Buying the right big stick: Do your homework, ask questions when buying a driver

Drivers such as the Cobra King F8 have adjustable weights that allow a fitter to fine-tune a golfer’s ball flight. Cobra King F8

Buying the right big stick: Do your homework, ask questions when buying a driver

Equipment

Buying the right big stick: Do your homework, ask questions when buying a driver

Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott are so good at driving that they could probably hit tee shots farther and straighter than you with a shovel. But several times a year they work with fitters and meticulously check their drivers to ensure a perfect match for their swing. These golfers, who practice for hours each week, demand that their drivers give them the best chance of hitting great shots.

Many recreational golfers, the ones who need the most help, forgo custom-fitting and buy a club off the rack or online and head to the course.

“Fitting is the most important part of buying a driver,” said Ryan Sawyer, the national sales and fitting manager for PXG. “Any driver that someone is playing, and it doesn’t matter the brand or the year that you put it in play, it should be evaluated. With technology evolving every year, it seems like there is something out there for every player that will benefit them.”

Know what you want

Before you schedule an appointment with a fitter, you should have a good idea of what you want. If you use a shot-tracking system such as Arccos or Game Golf and have access to stats on your game, bring your information to your fitting.

“Everybody is looking for more distance and accuracy,” said Mark Timms, the founder and CEO of Cool Clubs, an upscale custom-fitting company based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Still, I would say that about 75 percent are more interested in distance.”

If you want a driver that maximizes your distance and you consider a new driver an investment, do not settle for a driver fitting that does not involve a launch monitor. The days of eyeballing ball flight are long gone; launch monitors are plentiful and provide data that lets you and the fitter see the differences in performance between various head and shaft combinations.

“The industry is heavily relying on TrackMan and Foresight’s GC2,” said Jason Werner, who has been a custom fitter for nine years at The Kingdom, TaylorMade’s flagship testing facility in Carlsbad, Calif. “Those two have very reliable numbers, and when you put them next to each other, they are relatively similar. The main things that recreational players want to understand are the launch angle, the ball speed, the backspin rate, the peak height, the landing angle and the spin axis.”

If those terms are a little confusing, remember this: A driver fitting is not where you want to try an impress an expert by pretending to know everything. Ask questions, and if you don’t understand the answer you get, ask again. You’re the customer, and you don’t work with golf equipment every day, so there is no reason to be embarrassed.

Launch angle is measured in degrees and represents the vertical angle the ball takes as it leaves the clubface, and backspin rate is a measure of how fast the ball spins. Excessive backspin can make the ball go too high and balloon, robbing you of distance, while a lack of spin can cause the ball to fall out of the sky too quickly, which also decreases distance.

A good fitter will find the right club

Peak height, measured in feet, is the highest point on a shot’s trajectory. Landing angle, measured in degrees, indicates the vertical angle of descent for a shot. A good fitter will work with players to find the ideal combination of shot height and roll.

Typically, after learning about a player’s game and tendencies, and getting some baseline data using a golfer’s current driver, a fitter will make some general head and loft recommendations.

After hitting a new driver a few times, do not be surprised if the fitter tells you to try the same head with a different loft. Players who have never been custom fit tend to not have enough loft, and that can rob them of carry distance. To fine-tune performance, the first arrow a fitter will reach for in his or her quiver is loft.

“Different lofts will produce different launch angles and spin rates,” said Corey Newman, Callaway’s national manager of custom-fitting and training. “A fitter will use loft to dictate how the ball flies.”

If you don’t think a degree here or there makes a difference, think again.

“We don’t fit robots, but in testing conducted on robots where we can control things like hit locations and face angle, 1 degree of loft is roughly equal to about 300 rpm of spin,” said Newman. “For club golfers, we can see more than that based on how they hit the ball on the face.”

After the ideal head and loft have been established, many drivers have moveable weights that allow a fitter to tune to shot shape. For example, moving the weights in a club such as the Cobra King F8 shifts the center of gravity, which effects the launch angle and spin rate. So if a golfer needs more carry distance, putting the 12-gram weight that comes with the F8 in the back position will help, while positioning that same weight into the forward position can lower a tee shot and decrease spin.

Often, however, the final ball-flight adjustments are made by trying different shafts.

“A lot of it is feel based, which can be tough to measure,” Werner said. “But, ultimately, I’m looking for a weight and performance out of a shaft that feels good and syncs up well with the player’s swing. For example, if the launch angle is too high, I’m going to encourage the player to try lower-launching shafts. But a good fitter won’t cut himself off from other options. Low-launch shafts tend to feel stiff, and the player may not like that feel. That’s OK, because a good fitter can always make other changes to the club to, for example, lower a ball flight.”

Right head, shaft make difference

PXG’s Sawyer also notes that matching the right head with the right shaft can make a huge difference in performance. During a fitting, golfers should experiment with several types of shafts.

“Everybody should not be in a standard-length driver or even a longer driver,” he said. “Sometimes a shorter driver is something that helps people hit it more solidly on the face. That can let you tighten up your misses and keep the optimal ball flight and launch conditions.”

Getting pressured to buy a specific brand of driver is a sure sign that a fitter is focusing more on his wallet than your game. Cool Club’s Timms said that if you routinely get fit, you also want to be skeptical of numbers that seem too good to be true.

“You can jack up the percentages in simulators,” he said. “So, if you normally hit your driver 250 and then you go into a store, and now you are all of a sudden hitting it 300 or the machine is telling you that you’re hitting it considerably farther than you were hitting it … that’s a problem.”

Unscrupulous fitters are rare. Much more common are golfers who regret not working sooner with a custom-fitter. The experience is fun, enlightening and results in you walking out the door with a club that will help you play your best golf.  Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the Jan. 29, 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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