Putting The Fitting In Focus

Tools like Trackman doppler radar allow us to measure the effects of club changes
Tools like Trackman doppler radar allow us to measure the effects of club changes
Tools like Trackman doppler radar allow us to measure the effects of club changes

Many of the calls we receive are from golfers who want to know what happens in a fitting. So, I thought today I would turn the spotlight on a fitting. The first step in a fitting is a brief interview with the golfer to learn about his or her game. Notes are made on such things as average score, rounds played, strengths, any physical challenges, personal objectives, etc. Data is also collected on the current set makeup. 

The next step is to have the customer warm up using a club from their existing set. This is often a 7 iron. Once the warm up is complete, the golfer will be asked to hit balls with various clubs. During this time, I collect data using Trackman technology. I will pay particular attention to what is and is not working with their existing clubs. Different combinations of heads and shafts are assembled for the customer to test.  Both graphite and iron shafts are tested. I have many fully assembled clubs, but I also use a quick connect system. This allows me to zero in on the combinations that work best. Trackman technology provides extensive data on each shot. To ensure the golfer is fully engaged, a projector is often used. This provides a target and the golfer can see the shots. Data provided includes ball speed, dispersion, height; spin rates, whether the club face is open or closed, launch angle, angle of attack, etc. Golf is a game of small differences.

During the fitting, the main objective is to isolate the variables that go into the making of a set of clubs or a single club. Some of the key variables are shaft length, lie angle, loft angle, shaft weight, shaft flex (measured specifically on a frequency analyzer in cycles per minute), total weight, shaft composition (steel or graphite), set makeup, head design, etc. Once the golfer’s baseline hitting tendencies are established, it is then necessary to start fitting him to the many variables that must be considered. I will expand here on a few of these variables and how I test for them to give you a sense of what a fitting is like. First, let us look at shaft length. By measuring the golfer’s wrist to floor measurement when he or she is standing upright and correlating that measurement against the golfer’s height, I can refer to a chart that will give a recommended length. This is a good start, but it is not definitive. A golfer’s posture and swing dynamics are also very important and can have a big impact on how long a golfer’s clubs should be.  It is not always true that the shorter the golfer the shorter the clubs, and conversely it is not a firm rule that a taller golfer should have longer clubs.

Testing for shaft length in woods and to a lesser degree hybrids is a little more involved than for irons. I have always felt that drivers and fairway woods are too long for the average golfer, so over the last several years, in addition to doing a driver length study three years ago, I have been monitoring golfer performance with fairway woods of a shorter length. This is what I have discovered. For the average mid handicap golfer, clubhead speeds do not increase dramatically from a 7 wood to a 3 wood and often even the driver speed is not much faster. The industry standard for the length of a 5 wood is 42”, a 3 wood 43”. What I often see is that when I get a golfer to hit a 3 wood at 43” and then one at 42”, a full 1” shorter, the clubhead speed is virtually the same.  However, when I look at the ball speed the shorter 3 wood often has a higher ball speed. This is interesting. If you have more ball speed you have more distance. The reason for what seems to be a bit of an anomaly is this. The golfer is able to make better contact and a better centeredness of impact with the shorter shaft length. This is the most important consideration when choosing the proper length for hybrids and especially fairway woods and drivers. 

Another key variable that needs to be determined during the fitting is shaft flex. To determine this variable, I use test shafts that are of the same length, weight and composition. The only difference in the shafts is that each shaft has a different flex value. The shafts are equipped with a connection system that allows me to use the exact same head on every shaft. The golfer will hit several shots with each of these shafts using the same clubhead. The data collected from all these shafts is analyzed and the shaft with the most optimal flex is determined. Not only does the shaft flex have to be optimized for performance for each individual golfer, the shaft also has to be comfortable in the golfer’s hand. This is often a function of the weight of the shaft.  Shaft weight is very golfer specific and is determined in much the same way as shaft flex is determined. The golfer will hit a series of shafts where the only difference in the shaft is the weight. Shaft weight can make a big difference in how effectively the golfer hits a club. As I mentioned, shaft weight is golfer specific. It would seem to be reasonable to assume that slower swingers would do much better with a lighter weight shaft.  And that a stronger golfer would do better with a heavier shaft. However, I have seen many exceptions to this where golfers who, at first, would seem to need a lighter weight shaft do much better with a shaft of a heavier nature and stronger players do better with lighter weight shafts. 

Then there are the numerous variations in club head designs to be considered.  In irons the range goes from blades to very forgiving cavity back heads. There are similar ranges in hybrids and woods. The best type of head is determined through the testing during the fitting. 

And what about set makeup. This is a very important part of the fitting. It is important to determine what is the longest iron the golfer is comfortable hitting. If a golfer struggles with irons he/she may find that a 7 iron is the longest iron they find comfortable. In this case if the golfer is more effective with hybrids, we will determine which one works and how hybrids would fit into set make up. For other golfers they are much more comfortable with fairway woods and may find that high lofted fairway woods find a place in their bag. The best combination of wedges, irons, hybrids and woods is determined in the fitting. 

Static measurements are taken and last but not least, grip size and type are considered. There are many more variables that I could discuss but this gives you an idea of the process. I think it is important to mention here that the fitting is a very interactive process. There is an ongoing dialogue between fitter and golfer. 

And yes, customers are often tired after a full fitting, but they have an excellent handle on the right clubs and set makeup for their game.

/ Don Irving, Artisan Golf, 2015 ICG Canadian Clubfitter Of The Year