Are you a Jackdaw? Collecting shiny new objects to decorate your bag?
By Tim Horan on 4/7/14
oober Tim Horan has gone through both professional and trial-and-error club-fitting — and we hope you find his story as intriguing as we did. Enjoy!

I have the greatest respect for any club-fitter, as I do for veterinary surgeons, far more respect for them than, say, golf shop salesmen (I will come back to this later) and doctors, respectively.

A veterinary surgeon cannot ask his patient what is wrong and relies on experience and observation to prescribe a cure. Similarly, a club-fitter cannot feel what the golfer is feeling; he can only suggest options, get feedback from the golfer, and observe the results.

A few years ago, I went through a very thorough club-fitting programme with a proper club-fitter.

I say a "proper club-fitter" advisedly, as I fear the custom fitting offered by golf shops and some club professionals falls far short of giving us mortals what we need from that process. A golf "technician," shall we say, armed with a Trackman and a handful of heads and a sack full of shafts, does not a club-fitter make.

My club-fitter was far from being a salesman; he first asked me what I wanted to achieve from the process. But before I could answer, he said "if it is shiny new toys you can get them from American Golf in town, they won't cost you any less and, with luck, one club in the set may suit your game."

The entire club-fitting process taught me a lot about my swing and about the intricacies of fitting and balancing sets of clubs. I have been building my own clubs for about three years now; I know my own swing very well and, through trial and error, I know what works for me. I have done some repairs and re-shafting for a few mates at the club — but I do not feel qualified to advise anyone on equipment changes.

Trackman numbers and results-based data, however novel to us mortals, will only ever be of real benefit to low handicappers, professionals, and tour players with truly repeatable swings.
It is of no use whatsoever to a 28-handicapper with an erratic tempo, hip-sway, varying angles of attack with each shot, fat and thinned shots, and all manner of miss-hits and the occasional pure strikes.

It might sound as if I am advocating that club golfers should not bother with custom fitting. In a way, I am — because the custom-fitting that is on offer from golf shops and pro shops tied to a club manufacturer is geared to selling you their clubs with little desire to see your golf improve. All that is likely to be achieved for higher handicappers is for one club to be the right length and flex, around which a set is built to a standard formula.

That single club, with its component head and interchangeable shaft, also will have been predetermined when the custom kit was put together to achieve, for example, a D2 swing-weight.

I am not saying that results-oriented data derived from Trackman or other similar devices are not valid. They are — and they should be an aid to the club-fitter to speed up the process of finding what works and what doesn't for the client, but this should be just a starting point.

For a beginner, my advice would be to borrow a set of clubs, or hire some at the practice range. Make sure you enjoy the game before purchasing a set of clubs. Take a few lessons with a club pro and ask him what clubs you should buy. He will be able to get you the right clubs, shaft, lies and grip sizes for your physique. He will be able to "future-proof" your purchase by judging your potential swing speed and athleticism.

When I started archery many years ago, I had some pretty ancient equipment, equipment that I was embarrassed to take anywhere but the home field. I was told by the armourer that, old as my equipment was, with mismatched arrows and a dodgy pressure button, I would never be able to out-perform that equipment. In other words, the equipment that I had would get me through the learning stages and take me through to competition standard. If my technique was sound, there was no reason why I could not compete at the highest level with that old and miss-matched equipment.
The analogy is clear — and is equally applicable to golf equipment. You can play good golf with serviceable equipment.

I am going to shoe-horn another archery analogy in here: If an archer can loose three arrows and group them anywhere on the boss, to get those arrows in the gold all he has to do is to move his sights.

Again, the analogy is clear, if a golfer has a sound and repeatable swing and he gets the same result over and over. (The ball flight is too high, too low, always pushed right, or pulled left, deep divots, etc.) Once you have grooved a repeatable swing, only then might you find that tweaking lies, building up grips, or adjusting shaft-lengths will pay dividends.

That may be the time to see a proper club-fitter. Not to replace the clubs and start-over that process, but to tweak — even re-shaft — your present clubs for tightening up dispersion patterns.

I am going to pose a few questions here:
  1. Is there a club in your set that you are not happy with, it never feels right, and/or most of your bad shots come from that club?

  2. On the flip side, is there a club in your bag that is your best club — your go to club that you can rely on?

  3. Consider either side of these clubs. For example, let's assume that your best club is a seven iron. Thinking about your six and five irons, or eight and nine irons, are you experiencing a gradual deterioration away from that club towards your least favourite club?

What may be happening here is that the swing-weight for the mid-irons may be right for you, but you may need a different swing weight for the longer or shorter irons. An off-the-rack or typical custom-fit set will not cater for this. Only a proper club fitter will be able to get that detail into your set make-up.

I have built three sets for myself:
  • The first has a constant D2 swing-weight across the set.

  • Another has two-club stepped-but-progressive swing-weights. (The 3- and 4-iron are D0, the 5- and 6-iron are D1, and so on.)

  • The third set has a truly progressive swing-weight, starting with D0 on the 3-iron and finishing at D6 for the lob wedge.
The truly progressive set has proved to be a "light bulb moment" for me — and for the time being my tinkering will cease.

In conclusion: Support your club pro! He will do far more for your golf than any salesman. He will have your best interests at heart. After all, you may see him each time you play — and he will not wish to leave you without improvement. His reputation is at stake.

When you have a repeatable swing, take that to a proper club fitter and let him do his job. If you get the right guy, his interest will also be to improve your golf - not to sell you clubs. He also has a reputation to protect.

This column was written by Tim Horan, a reader / follower / fellow oober. The opinions stated above are 100% his and do not necessarily reflect those of oobgolf in any way. Enjoy! And remember, he's ready for your feedback.

Have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Twitter, Alejandro Escobedo

[ comments ]
jfurr says:
Thanks for the story, Tim. I agree that some of these "fittings" are simply pressure sales situations. I myself was jacked in one and will not do that again.
jpjeffery says:
Well, I'm certainly in the category of not having a repeatable enough swing to feel like I'd benefit from club fitting. But here's a little story. One day when I went for a lesson with my only golf teacher I was early, so I was chatting to the golf pro of the club about fitting and he said that you can fit an existing set of clubs. At a following lesson I asked my teacher about fitting and he denied that you could do such a thing!

And these two guys are old pals!
SpaceMaNy0 says:
Funny, its taken our 'pro' 3 days to grip a club....
Torleif Sorenson says:
Tim, thanks for an excellent column — you have made me rethink the custom-fitting process and confirmed a few suspicions I had already!
bkuehn1952 says:
Good read. Gave some things to think about. Thanks!
onedollarwed says:
I appreciate the analogies, and have loosed a few and lost a few myself! Though... I prefer musical analogies. A great musician can make music on any instrument. A beginner should get in for cheap and only upgrade when they can tell the difference. So many newbies go out and buy the setup that's supposed to have the best "tone," or whatever characteristic de jour is required. The music, the tone is in you! It's your touch, your feel. It's not on the rack.
I have served as guitar tech for many an axe-weilder, and help a beginner to get set up and playing more easily, that's pretty basic. If they borrow an instrument and get a little enlightened, they'll be moving up soon, and sellin' their soul to do it.
jpjeffery says:
As a fellow musician I would say that a beginner shouldn't get TOO cheap. Things are a little different now than when I started playing but still, better guitars are easier to play. Although I'm not advocating someone should buy a genuine Les Paul straight away...
elliottgaryusa says:
I have only been playing seriously since 2009. Used borrowed clubs that year. Bought a beginner Golden Bear set for $150 and used that for a year or two and then saw a club fitter. He made a huge difference for me. Especially with the longer clubs.

When I was experimenting with the wedges, I stopped in a big box golf store and hit some about 4 different brands into the simulator. I wasn't swinging very well (for me) that day but when I got to the Vokey wedges I started hitting them OK. The salesman saw that and started planting thought about how well I 'pured' that one. After a few minutes of his ooing and awing about how amazing I was, I handed the clubs back to him and left. He didn't understand, but then was just mad because I didn't buy into his ra-ra session or his clubs. I'm not an all-star golfer but I knew what was good for me. I went back to the club fitter for an honest evaluation.
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