by Adam Stanley, Flagstick Contributor
“If you were a dentist, it’s not like you’d bring heart-surgeon tools into your office with you.”
Stewart Bannatyne, manager for the TaylorMade performance lab at the venerable Glen Abbey golf course in Oakville, Ontario, shrugs his shoulders as he mentions this to me; he knows how important the right tools are for the job at hand.
For me, the words were poignant, to-the-point, and really opened my eyes as to why I had just spent the better part of the last three hours strapped to various video game-like sensors, and then hitting balls until my blisters had blisters.
I visited Bannatyne at the lab, and got the full club-fitting experience. It made me realize I could most likely never be able to buy golf clubs off-the-rack ever again.
The number of golfers who still buy clubs from a store and immediately swing away is staggering, but there have been so many advances in club-fitting from nearly all of the top-tier brands that it’s surprising more golfers – from low to high handicapper – aren’t taking advantage of the service.
“The tools, they’re step one,” says Bannatyne, who has been with TaylorMade in various capacities since 2006.
A former golf standout at Sam Houston State University in Texas and Canadian Tour pro, Bannatyne speaks quickly, but with knowledgeable authority through any session.
“Properly fitting golf equipment to a player’s natural tendencies will give them the ability to work on their game and improve with golf clubs that will continue to work for them.”
Golf, unlike other sport – especially team sports, where each player uses the same ball, or other equipment – features not only a human action, but a responsive result from a tool as well.
Sure, the technology in tennis rackets or hockey sticks have improved slightly over time, but golf remains the lone sport where a slight adjustment through any of the 14 clubs that most players carry in their bags can make a world of difference.
Custom club fitting is an important aspect to all players’ games because, as TaylorMade says on its website, “people are interested in making the most of their investment by ensuring the clubs they use are tailored to their needs.”
“We can make anyone better,” it continues.
A bold claim indeed, but one that is hard to argue against after going through one of their sessions.
TaylorMade uses a patented fitting system called MAT-T (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade) to measure and track literally everything in one’s golf swing.
The MAT-T system is a joint effort between TaylorMade and Motion Reality Incorporated, which combines TaylorMade’s golf knowledge with Motion Reality Incorporated’s motion capture, modeling, and analysis technology to provide a 3D projection of a golfer.
It uses nine video cameras to track the position of multiple markers attached to a golf club and a golfer – kind of like if one was getting recorded for a video game or animated movie – that create a computer animation of a swing to be reviewed later.
A better question may be what the system can’t measure, but at any point during the fitting, one can review: club impact data, swing planes, body lines, centre of gravity, posture lines, and shaft line. Not to mention a launch monitor that measures ball speed, launch angle, and spin.
Bannatyne was quick to point out that the bad shots are arguably more important than the good shots, when going through the system.
“There are two kinds of fittings that can be done: compensatory and complimentary. The difference between the two is compensatory fitting uses the golf equipment to try and mask flaws or change ball flight without adhering to the player’s general tendencies. As they work to improve their game, the better the swing, the worse the club will tend to respond,” he says.
Complimentary fitting, he adds, involves working with a player’s existing swing and creating the most consistent ball flight for their given tendencies.
For a brand so focused on distance, I was surprised not to hear more yardage numbers thrown at me during the session, but Bannatyne explains, “it wouldn’t make sense to tell someone – who may be exaggerating their distances – how far or short they are hitting. The perception is off.”
What one will get though, is comparative numbers based on your existing clubs.
“That drive went eight yards further than one with your existing driver,” said Bannatyne on more than one occasion, making me feel like I was in one of TaylorMade’s television commercials.
After leaving the fitting centre, I gained a new perspective of technology, and how far the industry has come with respect to making sure the right tools are in the hands of any golfer.
So why would anyone not want to get clubs that are properly fit for them?
It seems as though in most cases, golfers are scared about their own swing tendencies, thinking that they’re not “good enough” for a session.
“In most cases, players are nervous that their games are not consistent enough to benefit from fitted equipment,” says Bannatyne.
“When a player is practicing, and they do not see the golf ball fly in the same direction, or the same distance, they are convinced that each swing is entirely different from the last”
The visual nature of TaylorMade’s system allows players for a better understanding of their own golf swing, and dispels some of the myths of inconsistency that one may believe he or she has in their swing.
Overall, the experience is definitely one that should be at least considered by golfers of any skill level.
TaylorMade has raised the bar in custom fitting experiences, but that’s not to say it’s the only option.
Regardless of your preference of club manufacturer or how you swing, getting fit for the proper equipment is easier-than-ever in this high-tech world and, having the right equipment for the job is the key to any golfer’s improvement.
When you arrive at Glen Abbey Golf Course for an appointment at the TaylorMade performance lab, the ClubLink service standards are absolutely adhered to – and so begins your very personalized experience.
I was shuttled from the parking lot to the lab – a hard-to-miss TaylorMade building practically adjacent to the ninth green – where a screen saying: “Welcome, Adam Stanley” greeted me, along with my personal fitter for morning, Stewart Bannatyne.
From there, you fill out a standard survey of questions about your golf game and enter into a closed-door room with televisions, computers, cameras, and hundreds of clubheads, shafts, grips, and balls, ready to be built in any combination for any swing.
After a couple of warm-up swings with your own clubs, the real fun begins.
Your fitter will emerge from another room with a collection of motion capture sensors and begin strapping them on one by one: feet, knees, elbows, waist, chest, and head.
Surprisingly though, you don’t feel restricted when you begin swinging.
During the fitting itself, you’ll hit a 6-iron, wedge, driver, and then a putter, all with the motion-capture markers on. The data from these swings – about half the total fitting time of three hours is dedicated to working indoors – will then produce the best suggested combinations of heads, shafts, and grips to bring outside to the driving range.
Moving from inside the lab to the driving range is truly eye opening. For someone like me who has had the same set of irons for six years, the change in shafts especially was quite jarring – but in a good way. My misses now didn’t feel nearly as bad, and my flush hits were travelling further and straighter.
The data produced details I didn’t even think about changing on my own.
At the end of the session, you’ll be able to take home printouts of custom club specs for ordering new clubs – if you don’t already order them during the session – your data sheets that contain the fitting information for each swing, and a DVD of your 3D swings to either watch at home or with your own instructor.
Jeff Tait, another custom-fitter, mentioned that “in February you’re looking at needing to book four or five weeks in advance. January to June is our busiest time.”
So, if you’re interesting in getting fit, there’s no better time than the present.
Adam Stanley is a graduate of the Carleton University Journalism Program, a Digital Media Specialist for a Major Corporation, and a regular contributor to Flagstick.com. He maintains a personal Blog “Adam’s Touch” here.