(Note: This story was written before Tom
Preece moved from Callaway to Cobra.
Cobra made me two set of golf clubs to conform to the 48” rule, again
going way over business as usual to make me special sets for my special needs. I remain astounded at these acts of
kindness and generosity.)
My golf clubs
are all 51 and ½ inches long.
Paradoxically, the United States Golf Association (USGA) passed a rule
last year that makes clubs over 48 inches illegal. While the rule does not apply to putters, all my clubs,
which I’ve used for years, are now uniquely not regulation. This distinction pleases me, however,
because the USGA ruling carved me a tiny slice of golf history.
And, as you’ll
see more below, I likely have the ONLY full set of clubs that are longer than
Don’t get me
wrong. I’m not upset, I’m not
going to sue anybody. In fact, I’m
delighted, thrilled even.
There are a lot
of stories here: a story about the
history of the rules; a story of one golfer overcoming his physical challenges
to steal a few more years of playing; a story of the almost zen teacher type
relationship between a serious student and great golf professionals, a story of
club designers and craftsman; all laced with a classic story of technology
I don’t know
about you, but I like the lore of golf’s rules. Golfers are trusted to call penalties on themselves - the
part of golf that exemplifies honor.
From Tom Watson to Roberto Divicenzo and thousands of examples famous
and obscure golfers have called penalties on themselves, often at the cost of
The rules changed and now I get to call this one on myself.
unfair? Since when did golf
guarantee fairness? Isn’t one of
the sublime challenges of golf overcoming adversity? Isn’t every bad bounce an opportunity to hit a great
shot? Isn’t every ironic twist of
the wind just another solidarity with Tom Morris, even Shivas Irons?
I think so.
And, as an
added bonus, it appears I may have the longest set of clubs in the history of
golf. What guy wouldn’t love that?
curbing the problem of ever-longer drives, the new 48 inch rule (along with
rules on “spring-effect” club faces and club head size) provide boundaries for
future club development, and limit the impact of ever-increasing length off the
tee, especially by elite golfers.
physical challenges (back and size) created a need for special clubs so I could
play. At the time these clubs were
invented my back problems sharply limited my ability to bend and twist. On the other hand I’d been doing T’ai
Chi off and on for 30 years and knew I could twist if my posture was quite
A number of
club lengths were tried and 51 ½ inches was the shortest club we could make
that did not require me to bend excessively.
The pros, club
makers and I all knew that the length of the clubs could make their use
difficult. However, I also
believed from my martial arts experience and years of playing many musical
instruments, that if I got my
hands into the right positions with the right tempo the clubface would be at
the right place at the right time.
And I knew from learning to play musical instruments that if I practiced
something enough I’d eventually own that movement. I believed I could “dig it out of the ground” like
Hogan. I knew I was no Hogan, but
I could still “dig.”
Rand Jerris was kind enough to look into this for me. Below is our exchange of emails:
To: Rand Jerris
Cc: Carter Rich
Subject: History of the 50 inch wedge
Below is [part of] an email I sent
to Carter Rich with respect to the USGA's relatively new rule on limiting club
length to 48 inches. I had previously corresponded with Andy Mutch on
this topic and I would very much appreciate your input as well. In
particular my query to you relates to question number three below:
3) On a
related note, you [Carter Rich] told me that you were unaware of any entire
sets of clubs that were greater than 48 inches. I have also asked this
question of Mark O'Meara, Chi Chi Rodrguez, Jeff Sluman, several PGA club
professionals, club manufacturers, shaft manufacturers, and Andy Mutch, former
USGA historian, as well as reviewing books on the history of the golf
club. No one is aware of any set of clubs that is all greater than 48
inches. Could you ask around among your colleagues and perhaps review the
comments to the USGA's proposed club length limit rule to see if anyone is
aware of such a set beside mine? Is it likely true that I have the only
full set of clubs in the world made non-conforming by the 48 inch rule?
Any help you can give me on these
questions from a historical perspective would be most appreciated as being
a piece of a small corner of golf history would be really special for me.
Thank you in advance.
To: Bob Danziger
Cc: Carter Rich
Sent: Friday, November 05, 2004, 7:11 AM
Subject; RE; History of
the 50 inch wedge
Many thanks for your email.
I’ve spent a few days looking into your question, and really haven’t come up
with anything that quite matches your custom set. There is an interesting
set of clubs in our collection from the 1920’s that belong to a circus
giant. I’ve measured these clubs, and while almost all of the clubs
exceed 48”, the wedge and putter measure approximately 45”. These are the
closest parallel that I have been able to locate, but again, they fall a few
inches shy of yours. One other possibility – and unfortunately we have no
way to check up on this – is that there have been many professional basketball
players well over 7 feet tall who have been passionate about golf, and I wonder
if any of these gentlemen ever had a custom set of clubs made. Certainly there
has never been anything mass produced and mass marketed of this length, and
there simply aren’t records of custom clubs.
Please let us know if we can be of
any additional assistance.
USGA Museum and Archives
giant was Jack Earle (born Jacob Ehrlich) who was with the Ringling Brothers
Barnum and Bailey Circus in the 1920’s.
Mr. Earle, over 8 feet 6
inches tall, was also an actor, sculptor, painter, saxophone player,
storyteller, skeet shooter, big game fisherman, animal trainer, silent movie
star (appearing in over 45 films), chess player, photographer and poet. He was also an extraordinarily kind man
devoting a large part of his life to visiting crippled children’s hospitals and
telling them stories for hours on end about boys and girls who made friends
with giants. After retiring from
the circus he made his living as a traveling salesman for the Roma Wine
Comapany. Here’s a picture of him
with a normal putter:
clubs, however, are considerably shorter than mine. The Jack Earle set was made by the Chicago Golf Company in
1924. The club head sizes are
consistent with the clubs of that era.
The clubs were contributed to the USGA museum by Jack’s brother Myer,
who persuaded Lee Trevino to present them to the USGA. The club lengths are:
[Unspecified name] 49” shaft, metal
40” shaft, hickory
Putter 37.5” shaft, hickory
I do know one
other story in addition to me, Jack Earle, and the possible NBA center. Joe Turnesa , who worked for Footjoy
doing tour support, told me in a conversation in 2000 that he made a set of
clubs of graduating lengths (mine are all the same length) that were all 16 inches
over standard. He told me he’s
durt his back in the 1960’s and that’s why he made the clubs – essentially the
same reason as for myself. After a
few years his back healed but he kept on with the longer clubs, playing to a
low single digit handicap. If my understanding of our conversation is correct
than Joe would have the longest set of clubs. I’ve tried to contact Joe through Titleist but he has
retired and they’re going to try to find him and have him get back to me. I wonder whether our long club
Joe Turnesa is related to the great PGA tour pro Joe Turnesa who was a
contender in the Walter Hagen - Bobby Jones era.
Some of you may
also know that the Tommy Armour Company made and sold (briefly and not well) a
set of clubs where all the irons were one length (I think 5 or 7 iron length),
and all the woods were the same length as the 3-wood. I’ve also heard several stories about golfers who had made
sets all the same length.
There you have
it. To the best of our knowledge I
have the only complete set of clubs made non-conforming by the new 48 inch
In the process
of doing this work we heard from several pros and club makers that uniform
lengths would result in all the clubs going the same distance. Obviously this is incorrect. Some unusual gaps do appear, but
experience has proven distance control to be excellent. Loft is significantly more important
than club length.
seem amazed at the wedges, which are 15 inches longer than normal clubs. How can I play the short game?
I believe that
anybody who plays the game of golf well practices a lot to develop the swings,
learns how to maintain the swings, and learns how to fine tune when
has shown me that I can improve with practice, but fine tuning my short game
for competition took longer than for normal clubs.
Two other rules
points are worth knowing about. First is that the USGA has a “Modified Rules of
Golf” developed for the physically challenged golfer and that the USGA is
considering further development of the Modified Rules in ways that may well
accommodate my situation and dozens of others. The proposal as described to me is quite clever and clearly
draws on the Casey Martin experience in a creative way that also promotes
the existing rules, the USGA allows a caddy to do all of the ball marking,
teeing up, fixing ball marks, identifying and picking up a ball as long as you
declare to your fellow players before teeing off that you are designating the
caddy for this purpose. Of course
if the caddy makes a mistake the golfer pays the penalty. This has come in incredibly useful for
me and I think would be very helpful for many golfers as they get older or
stiffer. It also brings you closer
to some of the most interesting people in the game – the caddies. I might add here that both my father
and I supported ourselves at times in our lives as caddies.
There are three
PGA Golf Professionals, a model maker turned golf club craftsman, and Callaway
who made this dream come true and invested it with skill, spirit and
was an Assistant Golf Pro at Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles. Riley was the first person I talked to
about my desire to find a way to play again and we kicked around a lot of
ideas, including some pretty wacky ones like putting a club head at one end of
a Bow (as in bow and arrow) so I could hold the club almost straight out. Fortunately this wasn’t necessary. Riley and Bob Harrison, Brentwood’s
head professional, got some 54 inch long driver shafts and I set out to find
someone who would make me some long-shafted irons. I went to a dozen shops and no one would try. Finally, a friend recommended John Wong’s
Superior Golf in Montebello – a melting pot working-class area with nary a private
club in sight.
John had been a
technical model maker for a major engineering outfit and had left to be his own
boss, closer to his family, and because he loved golf - serious about the rules
too. A bunch of people of all classes
and backgrounds frequented the place drawn by the friendly ribbing,
conversation, the Dad’s Root Beer and John’s great skill. Among the denizens was Tweet – a
retired master machinist and toolmaker who helped John out from time to time.
Tweet could play too. Medium single
digits player. John worked too
hard, he was low double digit.
John crafted me
the set of clubs that made it all possible – and everybody in the shop helped
cause it was a lot of work. The
long driver shafts worked for woods but not for irons. John glued extensions into 1-iron steel
shafts, and put shock absorbers under shock-absorbent grips. Tweet bent and ground knockoff irons so
that lie angles and club head weights were close to identical. Other irons and woods required lots of
lead tape to get the weights right.
The standard weight was one pound.
Hundreds of hours went in to making these clubs.
most unusual club we made was this giant wedge I could disassemble and pack in
a suitcase so I could practice my short game when I traveled on business. Whiffle balls in my hotel rooms and
Hyde Park, and disbelieving stares at driving ranges in Tokyo passed a lot of
extreme amount of lead tape needed to make the fairway woods near the same
weight as the irons -
time Riley Summers left golf to pursue another career, and Bob Harrison became
my golf pro, teacher, coach and very good friend (and Southern California PGA
Teacher of the Year 2002-2003).
More about them and Laird Small, the third PGA Professional and head of
the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, later.
lessons once or twice a week.
Hours and hours on the practice range and chipping green every day. Exploring the Inner Game of golf and everything we could imagine in
our journey to playing the game well.
this for about a year I’d worked my way down to a 12 handicap (I’d been a 4
before the accident, and had broken par three days in a row for the first time
the week before the accident). I
decided to treat myself to a round at Pebble Beach.
I arrived at
Pebble Beach, dropped off my clubs and parked the car. When I got to the first tee area all of
my clubs had been taken out of my bag.
Apparently a major corporate outing was under way and a number of pros
including Chi Chi Rodriguez and Mark O’Meara were clustered around the first
tee examining my clubs. Three of
the younger pros asked if they could try the clubs. The first pro shanked his ball into the hotel rooms on the
right. The second dribbled the
ball a few yards up the fairway, and the third also shanked it. I got some nice applause when I put my
2 iron about 220 yards up the middle.
Then on the
fourth tee I saw Chi Chi with a group over on the famous 17th tee. I went through my pre-shot routine,
addressed the ball, looked up and not three feet away Chi Chi stood and said to
me “Hit the ball.” The golf gods
were with me and I lofted a 260 or so yard drive with a nice little draw in to
A position. Without smiling,
moving, and in a stern voice, Chi Chi said, “Do it again.” I teed it up, did my pre-shot
routine, and hit one of the best shots I ever hit, the second ball landing
within a few feet of the first shot and bounding up the fairway another 20
yards or so.
There was a
moment of silence, Chi Chi looked at me hard in the eye, shook my hand and
said, “You are a tremendous
athlete”. No one had ever said
anything remotely like that to me before.
I certainly had never thought of myself that way. To say that Chi Chi’s comment inspires
me, propels me, and warms me even these many years later is an
understatement. It also released a
part of me that got me repeating this story until my wife and friends became
truly sick of hearing it. What I
found from Bob Harrison and many others I’d told the story to is that they had
similar experiences of Chi Chi saying or doing something that inspired and
warmed them - special man.
Where Chi Chi’s
comment has been most valuable to me is in my confidence that I can find
athletic solutions to overcome my physical challenges instead of being
dependent solely on drugs and surgeries and external assistance.
At a certain
point it became clear that clubs designed for me from the ground up would be
necessary for me to advance. The
set John made proved the concept, but the prototype set had to make a lot of
compromises and adapt a lot of equipment for unintended uses. All the grinding and gluing created
some visual problems and some randomness in club performance. The engineering and manufacturing
requirements for a totally new
design existed only at the best and biggest club manufacturers.
So Bob Harrison
suggested I write a letter to Callaway where he knew some folks. I explained my situation and they
invited Bob Harrison and I to come down to Carlsbad, and visit with their
Research and Development department.
We met in the
club-fitting room used for their PGA pros, and Tom Preece then-of Callaway and
a few others looked at my clubs and watched my swing on what was then
futuristic launch monitors and other camera gadgets. To this day I don’t know why but they agreed to try to make
me a club, and if that worked out maybe a whole set.
It turned out
to be quite a challenge to make a reasonably light club with uniform club head
weights, uniform lie angles, and with a tip strong enough that the forces in a
golf swing wouldn’t shear off the head from the shaft. To accomplish this Callaway had to
design custom-weighted tungsten inserts for the Big Bertha irons so that the
irons were the same weight as the lightest club – the driver. Because we needed to have the lie
angles all be the same, about the same lie angle as the driver, they had to use
a special titanium for the club heads so they could be bent as much as 9
degrees – versus the maximum 1 degree normally allowed. And most challenging of all, Callaway
had to design an entirely new shaft with a super-strong tip made of materials
and manufacturing methods that were not yet in use.
And they did
it, they pulled it off. In my
opinion a tremendous engineering achievement in materials science, CAD/CAE/CAM,
and mechanical engineering. I felt
the beneficiary of a miracle. A
few years later, after I’d moved to the Pebble Beach area and was taking
lessons from Laird Small, Callaway made me yet another set of clubs based on
the X-14 irons where we kept the lie angle constant but allowed the club head
weights to vary. Laird also had
Callaway modify the flanges on the wedges to correct some technical problems
that resulted from the radical change in lie angle
It is safe to say
it was one of the finest experiences I have ever had with a company in any
And the clubs
are beautiful – black shafts with “Callaway Golf, R&D Prototype, Specially
Designed for Bob Danziger” stenciled on each one. Prized, prized possessions. I won the lottery – or at least it felt that way.
My part of the
bargain was to figure out how the clubs performed under a given set of
conditions, so Bob Harrison and I then spent hundreds of hours doing something
I would recommend to any golfer.
We found a practice fairway and worked the opposite direction from any
target so that I wouldn’t unconsciously adjust my swing to get more or less
distance. We got a friend to act
as spotter and Bob stayed with me.
I would swing,
say a full swing, full speed 7 iron and Bob would determine if it was a good
swing. If it were, Bob would
determine if the wind was excessive either with or against, and if everything
was OK he would raise his arm and the spotter would go to where the ball
landed. Bob would then use a scope
to get the exact yardage, but not tell me what it was. Then, when we had five good swings with
the wind just right, we’d average the results. We did this for nine different swing speeds and club
positions for each of three wind regimes.
You can see an example below.
With a Slight Wind
Against a Slight Wind
Full at ¾ speed
Armpit at ¾ speed
S 9:30 ribs
S 8:30 pocket
91 Yards, 20 Yard Roll
5.7 Yards, 12 Yard Roll
3+ Yards, 10 Yard Roll
I worked my way
down to (high) single digit handicap, broke par occasionally on the front or
back nine. Did pretty well in some
tournaments, although I’m basically a range rat and loved hitting 2, 3, 4
hundred balls a day. Loved it.
flashes of the short game I’d need to really improve, and I worked at it as
much as my back would allow.
In the two
years before my back took a turn for the worse I had the chance to take a
number of lessons from Laird Small, head of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy and
PGA Teaching Professional of the Year.
He was taking my game to a new level, and I’m hoping to get back there
The story is a
pretty cool one, I think, about history brushing me with niche in the annals of
golf. The part of golf history
where I win the Master’s was apparently already taken. Oh well. But it’s more about Callaway, for reasons I still don’t
know, performing small miracles to make these clubs for me. . And it’s especially about the
countless kind and encouraging words I have received at the range, or the
course. Thank you.
I’m not going
to write here about my specific physical challenges and the range of things I’ve
needed to do as my conditions developed, evolved, and unfortunately, sometimes
deteriorated. I would, however, be
happy to correspond privately with anyone who’d like to or needs to explore
this further (my email is listed above).
Do you, the
reader know some basketball players or others who have sets longer than
mine? What about long club
stories? I’d love to hear about
them. Please email me with any
information you might have.