The average handicap for players in United States has remained largely unchanged for the last 40 years
As a golf nut, I watch, read and listen to most everything that has to do with golf. That means I watch infomercials, read new product reviews, listen to golfers who have just purchased new equipment, and try out new equipment when the opportunity arises (which it seems to quite frequently).
I have yet to come across a golfer who says, “I just got this new driver because my old one just went too far”. I hear a lot more of, “this new driver goes 20-30 yards further than my old one”. Commercials and infomercials convey the same message. They will usually tell you something (sometimes a lot) about a new product and conclude with a testimonial or two about how, “I’ve never hit a club that went, this far”, or for that matter “this straight” or “this high” or “this low” depending on the product being sold. This scenario applies to drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons.
And it goes beyond clubs. Ball manufacturers are in on the act as well. Despite the fact that the USGA has restrictions on how far balls can go, companies persist in telling us that their ball, although USGA approved, goes further than the competition.
Golf tee manufacturers are in on the act as well claiming that their tees will help you drive the ball an extra 2 to 3 yards off the tee.
As indicated in an earlier article, in golf there is no substitute for distance, so if a manufacturer can prove, or at least claim with a straight face, that their clubs will make the ball go further, or that their ball goes further than other balls, golfers tend to buy it.
In my mind there have been but a few eureka moments in golf in the last 30-40 years where manufacturers changed the game and the way the average golfer plays it in a dramatic way.
1 cast perimeter weighted irons (the Ping revolution);
2 the move from wooden woods to metal woods;
3 the move from the smaller steel heads to the 460 cc titanium heads with thin faces that tend to sling-shot the ball when hit off the center of the face (the trampoline effect);
4 the introduction of hybrids.
As well, let’s not forget shaft material. Although the big leap occurred before my time, going from hickory to steel was the big jump but even after the introduction of steel shafts manufactures have dabbled in aluminum, titanium and other metals. The standard nowadays, especially for long clubs, is graphite. With its lower overall wight and precision engineered kick points, graphite has proved to be a consistent performer when it comes to distance and determining ball flight.
Lastly, the ball. Where would we be without solid core, multi-layered, soft covered balls like the ProV1 and its many competitors.
Be careful that you don’t buy new equipment that will make the ball go so far that it makes the current course you play obsolete (he said tongue firmly panted in cheek).
How has this affected the average golfer? Lets say for the sake of argument you hit the ball 240 yards off the tee and you hit your 7 iron around 150 yards. That means you should be very comfortable playing par 4’s up to 390 yards in length, (a 240 yard drive and a 150 yard approach shot). Lets add-on some of the main game improvement claims:
Driver 20 -30 yards
Irons 10-15 yards
Ball 10-15 yards
Tees 3-4 yards
Now you play that same 390 yard par 4. You are hitting your driver from 270 to 285 yards off the tee leaving you an approach shot between 105-120 yards. And because of the improvements in irons and balls, an approach shot that previously would have required anywhere from a gap wedge to a 9 iron now requires only a flop wedge or a sand wedge.
Here is the punch line: With all your game improvement investments on full display you hit your flop wedge onto the green and 3 putt for a bogie. Everything has changed yet nothing has changed.
Despite all the game improvement equipment that has been introduced you still cannot buy a game. According to the USGA the handicaps for American golfers have been static for the last 40 years despite all the equipment improvements.