North/South/East/West Xtra: Get help from a pro when taking up golf -- for your swing or your equipment


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Golf seems like it should be an easy game.

After all, it solely requires hitting a stationary object. How hard can it be when 83-year-old men can succeed with ease?

Yet, in a world where LeBron James can dunk a basketball from the free-throw line and Jameis Winston can catch his own Hail Mary passes, it may be those by the names of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson who are the most impressive in their arena.

With summer in full swing, it will be golf that is again picked up in the absence of three of the four major professional sports.

But golf is a bit of a mystery. Why can a muscular 22-year-old hit a baseball 480 feet, but can't hit a golf ball anywhere beside 20 yards to the right and in the bushes?

It's a frustrating sport for a number of reasons, but it can also be a rather expensive sport to pick up -- especially for beginners who simply want to enjoy the social aspect of golf.

While it's obvious that buying a new set of Callaways would fare any golfer better than the rusting clubs grandpa might have in the attic, there is much more that goes into a successful golf game than in other sports where one can simply pick up a ball and play.

"I think, first of all, the number one thing they need to do is get in touch with a PGA member golf pro," said Sean Parees, the pro at Quicksilver Golf Club in Robinson, Washington County near McDonald.

"A PGA member is paramount because as instruction goes along, that golf professional gets to know the student, and you really can't determine what kind of clubs a person needs until you develop a swing. So you need an instructor to develop that swing so they can figure out what kind of equipment that person needs."

Parees said, realistically, it doesn't matter all that much what kind of club a person uses to start, but re-emphasized that a correct swing is more important than what brand is stamped on the iron.

He added most golfers are wasting their time if they do not consider crucial aspects of the game, such as being fitted for their clubs. He said to have that done will usually cost around $50, although buying a set of clubs from a verified dealer will most likely come with a free fitting.

Parees is a staff member for Titleist and said even though there's a chance he would suggest Titleist equipment for a golfer, he said any good club instructor will provide an opportunity to try out the various types of brands available.

Just like with basketball where the latest sneaker can be seen as a vital part of a player's game, Parees said a golf shoe is one of the most underrated parts of the game most people forget.

"There are a handful of companies that can provide serious players with high-quality footwear," he said.

"You want to get what fits best for you and what affects your swing. You want to consider what your stance is like and what your swing is like. ... You may have a certain type of golf swing that a certain type of shoe might help correct."

Although the price of golf can scare many aspiring learners away to less expensive sports, Parees said having facilities that offer more group lessons and sponsor junior programs will help keep the game thriving.

Justin Wade Henderson, the club pro at Bedford Elks Country Club, echoed similar sentiments about not necessarily worrying about the brand of the club, but making sure a player's technique is as refined as possible before trying to become serious about the sport.

"I normally tell folks if they don't want to spend $600 [for a set of clubs] to go to Target or Walmart to get that very beginning set," he said. "If it's something they're very serious about, we'll start them off on a set where they can work into it.

"I can say it's very important [to get fitted]. I'm 6 feet 5. If I had not gotten fitted, my golf game would not have turned out the way it did. I would have never been a professional golfer. It's very important."

Between shoes, a glove, clubs, balls, tees and the price for a round of golf, it could cost around $200 or $300 to get an entire package to get started.

Henderson added that if someone is truly serious about playing well, then they should look at brands such as Callaway and Top Flight. He personally recommends Top Flight because it comes with the entire set when purchased.

But with many golfers not being very serious about playing regularly, many have resorted to buying cheap clubs and, more notably, counterfeit clubs.

Jason Rocker is the spokesperson for "The Golf Group," which formed in 2004 to help identify some of the counterfeit clubs being sold.

The group estimates around two million "fake" clubs are purchased every year, about 90 percent of which come from online vendors in China. For golf fans out there, it's enough to lay the clubs end-to-end from Bethpage Black to Pebble Beach and back.

"Counterfeit became big business not just in the golf industry, but in many industries, whether that's fashion or different areas of clothing and apparel," he said. "'The Golf Group' realized this was an issue facing golf."

The most recent victory against counterfeit clubs came in May when The Golf Group announced the convictions and sentences of seven men charged with manufacturing and selling counterfeit products.

Three days later, six more men were charged with similar crimes for selling counterfeit products out of China. Wu Guloin, considered the head of the operation, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison and a fine of more than $160,000.

But how much could it really matter? A fake club is still a club, so why couldn't it still get the job done?

"We've seen anything from a lack of accuracy and distance to real issues when the shaft will shatter or the head will fly off in mid-swing," Rocker said. "The reality is there's just not a lot of consistency or quality control when you're dealing with counterfeit clubs."

Counterfeit clubs are a problem Parees has seen many times. He said he highly recommends not going the counterfeit route to save money because a golfer's game can be drastically hurt and the savings from the knockoff could be irrelevant anyway because of how easily breakable they are.

"It's well worth getting the top-of-the-line clubs and having them fitted instead of a counterfeit," Parees said. "As far as the difference [in a player's game], it would differ from player to player, but let's put it this way: you'd never be able to be as good a player with 'knock-off clubs' as you can be."

Rocker said it's an industry that racks up tens of millions dollars in spite of all the risks associated with creating fake clubs.

"There's counterfeit clubs everywhere," Henderson said with a laugh. "I mean, it's so hard to tell now. They say, 'Oh, look at this TaylorMade.' No, that's not real. I've seen the counterfeit before. You can tell. There's probably more of that out there now than anything else."

Golf may lead to many a perplexed athlete and shanked shot in the bushes, but there's a plethora of reasons the game has stayed around so long -- and ways to keep it thriving.

"The typical scenario is that dad plays golf and everyone else stays home," Parees said. "If we can get the kids with their mother and father, I think that's going to build golf.

"The family that golfs together, stays together."

RJ Schaffer: rschaffer@post-gazette.com Twitter @rjschaffer


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