Custom clubfitting is the real deal.
For a while, it seemed as though getting your clubs custom fit was reserved for Tour players and those who take their golf game extra-seriously. But now, custom fitting is made available to everyone, thanks to a new era of golf clubs that feature all kinds of equipment geared for various types of golfers. Also, clubfitting has exploded beyond simple tape measurements and basic shaft flexes. Doppler radar, launch monitors and laser-guided devices (stuff rocket scientists use) are used by clubfitters to help make sure you have the absolute best equipment for your swing. In our case, we were lucky enough to explore two different kinds of clubfitting experiences with the guys at Hot Stix in Denver, Colo. Our resident smooth swinger, Charlie Schroeder, went through the standard fitting, which is designed for golfers who want their current set looked at and a few recommendations on how to make it better. Fellow editor and big hitter, Ryan Noll, opted for the tour fitting, which included an even more in-depth look at his sticks. Here's how it went down for both editors and what kinds of things you can expect to learn from each fitting.
The Regular Guy Fitting
By Charlie Schroeder
For some people, golf clubs come and go, but not me. I got my custom-fitted irons when I was 14. They helped me win a couple junior golf tournaments and take on courses like Bethpage Black, Pinehurst No.2 and Lahinch. They served me well. I could never imagine getting rid of them. But late last year, I caved and finally got a new set, relegating my old ones to the corner of my office where they give me something to bump into when I vacuum. (Yes, I do the cleaning.)
My new irons didn't immediately perform like my old ones. Sure, I gained about 10 yards with each stick (a result of improved technology and shafts that hadn't been repeatedly beaten into the ground), but my patented draw had morphed into a sweeping hook. Rather than starting the ball at the middle of the green and curling it left toward the pin, I was often forced to aim at the right bunker and (on a good day) tug it in to the heart of the short stuff. "You need to get those adjusted," friends would tell me, "they're way too upright." They were right. My new irons came "off the rack," and when I addressed the ball, only the heel touched the ground, while the toe pointed skyward like a 747 taking off.
Last summer, my colleague Ryan Noll and I flew to Denver to check out the newest branch of Hot Stix, the high-tech clubfitting studio with headquarters in Scottsdale. Located at Green Valley Golf Ranch and adjacent to the McGetrick Golf Academy, the new facility was built just for equipment geeks like you and me. Although I was a tad nervous when Hot Stix fitter Rob Wample intercepted my clubs on arrival, I relaxed when I found out why.
"Don't worry, we're just going to take them away to analyze them," he said. Freud couldn't have said it better himself.
After a thorough examination in which Rob checked the shaft frequencies, lofts, lies and swing weight of my clubs, the two of us hit the range. Even though it was pretty chilly, I left the fleece in the car. If I was going to pound balls for these guys, I wanted my launch monitor readings to be as accurate as possible. "Better break out the radar gun, I don't want to get busted for speeding," I said to Wample. He looked at me like I was an idiot. Which, coincidentally, is what I am when it comes to clubfitting.
First Rob took some standard body measurements (including the distance from my knuckles to the ground), and then I hit a few wedges to warm up. Shortly thereafter, he asked me to pull out my six-iron and "hit a few." I promptly striped five in a row. This is easy, I thought as I watched the ball fly 175 yards into the thin Rocky Mountain sky. "Alright, let's take a look," Rob said and summoned me to his computer monitor.
The data wasn't pretty. My spin rates and launch angles were way too high and, to my surprise, I swung, well, like someone who has a desk job. There would be no speeding tickets today. "Try this one," Rob said, trying to lift my spirits. He handed me a random 6-iron from a pile of clubs with heads and shafts that were mixed and matched. I hit one, then another. It quickly became apparent which clubs were matched to my specific "swing DNA," as the Hot Stix guys call it, and which ones weren't.
Consider the 6-iron I shanked. Or the one I flat out chunked, exhuming a turf toupee that would have looked just fine atop Bruce Willis' chrome dome. "Now try this one," Rob said. I picked up one with a graphite shaft and gave it a waggle. "Too whippy," I said, doubting its effectiveness before I put my signature "monster move" on it. I addressed the ball, looked at my target and then pulled the trigger.
"Whiffed it!" I barked and looked back at Rob. "Didn't go anywhere!"
Somewhere behind me the ball was apparently still in the air because Rob held up his finger as if to say "not so fast." Then he looked at me. "Didn't go anywhere, huh? That went a buck ninety."
190 yards? For someone used to hitting his six-iron 165 this was a memorable moment in sports history. Of course, some of my distance gain was due to the Mile High atmosphere where balls just seem to fly forever, but what really helped was the perfect shaft/head combo. It not only made my effortless Jello-y swing launch the ball great distances, but without sidespin and on a much lower, more favorable trajectory. "I want this shaft now!" I said to Wample, even if it was too whippy.
Turns out, it wasn't whippy at all. In fact, it was stiffer than my stock shafts.
Wample told me I gained major yards (and improved ballflight) because that premium graphite shaft had a higher frequency than my irons' stock shafts. Essentially, my irons were too flexible (their frequency ranged from 4.2 to 4.9), and I needed a set that was not only stiffer, but "frequency matched" so my 4-iron to PW had the same, consistent (and consistently feeling) flex. (Hot Stix recommended 5.7 in graphite, 5.4 in steel, a substantial difference from what I was playing with.) Turns out, the graphite shaft felt whippy not because of its flex, but because of its weight.
After analyzing my irons, we moved onto my driver (which I've gained—no joke—40 yards from my last model). I didn't think I could hit it any farther than I already do, but naturally, I was wrong. Hitting a few shots with a premium shaft made a premium difference. Ten yards, in fact. "Your kick point is too low," he told me. "But my shaft says it's a mid kick! You want me to play with a high-kick shaft?" "No," Wample said, then admitted that it's hard to know exactly what qualities stock shafts possess. My driver shaft may have said it had a mid kick point, but in reality, it had a low one, making it more flexible near the tip. It may have made it easier to get the ball airborne, but that's not what someone like me needs.
After we finished, Wample suggested a few options that ranged greatly in price. I could switch out my current iron shafts for those premium offerings ($65 per shaft) or he could bend my irons—for free.
In the end, I opted for the cheapo route. Wample flattened my irons a whopping three degrees, a substantial move that completely eliminated any chance of ever hooking the ball again and had me questioning everything I've ever known about golf. I can't say I've fully recovered; my ballflight is lower and shots tend to hang out to the right, but I'm slowly adjusting to my "new" clubs.
My woods also needed a makeover, especially my hybrid that no one in my regular foursome told me was a woman's club. Thanks guys.
The Tour Fitting
By Ryan Noll
Like the regular clubfitting experience that began with a club set checkup, the tour fitting started with a complete analysis of how my equipment performed at various places on the golf course. This helped fuel a more "real world" fitting experience, as I hit shots from the outdoor practice area, which included chips from off the green, bunker shots, pitch shots, iron shots and drivers, all while my expert clubfitter and PGA member, Steve Grosz, analyzed and jotted down notes based on my shots. For instance, after seeing that I liked to adjust the height of my chips around the greens, Steve mentioned that I'd be better off with a low-bounce wedge. Several iron, fairway wood and driver shots later, we headed into a semi-indoor hitting bay where I got hooked up to a launch monitor for a more technical analysis.
As it turned out, my current iron set—which is a brand new one, by the way—was "fitted" well for me right out of the box (Yes, it can happen, Charlie.) But when it was time to hit my fairway woods and driver, things weren't quite up to snuff. With my woods (especially with my driver), it seemed as though I had to really fight against hitting the ball to the left. Okay, sometimes way left. I continued to demonstrate my trademark pulled shot for Steve in earnest, hoping he could help me with the seemingly never-ending supply of equipment resources he had available. (Frankly, I was about to assume it was me and not the club. Gasp!)
After sifting though some serious statistical data based on our real-world fitting and the stuff learned from the launch-monitor-rigged, semi-indoor hitting bay, Steve stepped away momentarily and came back with a driver that he felt would be a better fit for my swing. For starters, this new driver was .5 inches longer than my current driver. Secondly, it had a 460cc head, with 9.5 degrees of loft and a stout, X-flex shaft, both which were the same as my current driver. "Hmm, how can a driver that looks so much like my own help me from hooking the ball?" I thought. "Watch me hook this driver too, Steve," I muttered to myself.
Let's just say I know what crow tastes like. That driver, the one that looked so much like mine, produced the exact shot I've tried to achieve since my clubs were stolen en route from Orlando to a pro-am in Phoenix with Bob Uecker a year and a half ago (e-mail me if you want to know more about that). I didn't adjust my swing with this new driver, I didn't swing harder or softer, I just put my normal swing on it and my go-to fade had returned. Now, as a self-professed, semi-expert on the matter at hand, I assumed it was the .5-inch that made the difference, but then again, could it be that obvious? Maybe it was it weight? Loft? Lie? Flex? (All my woods had the same shaft, by the way.) Steve later told me that the factors of shaft weight, lie angle, length and clubhead design are important, but that's not what was causing my shots to veer hard to the left. The data from his analysis proved my problem was caused by this little thing called "torque."
Torque is defined as the measure of the shaft's resistance to twisting during the swing. The higher the torque rating, the more the shaft actually twists, helping golfers close the clubface (and avoid hitting a slice). In my case, all of my woods had moderate to high torque ratings, and for a player such as myself who has no problem closing the face, the extra torque only exasperated my inclination to overrotate my hands and hit it left. The new driver had a shaft with a lower torque rating than my driver and helped prevent me from closing the clubface too soon. I could now start the ball up the left side of the fairway with a gentle fade. Eureka! Steve and the geniuses at Hot Stix had found it!
So what's the moral of my clubfitting experience? I learned that all it takes to throw a kink into your golf game is to have one variable off when it comes to your equipment. As for the tour fitting, hitting actual shots helped my clubfitter better match the lie/loft of each iron in my bag to my specific tastes, rather than to solely rely on what a computer says is best for me. This experience helped me find a happy medium between what gear is the best fit for me and what personal preferences I'd like to retain in my equipment. (Better players will really appreciate that.) The recommendations also included a full putter and ball fitting, both of which proved enlightening and educational. Turns out, my "set DNA" was better than I thought, with almost everything sizing up pretty well, except for my woods and driver shaft's pesky torque rating.
If you're looking to get fitted, consider first how much you play and practice, and decide which fitting is right for you. A standard fitting like the one Charlie went through is ideal for the weekend warrior, and the tour fitting is helpful for those who want a more in-depth understanding of their equipment and what kind of changes need to be made. Even if you find out that most of your clubs are already a good match for you, the confirmation will help your confidence. In most cases, there's at least one to two adjustments to make, sometimes as a result of regular wear and tear on your equipment. I suggest you get fitted at least once a year, and you'll see that a great way to play more consistently is to always use equipment that's best suited to your swing.
And as for actually fixing your swing to help lower your scores, well, let's just say you're reading the right magazine to get the job done.