A day after returning from a four-day, 144-hole golf odyssey in Michigan, I could not stop thinking about the impact Day-Three had on me. On that day, two events changed my attitude about my game. First, after a group discussion the majority of us agreed to move up a set of tees for the final 18 holes of what would be a 54-hole day. Once we set up at the white markers I bagged the big lumber, withdrew my 3-wood, and enjoyed one of the best ball-striking days I’d had in years. Naturally, during the ride home, I pondered both the relevance of the driver and the importance of hitting from “the tips” of the golf course. I turned to long time DePauw University golf coach, Vince Lazar, hoping he would be able to offer some sort of definitive answer to the questions which gnawed at me. He didn’t disappoint.
Donovan Wheeler: Take me back 40 and 50 years ago. Were people back then hitting drivers? Or was the 3-wood the most common stick off the tee?
Vince Lazar: Drivers? Yes, they were. Nearly 100% of them were. For golfers looking for an alternative, 2-woods were en vogue, and I would say those were the most common option. Also keep in mind that persimmon was easier to hit off the fairway, so the big woods saw more action throughout play on the course.
DW: So today’s driver isn’t simply a marketing instrument?
VL: What I will say is that today’s drivers are so much better than the clubs people were hitting generations ago. Like most of the other clubs in the bag, they’re more forgiving, and they allow mid-level players to be more completive. They also make the game more fun.
DW: Obviously I should agree with you, but my experience with the driver has been frustrating. I know that one of my big problems has been fundamental, starting with a bad stance.
VL: What loft are you hitting?
VL: I don’t mean to offend, but you are getting older. I think you should consider hitting a driver with higher loft. One major change from the older persimmon or laminate drivers has been their de-lofting over time. Lower lofted clubs carry less, and unless you’re on a bone-dry course, once it hits the ground the ball is going to stop.
DW: So the three-wood is an unrealistic option?
VL: There are level holes where you can hit a three wood, but there are also holes where that shorter flight can put you at a disadvantages…because of hills and slopes. I have golfers on my team who don’t even carry a three wood. Some of them…the driver is the only wood in their bag. There are other techniques you can adopt, such as choking down two or three inches, but a lot of golfers—especially the young ones—don’t want to do that.
DW: What about the tee markers? How many golfers do you think step up to the wrong set of tees?
VL: Oh I think that happens all the time. Look at [Retired DePauw Football Coach] Nick Mourozis: He was losing interest in the game, until our course added the senior tees. And you know what happened? He was able to get the ball in play again, and the game became fun for him once more. I was playing with some of my golfers from the back, and I finally said to them, “You know what, guys? I’m not having that much fun back here.” So I moved up. Not only was the round more enjoyable, but it evened the competition and made that part of the day more worthwhile as well.
Lazar, who has taken his men and women’s teams to a combined 14 NCAA Division III finals, and has won eight conference titles, returns to the links this fall to begin his 19th season as the Tigers’ head coach.