YOUR DRIVER SETS the tone for the rest of your game. Stripe your tee shot down the middle, and you're postured to score well. Mis-hit it, and your demeanor strays, which is why finding the exact driver for your unique swing is so crucial to a good game. But how you go about selecting the right model for your ability can be a daunting proposition–especially if you've never been fitted before. You need to find the proper clubhead, loft, shaft length, flex, club weight, brand, etc. to maximize your distance and accuracy.
Where to start? You have several options, depending on the level of custom-fitting you're seeking. And getting adequately fitted shouldn't cost a lot of money, either. Each type of driver fitting offers a unique experience, plus its own advantages and drawbacks. Only you can decide which venue suits you best.
Regardless, don't go it alone. As much as you think you know your game, your swing and your specs, a detailed fitting analysis will likely show you a thing or two you hadn't considered, and present options to you that will further improve your ballflight. You can, however, first visit the many shaft and club company interactive fitting pages on their respective websites. It's a good way to familiarize yourself with the drivers and shafts available, and to get your ballpark specs. But to truly get proper equipment, follow up your online session with a real fitting through one of these venues.
YOUR LOCAL PGA PROFESSIONAL If you belong to a country club or play frequently at one particular course, chances are good that your PGA pro is familiar with your swing–and would be a great person to fit you for your driver. But if you don't know a pro, have no fear. There are many around who will give you individual attention and invaluable insight. The way a pro fits you varies, depending on if the fitting system he uses is from a club manufacturer–in which case the system is skewed toward that brand's clubs–or from an independent fitting-system manufacturer, which provides data that can be universally applied to all brands. Many pros use sophisticated electronic launch monitors that spit out detailed swing data. Other pros prefer the old-school method in which they take static measurements while you hold the club at address, then watch you swing while using a lie board, clubface spray and sole tape to figure out where you're striking the ball on the clubface. Either way is fine, but if you're a "numbers person" who likes perusing statistics, find a pro with a launch monitor.
Next, the pro derives the right clubs for you by trial and error. You'll probably be fitted at an outdoor range by hitting a driver several times, using a slightly different version from one shot to the next as the pro assembles club components from a fitting cart. Essentially, he places tape on the clubface to help see where you make impact and how the ballflight is affected by each component change. How much it costs you depends: Some pros offer clubfitting for free, but more commonly, they'll charge a nominal fee to be applied toward any clubs you buy from them.
GOLF DISCOUNT SHOPS A convenient option, many golf discount shops or sporting-good stores' golf sections can put you through a brief fitting session for free or for a small charge. You'll get measured on a launch monitor, but beware of clerks who aren't properly trained to fit swings–they may steer you to the wrong gear. If it comforts you, many of them have been trained directly by club manufacturers. And some large chains use PGA pros for their clubfitting–they're a pretty safe choice. But ask around to find a reputable place. If you have reservations about the quality of a store's fitting experience going in, either trust your instinct and go elsewhere or make sure there's a liberal return policy. You don't want to get stuck with a driver that isn't right for you.
INDEPENDENT STUDIOS An independent custom-fitting studio uses all of the latest high-tech, high-speed fitting gear to find a customized name-brand driver that's perfect for you, making precise measurements of everything pertaining to your swing and ballflight. Special software additionally determines your optimal shaft flex, weight and kick point–to fine-tune your accuracy, ballflight and trajectory. To be honest, it's almost overkill to go to one just for a driver fitting. And it'll cost you a little bit more, but it's well worth the investment. While some national clubfitting specialist chains, such as Hot Stix and Cool Clubs, offer outdoor fitting sessions on ranges, many private studios are indoors, where you can't follow ballflight. If it is indoors, you'll need to trust the very accurate technology that predicts where shots would have gone. Granted, it's not the same as looking up and seeing genuine ballflight.
DRIVER MANUFACTURERS If you know which brand driver you want to play–or maybe even the exact model–then do yourself a favor and get fitted by the club manufacturer. They will dial you in to the perfect specs. Many of the major manufacturers have clubfitting systems at their retailers around the country. Some of them go above and beyond, including these four.
CALLAWAY You have several fitting choices with Callaway. First off, the company has 21 Callaway Performance Centers located around the world. If you live by one or will be traveling to a city with one, you can make an appointment for a fitting session. High-speed optics and proprietary software capture your relevant impact data, including clubhead speed, ball speed, launch angle, spin rates, attack and path angles. A ballflight simulator then displays your results on a big screen. The system allows you to test many driver clubhead/shaft combinations in minutes, leaving you with all of your custom specs. Callaway also offers thousands of demo days and fitting events every year at golf shops, courses and ranges–plus it offers staff custom clubfitters at many locations around the country. For added measure, three Tour Fit Vans host specialized fitting events throughout the United States by appointment only. After fitting experts there find your exact specs, they can build a driver on the spot. Grab all of the details at www.callawaygolf.com. CLEVELAND GOLF You can visit the company's Huntington Beach, Calif., headquarters for a fitting session in its impressive fitting studio, or the Scoring Center at nearby Roger Dunn's Golf Shop in Costa Mesa. The company also has traveling Tech and Fitting vans that frequent courses around the country during demo days and fitting events. You can find the schedule at clevelandgolf.com. Cleveland's also conducting Right Weight Fitting Days throughout the U.S. with its Tech vans and sales force–all armed with a Game Changer 2 launch monitor unit that measures launch, spin and ball speed to determine which Cleveland Launcher Ultralite driver best fits your swing.
TAYLORMADE The company's demo events take place at golf facilities around the country. There also are two "Kingdoms"–in Carlsbad, Calif., and Reynolds, Ga.–replete with state-of-the-art equipment to provide incredibly detailed fitting experiences with the company's expert fitters. TaylorMade also has a vast network of fitters around the country armed with the company's SelectFit system, helping to put you in one of 63,000 possible driver combinations. Visit taylormadegolf.com for details on all of the above. Then through a licensing agreement, there also are 10 privately owned TaylorMade Performance Labs around the world that provide world-class fitting sessions–comparable to what PGA Tour pros go through. Technicians capture your motion through reflective markers placed on your body and club, through synchronized high-speed cameras. A moving image of your swing can be viewed from any angle (above, below, front, back or either side). You'll also discover every conceivable quantified detail about your swing. Consult tmplabs.com for details and appointments.
TITLEIST You can go with one of three fitting levels with Titleist. The first–and easiest to access–involves finding a local fitter in its vast network of fitters equipped with the company's SureFit system. You also can hook up with Titleist's mobile FittingWorks Tour Vans that travel the West Coast and Midwest, providing comprehensive fittings and on-site club building. An expert fitter uses a launch monitor and fitting clubs, while a Tour Van technician provides assembly and personalization. The company's ultimate fitting experience takes place at its state-of-the-art Titleist Performance Institute (Calif.) or Manchester Lane Testing facility (Mass.), where golfers are treated like PGA Tour pros. Visit titleist.com for more information. FIRTS- PERSON FITTING
I've been fitted for drivers many times in the past. Because of my naturally low ballflight, most fitters become transfixed into trying to somehow elevate my tee shots. That typically involves suggesting I go with a higher-lofted driver that's more upright–severely more upright. But anyone who truly knows my swing can see that it's already an upright swing and that my low ballflight is caused by other swing mechanics. So whenever I experiment with upright drivers, I immediately start hooking the ball.
That's why I was dubious of undergoing just one more fitting session recently at the TaylorMade Performance Labs at the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif. But this session was to be different.
I was greeted by Tom, my fitting technician, who asked me to warm up on the range for 15 minutes. Like clockwork, he reappeared at the 15-minute point and carried my bag to his indoor studio adjacent to the range, asking me about my golf game along the way. Inside, he recorded different aspects of my game in his database and then placed Velcro-attached reflective balls on strategic points of my body–for the purpose of recording my swing from literally every angle. I even put on a hat bearing the markers . This was to be a full-bag fitting, so we went through an iron-fitting session before reaching the driver portion. He was incredibly intuitive with my swing, its deficiencies and its needs. Without me even mentioning my past fittings, he explained how it seemed obvious that if I ever went to more upright clubs, it would completely cause me to hook a ball. In other words, he wasn't trying to change my swing; he wanted to embrace it with equipment that corrects my 50-year-old habits. He captured my trust right there.
We toyed with versions of both new TaylorMade drivers–the R11 and the Burner SuperFast 2.0–but quickly opted for the R11 Tour Preferred. Why? The SuperFast has only so much loft–not enough to yield my desired trajectory. It also has a triangular clubhead that my brain simply can't process at the tee box. The R11 TP model, however, can have up to an 11.5-degree effective loft, thanks to its adjustability. But when you open up loft on adjustable drivers, you also close the clubface. Since I already draw the ball, Tom used the club's adjustable soleplate to reopen the clubface back to square.
Armed with that spec combination, we proceeded to the driving range to test it out. It was astonishing: Not only did I achieve ballflight that had nearly twice the trajectory, it flew–and this is just the carry–past where my previous tee shots finished rolling. Then of course, it bounced another 10 or 15 yards. Net gain: Roughly 20 yards per tee shot. My take: Where's the cash register?