News & Opinion

Embrace golf’s new tradition while it lasts

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

By Gary Van Sickle

Golf is seen as a game of grand tradition, even though many of its traditions die quickly and quietly, often disappearing without leaving so much as a ripple.

When it comes to golf equipment, there is no such thing as tradition other than that the golf ball is still round and still has dimples. Traditions we’ve given up include the mashie, the niblick, persimmon woods, wooden shafts, balata and high-compression balls, the British small ball and the brassie (2-wood), among many others.

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Ping’s G700

COURTESY OF PING
Ping’s G700

Traditions expire when something better comes along. I had no interest in metal woods when they first came out until I tried a buddy’s TaylorMade Original One, an easy-to-hit driver (the now-tiny head is the size of today’s hybrids) whose distance and far-greater forgiveness sucked me in immediately. 

Those oversized driver heads of 420cc and then 460cc? I hated those giants … until I busted a few monster drives (by my standards) with them. Then my opposition dissipated like so much sprinkler mist. 

I savored my set of Hogan Apex irons for a year or two in the 1990s. Then I discovered forgiving cavity-back irons and stashed them in favor of the first Wilson Ultra irons and, later, TaylorMade r7s. 

You go with what works. I didn’t think super game-improvement irons were ever meant for me. Then I got older, both knees got less operable and I tested Ping’s G700 irons at a demo day earlier this year. You should be able to guess where this is going.

The G700s have big heads. I mean, big. They’re taller, they’re wider, they’re longer. They belong in the big-and-tall section of a golf store. They looked like they’d be good for flipping burgers on the grill. I had zero expectation of liking them because they weren’t a traditional size to me.

Naturally, the first 7-iron shot that I hit launched higher than anything I’ve hit since my left knee discombobulated three years ago. The same thing happened with the next swing. And the next. The shots were higher and longer, and I just felt more powerful at impact.

I know the clubmakers have been marketing distance by adding length to the shafts and jacking down the loft, but how, then, was I hitting the G700s higher if the lofts were lower? Maybe I’m just that good? Nah, that couldn’t be it. It had to be the clubs, and I’ll be honest: I was tired of hitting everything as if I were swinging a wet mop at a pillow fight. I suddenly was hitting this G700 7-iron past my old 7-iron distance, and I haven’t been able to hit a 7-iron to my old 7-iron distance all year. 

The larger-than-life clubheads? I was over that by five swings thanks to the way the ball jumped off the face, like hitting it with a hybrid. Hey, I don’t know any men balking at model Kate Upton because she’s not anorexic. 

The funny-sounding ping! at impact? Well, that is the product’s name. I barely noticed. I’m not worried about any other golfers being annoyed by my irons going ping! In fact, I hope they are annoyed. It’s every man/woman for himself/herself in this game. Deal with it. If the ball goes far, I don’t care if the impact sounds like a car horn.

The G700s ($160 per club with steel shafts, $175 with graphite) are Ping’s first oversized super-game-improvement irons. How did Karsten Manufacturing make these clubs so forgiving? The same way that everyone does: with an oversized head, a hollow body (that some competitors fill with foam) and a thin face. A little weight in the tip of the shaft and on the toe of the iron makes it stable and accurate, too. 

If you’re a stick, these clubs may not appeal to you (although I can’t imagine anyone not liking the satin finish and clean lines). But if you’re a stick, you’re in the small minority of golfers, the Seven Percenters. Too much of golf is geared toward the Seven Percenters, notably equipment, course design and course conditions. No other business would consider catering to a small group of elite patrons while ignoring the masses. In golf, that’s modus operandi.

Maybe you think you’re too good for these irons, and maybe you are. Or maybe – and this is far more likely – you’re not good enough for the clubs you’re currently hitting, just like I had no business playing the Hogan Apex blades way back when. They were better for my ego than they were for my game, and that was OK up to a point. Ultimately, results trump appearance.

There’s one other thing that I like about Ping. According to a friend who works in a big-box store selling equipment and is therefore something of an expert, “Ping’s fitting process is second to none.” Because the G700s come with a variety of premium shafts in steel and graphite, that expert club-fitting is an essential bonus.

What’s not to like? Traditions come, and traditions go. I say find one that you like and ride it until a better one comes along.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle