Club Fitting 2010: Part Science and Part Art

This is the first in a four-part club fitting series on state-of-the-art and diagnostics for extreme game-improvement. We begin with information about the latest club fitting tools and techniques from TaylorMade, Titleist and Ping. We also explain why the average player—not just the touring pro—benefits greatly from going through the club fitting process.

When it’s time for a new set of golf clubs, you can certainly buy “off the rack” in a specialty store. But there’s an intriguing alternative—dynamic club fitting. More and more, club fitting systems parked on practice tees are enticing golfers to get evaluated and discover their ideal specs.

The arsenals of test clubs and diagnostic tools offered by club manufacturers can be a revelation to the average golfer. Weekend players who thought, “I’m not good enough to need custom-fit equipment,” quickly see things differently. If they experience Taylor Made clubfitting, they’ll see how the tweaks continue even after the clubs are purchased. If they try out Ping clubfitting, they’ll actually see two separate fitting carts on the range—one for drivers and irons, one for fairway woods and putters. Stopping at a Titleist fitting cart, they’ll get started on Titleist clubfitting by hitting 6-iron shots and having their impact carefully checked using special decals.

A breakthrough in dynamic club fitting took place in the mid-1990s. That’s when True Temper Sports and Henry-Griffitts came up with a system of interchangeable-head test clubs—heads and shafts that screw together and come apart quickly. It meant that golfers going through custom clubfitting could have many different configurations handed to them in a logical sequence. As a result they could see their ball flight improve rapidly and notice their swing motion stabilizing and becoming more consistent.

“The custom club fitting that’s available now works for both kinds of club buyers—the ones who want to practice and make grip or swing changes but also the ones who don’t have time for lessons and practice and want to use the swing they have but make it more effective,” says Doug Holt, vice-president of U.S. sales for TaylorMade Golf.

Holt and his TaylorMade colleagues have refined procedures for custom-fitting throughout the set. TaylorMade club fitting professionals are trained to address individual needs. They can bolster a player’s power game through driver fitting or work with the scoring-conscious golfer who wants his irons and hybrids to produce quality shots at carry yardages that are “gapped” to cover on-course distances precisely.

Or, they can do both.

For understandable reasons, recreational golfers often say, “it’s the Indian, not the arrow.” In other words, their swing “is what it is” and equipment can only accommodate its many built-in flaws. This is a false assumption—one that’s easily disproven by video and swing monitors (not to mention ball flight!).

Take driver loft. Any golfer—from tour pro to 20-handicapper—can be handed a driver with too little loft. Drives that are low, short and cutting to the right will result. After a few shots, the golfer adjusts by swinging off his back foot and keeping his left shoulder closed through impact. Consciously or not, he is fighting to get the ball higher and more to the left. The tour pro will do this in slight increments, whereas the average golfer will do it quite noticeably. The result is almost always a higher but still weak and even harder-slicing shot.

What’s needed next is a quick explanation of the compensating move and a test club with extra clubface loft (or a more flexible shaft). Even if the exact same swing action is used on the next try, the ball will generally fly higher. By adding a few words of instruction, the clubfitter can create more shoulder rotation in the swing and straighten out the shot. These patterns are seen by skilled club fitters constantly, whether the problem involves loft, shaft stiffness, lie angle, club length or the weight profiles of the club.

Is it true that as you switch between clubs that fit beautifully or fit poorly you will still be the same person with many of the same swing characteristics? Yes. But there will also be important changes in the move you make—changes the well-trained club fitter will recognize and help you correct or reinforce.

Once you understand the basics of dynamic club fitting, go ahead and dig into the magical metrics produced by launch monitors and shot trackers. These high-tech tools really tell you about the physics of ball-club impact and ball flight. For TaylorMade’s Doug Holt, a prime example is driver fitting using the Flight Scope analyzer.

“FlightScope uses radar technology to answer just about every possible question the golfer or the club fitter could have,” says Holt. He’s talking about club head speed, the launch angle of the shot, and the amount of underspin (you need some, for aerodynamic lift) and sidespin (the less, the better) on the ball. Even a coefficient of aerodynamic drag gets spit out by this monitor—along with ball velocity throughout the launch phase and a complete set of angles and trajectory metrics throughout the flight.

“One fact that golfers need to know, and tools like FlightScope are teaching them, is how low a spin rate you really want on their drives,” says Holt. “More spin equals less distance—less spin means more distance. That’s why 8-degree driver heads have become so rare. We’re upping the launch angle via static loft (i.e., the loft angle built into the head) because desired spin rates are now down at 2,500 rpm. The average golfer is still up at 4,500 or 5,000 rpm,” Holt points out. “State-of-the-art club fitting can correct that in a big way—adding distance and control that just wasn’t possible until very recently.”

Next: “Destination” Clubfitting: High-Tech at its Highest

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