Bubba exemplifies importance of club-fitting

Bubba Watson watches his shot from the rough off the 17th hole during the fourth round of the Masters.

Bubba Watson watches his shot from the rough off the 17th hole during the fourth round of the Masters.

The biggest and most important lesson about club-fitting revolves around individuality: Every golfer is a distinct individual with a distinct swing.

This means two golfers may hit the ball the same distance but still require significantly different club specifications.

There is not a better example of customized, personalized fitting than Masters champion Bubba Watson.

For starters, what’s up with Watson’s grips?

Matt Rollins, Ping’s PGA Tour rep, is the man who oversees Watson’s golf clubs. Furthermore, he personally installs all of Watson’s grips.

“I told him there are several of our people who can put on the grips,” Rollins said, “but he always wants me to do it. There’s a lot of trust there.”

So, believe it or not, here is the inside story on Bubba’s unusual grips: He plays Ping’s 703 Gold grip, which is a rubber grip made by Golf Pride. It is oversized by one-32nd of an inch. After that, his grip setup gets pretty weird.

On the top half of the shaft, Rollins installs 10 layers of tape. On the bottom half, he installs 12 layers. One complete layer of tape goes around all that.

How big is this grip? Huge. Many touring pros and most amateurs use just one wrap of tape underneath the grip; Watson has double-digit wraps.

To install the grip over the top of that mountain of tape, Rollins explained, “You have to make sure it’s good and wet (with grip solvent). Bubba used to play a full-cord grip, and they would split quite a bit when we tried to put them on. These rubber grips have some stretch to them, so usually there’s no problem.”

Furthermore, Watson uses a ribbed Reminder grip, which is designed to be placed at the bottom of the grip, in the 6 o’clock position.

Watson’s Reminder is set in the 8 o’clock position. He does this so that his clubhead will be open at address, because, according to Rollins, “the last thing in the world he wants to do is hook the ball on a regular shot.”

At Ping headquarters in Phoenix, a bag of Watson’s old clubs is on display. Visitors often pick up and waggle some of these clubs, invariably asking the receptionist, “Were these grips put on crooked?”

Well, no.

Watson uses a super-large grip for the same reason he uses a tilted Reminder. He has active hands, so generally he wants to slow them down. Everything he does with his grips is meant to inhibit a draw or hook.

How about Watson’s pink driver?

He switched from a Ping G15 driver to a Ping G20 driver in the middle of the 2011 season.

Watson’s G20 had a pink True Temper Bi-Matrix shaft from the beginning. He added the pink head this year.

Whatever Watson does with his driver, it seems to work out just fine. So far in 2012, he is leading the PGA Tour in average driving distance at 313.1 yards.

His driver has 8.5 on it as a loft designation, but the actual loft is closer to 7.5 degrees. Bubba has used the True Temper Grafalloy Bi-Matrix shaft for 10 years. With a bottom section of steel joined to an upper section of graphite, it is a very strong shaft. Once again, it addresses Watson’s concern about drawing the ball.

It’s not that Watson doesn’t hit hooks. He loves to work the ball in both directions, but his favored shot, particularly with a driver, is a power fade.

Rollins had played plenty of rounds with Watson at Estancia Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., and he reports that the Masters champ gets bored with straightforward golf. So he frequently announces that he will play with two clubs, normally a 4-iron and wedge. He even putts with one or both of those clubs.

“He shot a 73 one day,” Rollins said. “We were playing the next-to-back tees. He’s really amazing.”

More Watson club specs: His driver is 44.5 inches in length; his irons are one-half inch extra long; his swingweight is D3 Plus (between D3 and D4) for his Ping S59 irons and D4 for his G20 driver. His 64-degree lob wedge is bent to 63 degrees and has a D0 swingweight.

“He doesn’t like a heavy lob wedge,” Rollins said, “so we find the lightest head we can.”

Those S59 irons are a Watson staple. He has tried the S58, S57 and S56, but has always returned to the S59 because he likes the way he can maneuver the ball. After the PGA Tour adopted new groove regulations, Ping was forced to cast the S59 heads with no grooves, then mill the grooves one-by-one to meet the new standards.

“That really takes time,” Rollins said. “Those might be the most expensive clubs in golf.”

Rollins said he has stockpiled 10 to 15 sets of the S59 irons. All of them are left-handed.

Touring pro Ryan Moore came to Ping seeking a set of the S59s and was told, “We’ve got them, as long as you play left-handed.”

Despite his enormous clubhead speed, Watson has “never broken a driver head,” according to Rollins. “We’ve had other players break quite a few (this is somewhat common among PGA Tour players), but not Bubba.”

This might be Watson’s motto: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

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