Custom Club Fitting - Why you really need it
With dozens of grips, hundreds of heads and thousands of shafts making for literally millions of club combinations, more of us are turning to custom fitters to make sense of the equipment minefield. But will it really help our game or is a luxury we ill afford in these tough times?
Dominic Pedler plays Devil's Advocated when quizzing Simon Cooper of independent custom fit specialists, Precision Golf.
Dominic Pedler:Why should I go for custom fitting when, even
with 'off-the-shelf' clubs, I find I can adjust to them over time?
Simon Cooper: Off-the-shelf clubs are typically developed by
manufacturers so as to cover a broad spectrum of the market. But
modern technology, such as launch monitors, helps us appreciate
the individual nature of the golf swing, and how 'off-the-shelf' clubs
with standard shafts are unlikely to do justice to a particular golfer's
most naturally effective swing.
Yes, many golfers can adapt to inappropriate equipment but they
invariably do so by subconsciously compensating in ways that
compromise their swing and limit their potential.
We find that 90 per cent of golfers are playing either the wrong clubs
and shafts, or inappropriate specifications for their game.We can usually
convince them by demonstrating performance improvements,
such as distance gains – that can be as much as 30 yards.
DP: What's wrong with choosing golf clubs on the strength of magazine
or website tips – especially if the comments are from players
of my standard with whom I can identify?
SC: Just as there is no 'average pro', so there is no 'average 18
handicapper' – either in terms of physique, style of swing or, most
importantly, launch conditions. Different golfers – even if they seem
similar right down to identical ball speed – can require widely differing
club specifications. Out of every ten golfers we see, nine will
probably need non-standard lie angles; six will need non-standard
shaft lengths – maybe as much as two inches extra; while nine will
also be playing the wrong shaft flex – usually too stiff. That's quite
apart from the idiosyncrasies of head weight, shaft bend profile, grip
and swing weight specifications.
DP: OK, but what about mechanical robot testing that companies
and other testers adopt? Isn't this the ultimate objective advice?
SC: Even these tests are flawed when it comes to inferring what
clubs are right for any particular individual. While robots can hit golf
balls down the middle of a test fairway all day long, they do so only
because their launch conditions have first been carefully 'dialled-in'
to complement the characteristics of the club in question. Robots
can play an important role in testing perimeter-weighting, head construction,
dispersion and durability. But as they cannot 'feel' the golf
club or be sensitive to weight, shaft length and flex, they are inevitably
limited as a guide for real golfers. The scientists may claim
their robot 'swings like a human'. But which human? The chances
are it won't be you!
DP: Why is it that some modern drivers with a low centre of gravity
actually cause a ballooning flight that give many players less distance
than their old compact-headed models?
SC: Low CG is a great feature to help get the ball airborne, but
many golfers – especially those who hit with a downward strike –
will find the inevitable extra backspin they often generate is detrimental
to their distance. For stubbornly high levels of spin, many
will benefit from smaller head volume or another weighting configuration
that gets the CG closer to the face. It's no coincidence that more companies are now offering
smaller heads, like the Titleist 909D3 (440cc) and the first Taylor-
Made R9 (420cc) – or at least 460cc heads with smaller 'footprints
', like the Pro D version of the Cobra S9-1. Indeed, 'Tour'
models in which the CG is deliberately engineered higher up the
face for less spin and a more penetrating trajectory are not just
for tour players.
If you are one of the many golfers who gets as much distance
from their 3-wood as their driver, you could be a candidate.
DP: You say that most golfers are playing with flex that is too stiff.
What symptoms might suggest I need to switch to a more flexible
SC: The most obvious symptom is hitting the ball to the right [for
right-handers] as too stiff a flex does not encourage the head to
close sufficiently to a square at impact. This obviously aggravates
the problem for the many golfers who naturally push or slice due to
an underlying swing fault.
Also, players with too stiff a flex tend to unload the shaft too early
in the swing, lowering ball speed and distance. When we give them
a softer flex they often improve their timing and start hitting it longer
and straight – or even drawing it, which they may never have done
in their life!
Conversely, stronger players playing too weak a flex usually hit
too many hooks (as the face closes too quickly), often with too
high a ball flight (due to the shaft exaggerating the loft of the club,
dynamically, at impact). They, too, limit their distance potential by
having to slow their tempo to 'wait' for the head to catch up with
DP: How does shaft weight enter the fitting equation?
SC: Shaft weight is something to consider alongside flex as the two
go together to influence not only the strength of the shaft but also
the feedback or 'feel' which the player senses. Two shafts can be
built to the same static flex measurement but play dynamically different
due to the varying structural strengths of the shafts. Many
golfers use shafts that are too heavy and unforgiving, which usually
means they can hit great shots but are highly inconsistent.
The more publicized importance of shaft weight is its affect on
the club's total weight and hence the swing speed potential. A Major
point of playing a graphite shaft is to benefit from the reduction in
weight compared to, say, standard 120 gramme steel. A lighter
shaft should help you swing the club faster with, as rule of thumb,
every 4 mph of extra swing speed likely to translate into an extra 10
yards of distance.
DP: I already play a graphite shaft in my driver – is there really any
more distance to be gained from being fitted for another one?
SC: The amount of any extra swing speed will depend on how your
game reacts to the potential weight saving within the main graphite
range of 80g down to 45g. Some players can benefit from as little
as a 5g lighter shaft, while others may need 30g less to notice a
significant distance benefit. If your shaft is already at the technological
envelope of 45g you have nowhere to go on the weight front – but there might still be distance gains to be achieved from matching
swing weight, flex and bend profile more effectively to your swing.
But don't forget that the vagaries of custom fitting are such that
some players get more distance from a heavier shaft – even it
slightly reduces their swing speed This is down to the extra weight
– whether total weight or a heavier swing weight– allowing them to
be more consistent at impact, while a structurally stronger shaft
often reduces spin which is also a major determinant of distance.
DP: I thought swing weight only determined feel?
SC: Being a measure of how the weight is distributed throughout
the length of the club (from grip to head), swing weight does indeed
affect feel, but it can also affect distance and consistency – sometimes
dramatically – by influencing your swing tempo: the rhythm
and timing with which you hit the ball.
Generally speaking, slower swingers with smooth swings will
benefit from both a lighter shaft and a lighter swing weight [less of
the overall club weight accounted for by the head]; whereas faster
swingers with a more aggressive timing will benefit from a heavier
swing weight [a relatively heavy head to ensure their swing speed is
DP: How, in practice, do you fit for swing weight?
SC: Every golfer has a swing weight with which they feel most comfortable
and controlled swinging with, usually related to their power,
flexibility and timing. Most women typically need a lighter head than
most men but, again, we find a lot of variation. A thorough custom
fitter will give you the opportunity to experiment with different swing weights
and measure the resulting launch conditions on a launch
monitor such as TrackMan.
We start at mid B swing weight [very light] and go all the way up to
mid E. Most players are clustered between C5 and D5 but others
can benefit from being at the extremes. Indeed, the limitations of
swing weight are shown by the fact that, as you lengthen shafts
(which we do for an increasing number of players as new generations
get taller but length standards remain the same), conventional
swing weight scales become obsolete.We therefore have to establish
the right specification by working closely with the player.
DP: How does the 'bend profile' of a shaft differ from the flex?
SC:At the simplest level, the nominal flex is the simple letter assigned
by the manufacturer (i.e. Regular, Stiff, X for Extra Stiff, etc). But, in
practice, this is almost useless for effective club fitting as there is no
standardization of flex –meaning that one company's Stiff may be
(and often is) equivalent to another company's Regular.
Custom fitters compare shafts by first measuring flex according to
units of frequency, such as cycles-per-minute, and also understanding
how companies now make shafts within a given flex category
with differing bending characteristics along their lengths.
For example, you might have two Stiff shafts from the same company
but one might be especially designed to have a more flexible tip
section, and the other a more flexible mid or grip section. In this way,
bend profile allows us to select shafts of a given flex according to
various feel, kick point and torque characteristics that can influence
trajectory, spin and ball flight.
DP: How might a different bend profile affect my game?
SC: It depends not just on your swing speed but your style of swing –
in particular the way in which you load and unload the shaft during
the swing. For example, golfers who maintain their acceleration well
towards impact often require a firmer tip section to lower the trajectory
and reduce spin, thereby preventing the ball from ballooning.
This is another important area where an experienced custom fitter
can optimise a player's energy transfer from clubface to ball and
hence improve his carry and overall distance.
Yes, some manufacturers now have computer programmes to
help golfers select shafts based on swing speed, but the individual
nature of the swing means that they are only a rough guide to optimising
your ball flight. This is why so many tour pros keep changing
their shafts so regularly, searching for the ultimate shaft for
their swing (which itself can change subtly over time).
DP: Should I be switching to graphite shafts in my irons?
SC: Golfers can switch to graphite shafts for various reasons relating
to 'dead weight' or total weight. Once again, these are the potential
swing speed benefits from the lighter material and/or the
improved dynamic release at impact. Even if graphite doesn't improve
your swing speed there's the lower 'heft' factor from swinging
a lighter club. Less strong golfers, and older or less flexible players
who get tired on the back nine, will notice the difference;
while graphite also offers the vibration-dampening benefits for
those prone to injuries.
DP: Why do so few pros play graphite-shafted irons?
SC: Traditionally, better players have not required the lightweight
benefits, while excessively high torque levels in early graphite
shafts (and in today's low-quality offerings) gave the material a reputation
for poor control. While attitudes are rapidly changing with
the advent of high-quality graphite (with torque as low as 2 degrees)
there remains the issue of feel for some players.
Meanwhile, pros who require heavier graphite of over 80
grammes often find that the extra amount of the complex material
within the shaft construction offers less feedback than, say, a lightweight
steel shaft whose thinner structure provides more kick and
feel. Indeed, lightweight steel can also be an excellent solution for
many players, especially those who require longer-than-standard
shafts but find that, in standard steel, the total weight becomes
harder to swing as efficiently.
DP: How important is the choice of grip?
SC: The correct grip size is very important to ensure the player's
fingers 'fill out' properly so as to require less pressure to maintain
control of the club. This will also promote a more natural timing and
release of each shot.
The base etching of the grip also influences the way the hands
are connected to the surface of the grip, with certain patterns suiting
particular players due to variations in skin type and feel. The
sharper-edged base patterns of the Lamkins are more aggressive
and tend to “grip” the hands, whereas the smoother Golf Pride
base pattern has a softer, tackier feel.
Also, the variety of interior diameters (as denoted by the M58
and M60 standards) means grips have to be considered carefully in
conjunction with shafts which themselves have different thicknesses.
Creating a consistent outer grip size for the player throughout
a set is easier said than done.
DP: Finally, what is shaft 'Pureing' and should I be considering it for
SC: Not to be confused with frequency matching, which ensures
consistent flex performance throughout a set, shaft 'Pureing' is a
computerised procedure for securing the most consistent performance
from a single shaft by minimising the random oscillations
which inevitably occur during the golf swing. This is due to the almost
impossibility of manufacturing a perfectly symmetrical shaft;
meaning that, in reality, every golf shaft is subject – to some extent
– to performance inconsistencies ranging from the very subtle to
'Pureing' involves measuring the frequency variation of each
shaft around its horizontal and vertical axis and carefully aligning
the shaft in the clubhead very precisely at the point of its most stable
However, it is not a substitute for the correct fitting of shaft flex,
bend profile and weight, which all remain essential stages of the
custom-fitting process. But Pureing does reassure you that the
shaft will perform in the way for which it was selected and in a more
predictable and repeatable manner – especially in the powerful
transition from backswing to downswing.
For many pros and equipment perfectionists of all standards it is
the icing on the cake in a complete custom-fitting makeover, dispelling
any element of technical doubt, and leaving them free to
focus exclusively on their swing.
SIMON COOPER LISTS SOME OF HIS MOST
POPULAR GRIP SELECTIONS RECOMMENDED
TO HIS CUSTOM FITTING CLIENTS.
Lamkin Sting Free Crossline Tour A Traditional Crossline style grip but with a distinctive layer of
Kevlar which absorbs vibration. Especially good for players
with wrist or elbow injuries, or arthritis.
Golf Pride Multi Compound A good multi-material grip in which the top half is a light
cord for a more stable grip and the lower section a softer
compound that offers more feel and feedback. One of the
very few grips to combine successfully these two chief grip
Golf Pride BCT This new “Brushed Cord Technology” has replaced the standard
Tour Velvet Cord with a less firm-feeling corded design.
The more subtle cord structure still reduces the twisting in
the grip but there is now a lot more feel of the base rubber
over the original models, which makes them less harsh.
Winn Pistol Putter grip With their soft, tacky outer-layer the Winn grips are very
popular – particularly for putters given how the texture
seems to enhance the feel for this particular club. The flat fronted
‘Pistol’ design is the most requested shape, while the
‘Advanced Integration Technology’ combines a variety of textures
and colours within the same grip.
SIMON COOPER SELECTS 10 POPULAR CUSTOM-FIT SHAFTS AND PROVIDES AN INSIGHT INTO THE TYPE OF SWINGS
THEY SUIT, ALONG WITH THE SOME COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVES IN TERMS OF BEND PROFILE.
Mitsubishi Fubuki 73 A very stable, 70-73g driver shaft for the
better, more aggressive player requiring a
mid-launch and lower-spin profile. Often
considered alongside the Aldila Voodoo,
Oban Mach4, Matrix FM2 and Fujikura
Rombax Z series.
Aldila VS Proto 60 A mid- to low-spin, 62-65g driver shaft
suited to players with a solid but less harsh
swing, looking for a lower-spin flight but
without losing too much feel. Often considered
alongside the Mitsubishi Fubuki 63,
Accra XC65 and Grafalloy Prolaunch Red
Oban Revenge 5 A mid- to higher-launch and mid-spin, 58-
60g driver shaft, ideal for a smooth swinger
for whom getting the ball ‘up and out’ is the
key. Often considered alongside the Accra
T50, Fujikura Speeder 569, Graphite Design
YS-5+ and Matrix X Con-5.
Roddio Pentacross 8-WA A lower-launch, lower-spin 85g shaft which
works well in fairway woods for a strong
player looking for a penetrating flight without
losing feedback (as most other shafts at this
weight feel much tighter). Often considered
alongside the Fujikura Motore F1 75, Mitsubishi
Javln Fx M8 and Aldila VS Proto 80.
Accra Axiv XT60 A mid-launch, mid-spin 66-68g shaft with
plenty of kick and feel throughout its length.
Recommended as a mid-weight driver (or
lighter-weight fairway wood) shaft for
tempo-based players looking for a responsive,
softer-flighted design. Often considered
alongside the UST Axiv Core Tour Black 69,
Aldila DVS 70, Graphite Design YS-6+ FW
and Matrix Code 7.
Matrix Altus Hybrid This is a great mid-launch, lower-spin 80-
85g shaft that feels tighter and more ‘ironlike’
for the more aggressive player needing
to control spin without smothering launch.
Often considered alongside the Oban Revenge
8, Accra XH85 Tour Launch, Grafalloy
Mitsubishi JavlnFx Mh7 One of the very few lighter (70-75g) hybrid
shafts with a strong flight and stable
feel. Great for a player looking to remedy
a hybrid club that flies too high and with
too much spin. Our favourite hybrid shaft
at this weight.
KBS Tour Steel The latest tour-weighted steel shaft offering
a mid-launch, low-spin flight but without the
harshness normally associated with this
weight. Great for the aggressive hitter looking
for stable flight and a decent feel from
the stiffer flexes. Also recommended in
softer flexes for smoother swingers needing
spin control but without the feeling they
have to ‘overwork’ the shaft. Often considered
alongside established steel favourites
such as True Temper Dynamic Gold and
Nippon NS Pro 950GH A high-quality lightweight steel shaft ideal
for the smoother swinger looking to let the
club do more of the work. At 95g it’s almost
down to the weight of graphite while
offering a smooth, responsive feel and a
mid- to high-launch profile. Often considered
alongside the KBS 90.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International.