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Custom Club Fitting - Why you really need it
Dominic Pedler

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 shaft?
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 the shaft.

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 properly harnessed].

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 my clubs?
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 the dramatic. '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 orientation. 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 characteristics.

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 65 shafts.

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 Epic hybrid.

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 Project X.

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.

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