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Callaway woods and Ping irons are the choice clubs among the nation's best amateur golfers.

I surveyed the field at the Porter Cup this week and found little diversity in the players' bags. They almost all use the top, name-brand manufacturers.

Here are the results:

Callaway, the top-selling clubmaker in the country, dominates the driver market. Of 88 players surveyed, 58 -- 67 percent -- use a Callaway driver. Most of those (49) are Great Big Berthas, which retail for about $399. Four players carry the Biggest Big Bertha, the latest Callaway model.There really was no second place among drivers. Next is the Taylor Made Burner Bubble. Twelve players use it.

Only three of 88 players use a steel-shafted driver. Everyone else uses graphite, which is lighter, which creates more clubhead speed, which allows for a bit greater distance.

"I'm the only player on our starting five who doesn't use a Great Big Bertha," said Auburn's Reid Edstrom, who uses a steel-shafted King Cobra driver. "I can hit my driver straight and 270, which is long enough. And I just can't hit the Big Bertha. I think if I went to Callaway and they got me fitted exactly right I could hit it."

Not one player -- not one -- uses graphite shafts in his irons.

"Graphite in the last five years has improved dramatically, but it's still not as consistent as steel," said Crickett Musch, collegiate representative for Karsten Manufacturing Co. (maker of Ping) and a player in the Porter Cup. "These kids all have the ambition of playing as pros. They want precise yardage and trajectory control. Graphite has a tendency to surprise you every once in awhile. You might get a lot higher trajectory one shot or a different yardage."

Precise distance control isn't an issue with drivers like it is with irons. Graphite absorbs the shock of the hit better than steel, which is easier on seniors or people with elbow problems. Still, unless distance was a big problem in my game, I'd think long and hard before spending the $200 or $300 extra for graphite shafts in irons.

Ping irons are used by 31 percent of the field. Second is Titleist at 24 percent and Mizuno third at 20 percent.

Ping and Titleist are big supporters of college golf and work hard to market their clubs to collegians. Still, collegians can play any clubs they want.

The Ping ISI irons, on the market the past two years, were in 19 bags surveyed. Eight players use Ping Eye 2s. Titleist DCI irons were in 21 bags and Mizuno forged blades in 18 bags.

"I like the ISIs," said Arizona coach Rick LaRose. "They're perimeter weighted (which means more forgiving) but with not a real big head. I think they're better out of the rough. And I think they're just a better, more forgiving club, especially with longer irons."

"The fact Tiger plays Mizuno has had a big effect, because players want to play what he plays," Musch said.

Woods, of course, has a huge endorsement contract with Titleist, but it may be a long time before he switches from his Mizuno irons.

Ping also is the most used putter -- at 43 percent of the field. Titleist's Scotty Cameron model had 24 percent and Odyssey's putter 11 percent. The Anser was the most popular Ping model, used by 21 players.

One-irons are used by just 14 of 88 players. However, many carry a 2-iron instead of a 4- or 5-wood. There were 2-irons in 61 percent of the bags.

Virtually every player carries three wedges -- a pitching wedge, sand wedge and 60-degree wedge. Cleveland wedges are very popular, used by 38 percent.

The 3-woods varied a bit more than the drivers. Callaway was used by 42 percent. The Big Bertha Strong 3, which is a 2 1/2 -wood with a loft of about 12.5 degrees, was used by 20 percent and regular Big Bertha or Callaway 3-woods were used by 22 percent.

Forty percent of the field uses a "strong 3" of some kind, with a loft of 12.5 or 13 degrees. But unless you're a single-digit handicapper, be careful about using them as a fairway wood, because they're harder to hit than a regular 3-wood, which gets the ball up in the air fairly easily with its 15-degree loft.

The survey confirms what golf followers already know: the club market continues to consolidate.

"I think in the next four or five years you may have only four or five major clubmakers," Musch said. "Clubmakers are becoming big public corporations now, like Callaway and Titleist, and they are buying other companies. Titleist absorbed Cobra. Callaway just this week absorbed Odyssey. Tommy Armour and Wilson used to have a big following, but not anymore."

Thorpe leaves Buffalo

Jim Thorpe packed up his family and moved out of town this week, heading for his new home, Orlando, Fla.

Thorpe, 48, is playing sparingly on the PGA Tour this year. He's gearing up for his debut on the Senior Tour in 1999, and he felt he needed to live where he can play all year to get ready for the 50-and-over circuit.

Thorpe, whose wife, Carol, is a Buffalo native, had lived in town since 1979. He has career earnings of $1.9 million.

It's not a stretch to say Thorpe might earn more in his first five years on the Senior Tour than he made in the last 20 on the PGA Tour. He keeps himself in excellent condition and he still has a superb game from tee to green. His putting can't compete well with the flatbellies, but it's probably good enough to get him big checks against the seniors.

Silver streak

Fred Silver claimed his 23rd Niagara Falls CC title in the past 27 years last week, but it wasn't easy. Silver, the No. 1-ranked amateur in Western New York, was tied with Jeff Brynski on the 18th tee of the third and final round. Brynski, 26, had won the club title three years before. Silver hit his 4-iron tee shot on the 185-yard hole to 18 feet and made the putt for birdie. Brynski's drive found sand and he made bogey. Silver shot 69 in the final round, Brynski 74.

"I played well in the final round, but two holes killed me," Brynski said. "I was 10-over for the tournament, and I played Nos. 9 and 13 8 over."

No. 9 at Niagara Falls is a hard par-4, at wind. No. 13 is a hard par-5, almost impossible to reach in two at 576 yards and with an undulating green.

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