What Is Going On With Club Specs?
I wrote Friday about the "theft" of the versatile pitching wedge from almost all current and recent sets of irons, and maybe that triggered the question from Krishan P. about other specifications that have been gradually altered over the years. Specifically, his question was this:
"What is the average height for men considered by the manufacturers when deciding on the length of shafts for drivers and irons? As a person of 5'5" height, I am finding that new equipment is getting longer and more upright. Does that mean, never buy new equipment without getting fit each time?"Well, Krishnan, if you read here much, you will know that I am a huge fan of getting custom fit, so the answer to your question is a resounding "yes" – get fitted and know your specs. With the investment we make in our golf clubs, having them fitted to you is just a form of insurance that your investment will give you the return you are after. That said, we have seen a definite trend to longer and more upright clubs over the past twenty years or so, but many will tell you that it's a result of what comes out of the clubfitting community and effort, not the increase in size of the average golfer, though that might also be a factor.
Custom fit clubs have been around for many years. When I was a kid in the 60s, the Kenneth Smith brand defined that process. Wonder what happened to that company? Then Ping came out in the late 70s or early 80s with their static fitting guides, which were mostly built around the golfer’s static measurements, primarily wrist-to-floor. By the late 80s, the idea of “dynamic fitting” was catching steam, with companies like Henry Griffitts, Slazenger and a few others producing elaborate fitting systems that examined not just specifications for length and lie, but also shaft and flex.
The fitting side of the industry today is generally divided between the major brand-specific individual fitting carts and demo days, and the community of independent clubfitters who conduct a detailed fitting and then build your clubs from a variety of components right there in their shops. Whichever route you take, however, my experience is that many . . . if not most . . . of them will come up with a “long and upright” prescription for you.
My question is this: Is this trend to long and upright due to the increase in the average size of the golfer? Or to the fact that most average players have a distinct over-the-top move and a steeper downward swing path than is desirable? Or that the fitting process might have a built-in bias? Probably it’s a function of all three.
There is no question that we’re getting bigger and stronger with each generation. You can see it in all sports, on the PGA Tour and everywhere you look. In the 1960s, a “big” guy was over 6 feet tall and 185 pounds. In football, those guys were linemen then; now they are defensive backs. The great golfers of that era – from Hogan/Nelson to Palmer/Nicklaus/Watson, were 6’ or under. Now look at the average size of the PGA Tour player, and the “little guys” are almost non-existent. Most of today’s tour professionals are at least 5’11” and many are over 6’2-3”. Obviously the clubs have had to get a little longer and more upright to accommodate this shift in physiology.
But there is also no question that the typical golfer’s swing is not anywhere close to the tour professional’s move through impact. Because we lack their practiced and solid fundamentals, most recreational golfers are more right-hand dominant, which results in an over-the-top move of the clubhead at the ball, which produces a more downward angle of approach to the ball. A dynamic fitting will indicate a “long and upright” solution nearly every time. And for many golfers it will produce an immediate improvement in their ball flight. But beware. If you fit the fault, you might effectively prevent the cure. So, if you are intent on improving your swing mechanics, be wary of getting fit to something other than what you want.
And I’ll finish this diatribe with what I believe is a built-in bias to the dynamic fitting process. The fitting process requires impact tape on the bottom of the golf club, and we’re told that we need to make sure that we make a mark on that tape to give the fitter a reading for lie angle. My belief is that subconsciously, we make a slightly more descending downward angle at the ball to ensure that we do just that. I have no proof of this theory at all, but just believe it to be so.
I’ll close by noting that clubfittings for amateur golfers almost always produces more “extreme” specifications that those used by tour players of the same build. You don’t find too many irons on the PGA Tour, for example, that are more than ¾” long and 1-2* upright, but 1” long and 2-3* upright is very common based on what we come into contact with at EIDOLON. We always suggest the wedges be half way between that dynamic fitting for irons and “standard” specifications, to promote the lower-hands path that is crucial to good short game play. But that sounds like a follow up to this post.
See you guys Friday, and I invite you to share your fitting experience with all of us as an extension of this dialog. And congratulations, Krishan – you’ve won a new EIDOLON V-SOLE wedge!
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.
[ comments ]
Great article... Definitely goes along with the previous one about the lofts on irons these days. Distance seems to be the mantra today when building new sets. Stronger lofts, longer drivers. It's all to get those extra distances. Thing is, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. you only get a yard or 2 out of a longer shaft, and you'll most likely lose accuracy. I recently had my TM Tour burner cut down about 3/4 of an inch. I didn't notice a decrease in distance, but my accuracy with the club has improved drastically.
ya i dont get why people want the longer shafts? i grip down a lot and feel it helps my accuracy with in my game. I would rather be short and straight than long and crooked anyday.
kingwood hacker says:
birdieXris, i have an 07 burner that I had cut down from 45 1/2" to 44 1/2" and I have gained at least 15 yards, and have been hitting a lot more fairways.
First, I don't disagree that many amateurs with the same build as tour players can be fitted drastically different. I don't find any harm in this if the amateur isn't dedicated to improving his swing and fundamentals. An amateur that is the same size and build as Ernie Els but doesn't swing like Ernie and isn't dedicated to swinging like Ernie might as well be fit for the amateur's swing, not Ernie's. No reason for the amateur to keep digging the heel into the ground or whatever a standard club will do for him if a couple degrees bend can help him significantly.
Second, the USGA has taken a hold on spin with the new groove rule. Next up is to drastically change the clubhead rules to limit distance.
Third, I recommend what I believe TWG is calling a dynamic fitting process. Using sensors on the shaft to monitor how you load the shaft, quick flash photography to determine the spin rate you put on the ball, how you compress the ball, swing speed, and various other parameters will help you determine shaft and head combination. The numbers and graphs that come out on the computer might not mean much to you but you will start to understand the pattern. After multiple swings that feel good you will start to see what your common shaft load profile looks like, your common spin rate, etc. You then vary different parameters within the shaft and clubhead and you will start to see changes to those graphs, improvements and/or negative effects. For example: 2 shafts, same brand, same type, same frequency rating. One of the shafts I couldn't control but the other felt perfect. The difference: shaft I couldn't control was 10 grams lighter. The graphs showed that I couldn't load the lighter shaft consistently.
Every time fitting comes up as a topic it's the story of what came first, the chicken or the egg. I'm a firm believer that most new golfers would be better off learning the game and developing their swing with a standard set of clubs (length and lie). After they have sound swing fundamentals and a consistent swing should a golfer be fitted; otherwise they run the risk of the clubs fitted to a flawed swing hindering or slowing their progress. Getting fit too early may provide an easy fix in the short term yet be counterproductive in the long run.
It would be an interesting topic for a case study…
Bryan K says:
I'm in the class that unless a player is a single-digit handicap, being custom fit is a waste of time.
Matt F says:
I'm looking at getting custom fitted for my next set of irons. My current 7 iron is 37" long...years ago the standard length for a 7 iron was 36 1/4". I know grip down on all my clubs about an inch and do actually see a difference in accuracy. As with birdieXris and kingwood hacker, I had my 07 Burner cut down 1" a few weeks ago and have noticed that I don't slice the ball like I used to, I now, if anything, have a slight push which I can live with.
Recently for tight/short par 4s, I've been gripping down to the end of the grip on my driver (almost to where the shaft starts) rather than use my 3 wood. I have more confidence with the driver than the 3 wood and the driver has a much larger face (more forgiveness). I lose about 25 yards, but can hit a little fade virtually every time.
I've never been able to pick a standard set off the rack and play decent golf. I'm nearly 6'6 so custom fitting has always been part of the process for me with just about everything I buy, including golf clubs.
I have a standard length driver, but I choke down a little on it to feel more in control. Everything else I have is 1.5-2 inches longer depending on the club and few more degrees upright (I'm not sure of the number).
Good commentary, readers. I should share with you that even on modern drivers, a miss by 1/2" can cost 7-9% in distance, so that's why gripping down can actually give you MORE distance. A well hit driver at 43" will outdistance a 1/2-3/4" miss at 45" length. And the gain in direction control is dramatic. I just showed this to a buddy of mine yesterday afternoon during a pre-Member/Guest tune-up he wanted. Got his alignment right, and got him gripping down on the driver to keep it in the fairway. The improvement was immediate and dramatic.
And "bjohn13", I will tell you that a good fitting will improve the golf for nearly any golfer, even if the tweaks are minor. You don't have to be a single-digit for it to pay off.
@wedgeguy - Can tweaking the lie angle 1-2* really make a difference that an adjustment in your stance couldn't accomplish? Club lengths shouldn't be all that different since taller guys generally have longer arms. Isn't it about spine angle, maintaining that which is confortable and doesn't stress the back? I would guess that when anyone sets up to the ball on any given time and play that the spine angle is varying by the 1-2* that being made with the same clubhead. We're talking a few degrees! I don't think anyone can stand still without moving/swaying a degree or two let alone swing a golf club at 70+mph!!
Bryan K says:
Well...I was fitted for my driver over the winter, which was my first club fitting, and I'll be honest by saying that I didn't get anything out of it. The most important thing is that my swing wasn't even close to repeating. I could have swung the club 100 times without producing the same results twice. Now, after about 75 rounds with this year, I'm to the point where I might produce the same results five times out of ten. The unfortunate thing is that the five times out of ten that it repeats tend to all be in a row, but at least I know what I'm doing wrong when I miss. So perhaps my original ascertation that a single digit handicap was necessary for an accurate club fitting was a little strict, but I would think that at least a handicap in the teens would be necessary to get any kind of tangible results outside of height and shaft flex. I just don't see how a fitting could be accurate for someone without a repeating swing.
I think the different levels of fitting need to be addressed. My local shop offers fitting at no charge with a new set of clubs. It's not an in-depth analysis, and they don't do the adjustments "in-house". If they determine you need something different than what is in-stock, the specs are sent to the manufacturer, and the clubs are built to the required specs. I know they don't have all the "tech" stuff (trackman, etc). It's just a guy watching your swing, with a meter on the shaft, and a board to determine lie angle. I think this is probably the best step for a higher-handicap/weekend golfer (me). The big thing for me, is that it'll get the shaft flex right, and let me get the loft angles set right.
When I decided to get into golf a few years ago, I bought a very old used set(circa 1765 Wilsons) at Good Will for about $35. It was of course a very thin blade set. What became my go to club was the 5 iron. Last year I really got into golf and bought a modern set of cavity back clubs. I figured my 5 iron would remain my favorite iron but it did not, the 7 became my go to club and finally I set my old 5 next to my new 7 and discovered they are the same length! The new 7 is almost 2 inches longer than the old 7. Now that is some serious shaft growth!
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