Ladies First When It Comes to Golf Equipment

Ladies First When It Comes to Golf Equipment

There was a time when “real golfers” carried a standard set of clubs that looked like this:

  • Driver
  • 3-wood
  • 1 iron or 4 wood (pick one)
  • 2-iron through pitching wedge
  • Sand wedg
  • e

  • Putter
  • Whatever shots you could hit with that set make-up, were the shots with which you had to score. Clubs dictated shots instead of shots dictating clubs.

    Better players could hit the required shots. But for most golfers who didn’t have the strength, the swing speed or the time needed to practice all these shots, golf remained mercilessly unforgiving. Carrying another fairway wood or an extra wedge somehow made you a lesser golfer. And anytime you hit a good shot with a club like those, all you would hear is, “That 7-wood is like cheating. When are you going to start playing with real clubs?”

    Well, the stigmas associated with using equipment that make certain shots easier to play, have gradually evaporated, and it all started with the LPGA. Out of the bag went the 2-irons, and in many cases, the 3- and 4-irons and in went forgiving, versatile clubs that allowed women like Annika Sorenstam to hit the ball farther, higher and straighter than ever before.

    I find it interesting that recently, many years after the women, the men of the PGA Tour are finally embracing this philosophy and adjusting the makeup of their sets based on their strengths, weaknesses, shot requirements, and in some cases, the course conditions.

    What brought about this change of heart? It was the attempt to “Tiger-proof” courses and to counteract the increased distances players were driving the ball. With pins being tucked and courses being lengthened, players were being asked to hit higher, longer and softer shots in order to get the ball close. Remember Tiger’s 2-iron that went as far as a normal driver and flew with the height of a 7-iron? Other players realized they needed that shot if they were to compete, but it wasn’t going to happen with their 2-iron!

  • Tiger Woods (10 majors) has now (with his new swing) pulled his 2-iron out of the bag in 2005 and seems to have permanently replaced it with a 5-wood. He can hit it farther and higher from the fairway, and it’s much easier to use from the rough.
  • Phil Mickelson (3 majors), who used two drivers and no sand wedge in winning the 2006 Masters, routinely plays practice rounds with 15 clubs in his bag. Lefty either keeps a 4-wood in the bag and removes his 3- or 4-iron, or, leaves the long irons in and pulls out the fairway wood.
  • Vijay Singh (3 majors) carries a 7-wood that my colleague David Feherty is fond of saying, “is bent like a 5-wood, but he can hit like a 3-wood.”
  • Hybrid and rescue clubs are so common today in the bags of PGA Tour players that they don’t even raise an eyebrow.
  • As the old saying goes, “It’s a scorecard, not a postcard.” No one cares how you do it; the object of the game is to shoot the lowest score possible. So, a word to those designing or redesigning courses. If you think you are doing something to challenge players by making them hit an “impossible” shot, they will invent a “possible” club. Checkmate!

    See ladies … after a while, we men really do listen.

    Where’s the Cry For Wie-Proofing?
    As I stated above, Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters and courses felt they need to become Tiger-proofed. Many facilities around the world added length and started cutting holes closer to the edges of the green. For golf traditionalists, the idea of playing par 4s with a driver and a wedge was just blasphemy, and boring as well.

    Have those purists bothered to watch an LPGA Tour event lately?

    Proportionate to the length of the courses they play—typically between 6,300 and 6,500 yards—the women on the LPGA Tour are getting as long off the tee as the guys. Just look at this chart:

    Longest Hitters on LPGA and PGA Tour by Year
    1999 260.7 (Jean Bartholomew) 305.6 (John Daly)
    2000 270.1 (Caroline Blaylock) 301.4 (John Daly)
    2001 265.8 (Wendy Dolan) 306.7 (John Daly)
    2002 269.3 (Akiko Fukushima) 306.8 (John Daly)
    2003 269.7 (Annika Sorenstam) 321 (Hank Kuehne)
    2004 270.2 (Sophie Gustafson) 314 (Hank Kuehne)
    2005 270.3 (Brittany Lincicome) 318 (Scott Hend)
    2006 288.7 (Karin Sjodin) 321 (Bubba Watson)

    Now let me ask you this: Have you heard anyone say that the LPGA needs to do anything to its courses in response to players getting longer? I certainly haven’t. In fact, Michelle Wie is creating a global fan base and earning millions in endorsements because she is not only young (16) and attractive, but overpowering LPGA courses exactly the way Tiger overpowered Augusta back in ’97. Is there an outcry that Sjodin is hitting it 18 yards longer than the 2005 distance leader like there was for Kuehne in 2003? I don’t think so! Are people blaming a new golf ball for the sudden 18 yard increase in distance at the top of the LPGA stats? Nope! Is anyone complaining that LPGA play has become boring? To the contrary, it is more exciting than ever!

    This is yet another sign of just how sexist golf can be. Seriously, there are only about 40 men in the world capable of overpowering a course. But the knee jerk reaction to these players has created a call not only for courses to be lengthened, but restrictions be placed on equipment and the golf ball.

    If you are going to talk about what’s good or bad for golf, please have the courtesy to remember that women play too.

    Peter Kostis is a golf analyst for CBS Sports, a GOLF MAGAZINE Top 100 Teacher and co-founder of the Kostis-McCord Learning Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. You can e-mail him your questions and comments at [email protected]

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