Just as there are people who still don't believe men walked on the moon (the Apollo "landings" supposedly took place on sound stages), so there are people, I'm told, who still don't believe that getting fit for golf clubs is worth the effort. They visit a retail store, perhaps inspired by a television ad, and plop down $300 to $1,200 for a set of irons without testing them.
"If these are good enough for Sergio Garcia, they're good enough for me," they tell themselves. The clubs certainly are good enough, but the reason they work so well for Mr. Garcia is that they fit him like a second skin.
I have a strong anti-complexity bias when it comes to golf. The game is meant to be fun, not a source of stress, which club fitting—daunting and incomprehensible to many—clearly can be. I also hate to nag. But if you're going to buy clubs anyway (which need not be as often as the "new and improved" storylines of most golf-equipment marketing would have you believe), you really ought to be properly fit. The process is not onerous; it's actually quite informative, and it benefits higher handicappers as much as low handicappers. Most importantly, it will make your subsequent golf less frustrating because well-fit clubs promote a more efficient swing. It's possible to hit the ball straight with poorly-fit clubs, but usually only by introducing complicating compensations that rob the swing of power and make it hard to repeat consistently.
There are, of course, degrees of being poorly fitted. Most clubs are the manufacturers' time-proven calculation of those that work well for the largest number of people. But, to put things in fashion terms, if off-the-rack clubs fit you and your swing without adjustments, you're a perfect size eight.
[golfillo] Kyle T. Webster
Even the most rudimentarily trained sales clerk at a sporting-goods store will direct golfers to models with generally appropriate characteristics, such as stiffer shafts for fast swingers and whippier shafts for slower swingers. They will also nudge higher handicap players toward irons with bigger, more forgiving clubheads and drivers that get the ball airborne easily. In more advanced sessions, the fitter will watch customers hit balls, either indoors in a hitting bay or outdoors at a range, and custom order clubs with just the right length, grip size, shaft flexibility and lie angle (the angle between the clubhead and the shaft). The cost of such basic fittings is usually deducted from the price of the clubs purchased.
"Any fitting is better than no fitting," John Screen, the director of sales for Titleist, said Wednesday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Florida. Titleist, like all the major clubmakers, provides a fitting cart, with sample heads and shafts, to teaching pros who sell its clubs and trains them in how the system works. "Getting fit outdoors is better than getting fit indoors," Mr. Screen said, because both the hitter and the fitter can observe actual ball flight patterns, as opposed to, at best, the projected computer simulations of flight patterns available indoors. An experienced fitter working outdoors can come close to identifying the ideal clubs using only the naked eye. "But fine-tuning the fit with a launch monitor can still sometimes add an additional five to 10 yards in distance with the driver," he said.
Electronic launch monitors collect and feed data about spin, ball speed and trajectory into a computer. For maximum distance with modern balls, drives by a typical male should climb quickly at between 12 degrees and 15 degrees, spin at less than 3,000 revolutions per minute, flatten out at 125 yards to 150 yards from the tee and descend at between 28 and 38 degrees. The ideal numbers vary depending on a player's ball speed and other factors, but launch monitors can help dial in the best clubhead and shaft combination for any swing. (Note: you can't rely on "stiff" and "regular" shaft designations from manufacturers, because there is no industry standard.)
Over the last few years, I've been fit for clubs many times using various methods, and had cobbled together a set that I felt fit pretty well. My irons came from a fitting at a super high-tech TaylorMade facility. My driver recommendation, the third iteration after an initial launch monitor fitting, came from an experienced fitter using his naked eye at a "demo" day at a local range. My putter was the result of personal tinkering. But in early December I put my arsenal to the ultimate test in a 3½-hour, $695 "Game Fit" session at the Hot Stix Golf outdoor facility in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Hot Stix offers "agnostic" fittings, meaning it has independently robot-analyzed clubs, shafts and balls from all the major manufacturers and recommends only those products it feels best suit an individual player's needs—including, when indicated, that a player stick with what he or she already has. After a fitting, the company will assemble and sell any of the clubs it recommends, but that's a separate deal. Fittings include a detailed printout of the results, and customers are free to buy the clubs anywhere.
My fitter, Chris Ferguson, played college golf at Arizona State and briefly on the Canadian Tour (where his roommate was PGA Tour regular Pat Perez). He knows the technology inside and out. To get a sense of my tendencies, he watched me hit balls on the range; put me through a short-game circuit on a practice green and in bunkers; machine-tested my current clubs, including checking the oscillation of the shafts; and had me try new irons and woods while monitoring the results with a TrackMan radar system.
The upshot? My driver and three wood were near perfect and he made no alternative recommendations. My two hybrids were acceptable but we found an Adams Golf hybrid model with an expensive Japanese shaft that I liked better and hope to put into my bag some day. My irons were also good, but he discovered a significant distance gap between my seven iron and six iron, which he corrected by tweaking the loft of my seven iron. The all-important loft on my putter was just right for my stroke but the shaft needed to be an inch and a half longer to improve my setup posture and help me see the line better. He advised adding an inexpensive extension beneath the grip.
The big change was in my wedges. First, the lofts and lies of my current wedges were off, possibly from getting banged around over the two years I've played them. Second, he recommended I take the seldom-used four iron out of my bag and replace it with a third sand wedge, to give me more scoring accuracy from inside 120 yards.
I offer these details not because they are relevant to anyone else's particular fitting needs, but to illustrate the types of issues a good fitting can address. "One of the main benefits we provide is peace of mind," Mr. Ferguson told me afterward. Golf, as has been often noted, is a game of confidence.Original Article
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