previously covered nine of the 14 clubs you're allowed to carry in your bag, the irons and the driver. Considered in those terms, essentially two-thirds of your clubs are designed for you to hit a golf ball between 100 and 300 yards. However, during a round, something in the neighborhood of 60% to 65% of your strokes will be taken within 100 yards of the flagstick, independent of your handicap. If you're skeptical of that statistic, keep track next time you play. More clubs for fewer of your shots, fewer clubs for more of your shots. Yes, golf is a game of opposites. For instance, to get the ball up in the air with an iron, hit down on it. Just accept that the golf gods want you to be baffled, and your enjoyment of the game will soar. At the very least, your frustration might diminish. Everybody wants to hit drives 290 yards and 7-irons 185, probably because practicing full-swing shots is a lot more fun than honing one's skills around the green with the wedges or on it with the putter. But the truth is that in order to see meaningful improvement in your scores, you have to possess a terrific short game. Here are some items that can help.
Open-Faced Sand WedgeYou'll want to carry at least three wedges, your pitching wedge and two additional clubs. The pitching wedge usually has a loft of 47 degrees or 48 degrees. Add to this a sand wedge, normally 56 degrees of loft, and a 60-degree lob wedge or a 52-degree gap wedge, depending on your preference. Wedges can also be found at 54 degrees, 58 degrees or set at odd-degree lofts like 53 and 55. Pelz Golf, the company started by short-game guru and former NASA scientist Dave Pelz, even sells a 64-degree wedge. The debate will rage forever as to whether you should carry three or four wedges, but as with all other club-buying options, the choices are limited only by how much you want to spend.
Perhaps no company prides itself more on wedges than Cleveland Golf, whose short-game tools are favored by the likes of marquee players Vijay Singh and David Toms. Cleveland's CG10 or CG11 wedges will cost $129.95 for the satin chrome finish, or $139.95 if you opt for the black pearl clubhead. The company's 588 DSG model goes for $109.95 on
Golfwarehouse.com . Titleist's (part of Fortune Brands ( FO)) Vokey Design wedges, long priced at $125, can now be found for $99.95 to $109.95, including those featuring the unusual and great-looking "oil can" finish. Vokeys are available in seven different lofts, from 48 degrees to 60 degrees, and several models give you options on the bounce angle. F2 Golf has a line of wedges that mark a radical departure from traditional designs. The difference is the location of the club face -- F2 wedges have the club's hosel behind the face. This design, the company says, will allow the player to contact the ball without worrying about sand or grass grabbing the hosel and twisting the face. F2 sells wedges in four different lofts, and each one is available from the company for $99.99. The aforementioned Pelz wedges go for $139.95 each. Pelz wedges have deep grooves on the club face that are intended to provide consistent backspin and stopping control. The grips are longer and not as tapered, producing a more uniform feel when you put your hands lower on the club.
Putt for DoughBuying a putter was once a simple exercise. Now, in addition to the blade- and mallet-style putters, you've got some the size of your head and others that would be at home in the Museum of Modern Art. Take the Nike ( NKE) OZ T130 OS Mallet, yours for $139.95. This center-shafted mallet comes in flat black, features two large holes in the middle of the head, is accented with two silver triangles on top and could be aimed at those in and around Area 51.
The Scotty Cameron Futura Phantom from Titleist is a tamer version of the original Futura. The small holes in the body are gone, and the metallic finish has been replaced with black, but the Phantom has retained the U-shaped backweight. If this strikes your fancy, prepare to fork over $285. The hefty price tag on the Futura is right in line with other putters in the Scotty Cameron group. The Red X models will set you back between $269 and $285, while the American Classic III putters will require you to put down $200. Scotty Cameron Studio Style Newport putters retail for a cool $300. Odyssey, the Callaway Golf ( ELY) division whose alignment-aiding and wildly popular White Hot 2-Ball marked a sea change in putter design a few years ago, is now offering -- you guessed it -- a putter with three white disks on the top. The White Steel Tri-Ball SRT will fetch $199, while the 2-Balls will only cost you $139. Callaway's I-Trax putter sells online for $239.99. Some of today's models defy description, but let's just say you'll have a legitimate conversation piece next time you hit the links. Ping's $145 G5i Craz-E putter looks in person sort of like the name does in print. This blue-and-silver offering resembles a semicircle, and has two holes precut in the head. Similarly designed is the TaylorMade Monza Corza, priced at just under $180. Plus, it features TaylorMade's movable-weight technology. The Guerin Rife Two-Bar putter will require you to part with about $200, but the company's Limited Edition Aussie will be a $500 outlay. The cool part of owning one of these is you get to say "Guerin Rife" every time you talk about it. On top of that, the Two-Bar looks a little like the grill and headlights of a 1965 Chevy pickup. Yes! Golf has an extensive line of groove-faced putters that are increasing in popularity, at least partly because Retief Goosen carries the company's Tracy model. The Dianna putter goes for $199.95.
The Long ShotsFairway woods are admittedly going to get short shrift here, largely because a great number of them are essentially scaled-down versions of drivers. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have at least one. Pick up a 3-wood for hitting tight fairways or going for the green on a par 5 in two. Prices are generally going to run from $109 for a TaylorMade V-Steel to nearly $500 for the company's r7 TP Ti fairway woods. A little cheaper but still pricey is the Tour Edge Exotics, retailing for about $350.
Note that "woods" is now a misnomer, because these clubs are made of graphite, steel and all sorts of composites, unless you want to again visit our friends at Louisville Golf. Regardless of what you read in any number of instructional articles, fairway woods aren't the easiest thing for a mid- to high-handicap player to actually hit off the fairway. That's probably a big reason hybrids and utility clubs have seen such explosive growth in the last couple of years. Lofts vary widely, but many companies offer hybrids starting around 14 degrees or 15 degrees -- about the same as a 3-wood. Hybrids can inspire confidence because they have smaller heads than fairway woods, and they tend to fly the ball higher. At the same time, they're easier to hit than long irons. The fact that more Tour pros are carrying them has aided in their growing popularity among ordinary players. For $300, you can have the TaylorMade Rescue Dual TP Graphite, available in lofts from 14 degrees to 22 degrees. Sonartec's MD series retails for $199, and the Callaway FT hybrid is tagged at $179 to $199. MacGregor, a company with a long history in golf, is selling the Mactec NVG2 hybrid for $179.99. If you prefer something that's a lot more like an iron than a wood, consider Miura Golf's IC-2003 utility at $219.99 for a club with a steel shaft and $249.99 for a graphite shaft. Precept's ECU utility club is available for as low as $90, and it's worth mentioning because you can get it with a bright orange graphite shaft. That'll make you stand out halfway across the golf course. Remember that the clubs mentioned here merely scratch the surface of what's available. What's important is that you have fun, play golf, carry the sweetest gear you can and live the good life.