra large groove technology to give their wedges more spin and check. I read somewhere that a lot of professional players will replace their wedges to get a fresh, sharp set of grooves at least once a year. If I play at least 20 rounds a year and practice at least 4 hours a month with my wedges on various chip/pitch and full-swing shots, should I be thinking about getting a new set of wedges after a year of using them? Do you think that matters for a player not yet at a level where I consistently get good checks on the green anyway?

Thanks,
A.J., Washington, D.C.

Dear A.J.,
There are several parts to this answer. First, Tour players change their wedges a lot more often than your average amateur. They hit thousands more practice shots, and they need to be able to count on the ball to do exactly what they want it to do. Their equipment is critical to executing shots.

For most amateurs, I think this is more of a financial decision. You want to make your wedges last until you can no longer pull off the shots you once could with them. As you mentioned, this will vary based on playing conditions, and how often you play or practice. The more you play and practice from the sand, or heavily sanded turf, the shorter the life expectancy of the wedges. If you don't play or practice much in the sand, and you don't play in sandy soil, they should last longer. That said, with your practice habits and roughly 20 rounds a year, you should expect to get about two good years out of your wedges before it's time to replace them.

Dear Hotstix Guy:
Do grooves wear out? If I have been playing the same irons for ten years, am I loosing spin due to worn grooves? Do the grooves really matter for a slow-swing-speed hacker who never seems to get any spin anyway?

Thanks,
Tim Parr

Dear Tim,
This is difficult to answer without some more information. Much depends on how much, and where, you play and practice. But the grooves may be beside the point. There have been many significant technological advancements in equipment in the last ten years, so if you are serious about the game, it's probably time to treat yourself to a new set of irons.

Dear Gear Dr.:
Recently, I bought a John Daly driver with a 540-cc head and a medium flex graphite shaft. I'm a new golfer (but already heavily addicted) and obviously have a bit of a slice problem. I don't want to sink a lot of money into a nicer driver until I get better. I heard that there are some stick-on weights you can apply to the clubhead to help create a draw to minimize slicing. Do these really work, or should I break down and sink the money into a new driver? If so, what is the best driver for a high-handicap, slicing novice like me?

Thanks,
Tim Clemons, Sr., Moncks Corner, S.C.

Dear Tim,
I'm glad to hear that you are sticking to it even though you are struggling a little with the driver. It is the hardest club in the bag to hit, but once you figure it out, it is also probably the most fun. You can buy stick-on weights, but a roll of lead tape might be even better. Lead tape will allow you to tinker until you get just the right weight. Two things you've got to know about adding weight to your clubs. First, add it to the heel of the club because you are battling a slice. This will lighten the toe of the club and make it easier to square up the face to produce a straighter ball flight. Second, the extra weight on the clubhead will effectively make the shaft softer and increase the swing weight. This might be exactly what you need, but don't add so much that you can no longer swing the club effectively.

Hi Dr. Gear,
I'm sure the bulk of your questions will focus on the characteristics that make modern drivers and/or hybrids work for us. But I am more interested in understanding the dynamics of all the new putters on the market.

Over the past 5 years they have evolved as much as the long clubs, with some crazy-looking designs all developed in the name of rolling the ball better. Heel-shafted vs. center-shafted, standard weight vs. heavy weight, 35 inch vs. 33 inch, face balanced vs. non-face balanced, grooved face vs. flat face — what's the theory behind these developments, and do they work? If I consistently hit the ball on each putter's sweet spot, will I notice any difference? Because the pros are the best putters in the world, I would be very interested in knowing what length, weight, and technology they are turning to these days.

Sincerely,
Jim Slinn, Coquitlam, B.C., Canada

Dear Jim,
I could probably write a book on this question alone, and there are no absolutes when it comes to what works best for an individual. But if you are struggling with your putting, it is probably worth going through a putter fitting to figure out what's going wrong — swing path, effective loft, length, lie angel, etc. Here is what you will want to know to get the most out of the fitting.

• Heel-shafted putters are designed to benefit players with an inside-to-inside stroke, like a swinging door. Center-shafted or face-balanced putters are better for the straight-back and straight-through swing path.

• The right length is the one that puts you in the best position to make your stroke consistently.

• Weight is all about feel and depends on the golfer.

• There is some very cool technology with putter grooves, but your putter doesn't need grooves to roll the ball well. Still, if you have trouble generating a consistent roll, grooves can help.

Remember, little things in golf can make a big difference. A putter with the right length, lie angle, weight and grip, and enough MOI to forgive some off-center hits will make you a more consistent putter. If you average 30 putts a round now, and you can knock that down to 28, it will have a significant impact on your handicap.

One final note. Don't get too hung up on what the pros are doing. They practice hours a day and often play in very different conditions than we do. Some use long putters, some use short putters, and though most prefer heavier swing weights, it's all about the individual. Get a putter that is fit for you, give yourself a chance to adjust to the change and I think you will be very pleased with the results.

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