There is a saying that goes roughly like this: “You are never ready. You can be prepared, but you are never ready.” And while surely this admonition is intended for confrontations with opponents more ominous than old man par, the advice that it offers may be well taken when you are returning from a period of seasonally enforced inactivity. Just as it’s a bad idea to step from the car onto the first tee, it is an equally bad idea to go from the couch to the course. And what’s true for you, applies to your equipment as well. So what are you doing to prepare for the coming season?
A good place to start might be in your basement, closet, or wherever it is that you have chosen to store you clubs during the winter months. (If you are, as I am, one those people who keep their clubs in the office or car year-round, in hopes of a sudden outbreak of unseasonably mild weather, you may skip directly to paragraph four, below.) Did you neglect to re-grip your sticks late last season, figuring you would do it in the spring? Well now is the time to assess their condition and, if necessary, treat yourself to a new set of grips.
Re-grippers fall into two categories: The “do-it-yourself-in-the-garage-type,” and the “Isn’t that why God made pro shops?” type. Just my luck, I own a home without a garage. Regardless of which of these two groups you fall into, you will be faced with a bewildering array of choices when you look to purchase new grips. And as it is with golf clubs, swing theories, and self-help books, your most difficult task will be finding the grips that suit you best.
One of the holdover traits from my early academic days is that I like to do my homework. I like to research stuff, and do what teachers used to call the compare and contrast essay. Only these days I’m more likely to be looking at the differences between various wedge manufacturers, than the subtle and not so subtle distinctions between say, “Moby-Dick” and “Huckleberry Finn.” So I suggest that you let my compulsion for research become your crib sheet. Think of this piece as a kind of Cliff Notes for grips.
Where most of my research once took place in the character rich, if somewhat dusty stacks of the campus library, today a great deal is accomplished in the comparatively sterile environment of the internet. To that end, I navigated (and what a specious term that is, romanticizing the notion that sitting in front of a keyboard while staring at a screen is actually the equivalent of going somewhere) to the websites of the three leading grip manufacturers, to see what would be showing up in local golf shops this spring.
The clear industry leader in the grip game is Golf Pride. The company’s site, http://www.golfpride.com/ points with, you guessed it, pride, to its overwhelming statistical dominance of the tour players market. Boasting Tiger-like numbers, Golf Pride claims its grips can be found on the clubs in up to 80 percent of touring professionals’ bags.
Eighty per cent? Who counts these sorts of things you ask? A company called the Darrell Survey, that’s who. Darrell is a numbers obsessed outfit out of LA, who have been standing on the first tee, asking pros and amateurs alike the same question for the past 60 or so years. This is the type of ingenuity I have long thought to be amazing. Where else in the world could you create a company by standing around and asking “So, uh, what’s in the bag?” Only in America, friends.
As would be expected, Golf Pride is a major player in the amateur market as well. It is a division of Eaton, a Cleveland based, international corporation, which maintains a presence on six continents worldwide. Eaton’s primary areas of production include hydraulics and power distribution and protection equipment for the truck, automotive and aviation industries. The company’s $13 billion in annual sales puts it squarely in the Fortune 500. (As I’ve suggested, the internet can be a handy research tool). For a technology focused outfit, grip manufacture must seem a walk in the park. The results speak for themselves. Not only do the overwhelming majority of professionals choose Golf Pride Grips, the majority of club manufacturers install Golf Pride on their mass-market clubs.
Golf Pride’s technological expertise extends to its website, where visitors will find an interactive guide to grip selection. Golfers will be asked to rate the relative importance of various factors such as texture, responsiveness, (the firmer the grip, the more “feedback” from clubface contact with turf and ball) and moisture management requirements (do you get sweaty palms under pressure?) in order to determine specific recommendations. This pre-selection process can prove valuable before you head to the pro shop to make your hands-on choice. For the less technically obsessed: Get a little advice from your pro, pick your favorite color and head to the first tee.
Such a trip might find you at the pro shop at Montauk Downs, where head professional Kevin Smith reports a brisk business re-gripping with Golf Pride’s New Decade series, an innovative combination of cord (for control) in the upper grip, and a softer rubber compound, aimed at comfort and responsiveness, in the lower half of the grip. Smith recommends a yearly re-grip for most golfers. Prices range between $8 and $12 per club, and a set can usually be re-gripped in a day or two. The cost includes a personalized fitting to insure correct grip size. Other grips offered by the shop include Lamkin’s Crossline as well as a selection of Winn Grips.
Last week, I spoke with Jeff Shepard of Winn Grips to help sort out the extensive selection his company has to offer. Winn, a grip maker since 1996 (prior to which the company specialized in tennis grips), has pushed technology and variety to the limit in its attempt to produce the “ideal grip for every golfer.” Its grips are divided into three major categories of feel: firm, medium and soft. Within each category a player can chose from three to four grip sizes, which can be further adjusted through the use of under-wraps.
The Pci line (or poly cord integrated), is as the name suggests, a combination of polymer, a material of many similar resins bonded together, combined with cord to produce a grip that offers both resistance to torque (it won’t twist when you make contact) and slip, which helps keeps your hands where you place them on the club, throughout the swing. This is Winn’s “players grip” and should appeal most to those looking for an exacting measure of performance.
A softer offering, that also includes Winn’s advanced technology, is the Xi series, highlighted by the 7xi. The “7” is the oversize model in a line available in ladies, men’s standard and mid-sized versions. Extreme integration allows for the placement of different types of polymer at different points throughout the grip, with the intent of producing cord-like control with less wear and fatigue on the player’s hands.
Winn’s Duro-soft category, produced through the manipulation of the pores in the polymer, results in an especially soft-to-the-touch grip, and in some models, a marked degree of compression. What that means to the golfer is that the grip has what is best described as a little “give” to it. This will be of interest to players looking to minimize vibration in the hands, wrists, and elbows, thereby extending their ability to play and practice without the pains associated with repetitive stress and arthritis. With their usual attention to detail, Winn offers this model in a variety of sizes and degrees of firmness.
No discussion of grips can be considered complete without a mention of the most valuable club in your (and everyone else’s) bag, the putter. With between 27 (PGA Tour leader Luke Donald) and 39 (yours truly) putts per round, (save your letters, I’m already seeing a psychiatrist) you’d be well advised to like the way your putter feels when you pick it up. And as with your other club’s grips, you will be able to custom fit your putter for size, softness, composition, and color. Color is, of course, a matter of personal style, and its effect on accuracy is difficult to evaluate.
Grip size however, is almost certain to affect putting performance. At the far end of the size spectrum is a relative newcomer called the Super Stroke Putter Grip. The double quarter-pounder (with cheese) of grips, it is a hefty 1.67 inches in diameter, with virtually no taper and one flat surface. Its looks are far from both tradition and elegance. But before you dismiss it as novelty, remember how strange oversize drivers and two-ball putters appeared, before they became the game’s standards. And with putting, it’s art not science. Nothing is more beautiful than the sight of your ball disappearing into the hole. As my playing partner Howie likes to put it, “It’s not how, it’s how many.”
Whatever grips you ultimately choose, bear in mind that there is no substitute for solid mechanics, which can only be acquired through practice. So get a grip, head to the practice tee, and get ready for a great golf season!
Ball’s in the air at eight. Don’t be late.