Are you hitting that new monster-sized titanium driver the same distance as your previous model? Do your putts come up short off that hot, new putterface insert? Have you tried the latest high-spin balls only to discover that they don't bite the way you expected? If you answered yes to any of these, listen up. You've done the easy part -- buying the equipment. Now you have to figure out how to play it.
That 400 cc titanium driver is begging you to spank the ball. Who can blame you? Surely, you can't miss its gigantic sweetspot. So, to smack it, you take a long, fast backswing and let it rip. Our guess? You didn't split the fairway.
"Most people go at it like gorillas when they get these new clubs," says Martin Hall, a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher based at Ibis Golf & Country Club in Florida. "But the rules don't change just because it's a bigger club. You still have to find the center of the clubface and let the technology produce the distance for you."
Start by slowing your backswing. Hall suggests lowering your energy level at the driving range by hitting three drives followed by three easy wedge shots. Repeat that a few times. You also might want a club with a shaft that is one flex firmer than your usual, as many big drivers have longer shafts that can prove harder to control. If you had a "regular" flex in your old driver, consider stepping up to "firm" in your new crusher to tighten shot dispersion. Before buying, find the club you like, then hit several shots with each flex and have a pro or retailer watch -- and measure -- your swing speed and offer a recommendation. If you've just purchased the wrong flex, many shops will allow an exchange (barring any blemishes), even if you didn't purchase it there.
Whatever you do, don't settle for the wrong shaft and try choking down the grip to create a firmer flex, or "you negate the benefits of that longer shaft and the fact that it's creating a wider arc and more clubhead speed," says Kevin Walker, a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher from Nantucket Golf Club in Massachusetts.
Walker also suggests that to maximize driving distance, tee the ball higher than with your old driver so contact is made with the top half of the clubface. "You get a lower spin rate for a better ball flight," says Walker. "And it penetrates the wind better." How high should you tee it? On the range, start the tee high, hit five shots, then push it down an eighth inch and hit five more shots. Repeat until finding your best results.
Distance isn't the only benefit of the new super-sized drivers. "They have a bigger face area, which makes them more forgiving," says Todd Harman of Cleveland Golf.
You won't need to change your hitting style much with the latest wedges, but you will get extra spin. In fact, this is one reason manufacturers have spent the past five years roughing up the clubfaces. "By itself, a rough face actually has little to do with spin," says Harman. "True: a softer-cover ball will spin better with a rough wedge face than a harder ball. But if the face is too rough, it grabs any ball and knuckles it off."
What affects spin, says Harman, is a wedge's grooves, specifically, their "shape, depth, cut, and the spacing between them. Placed too close together or too far apart, and they reduce spin." According to Cleveland's studies, U-grooves produce more spin than V-grooves, and milled U-grooves produce more spin than cast U-grooves.
Buying spin is part of the promise of two new wedge lines -- Dave Pelz's Distance Control wedges and TaylorMade's Tour Preferred wedges -- both of which sport uniquely designed grooves. Varying the loft, Pelz uses "progressive face grooves," a mix of V-grooves, U-grooves, semi-box grooves, and box grooves for "matched-set performance and distance control." TaylorMade incorporates a "dual draft profile": Each groove has a V-shaped top and a U-shaped bottom for "stopping power, consistent trajectory, and distance control."
Another trend in new wedges is extra-long grips with less taper: You can move your hands up and down the grip for better distance and ball control.
"Manufacturers are trying to build spin into the club, but you still need to get the ball to spin the right amount for you," says Mike McGetrick, a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher and owner of McGetrick Golf Academy in Englewood, Colorado. "No matter which wedge you play, it comes down to getting the proper angle of approach and club path to create the right impact position."
Technology has changed putters -- and your putting game -- in several ways. Many new models feature face inserts, which affect the feel of a putt. Most inserts "make the ball feel softer coming off the putterface," making it ideal if you putt on fast greens, according to Dave Phillips, a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher based at Caves Valley outside Baltimore. "It takes some getting used to, because of the softer feel, so you might need to lengthen your stroke slightly."
Also new is the popularity of belly-length putters being wielded by the likes of Vijay Singh, Paul Azinger, and Fred Couples. Measuring 43 to 45 inches, the putters are nearly a foot shorter than "long" putters, which are held against the chest, and close to a foot longer than conventional models. They're designed to butt up against your stomach, providing a solid anchor and more stability: Stroked properly, the belly putter keeps your head steady and eliminates wrist break.
"Using one does present some changes," says Phillips. "Just because you hear the word 'belly,' don't think you need to stick it in your belly button. Place it two or three inches left of your belly button and anchor it there. Then grip it lightly and let the putter swing from that anchoring point.
"Allow that to happen, and a belly putter creates a perfect stroke, where it comes slightly inside, back to square, then back inside. Don't make it go any other way, because that's not what it's meant to do."
Thanks to new cores and covers, you should be able to find a ball that meets your needs, particularly your desire for more spin. Start by thinking about the trajectory and spin you currently get from your clubs and how the ball you play behaves on your course. Does it handle the wind? Do you get enough spin around the green? Do you like the feel? With this information as a reference point, read ball ads and packaging to see if their claims suit you. Buy a few sleeves of different prospects and hit them side by side at your course, where you know the yardages and can compare their performances with the ball you presently use.
You may run into the problem of a ball reacting well with your driver but not with your wedges, or vice-versa. In that case, decide which void is more important to fill. "Go with where your weakness is," says McGetrick. "If you're looking for 15 yards, go with a distance ball. Otherwise, opt for a spin ball. Sometimes you have to give up one for the other." And try some new optimal-spin balls that will help both your long and short games.