The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 6, 2013

Goodwin: Nothing replaces a good swing

By Clair Goodwin
Special to The Globe

— Just about every golfer has had a set of clubs that he or she sold or gave away and now wishes could be retrieved.

Those clubs, whether originating in the classic period of the 1950s or from today’s high-tech era, produced the most quality shots and low scores in the fond memories of their former owners.

I’ve heard a lot of players lament that they should have kept that old set of Hogan, Spalding, Ping or Wilson clubs or the recent models of Taylormade or Callaway rather than having traded them away for something new. The newest high-tech clubs deliver on the promise that they are easier to hit.

But that can be a curse as well as a blessing.

The truth is that new clubs won’t change the level of the talent swinging them. Many, many years ago former PGA and Champions Tour pro David Graham lamented the advent of high-tech equipment because he thought that golfers wouldn’t seek to improve their swings, but would put too much trust in ability of their clubs to get the job done.

Nothing can replace a good, solid swing. Even bigger sweet spots can’t make sweet tea out of vinegar.

Over the many, many years of my golfing experience, I had three sets that I wish I had never let go. The first was a set of MacGregor Tommy Armour irons and MacGregor DX woods, circa 1950s  Next was an unlikely set of Phil Rodgers pure blades made by Cobra and fitted with X shafts. I once hit 14 fairways and 18 greens at Briarbrook Golf Club using those clubs, something that I hadn’t done before and haven’t since.

For consistency, I’ve never found anything to beat my 1980s Bullets.

Now I am not suggesting that the old clubs had some sort magic that made them better than modern sticks. But if you were to take them out of the closet and give them an occasional try, you might discover that your swing isn’t as sound as you think and that the high-tech stuff covers up swing flaws that eventually will show up.

Most of today’s pros play new equipment. But they work on their swings every day by hitting a thousand balls on the practice range. Could they do what most of amateurs do, which is to walk into a pro shop or store, waggle a club a few times, buy them and immediately rush out to play. The pros know that high tech is fine but that good swings produce good scores.

Consider our emphasis on hitting the ball longer. I talked with Hall of Fame golfer Gene Littler in Kansas City about the older clubs he was playing at the time. He kept the clubs in his bag because they worked for him, he said. His only nod to distance was to tweak his irons a degree or so stronger every year. That way he didn’t continually have to learn new distances with each iron.

Unfortunately, I never seem to be satisfied with my clubs, regardless of how well I hit them. Like too many players, I am constantly looking for the perfect set of irons that will produce great shots for me day in and day out. Those Tommy Armours, Phil Rodgers and Bullets worked most of the time, but all I could remember at the time I got rid of them were my bad shots or high scores.

I might not play them today even if I had them. But if I had kept them, I would occasionally take them out for a test drive. At the time, they were truer friends to me than I was to them.

 Need good swing

Talking about old clubs, I’ll never forget the sticks that Barry Franks played. It was one of the poorest designs I ever saw. I won’t identify the manufacturer, but the clubs didn’t align well and were difficult to hit.

But Barry, a student of Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons” book and one of the finest strikers of the ball around, seemed perfectly happy with them. I really think he relished the battle he faced every time he stepped over a shot. I don’t know how many tournaments Barry won with those clubs, but I’m pretty sure he won several.

So remember, new clubs are great. Their forgiveness may allow you to get away with some serious swing flaws for a while. But eventually you will require a good swing to consistently hit the ball well.

Double eagle

Mark Johnson of Joplin made a double-eagle 2 on the 470-yard first hole at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course on Dec. 1.

Johnson hit driver, rescue for the rarest of golf achievements. Witnesses were Steve Wood, Charlie Weems and David Mitchell.