<< Back to Robb Report, July 2014

Fitting Frenzy

  • James A. Frank

As golf equipment has improved, so has the art of club fitting, which now offers countless configurations and options to help get the most from your swing.

Somewhere around the 100th ball, it clicked. I could not miss. Every shot flew exactly where I was aiming—high if I wanted high, right to left if that was the intention. Then Allen Gobeski started playing games.

“Hit this one,” he would say, handing me a different club. Without looking to see what make and model it was, I would swing. The ball might not go as high as I wanted it to or turn the way it should turn. “Okay,” he would say, “now this one.”

It went on like that for a few hours on a warm winter afternoon at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Gobeski—a master fitter for the Scottsdale company Cool Clubs—and I were the only ones on the driving range. Just a golfer, a club fitter, and a trailer full of clubheads and shafts, connectable in thousands of combinations. After about three hours, it felt like I had hit every possible permutation.

My session at the range was the second half of a full-day program with Cool Clubs, a golf-club-fitting company located just a few minutes from Grayhawk. I had started at the Cool Clubs office, which also serves as a showroom, testing-and-fitting lab, and assembly plant. At the facility, Gobeski, a former teaching pro, calibrated and recorded every component of my swing and putting stroke. My existing clubs were measured, my putting motion captured in high-speed digital images, and data points from my hundreds of swings fed into a computer. Gobeski also took notes and made comments on my far-from-perfect swing and its wide range of results. At the conclusion of the two-part session, Gobeski would tell me if my current clubs were helping or hurting my game—and, of course, advise me on which clubs and shafts I should consider replacing them with.

Golf equipment has never been better. Materials, aerodynamics, computer-aided design, high-tech manufacturing, and other advances have seen to that. The technology packed into heads and shafts means it is possible to create clubs that help golfers good and bad get the most out of their swings—but only if those components are accurately matched to the golfer doing the swinging.

“Golfers come in all shapes, sizes, and swing skills, which means they need different club lengths, weights, lofts, and lie angles,” explains Tom Wishon, an independent club designer and fitter for nearly 40 years. “There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all golf clubs.”

Club fitting is certainly not new. Bobby Jones, the amateur nonpareil and winner of the 1930 Grand Slam, complained that his mashie niblick (roughly equivalent to a 7-iron today) did not feel like the other clubs in his set. When measured, the club proved to be out of step with the set’s symmetrical progression of weight and shaft flex/deflection. Such synchronization—ensuring that the clubs match not only the golfer but also one another—is one of the fundamentals of fitting.

Custom clubs, however, are not just for elite golfers like Jones. In fact, the benefits of club fitting might be felt more by average players. “I have years of statistics showing that golfers who shoot between the low 80s and high 90s benefit the most from playing with correctly fit clubs,” Wishon says. According to Gobeski, proper fitting is worth about a quarter of a shot per round to a PGA Tour pro. For average golfers? “A few shots a round, at least.”

Once upon a time, fitting was little more than making clubs longer for taller golfers, making grips thicker for those with big hands, and offering rudimentary choices in shaft stiffness. Those factors remain core to the process but are now complemented by a range of weights, angles, and other variables. “If a club is too long, too light, or too heavy, you will not consistently deliver the clubhead square at impact,” Wishon says. “So not only won’t you play better immediately, you won’t improve if you take lessons. And if the lie angle is wrong, the heel or toe will be up, leading to a push or pull even if you make a perfect swing.”

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