Club-fitting series: The club-matching process

Tom Wishon (www.wishongolf.com) is focusing on a theory that also can be called progressive swingweighting. In general, the swingweight increases as the irons grow shorter (i.e., more head feel in the short irons and wedges).

Tom Wishon (www.wishongolf.com) is focusing on a theory that also can be called progressive swingweighting. In general, the swingweight increases as the irons grow shorter (i.e., more head feel in the short irons and wedges).

We hear variations of this theme all the time: “The USGA has introduced so many rules and regulations that golf companies no longer can be innovators.”

It isn’t true. Over the past decade or so, golf club manufacturers have hired a multitude of brilliant scientists and engineers whose mission is innovation.

With all this brainpower in golf, will swingweight become a thing of the past?

Perhaps. Over the history of golf, improvements in golf equipment at times have started with tiny clubmakers and spread throughout the industry. In today’s golf environment, swingweight is increasingly under fire from a few small golf companies.

Swingweight has been around since the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that custom clubmaker Kenneth Smith popularized the swingweight scale as we know it today. Little has changed in the past 60 years. Golf shafts are often matched by frequency, although swingweight remains the primary measurement of feel and balance in our golf clubs.

Frequency is a measurement to determine the stiffness in the butt section of a shaft. Frequency numbers are actually cycles per minute. A shaft with a frequency reading in the 290s is very stiff, while a shaft with a frequency reading in the high 270s or low 280s is considerably softer.

What’s in store for club matching? Here are four examples of how the process is evolving:

Tom Wishon / MOI matching

Wishon (www.wishongolf.com) is focusing on a theory that also can be called progressive swingweighting. In general, the swingweight increases as the irons grow shorter (i.e., more head feel in the short irons and wedges).

The concept here is that every club in the bag should require the same physical effort to swing. A swing with a long iron should not feel more difficult – or strenuous – than a swing with a short iron.

MOI, or moment of inertia, is a measurement of a club’s resistance to twisting. The higher the MOI, the less twisting, so Wishon’s task is to find the best MOI for each golfer.

Out of his business headquarters in Durango, Colo., Wishon sells his MOI Speed Match System for $500. It requires clubmakers to manually measure four specifications of a club, then use software to determine the club’s MOI.

If a golfer has a favorite club, that’s a good starting point for MOI matching (though thorough overall fitting is a crucial component of this and every other club-matching method).

“We want one swing for 13 clubs (excluding the putter),” Wishon says. “When a golfer swings, he should be able to close his eyes and say, ‘It feels the same to me.’ ”

Irons generally are built to one MOI, woods to another. That’s because length is such a huge component of the MOI of a golf club.

Adds Keith Chatham Jr., who operates PrecisionFit Golf (www.precisionfitgolf.com) in Kerrville, Texas, and was named 2006 International Clubmaker of the Year by the Professional Clubmakers’ Society, “Every club that comes out of my shop is MOI matched. I can still do frequency matching (measuring the vibration characteristics and stiffness of shafts) and combine it with MOI matching.”

Dick Weiss / Strategic shaft matching

Weiss is famous for his tense confrontation with the U.S. Golf Association back in 1999. Essentially he didn’t blink, and the USGA changed the Rules of Golf to allow Weiss and his company (Strategic Shaft Technologies, www.sstpure.com) to locate each shaft in its optimal performance position within a set of clubs (when glued into the clubhead).

In other words, turning the shaft in the clubhead can sometimes change the performance of the club. Weiss says he and his licensees have “pured” more than 1 million shafts. This includes the clubs of many touring professionals, including Padraig Harrington.

The SST process identifies minor shaft abnormalities, particularly a lack of uniform wall thickness in graphite shafts or the presence of welding seams in steel shafts.

In response to Weiss, shaft manufacturers not only have improved their manufacturing techniques in recent years, they have begun to test and mark their shafts for the optimal position.

Eldon Pipkin / Single-flex matching

Most irons are assembled with the use of frequency slope. A baseline frequency is established with the mid irons (for testing, a 6-iron often is used). The long irons end up with softer shafts, the short irons with firmer shafts.

Pipkin, founder of Eagle Flight Golf (www.eagleflightgolf.com) in Phoenix, says he has a better way. Although it’s not a new idea, Pipkin has become its biggest proponent: He uses the same shaft frequency, or shaft stiffness, for all the clubs in a set.

This is sometimes called flat-line frequency. In an iron set the long-iron shafts became stronger and the short-iron shafts become softer.

“We’ve been told for years that the short irons will balloon (using a softer shaft),” Pipkin says. “It’s not true. We prove it wrong with our fitting system every day.”

Mitch Voges, the former U.S. Amateur champion and founder of Max Out Golf, a custom golf club business in Sherman Oaks, Calif., is a doubter. “What you’re looking for is control,” Voges maintains. “You need stiffer shafts for more control in the short irons.”

Pipkin’s retort: “All I can say is that anybody who says that has not used our clubs. We can build a great set of clubs for a tour player or for an average golfer.”

David Lake / Single-length matching

When Tommy Armour Golf introduced its EQL clubs two decades ago, they were a huge flop. The theory was that all the woods were the same length (roughly that of a standard 5-wood) and all irons also were the same length (about that of a standard 6-iron).

This concept is not new, dating to the 1930s. Now, David Lake of 1 Iron Golf (www.1irongolf.com) has become its biggest champion.

“All you have to do is master one swing,” says Lake, located in Perrysburg, Ohio. “All the clubs are the same length, the clubheads are the same weight, and the shafts are the same flex.”

Skeptics claim that golfers have trouble adjusting to short irons and wedges with longer shafts, but Lake scoffs at such criticism. “The human body is amazing,” he says. “It can easily master this. With the exception of the loft angle, all the clubs are identical.”

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