Welcome to GOLF.com’s ClubTest Proving Ground, where Managing Equipment Editor Jonathan Wall and Senior Equipment Editor Ryan Barath — along with a cast of GOLF writers and editors — put the latest designs and groundbreaking technology in the equipment space to the test on the range and the course.
MORE FROM OUR 2023 CLUBTEST COVERAGE: Callaway Paradym line: 3 things to know | The tech behind Callaway Paradym driver/woods | The tech behind Callaway Paradym irons | WATCH: Callaway Paradym robot testing insights | WATCH: Inside a Callaway Paradym driver/woods fitting
TESTER: Josh Sens (Senior Writer) | 3.8 HCP
GOAL: Find gear that helps me regain distance — post-shoulder surgery — and eliminate the pesky block-slice.
THE LOWDOWN: Lee Trevino once said that he stopped getting better at golf after age 29. If that’s the case, what hope is there for a sap like me? I’m pushing 56. My right shoulder was surgically repaired during the pandemic. My left shoulder seems destined for the same procedure. And don’t even get me started on my right elbow and hip. I stretch. I jog. I work out with bands and dumbbells. But time grinds on. It does for all of us. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a need for a senior tour.
Like Trevino, I’m a self-taught golfer, but I must not have had as good of an instructor, because the swing I developed is a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption of wasted energy and moving parts. I should probably rebuild it. But I’m not sure I have the time, patience or talent for that.
Besides, I can manage my game okay. I hit it reasonably straight. I make mostly sound decisions. On good days, I break 80, and I still have more good days than bad, playing an average of two to three rounds a month.
But, like I said, the clock is ticking. I’ve been losing distance. My miss — a block-slice — shows up more often than it used to. Now, in middle age, I feel as if I’m playing defense with my game. I’ve stopped expecting to get a whole lot better. I’m just trying not to get worse.
Given that background, you’d think I’d take advantage of resources that weren’t nearly as abundant in Trevino’s prime. You’d think I’d spend more time dialing in my equipment. But for whatever reason — laziness, frugality, stupidity — I haven’t. My driver is several generations old. My irons date back nearly a decade. And I haven’t carried a 3-wood since my son shattered mine on the driving range five years ago, leaving a nearly 50-yard gap in my bag between my driver and 3-hybrid.
I have lots of good excuses for the state of my game. But there’s no excuse for not updating my clubs.
FITTING PROCESS: Known in the industry as the ECPC, the Ely Callaway Performance Center is a tranquil, tricked-out facility in Carlsbad, Calif., with an expansive, real-grass driving range, an arsenal of indoor simulators, a high-tech putting studio and — you get the picture. It’s a golf junky’s dreamscape.
For my fitting, I was paired with Jacob Frankel, a former professional baseball prospect who, after blowing out his shoulder (apparently, it happens to all the greats) poured his energies into golf. Like his fellow fitters at the CPC, Frankel has seen it all, and he was unfazed by the idiosyncrasies of my swing. He kept his focus squarely on my numbers — spin, path, ball speed, angle of attack, and on — which flashed on a launch monitor as I hit.
A club fitting isn’t a lesson, of course. But it’s instructive, and the insights it offers are beyond dispute. After watching just a few swings, Frankel had a good deal of the data that he needed. I’d been enlightened, too. I’d learned, for instance, that my club head speed was in the mid-90s with my irons, which, Frankel said, likely translated to about 100 mph with driver (he was right). I’d also gleaned that my path was slightly inside-out, a sound explanation for the block-slice I battle. But enough about my swing. That was a a project for another day.
“Do you give tips?” I asked Frankel.
He smiled and shook his head. Truth was for all its quirks, my action was fairly efficient. The numbers suggested I did a lot of things fairly well. For now, what I needed was technological boost.
“We’re not looking to change you,” Frankel said. “We’re looking to change your clubs so we can get the most out of who you are.”
My Fitted Gear
Driver: Equipment makers are always seeking breaking throughs. This year, Callaway has gone for a paradigm shift. They just spell it differently. The company’s headline release for 2023 is the Paradym line of clubs. The driver comes in three models: Paradym, Paradym X and Paradym Triple Diamond, each intended for a different type of player but all underpinned by the same core advances.
Chief among them is what Callaway describes as an industry-first 360 carbon chassis. Not being a big equipment guy, I wasn’t sure exactly what a carbon chassis had to do with anything. But here’s the gist: the design eliminates titanium from the sole and crown of the club, using carbon instead to make the whole shebang lighter, which in turn gives engineers all kinds of leeway to monkey around productively on other fronts. In this case, Callaway was able to reposition weight in the club head to boost MOI, or moment of inertia (translation: more stability and less twisting on off-center hits), creating greater distance and forgiveness. There are other advents — including a power-boosting face insert and an A.I.-designed face that’s thinner and springier all around, meaning that I was destined to see improvements in ball speed, launch, spin and dispersion, whether I caught my shots on the sweet spot or not. Longer and straighter sounded good to me.
Soon, that’s what I was. Frankel fit me in the standard Paradym model, which is designed for a wide range of players (Paradym X is for golfers who want extreme forgiveness and a draw bias, while Paradym Triple Diamond is for those who play a game with which I’m not familiar, working the ball in both directions at their will). It took me precisely one swing to notice the difference. Though I caught that first shot on the heel, the ball took off on a promising trajectory, a penetrating flight with just the slightest tail. When I hit another with the same result, Frankel asked for the club back and adjusted the rear weight in the head (with Paradym, you can also adjust face angle and loft), sliding it toward the heel to promote a draw. My next shot felt like the best drive I’d hit in decades. The data backed that up. The ball flew straight and carried 262 yards, roughly 20 yards longer than my best with my old driver. I teed up another, and did it again.
Frankel ran through a few more numbers. Club speed. Ball speed. He was looking at the smash factor, which essentially measures how close you are to maximizing your ball speed based on how fast you’re able to swing the club.
My smash factor was 1.4. Frankel seemed pleased. That was darned good. With the Paradym, I was getting pretty much the most out of my swing. If I wanted to hit it longer, I would need to swing faster. That was up to me, my fitness and my fundamentals. There wasn’t much more a club could do for me.
Already, this new driver had done a lot.
Could getting better really be this simple? I felt mixed emotions, gleeful in the wake of immediate improvement but also irked at myself for having waited so long.
Irons: In recent years, I’d been living in denial, unwilling to accept that my approach shots just weren’t flying like they used to. Time after time, I would pull a 7-iron from 160 yards, just as I did when I was in my 40s, and time after time I would come up a club short. Call me stubborn. Call me dense. Both are probably true. But those traits weren’t going to change. It was more realistic to change my clubs.
One thing I loved about my old irons was their classic look, sleek and throwback. I didn’t want to lose that. I didn’t have to. Callaways new irons come in two models: Paradym and Paradym X. Frankel fit me into the former, which have a sexy, refined aesthetic, with all kinds of whiz-bang features built in. Like the driver, Paradym irons are the outgrowth of artificial intelligence. In this case, the giant brain of a super computer ran through a zillion configurations to arrive at the thinnest and liveliest hitting surface it could fathom, which was then applied to a high-strength forged face that Callaway says is the most powerful it has every predicted. What I can tell you is that the clubs impart a ton of oohmp without sacrificing feel.
At first touch, the Paradyms seemed slightly heavier than my old irons, and I didn’t catch my first few shots flush. But the data once more told an uplifting tale. Even on mishits, my wedges were flying 10 yards longer than they had in years, and landing lightly near my target. Moving through the set, I pulled out a 7 iron, waggled, swung. A high, gentle fade worked its way into the distance.
“162 yards,” Frankel said.
It wasn’t time travel. But I felt like a younger man again.
Fairway woods: Fifteen years ago, I watched a teenage Tony Finau play a tournament in Vegas without fairway woods in his bag. His only wood was a driver. He hit his irons so long, he didn’t anything else. For the past five years, I’ve had a similar set up. But, newsflash: I’m not Tony Finau. The missing equipment left me with a yawning gap in my arsenal.
Part of the reason I was slow to fill it is that fairway wood psyche me out. Like a lot of golfers, I battle with trust issues. Lacking confidence that I can get the ball airborne off the deck with a wood, I lift out of the shot, or sweep upwards at the ball trying to give it loft, with all-too-frequent banana-slice results.
No wonder I haven’t hit a par 5 in two since right around the turn of the last century.
I didn’t just need fairway woods. I needed fairway woods I could place my faith in. The new Paradym fairways come in the same three models as the driver, with a new construction and design that similarly redistributes weight for greater speed and forgiveness. This time, though, Frankel didn’t go with the standard model for me.
Given my tendencies, the Paradym X design proved to be the better fit. These models are the most forgiving of the bunch, with a friendly-looking shape, a high launch, and a slight draw bias. Standing over both the three-wood and the five-wood, I had what for me was a strange feeling: I felt like I wouldn’t need to work hard to get them airborne and hit them with authority, long and straight. In golf, belief is a big part of the battle. Technology helps, too. The feel turned out to be real. The five-wood few in the 215 range, while the three-wood carried about 230, shots I hadn’t had at my disposal for years.
I left the fitting center with a huge hole filled, and the prospect of more eagle putts in my future.
Since my fitting, I’ve had a chance to test my clubs in the real world twice. Both rounds have brought a difference, not just in my shot-making but in my thinking. There is no other way to put it: I’m hitting it farther, and I’m hitting it straighter. The variabilities in my swing endure, but I know have greater latitude on my misses. As every golfer knows, the physical feeds the psychological, and the other way around. I feel more confident, knowing I can hit shots that were lost to me for years. Which, in turn, has made me feel more hopeful, which makes me want to play more often.
That’s the takeaway I’d emphasize for any golfer who might feel like it’s too late to get better. We’re all getting older, but it doesn’t have to be all downhill from here.
The Paradym line will be available in retail stores on Feb. 24, 2023. Pick up all your new gear at Fairway Jockey. Want to overhaul your bag for 2023? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf.