Holiday Wishes from Hireko Golf

The staff at Hireko Golf would like to wish all our valued customers around the world a Merry Christmas, Mele Kalikimaka, Feliz Navidad, God Jul, Frohes Weihnachten, Merii Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス), Buon Natale, Gelukkige Kerstdagen, Joyeux Noël and Zalig Kerstfeest.

Remember what this special occasion is for – to give rather than receive. I want to leave you all with a little poem about Christmas Eve…Enjoy

In observance of Christmas, our staff will be off Tuesday and will resume normal business hours starting Wednesday Dec. 26th.

Graphite Iron Shafts: Are They Right for Your Game?

When you purchase a brand new driver, fairway wood or hybrid, there is almost a certainty it will come equipped with a graphite shaft installed.  As a matter of fact, you are going to have to think long and hard when the last time you saw a brand name manufacture offer a steel shaft in a driver or fairway wood as even a custom option, let alone their stock option. However, when you look across the golf bags across America, you notice that few iron sets are equipped the same way other than sets devoted to women or senior male golfers.  This begs to question, why?

Simple Economics
There are several reasons as we shall explain as to why so few graphite shafts show up in irons of today’s golfer, but the most obvious reason is simple economics.  A driver is a single club – the big Kahuna so-to-speak both size and cost-wise.  So you would think a golfer will invest into a product that will give them the best chance to excel rather than pinching dimes.  For many, fairway woods are an afterthought and just an extension of a driver.  The average golfer will carry on average two, so the economics is not really an issue there either.  The same could be said of hybrids as most golfers (even skilled ones) will carry one or two in their bag.

No, where the economics adds up is in the irons where the lion’s share of golfers will carry at least six (5 through 9 and a matching pitching wedge).  If you are reading this, then there is a good chance you are familiar with what we sell and can see very clearly there is a price difference between steel and graphite shafts.  For an example, a medium priced steel shaft runs just south of $10, while moderately priced graphite shafts set you back three times that amount.   This is the reason why most graphite-shafted iron sets are the proverbial $200 retail price more than the same steel-shafted set for a full complement of 8 clubs.

For a golfer on a beer budget, an additional $200 can be the difference between buying and not buying a particular set.  On the other end of the spectrum, ardent golfers probably wouldn’t bat an eye over that difference if it meant a benefit for their game. In fact, there are probably more reasons why you don’t see nearly as many graphite-shafted irons sold.

Pyramid of Influence
You might have heard the saying, “Win on Sunday; sell on Monday”.  This is why endorsement deals are offered to the best players in the world. Watch golf on TV and notice how many PGA touring professionals play graphite in their irons.  If your answer is zero, you would be too low.  There are a smattering of PGA Tour players using graphite shafts in their irons to help fight fatigue and shock from repeated practice and usage.  I feel the number will ultimately continue to grow.

Most golfers associate graphite with lighter weight for greater swing speed leading eventually to more distance.  Well, the PGA Tour player isn’t necessarily concerned with more distance as they already hit the ball a long way.  No, they are concentrated with distance control.

Just like the average golfer cannot hit a low lofted, X-flex driver as effectively as a pro, one shouldn’t pattern their buying decision solely on what the pro carries, but rather select what is best for their game.  Your needs are likely to be entirely different.

Distance vs. Distance Control
For the distance challenged, like most women and many senior-aged male golfers with long, full fluid swings, lighter graphite iron shafts provide much needed assistance in achieving additional distance.  The great news is these types of shafts don’t have to be as stiff or a torque resistant enabling the shaft to be lower cost and less of an economical decision for both manufacturers and consumers alike.

For stronger and more powerful golfers or those that possess more of a short compact swing and/or a quick tempo, then an adequate amount of shaft weight is one impelling factor in distance control.  Players that switch to graphite shafts and suffer from distance control most likely weren’t professional fit for the shaft.  That is a shame in this day and age where demo days and interchangeable fitting systems abound and give potential customer a time to thoroughly test before investing in a whole set haphazardly.  There are plenty of heavier graphite shafts to choose from as not all are lightweight, albeit at a higher price.  But it is not uncommon to see a pro or a more skilled amateur carry a Project X or KBS C-Taper, which run $35 each apiece.

But there are lightweight steel shafts…
While there are lightweight steel iron shafts being made in the 70 and 80 gram weight range (comparable to the weight of many graphite iron shafts), there are limitations steel manufacturers are capable of.  For one, the lighter the steel shaft, the thinner the walls. As a result, these lighter steel shafts are less likely to be as stiff as one with thicker walls.  Secondly, by virtue of thinner walls, ball flight is generally higher (in some cases substantially).

Graphite iron shafts produced in the same weight range do not have that problem as the graphite shaft designers have near endless possibilities with all the materials at hand.  That is they can make the shaft as stiff or flexible as they would like. Factor in the ability to independently alter shaft stiffness distribution and torque and a graphite designer could make a shaft that can virtual fit any golfer or style of swing.

Quality Differences
One might make the argument that even a low cost steel shaft is pretty consistent in terms of weight and flex.  And that statement is quite true as steel shafts are manufactured from a homogenous material throughout rather than a graphite shaft constructed of multiple layers of materials often hand rolled onto a forming mandrel.  The same consistency cannot always be said of cheaper graphite shafts.  However, with a mid or higher priced graphite shaft you are often paying more for consistency.  In some cases, that consistency is becoming a no different than steel.  The old adage, you get what you pay for is for the most part true, but only assuming you are comparing shafts of comparable specifications. Plus, a skilled clubmaker, with a frequency analyzer and very little time on his or her time, can sort through and use manufacturing tolerances to their advantage to make a high quality set.

Weigh the differences
No, I don’t mean get out your gram weight scale and compare the weights of irons.  What I mean is you shouldn’t shy away from the multitude of graphite iron shafts available to you on the market today just because you don’t see a number of touring professionals use them.  Your swing is likely quite different from theirs and you will likely need certain shaft specifications based on your strength and tempo.  Remember, you can always use the same shaft brand as your favorite golfer using in their other clubs

There are enough high quality graphite iron shafts that are just as consistent in terms of manufacturing tolerances as steel that should not become an issue.  Rather, get fit or try (with an open mind) a variety of graphite-shafted irons before you dismiss it as an option.  There are a number of benefits to graphite-shafted irons, just like there are for putting graphite shafts in drivers, fairways and hybrids.  While cost can be a major consideration for some, those customers might look at models that have been recently been discontinued by the manufacturer and subsequently discounted.

One of the major advantages with shopping with Hireko (or going through one of many qualified clubmakers who use our products) is the chance to buy a single club or even a single shaft to retro-fit into one of your existing irons.  You don’t have invest in a whole set and be out a lot of cashola as you would with name brand iron offerings.  Plus we offer a wider range of products than any of our competitors to choose from.

A Week in Review – The Good, the Sad and the Maybe

Several events happened last week in world of golf equipment (one good, one sad and one we will have to wait and see) that I would like to share with you. Times are changing in the golf industry and it is a good habit to stay abreast of the most recent developments to plan ahead.

The Good
Last month in my Blog I wondered who might take over for the retiring Technical Director (Dick Rugge) for the USGA. Well, it didn’t take too long to receive word who that that person will be.  Come to find out they looked within and tapped longtime Assistant Technical Director John Spitzer to become the new Managing Director of Equipment Standards as of Feb 2, 2013.  It appears as if a seamless transition will take place meaning no surprises for the future.

Spitzer came to the USGA in 1997 with an impressive resume.  According to Golf Digest, one of his gigs  was “He spent eight years at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory, where he led the thermomechanical engineering branch and also worked on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and the on the linear accelerator for the Superconducting Super Collider.”

Well, all I can say is “Dude, what were you doing at the USGA?”  You can play golf and test golf equipment in your spare time, like on the weekend or after a hard day’s work smashing atoms in the Super Collider.  That would have been just freakin’ awesome!  An added plus, the one time I met John in person seemed like a very down-to-earth individual.

The Sad
I was sad to hear that one of our valued vendors passed away unexpectedly. Joe Hrubos, owner and sole proprietor of Mark-It-Golf Impact Spray was 62 years old.  Joe was also a decorated US Marine from the Vietnam War. You’ll be missed…

The Maybe
San Diego based graphite golf shaft manufacturer and pioneer Aldila announced in a press release on December 4th that they have merged with Mitsubishi Rayon America, Inc.  Some of you may already be familiar with Mitsubishi Rayon shafts, which are produced in Japan. Those who are not can find these high end shafts are under names such as Diamana, Fubuki and Bassara.  The ink is still wet to know what the future of Aldila shafts will be and if we will see a R.I.P.’d Diamana or Fubuki featuring S-Core Technology in the not-so-distance future.  One thing is for certain, Aldila has proudly provided clubmakers and club manufacturers with composite shafts since 1973.

This comes on the heels of the recent acquisition of Hireko buying SK Fiber Shafts and comes a month after Graphite Design announced it was pulling out of the US market and handing over distribution to Pro Choice Golf Shafts, Inc.  Hireko will still continue to supply our customers with the high-quality Graphite Design shafts, such as the Tour AD DI and many more as we have in the past.

USGA Proposes Change to the Rules of Golf: Anchoring the Club

If you haven’t heard already, last week the USGA made a major announcement pertaining to anchoring clubs. According to the USGA, the proposal “would prohibit strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against the player’s body or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club.” If that sounds like a mouthful, here is the link for a full review of the proposal.

There seems to be a lot of confusion as the ban is not on equipment, but rather the stroke in which any club (and not just putters) is anchored against the body.  Let me say that again, players will still be able to use belly and long putters as long as they are not anchored to the body.  The USGA printed a guide with pictures of what would be permitted and what would not.  Here is a link to that guide as well.

The rule would not be implemented until January 1, 2016 giving players an ample amount of time to change.  To put that in perspective, you will likely endure 11,293 political ads on TV before the rule is implemented, if it in fact does.  Remember, this is still a proposal isn’t it?  You might question if a player could still use their belly or long putter unanchored and still be as effective.  If not, the rule change could ultimately doom the existence of this type of equipment that has been deemed conforming and able to be played across all levels of golf for decades now?  Well, the answers to those questions are yet to be determined.

What I am mainly concerned about is this.  The so-called advantage to anchored putters is to help those steady the player’s hands.  The same could be said about larger putter grips or counterweighted golf equipment – should there be a proposal to ban those concepts too?  Some would say anchoring the club against the body helps cure the “yips”, which by all definition is a nervous affliction where the player lacks the fine motor skills to control the putter.  As such, could the “yips” be considered a physical and/or mental disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was signed into law to prevent discrimination against those with certain afflictions.  The act does not directly address the use of say an anchored putter on the golf course, but was written (much like the Rules of Golf) to have broad powers that could be interpreted by those in authority.  If you ban anchoring the club against the body, what’s next?  Golf carts for the disabled, caddies for the sightless or even a golf glove (or the use of two) for those with extremely sweaty hands (hyperhidrosis)?

The proposed ban is occurring not because there is evidence to support that anchoring the club against the body lowers the stroke count.  The concern is the increased number of golfers (still much less than 20%) who are adopting this style of stroke rather than the centuries old traditional putting stroke. The “claw” grip or Matt Kuchar’s technique isn’t exactly traditional and yet they will be permitted.  But look back in time.  Steel shafts changed the way player swung the club compared to the hickory-shafted clubs.  When I started playing golf about 30 years ago, golfer’s played primarily with wooden woods with steel shaft and blade style irons.  The fact is times change, products evolve and so does the swing as well as the instruction.  Yet at the end of the day, golf in its simplest form is striking the back of the ball with the front of the face into a hole that measures 4.25” in diameter and low score wins.  Anchored clubs simply don’t alter that.

“For the good of the game®” is the motto of the USGA.  In a sport where participation is dwindling, I would hope their efforts would be to encourage play rather than having certain players quit out of frustration as they no longer can putt because of a disability, such as the “yips”.