Golf club fitting could have negative effects

Golf customization is in, and that means club fitting is all the rage. I have gone through the process with a few major equipment makers, mostly in the line of duty as a golf writer, and watched dozens of other recreational players do the same. There are obvious benefits to a set of woods and irons made to your exacting specifications, but they do not always outweigh the occasional silliness of the ordeal.

Let’s start with what is perhaps the greatest problem with a proper club fitting, which is the use of video to observe and understand a golfer’s technique. The question is simple: Does anyone really want to know what his swing truly looks like?

The answer for me is an emphatic No!, largely because I long ago decided there were two things I never wanted to see myself doing on video tape, and one of them was trying to hit a golf ball. My primary fear is that a screening of such a mortifying exhibition easily could shatter whatever tenuous confidence I have in my game. It also could send me into a handicap death spiral that would not end until my USGA index of 5 free falls into the mid-20s.

Lest you think I am overreacting to the potential sight of my rather hideous golf swing on the big screen, consider a friend of mine who also happens to be a PGA club professional. He tells me he long ago eschewed the use of video in his teachings for fear his members would be so discouraged by what they saw that they would give up the game.

Tennis anyone?

Another concern with the golf swing on tape is whether any of us weekend amateurs are good enough - or possess the necessary time and dedication - to do anything about the flaws we discover. I assiduously avoid the range in favor of 18 holes with my friends, and the course is no place to work out the problems your club fitter has pointed out to you on tape. So, I simply stick with what I know, no matter how ugly it may be.

As anyone who has been through a club fitting knows, the process invariably involves a great deal of ball hitting. That, of course, is a good thing, but I often wonder how accurate a reading of our swings the equipment makers actually get. For example, on a recent trip to a company’s test center, I warmed up for an iron-fitting session with a launch monitor by striping a dozen or so 3-irons, each crisply hit and curving slightly right to left with a delectable baby draw.

But then I stepped up to the stall with the launch monitor, and suddenly I turned into David Duval, with balls going every which way but loose. The more I tried to concentrate, the worse I seemed to get. That prompted my fitter to remark that the 5-yard stretch between the place where I was hitting my warm-up shots to the area measured by the launch monitor was “the longest walk in golf.” And he tried to assuage my shattered ego by recounting the story of another golfer who needed 19 swings to come up with three that were good enough to use for the actual fitting. “And that was a week after she won the Nabisco.”

Of course, the best part of any club fitting is finally receiving the finished product, the shiny new woods and irons that usually appear with a personalized golf bag or rain suit and sundry accessories that make the day of arrival seem like Christmas.

Initially, the new toys feel very good. But whatever glow I have over sticks that fit me like a tattersail from Turnbull & Asser quickly disappears when I realize I have essentially eliminated any outside excuse for poor play. It can no longer be feasible to blame the clubs for a bad shot, or a bad round, and the necessity of truly facing the music of an occasionally horrid golf game can be a daunting task for someone so firmly entrenched in denial, and so quick to avoid personal responsibility for a thinned 6-iron or a toed drive.

Sometimes I think it would be better simply to buy off-the-rack.

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