Jack Nicklaus suggested 40 years ago that "the effectiveness of a golf club usually results more from its influence on a player's mind than on his actual swing." Nicklaus likely had no idea then that equipment would reach a stage where it could instantly and consistently improve golfers' self-confidence as much as their scores.
Yet here we are.
It's not just tour players who are benefiting in this era of game-improving psyche-enhancing clubs. As we discovered with this year's Hot List, the biggest trend in equipment is diversity. Not every one of the 106 clubs on this year's Hot List will work for you, but there's no doubt you can find one (or more) that will. In drivers, all the clubs named to the Hot List are adjustable, but the level of adjustability varies. Only you -- and ideally a qualified clubfitter -- can decide how much you need to tweak to see real improvement in your game.
In fairway woods and hybrids, adjustability is one benefit, but so is the array of lofts available. The range this year spans more than 20 degrees, from 11.5 to 32.
The three categories of irons -- based on player type -- have even more classifications. Players irons have varying degrees of forgiveness, and game-improvement irons offer levels of playability. The lines might be blurred, but the benefits are clear: You choose how much help you need. Wedges might be the pinnacle of personalized equipment: This year's list accounts for 143 loft/bounce options, 27 sole grinds and 17 finishes. And though the variety of head styles in putters is still more abundant than ice-cream flavors, manufacturers and clubfitters can clearly match any number of those heads to your stroke. Of special note are new overlength counterbalanced putters, which offer many of the stroke-stabilizing benefits of anchored putters.
The sophistication of the game's equipment requires careful consideration. It's why we've devoted significant resources to cull the top products from the more than 250 entries considered for this year's Hot List. We had extensive player evaluations, industry meetings and technical discussions during our annual Hot List Summit at The Wigwam resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz., and the result is what you see here. But as our work has finished, yours should be starting. Getting with a clubfitter is the best way to find which equipment from the Hot List works best for you. (Our guide to America's top clubfitters at GolfDigest.com is a great place to find a local recommendation.)
As Tiger Woods has said: "When things go right, and you test properly, and you find equipment that's better than what you were playing, then you can do some pretty neat things on the golf course." Now you can go through the same type of testing as the world's best players and find clubs geared to your needs. That's as neat as the game can get. -- Mike Stachura