2006: Bent on improvement

More than ever, golf club manufacturers are trying to manipulate the direction and height of ball flight. Movable or interchangeable weight cartridges, designed to influence ball trajectory, can be found in a number of modern clubs.

But is something being overlooked here?

Ed Mitchell thinks so. As founder and chairman of Mitchell Golf (www.mitchellgolf.com), he points with pride to the fact that millions of golfers have influenced ball flight in a more elementary fashion. These golfers have had their irons or woods bent to achieve the desired loft or lie.

Lie, in particular, is crucial to hitting the ball straight. Golf clubs are of little use if they don’t have the correct lie for the person swinging them.

Irons that are too upright invariably will cause the ball to be pulled. Irons that are too flat will do the opposite – produce shots that are pushed.

Furthermore, it is imperative for irons to reflect a coordinated lie progression throughout the set. The explanation for a maverick iron often can be traced to an out-of-sequence lie.

The loft and lie machine, used to bend clubs at the hosel, has become a staple among club fitters, club builders, club repairmen and many golf professionals. One of the industry standards is the SteelClub Angle Machine produced by Mitchell Golf.

Ed Mitchell was way ahead of the curve when, in 1988, he introduced his first SteelClub bending device. Actually, he did more than that: He told golf professionals they needed to become expert club fitters. He told them it was their obligation to put the right clubs in the hands of their students and golfers.

For many golf pros, it was a wakeup call.

Mitchell felt justified in his role as a golf club evangelist because he too was a golf professional, and he knew that ill-fitting clubs were preventing many golfers from playing their best.

Today, the SteelClub Angle Machine has gone through five revisions. It bends right-handed and left-handed irons, metalwoods and putters. It holds driver heads as large as 470cc.

Hot tip: Skilled clubmakers who use the SteelClub machine generally are able to make slight bends without fracturing thin-walled titanium driver heads. Bending titanium driver heads is not recommended by manufacturers, but it is being done.

Mitchell has added other bending devices over the years, including an irons-only machine and a putter machine. He has invented a putter fitting station that offers integrated fitting for length, lie, loft and hosel position. He sells a swingweight scale, featuring a zero balance beam weight that levels the balance beam. He has perfected workbenches that suck dust out of the air.

All are sold under the umbrella of Mitchell Golf in Centerville, Ohio, just outside Dayton.

“This is the age of precision in golf clubs,” Mitchell said. “We keep that in mind with everything we do. If golfers have confidence in their clubs, usually they play better.”

Almost all irons – cast and forged – can be bent at least 2 degrees in an upright or flat direction. Irons should be checked once per year to make sure the lie or loft has not changed through use. The process takes no more than 15 or 20 minutes.

Even new irons should be checked. Manufacturers have assembly tolerances, and occasionally the specs of one iron in a set will end up being too close to those of a consecutive iron.

Mitchell and his well-known lieutenant, golf professional Paul Bessler, teach three different club repair and fitting classes at the Mitchell Golf Equipment Institute, located at Orange County National Golf Club in Winter Garden, Fla.

OCN is best known as the site of the 2003 and 2005 PGA Tour Qualifying School, but it also is home to the Professional Golfers Career College and the Mitchell Institute.

One of the Mitchell classes, intended for club repair technicians, covers every aspect of golf club assembly and repair. It lasts three days. Another two-day class focuses strictly on golf club fitting. The third class teaches the frequency tuning process associated with True Temper’s Gold family of shafts, including the new Black Gold iron shaft. Those who complete the three-day class become certified Gold fitters.

Mitchell, 62, grew up caddying at The Country Club of Jackson (Mich.) and turned pro when he was 19. Before starting Mitchell Golf, he was director of golf at Bonaventure Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Bessler also has lofty credentials. In 1993, he was named the first clubmaker of the year by the Professional Clubmakers Society.

Both are perfectionists. Both are experts at the task of bending golf clubs, which is something of an art form when viewed from the perspective of modern golfers who want clubs with a precise, functional fit.










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