Clubfitting - Part 1

We take a break from the Reshafting articles this week as I have had many enquiries for information on club-fitting and what is involved.

A fitting session is broken down into four main parts: Part 1: Personal interview, Part 2: Present golf club evaluation, Part 3: Hitting results and Part 4: Fitting recommendations.

Part 1 - The Personal Interview

This may seem an obvious place to start, however the reason behind the personal interview is to get a good overall picture of the player, without a club in their hands. Conducted away from the course, I tend to get a truer picture and more honest answers.

During the personal interview I assess the golfer's height, weight, left/right hand, handicap, average score, best and worst rounds, number of rounds per month, amount of practice undertaken and attitude towards it, whether or not they are taking lessons or intend to and whether or not they hit practice balls prior to play. I also assess any physical limitations they may have, injuries past and present and/or any medical conditions that may affect mobility etc.

After gathering the general information I then dissect the shot pattern of the golfer's game, for example, are they a slicer, hooker, pusher, puller or drawer. I assess closely the trajectory they send the ball out with. This is completed for drivers, long and short irons. Sand play questions are also included to gauge skill levels.

To ascertain the level of confidence a golfer has with certain clubs (particularly their driver) I will often ask questions like "what is your favourite wood and/or iron in your bag". Usually the driver and 3 iron are the ones most commonly spoken of as the ugly ducklings. This could however simply be an issue regarding the correct length of club.

A player's goals are very important. If I am fitting someone for a new set of clubs who intends to invest in lessons then it is important for them to have clubs that they can both use now but also have room to grow into as their skills improve. On the other hand, if a player is not able to improve a swing with lessons through a lack of time or inclination then the fitting session needs to be designed to find the best equipment that will cover up as many of the ball flight problems as possible. In other words the new clubs need to be tailored specifically to the existing game.

Part 2 - Present Golf Club Evaluation

With a good mental picture of the golfer's game I now look into the actual golf bag that walked in the door. Usually the set make-up consists of a driver, 3 and 5 woods and 3 iron though to sand wedge. These irons are more than likely steel shafted if I am looking at an older set of clubs. I individually assess the lengths, lofts and lies, grip types and sizes and the putter gets a look in too. All specifications can be taken on the old set. I look for major differences in lofts and lies between clubs that may help determine troublesome clubs. I also look for specifications that work for the player and may be transferred to the new clubs.

Part 3 - Hitting Results

Before I can ascertain hitting results I need to measure how close to the ground the player's hands are. Tall people do often need longer clubs however there are many tall people whose arms actually hang just as close to the ground as average size people. This measurement is only the starting point for the fit, however is very important for a player's comfort at address and solidness of hit. Be very wary of retailers who solely fit for length via this measurement.

With the above information in hand the player now hits his or her existing clubs with impact decals in place. The impact decals will show the dispersion of the players swing mechanics. A wide spray across the face of the club indicates that the length is too long to control, so a shorter club may help. This test allows me to determine how often the sweet spot is hit and how solid an impact is being made.

Dynamic lie angle measurements can be taken at this time. This involves putting some tape on the sole of the club and having the player hit a few balls off a lie board. The tape has a hole scuffed in it and the distance from the centre of the clubface to the mark will indicate whether the lie angle is correct, too flat or too upright for the club.

There are a variety of tools used to ascertain the flight of a ball. A simulator will show the swing path, club head speed and face angle present just before impact. A photo based launch monitor will show a true trajectory of the balls motion via some interesting spin rate calculations based upon reading the actual spin on the ball. Laser launch monitors read the path the ball takes and are also very accurate.

In the past green grass ranges based fittings on ball carry distances alone. This kind of fit can be misleading. I have seen someone with a 125 mph swing speed hit a driver with a carry of 280 metres. He could then hit a 5 iron 180m with a swing speed of 80mph. Generally there is about 10mph difference between a driver and 5 iron swing speed. This shows there are exceptions to the rule of thumb and in this case the player had two different swing actions resulting in drastically different swing speeds.

The reason the fellow could hit his 5 iron so far is he never missed the sweet spot. However, he had been fitted with stiff shafts in both woods and irons. This made his iron ball flight far too low so he could not stop balls on greens. He needed stiff shafts in his woods and regular shafts for his irons to gain some trajectory for softer landing iron shots.

This identifies the importance of assessing both the driver and an iron for swing speed and solidness of hit with the decals.

Individually assessing all the clubs from woods to wedges takes time and a great deal of information and feedback is collated. Questions asked along the way may include: Does the player find steels or graphite shafts more effective? Why? Does one feel heavier than the other? Does a longer driver allow for solid impact or does a shorter driver allow for an increase in the average distance of the drive by hitting the sweet spot more often? If the player is a slicer, does a 2 or 3 degree closed face straighten out the ball flight? This is where I find a good range of demonstration clubs very useful as I can even throw in varying lie angles to the mix to test the difference in real ball flight.

This hitting and testing gives the player a genuine feel for clubs and creates a sense of difference.

Part 4 - Fitting Recommendations

Having gathered a wealth of information I look at making some educated recommendations to the player. Options are important, as players will have their own mental ideas of what a good club looks like. For example, players either like a thick top-line or a more traditional look to the top of their irons. They either like or loath cavity backs verses a blade style. They may be predetermined to steels or graphite shafts and have a preference for grip styles also.

A good club fitter will make recommendations on how a swing can be improved and will often suggest a good pro to visit. If the player is not going down that route the fitter is now in a position to identify what type of equipment will work for the player, from shafts, grips, length and set makeup.

This article is intended to give an overview of the immense amount of information required to undertake a successful fitting session. In future articles I will delve into the actual fitting processes and some of the club and shaft designs that affect ball flight and feel.

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