Classic Questions, Answered

Photo: Fred Vuich

The right combination of loft and bounce can help you escape even the nastiest bunkers

The Gear Doctor gets lots of letters from golfers just like you who want to know more about how to get the most out of today's modern equipment. We think this collection of questions and answers is especially helpful for a lot of players. And remember, if you have a question for the Gear Doctor, you can e-mail him at

Dear Doc,
I tried various clubs at a demo day and found the best fit for me are irons which are 4° flat and one-inch longer than standard. I understand how the change in lie works, but what does the extra inch in length do? — Bruce Mayfield

Dear Bruce,
Adjusting the length in a golf club should put the player in a more comfortable position and allow him to swing without fighting his own body.

But remember that longer clubs get heavy. It might not be a problem early in the round, but you could get fatigued and loose some shots that you normally wouldn't. Good club fitters can adjust the weight of the heads so the swing weights come out normal.

What is interesting to me that you need irons with a lie angle that is 4° below standard (flat). That's unusual. You may have found a club that was flat enough for your swing and the length just didn't matter for the amount of shots you hit. Go through an iron fitting, or at least try some clubs that were equally flat but not as long, to see what will work best for you.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Hi Golf Doc,
I have a 10.5° driver (TaylorMade R510 TP) with a stiff shaft (TP Fujikura Speeder) and hit the ball about 250 yards off the tee. As a 48-year-old, I am fairly happy with that. However, of the 250 yards only about three yards is roll.

Would going to a lower-lofted head create more roll? It is a little frustrating to see the ball climb out there then drop out of the sky.
— Brian, Coffs Harbour, Australia

Dear Brian,
I have been asked this question hundreds of times, so I'm glad you gave me the opportunity to answer it here. There are two reasons why you wouldn't see any roll after your drives land.

1) You are hitting it too high, and therefore the angle of descent is so steep the ball does not roll out after it lands.

2) The ball is spinning too much, and therefore the ball does not hit and bounce forward after landing.

Because you didn't say anything about hitting it too high, I'm going to go with situation No. 2.

There are two ways to fix your problem. First, experiment with the ball you play. There is a tremendous variance in spin between balls off the face of a driver. You might find one that allows you to reduce spin and get the roll you want. Second, get custom fitted for your driver. If you are going to invest in a new driver you want to make sure it helps you achieve optimal launch and spin conditions.

Dear Gear Man,
I heard some guys at my club talking about the 'kick point' of the driver shaft. What is that? — Howard, Evanston, Ill.

Dear Howard,
"Kick point" is a term used to describe the point at which a shaft bends most sharply during the swing. Shafts are often referred to as having a "High" kick point (which would produce a lower ball flight), or having a "Low" kick point (producing a higher ball flight). The reality is there is no one "kick point" in a shaft. The shaft is designed with a profile that will help a player raise or lower ball flight and that profile, when measure, is more like a curve than a point.

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