Club-fitting series: Importance of being fitted

TaylorMade is about to dramatically expand its network of Performance Labs, with a goal of opening 24 facilities with company-approved fitters in the next two years.

TaylorMade is about to dramatically expand its network of Performance Labs, with a goal of opening 24 facilities with company-approved fitters in the next two years.

Why should all golfers be professionally fit for their golf clubs?

Because fitting is the No. 1 fundamental for providing consistency throughout a set of clubs.

Some golfers produce a workable set of clubs through mixing and matching. At the expense of considerable time and perseverance, they hit many different clubs, always looking for a certain feel or trajectory.

Modern fitting is much easier and more effective. With today’s technology, including sophisticated launch monitors that track and measure a ball throughout its flight, it is possible to identify a favorite club and dynamically match it with every other club in the set.

Customized clubs are in. Off-the-shelf clubs, a thing of the past for serious golfers, are out.

Some skilled players believe they don’t need updated fitting. When clubmaker Lynn Griffin of Columbia, S.C., asked PGA Tour player D.J. Trahan when he last went through a fitting, the 30-year-old Trahan had a quick answer: when he was in college at Clemson.

Yet many top players have discovered that a fitting can provide a more uniform and predictable distance gap between clubs. Because all shafts are precisely matched to perform in the same manner, dispersion often improves as well.

In 2011, the largest equipment manufacturers are placing major emphasis on club fitting and ball fitting.

At the PGA Merchandise Show in January, Titleist conducted seminars for golf professionals and retailers, with much of the content focused on how to find the best golf ball for each golfer.

As Titleist senior vice president Bill Morgan patiently explained the design and construction of the new Pro V1 and Pro V1x for 2011, the Titleist message was clear: Dedicated golfers need to find the ball that fits their needs around the green. Accurate and consistent wedge play – including chipping, pitching and sand play – is mission No. 1 in choosing a ball.

Of course, many golfers will not buy a ball unless other criteria, such as distance and trajectory, are met. Ball fitting goes hand-in-hand with club fitting.

TaylorMade is about to dramatically expand its network of Performance Labs, with a goal of opening 24 facilities with company-approved fitters in the next two years.

“We want to reconnect with consumers,” said TaylorMade’s Todd Fraser, who is in charge of the Performance Lab initiative. “The big job is getting them in here. Once they go through the experience, they’re blown away. We convert 94 percent (of the people) into sales.”

Three-dimensional motion capture is the foundation of the TaylorMade system, called MAT-T (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade).

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Courtesy photo

Ping has developed a proprietary software program named nFlight that streamlines the fitting process and displays fitting data with colorful graphics.

Ping has developed a proprietary software program named nFlight that streamlines the fitting process and displays fitting data with colorful graphics.

“I use it every day,” said Bill Iseri, who fits golfers at Ping headquarters in Phoenix. “It’s really amazing. With nFlight, it’s really hard not to get the right specifications when we do our due diligence.”

What nFlight does best is continually recommend alternatives, based on the swings made by a golfer.

At Nike, lead designer Tom Stites and his team have produced one of the most diverse product collections in golf – two complete families of clubs (VR and SQ) that include everything from forged blades (VR Pro Blades) to perhaps the most complex multi-material iron in golf (SQ MachSpeed).

After previously relying on Bridgestone for production of its golf balls, Nike has its new ball, the 20XI, manufactured at a facility in China that makes only Nike balls.

Along with establishing its own identity in golf equipment, Nike is trying to do the same with fitting. Its network of golf professionals and fitters (called the Swoosh staff) numbers more than 1,200.

“We want to educate as many golfers as we can,” said Gidge Moody, director of product marketing for Nike Golf. “We want them to know as much as possible about our clubs and balls. And we want them to know we can fit them perfectly based on their golf swings.”

Adjustable clubs are now omnipresent, and modern fitters must be prepared to explain exactly how the different adjustments really work and what they accomplish.

Titleist, TaylorMade and Nike have made substantial advances in adjustable clubs, and the trend is expected to keep growing.

“There are a lot of clever engineers in this industry,” said Chris McGinley, Titleist vice president of golf club marketing, “and this (Titleist’s SureFit system) is a once-every-10-year product. It’s that important for golfers.”

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Courtesy photo

Callaway experts say that there are two myths: First, less loft equals more distance. Second, going to a softer shaft flex will increase distance.

Two of the most experienced individuals in the golf-equipment arena are Randy Peterson, Callaway’s director of fitting and instruction, and Michael Vrska, director of product development at Adams.

Peterson outlined two myths:

First, less loft equals more distance.

“Absolutely not true,” Peterson said. “This is why golf needs fitting experts, to expose golfers to the truth about their golf equipment.”

Second, going to a softer shaft flex will increase distance.

“It isn’t gonna happen,” Peterson said. “We share the (launch monitor) data with golfers, and it’s pretty compelling.

“(We don’t) try to do much with the shaft to change ball flight. We do it with the clubhead.”

This is where different models, some with maximum forgiveness but less workability, become really important for golfers of different abilities.

Vrska often focuses on the ramifications of improper lie angle.

“With the wrong lie angle, the club might feel funny going through the turf. Or a golfer might get a push or pull on what feels like a good swing. I would immediately look at lie angle,” Vrska said.

“That goes for hybrids as well as irons. All amateurs should be playing hybrids, period. So it makes sense that fitting them is really, really important.”

Vrska also discussed misconceptions about steel vs. graphite iron shafts.

“The old saying that graphite is for distance and steel is for accuracy is just bunk,” he said. “Graphite shafts are just marvelous today. They are very consistent from shaft to shaft, very repeatable. A good fitter can figure out whether a golfer should be

playing steel or graphite. Some golfers are longer with steel, by the way.”

Even though fitting remains a mystery to some players, the overall message is clear: Golfers can benefit tremendously from proper fitting. There is no substitute for using clubs that fit your swing.

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