If you’re looking to give a present to a golfer—or wishing for one for yourself—here’s a suggestion: Give/get a club-fitting. It truly could be the gift that keeps on giving all golf season long.
The advantages of a good fitting recently were driven home for me while working on an upcoming article. In the next few weeks, I plan to post a review of TaylorMade’s new SpeedBlade irons. But rather than send me a test set based on six-year-old specs, it was suggested that I visit one of the company’s Performance Labs for an updated evaluation. The results were eye-opening.
There are 20 TaylorMade Performance Labs in the U.S. The one closest to me is at Galloping Hill, a public course in New Jersey, which has a learning center that contains a few hitting bays as well as a little pro shop and snack bar. There’s also a big door made up to look like a bank vault emblazoned with TaylorMade’s logo, behind which is a giant screen, net, an array of monitors and computers, and Master Fitter Corey Brigham, who has played on the Nationwide Tour, caddied at Seminole and Sebonack, and is the son of a club pro.
I won’t bore you with all the details from the two hours I spent with Corey except to say that I hit dozens of clubs—new models with a variety of shafts—as well as my existing set. After each shot, a list of numbers appeared on the monitors: swing and ball speeds, launch angle, rates of sidespin and backspin, plus how far the ball flew (carry and total distance), how far it went offline, its peak height, and its angle of descent. Corey compared and explained the numbers shot by shot, highlighting significant differences and similarities, and suggesting club-shaft combinations to improve and refine the numbers.
His final recommendations prove why going for a fitting every few years makes sense. The most important suggestion was a switch from a standard-weight steel shaft in my irons to lighter weight steel (the existing shafts weigh 130 grams each; the new ones about 106 grams): With the lighter shafts, my swing speed jumped about 6mph, which translated to 6-10 yards of carry distance.
Shaft manufacturers are continually improving and expanding their offerings, and as we age and our swings and strength change trying new shafts can prove very beneficial. I fell on the cusp between regular and stiff shafts (having played stiff for years), so Corey suggested going with stiff but “soft-stepping” them, a process that makes them play, he said, like “a strong regular.” (I also tried graphite shafts, which produced good distances but were harder to keep within an acceptable dispersion pattern: I was all over the place.)
Since I haven’t started shrinking yet, my other specs remained much as they’d been—clubs a little long and a little upright. I also asked about adding an additional long iron to fill a distance gap, but Corey said I’d be covered since my longest iron (currently a 4) now should be 5 to 10 yards longer. I hope he’s right.
Although the original reason for the fitting was irons, I couldn’t resist trying some of the woods he had lying around. It was my first chance to hit both the recent SLDR and even newer JetSpeed drivers. There’s been a fair amount of wonder as to why TaylorMade introduced so many drivers this year (by my count, JetSpeed is its fifth of 2013): Hit them side by side and one reason becomes obvious as the clubs feel, look, and perform quite differently. And here’s more proof that fitting matters: I preferred the look and initial feel of JetSpeed, but racked up much better numbers with SLDR.
In three decades covering golf I’ve been fit—for a full set of irons, just a driver, even wedges and putters—more than a dozen times. Each fitting has produced different results, sometimes significant, other times minimal, with each set better suited to my swing and physical abilities at that moment. And each time, the technology behind the fitting has been better. Which is why I tell golfers who want to get the most out of their equipment that they should get fit. It’s educational, good for their games, and fun.
All the big club companies—Callaway, Titleist, Ping, as well as TaylorMade—have fitting labs and skilled fitters/club pros around the country; some smaller manufacturers have fitting systems, too. If you don’t have a club or company preference, independent services like HotStix, Cool Clubs, and GolfTEC use sophisticated computer systems to measure and match you with the most effective set from a range of clubmakers.
So now I know my ideal holiday gift: Those properly fit clubs, which I’m hoping the elves at TaylorMade are cobbling together in their workshop right now.