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Measured success

Steve Flesch is a 2007 PGA Tour winner. Steve Flesch is a talker – who, when he stops being a PGA Tour winner, will be a perfect fit for any reality show, variety show or game show the Golf Channel can concoct (may I suggest, “Quick Fixes: Pimp my sand wedge”). Steve Flesch is a tinkerer who once mused: “I want 10 more yards. It may be in that (fitness) trailer, but this (equipment) trailer is more fun than that one. Too much blood, sweat and tears over there.”

Truth is, there was no need to tell Flesch that for a player of his caliber the technology magic found in the half dozen Tour equipment vans has all but dried up. Sure, the top players can fine tune their gear to pick up an extra yard here, a GIR there, but the huge distance gains players once enjoyed have been limited by years of perfecting and R&D.

For everyday “Schmoes” like you and me, however, the magic of the equipment van beckons like some sort of 460 cc siren.

I watch Tour players of every ilk wear a path from the practice range to the equipment vans every week in search of something more, so I decided to see for myself what all the high-tech fuss was about.

It’s the type of quest that drew me to Walt Disney World Resort during Florida’s monsoon season last week to Hot Stix Golf’s new East Coast outpost.

The theory is simple. The Hot Stix eggheads measure your swing – a process they call capturing a player’s swing DNA – and match your action, however octopus like, with the perfect club head, shaft and golf ball.

Yet in practice, the 90-minute “woods fitting” session – Hot Stix also has programs to upgrade your irons and putter, but let’s deal with one problem at a time – is as eye opening as it is beneficial.

“We don’t want any clubs in your bag you can’t use,” said Steve Grosz, a longtime Midwest club pro who handles the fittings at Hot Stix’s Disney facility. “Once you get a guy dialed in without him having to make any compensations it unlocks him and allows him to make a good, balanced swing.”

That’s all well and good, but for a self-proclaimed bunter, the golf public’s obsession with distance has always seemed to be a misguided pursuit. Besides, my short game – which one occasional playing partner once jabbed begins at the tee box – has always been my strength.

Yet between frequent down pours on an isolated corner of the Osprey Ridge practice range, the pounder trapped deep within this plodder’s body was set free.

Using something called a Vector Launch Monitor, Hot Stix fitters test a player’s launch angle, ball spin, club head speed and side spin. Grosz and his crew then suggest a half dozen or so different driver-shaft combinations and, like magic, a “Punching Judie” can pick up an amazing amount of distance without the aid of HGH, a helping wind or Kevlar fairways.

For those of us who have subscribed to the “feels good, looks good” model of club fitting, Vector Launch Monitor doesn’t lie. Nor does Vector Launch Monitor have any interest in maintaining a player’s ego.

Old driver data: club head speed 81 mph, 176 yard carry (average). New driver data: club head speed 90 mph, 212 yard carry. While those numbers won’t qualify your lab rat here for the Pinnacle Long Drive circuit, it is a marked improvement over the small-ball game we’re used to.

“We normally don’t teach during one of our fittings, but sometimes you can’t help but help someone out if you see something,” said Grosz, obviously resisting the urge to right my over-the-top, across-the-line, out-of-sync action.

A word of warning. Much like Flesch and his Tour brethren have discovered, there are no quick fixes in golf. A drive that flies an additional 30 yards into the trees is still in the trees. But finding the right combination of driver, fairway woods, irons and putter at least narrows the list of excuses.

Hot Stix fitters suggest the right ball for you to use (mine was wrong), the correct grip size (wrong) and the perfect fairway/utility wood combination (wrong). Hot Stix fitters are also not interested in fitting players into a particular make or model. During my session, I hit six different models of driver, including one I had never even heard of before.

“Typically, if a person comes in and gets a whole new set of clubs with us he rarely goes away with all of one brand,” Grosz said. “He’s usually got a pretty diverse collection when he leaves.”

For $200 (”The Works” includes woods, irons and putter fitting and cost $475), a player who wouldn’t blink at a $350 price tag on the latest driver if he thought it would help him carry the water on No. 18 can find equipment nirvana.

Or, if you subscribe to the Steve Flesch philosophy of game improvement, one can at least eschew the fitness trailer for the friendlier confines of the equipment trailer.

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