Golf Science – Club Fitting 101

Golf Science – Club Fitting 101

A leading PGA Tour professional recently said, after a really erratic round of golf, “with the driver right now, the driver sucks. It’s not a good face for me, and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mishits.” 

To better understand the complaint, we need to understand what aspects of any club help with the ball’s directional accuracy, and of those, which specific issues the club face can control. We know it is mainly a club’s length, and its loft and lie angles that control accuracy (in that order). The club’s face is said to control mainly its coefficient of restitution, which means how much energy the ball bounces back off the clubface with (the more the better). The central parts of the club’s face can be made slightly thicker than the more peripheral parts, so that any (mis)hits that are not in the center, get extra energy and do not lose as much distance. 

However, the player who made the comment about his clubface does not have distance issues, but directional ones. Perhaps he does not know that it is mainly club length, loft and lie that affect distance, not so much clubface? Keep in mind that he uses a Cobra Radspeed driver specifically made to his requirements with a 46” length and a 5° loft angle. In contrast, the average length of the driver on the PGA Tour is 44.5” and Tiger Woods’ used to use only 43.5”. Moreover, most Tour players have far more loft in their clubs too, resulting is less directional problems that a 5° driver has.

The golf professionals who play on Tour, get to try, and then use, all the latest research and development products – at no cost – from the golf club manufacturer whose products they endorse. If they are still unhappy with what they have, what would it mean for the rest of us, who pay large amounts to buy clubs, especially drivers? We even get those clubs further down the road, after the pros have had their say on what’s good and what’s not.

To get a true picture of what the golf OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) do to produce the clubs we get, it was appropriate to ask Jeff Williams, a 40-year veteran of the golf industry, who also lives in the DFW metroplex area and is a reader of AVIDGOLFER Magazine, to explain the business to us. Jeff, having worked at public and private golf courses while a student, started in the golf business in sales at Golf Pride (grip manufacturers), which at that time had an 85% share of the grip market, with most club manufacturers buying from them. Then, Williams and friend Larry Bodle together founded the UST shaft manufacturing company in 1991 in Ft. Worth. This company today (UST Mamiya) uses the tag line “World’s Finest Carbon Fiber Golf Shafts”. Later still, Williams worked for Aldila, the manufacturers of the first graphite shafts. Besides all of these experiences with leading club component makers, Williams also had the opportunity to work with Tour players on the PGA, and Nationwide Tours. At the many, many tour events he attended, he had the opportunity to meet with the club fitters of the various companies, who are some of the brightest and best minds in the golf club fitting industry.

Based on all his experience, when asked whether the OEMs make better clubs for the pros than for regular golfers, he said that is not the case. “Back in the day” he added, there were very few big name club brands, and it would be common to find all golfers in a foursome with Ping Eye II irons or Big Bertha drivers. These days every golf course, both public and private, will have 10-15 golfers who “rule the roost”. Others in the club always check out the clubs these “leaders” use, especially when they suddenly have an improvement in ball-flight, and then go out and buy, or at least “check out”, what that club is able to do.  All any golf club needs are a few winners, and everyone wants to buy it.

With the increase in competition and the fact that all equipment comes into, and goes out of fashion, club manufacturers must constantly innovate. They are aware that the most popular club of today might not be as popular in the next season, as golfers are constantly on the look-out for the next best game-improvement club. For that reason, the club manufacturers really do spend a lot of time and money to research each product they make, for all skill levels of golfers.

So, is there a “best club” for regular golfers compared to those the pros get? “No”, says Williams. “There is no best shaft, grip, or clubhead. The best one is the one that works for you”. So, he highly recommends that if a golfer plans to purchase clubs, he/she should get fitted. After all, he says, “You would not buy a car without a test-drive”. While one cannot specifically say that a golfer’s handicap might go down by some number of strokes after a fitting, it certainly makes it easier to achieve that goal.

He adds that a good fitter will look at the launch monitor results to help choose the best clubs for any golfer. Moreover, some fitters also allow golfers to try out the set they’ve been fitted for, because the golfer’s swing might change slightly from the day of the fitting to the day of playing on the course. “Go play 4-5 rounds and see how the fitted clubs perform,” adds Williams. The two club fitters he knows of who are reputable companies in the DFW area are Sellinger’s and True Spec Golf.

Of the three parts of a golf club – the head, shaft and grip, Williams believes that the “Shaft is the engine of the club,” because with a too-stiff shaft all kinds of bad things can happen, e.g., a golfer might swing too fast, come “over the top”, or might not load the shaft appropriately, resulting in a high, short shot. The shaft needs to be correct for a golfer or the golfer must overcome a shaft that’s not right for him/her. Even a high handicap golfer will usually have a somewhat repeatable swing, for instance he or she might take it inside in the backswing and come over the top in the downswing. In such a case, the shaft might be too heavy and force the golfer to adjust to it. Conversely, a better player, given a too-soft shaft, will try to hold off to avoid having the ball curve from right to left. 

Eventually, of course, says Williams, “You cannot buy a game”, and “It’s in the dirt” as Ben Hogan said, so a golfer does have to practice to get better, because the swing changes from day to day. Having a golf set fitted to one’s requirements will, at least, give a golfer some consistency. It’s just like, says Williams “While building a house, one should have a good foundation”.