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After Professional Golf: Why I Changed the Way I Test Equipment

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Even for a professional golfer, testing golf clubs can sometimes feel like a difficult task. If you keep an eye on the equipment golfers are using each week on the PGA Tour, you will notice it takes longer for certain players to switch into the newest models than others. They may put a new club in the bag for a few events, but then revert back. Think of Henrik Stenson and his seven-year-old Callaway 3 wood. New fairway woods may test better on a launch monitor, look great, and feel solid to him, but in competition it can be a different story.

I played collegiately for UCLA and then turned professional after, so I have always been lucky to have access to the latest golf equipment. Even with unlimited options, I always erred on the conservative side of switching clubs during my competitive career. Having to adjust to new courses every week, I felt like trying new equipment would overwhelm the task at hand, which was to play well. When new irons came out, I asked them to be built in the same makeup that I had before. It was the same with drivers. I would simply test the head on my gamer shaft, make sure it looked and felt great, and then I would have it built to my current specs. Years went by and I was still in the same shafts and specs even though many things had changed in the golf equipment landscape.

Most fitters and golfers agree that people can adapt to their equipment, and looking back, I can say that I did so with my clubs. I have always been a high-speed player, and I tended toward a higher ball flight with plenty of spin. As a result of that, the iron shafts I played continued to get stiffer and stiffer, and I used the stoutest driver shafts trimmed as much as 1.5 inches. I began to notice that under pressure, I struggled with two main things:

  1. Misses to the right with my driver.
  2. Partial shots with irons where I simply couldn’t feel the club load.

If I was having an off day, it was brutal to feel the club and control the face. I really had to go all out to load the club properly, and if I didn’t the club felt harsh. That harsh feeling became my norm, what I thought I liked, and what I compared things to.

golfwrx-4

Yep, I’ve hit each of these shafts on my shaft wall.

It was only after becoming a club fitter and running a club fitting and testing facility that I really started to test equipment at another level. I began personally testing all the products from golf equipment and shaft manufacturers to get a feel for what a player might sense in each product. I also want to see if the products were actually doing what the companies said they should do. That’s why when new irons are released, I will match specs across the board from all the brands so I can isolate the performance of the club heads.

In my personal testing process, I am demanding of the looks of a club, as many experienced golfers are. I really want impact to have a certain feel and for the ball flight to be precise. My miss is on the toe slightly, so when testing for myself I pay particular attention to how different heads perform on toe hits and how that changes launch, spin, and overall dispersion.

Once I start understanding how certain club heads perform, I run through a few different shaft combinations to see how things change. When I think I’ve found a winner, then I really dive into the shaft options. The variety and quality of shafts is now better than ever before, but they can by tricky to test and change because once a player finds a club that feels a certain way, they get used to it. That feel becomes the norm, and that norm is not necessarily what is best.

Since focusing on club fitting, I have also embraced modern technologies more than I did as a player. When I was competing full time, I used technology to occasionally check my ball flight metrics, but I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with numbers. I now realize how impactful and helpful technology can be in optimizing a set makeup. From Trackman to Foresight to GEARS, which I use at my facility, I believe embracing modern testing protocols and learning more about the cause and effect of ball flight can really help players. I personally saw it in my game.

There are things even the most experienced eye can sometime miss, and gathering some solid data on your game can really help you gain more confidence that your game and clubs are moving in the right direction. As a result of changing my testing protocols, I have gradually switched pretty much every specification in my set. I switched iron and wedge lofts, lie angle, and club length, as well as brand, weight and profile of all my shafts. None of it was necessarily done on purpose. It was the end result of doing more rigorous testing than ever before. I slowly started piecing together a new set makeup that not only improved my ball flight, but also improved and helped me achieve positions in my swing I always struggled to accomplish.

I also now realize that changing golf equipment is an ever-evolving process. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year I change a couple more specs in my set makeup if I am trying to achieve something different in my ball flight. Club heads and shafts are designed for different goals and made of different materials, and the launch and spin of the golf ball is ever changing. Equipment companies are constantly trying to improve performance, and I think it helps if golfers are open to the possibility of change. I never was while I was playing, and now that look back and I wish I was more open to the idea.

golfwrx-6

Gears is key to my fitting sessions, both in my personal testing and client fittings.

For golfers who like technology and equipment, it is certainly an exciting time. Gone are the club fitting days of just beating balls off mats and having someone watch the ball flight and check lie angles on a lie board. Technology should help a player understand why a certain product might produce a different ball fight. Will switching shafts change the angle of attack or loft I present at impact due to different amounts of deflection? Will changing a shaft profile alter the droop pattern and thus the lie angle and where the face points at impact? What causes certain players to experience a shaft as stout and the next player who swings slower to experience it as whippy? And does that feel make them swing a club differently?

Golf equipment innovation and our ability to more accurately measure performance will continue to improve, and this technology will only help coaches and fitters while helping golfers find more answers and improve. That’s why I believe one of the best things a golfer can do to improve their game is go put their equipment to the test. Measure your current set and its performance, and then try a few new options out there, ideally with the help of a knowledgeable and experienced fitter. It will give you a better understanding of what your patterns and tendencies are, and the end result will be more confidence. You’ll know if you have the best clubs for your game, and if you don’t, you’ll learn what your weaknesses are and what you can do to get the absolute best performance.

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Peter Campbell is a professional golfer and the head club fitter at the Gears Performance Center at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California. He competed collegiately at UCLA, and since then has played events on the PGA and Web.com tour, PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, as well as various mini tours. He currently works with players of all levels on their game as well as helping to understand their equipment better.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Deadeye

    Jul 27, 2017 at 11:15 am

    The ultimate tinkerer, Arnold Palmer. I wonder if he ever got fitted? Did well though.

  2. Bob Pegram

    Jul 27, 2017 at 1:33 am

    The ability to play well even when playing infrequently is a good indicator of how well your clubs fit. There shouldn’t be a need to practice uncomfortable or unnatural swing mechanics to play well.
    I experimented a lot with different specs in my own clubs. Working for a clubfitter and doing some of the fittings myself helped a lot. I became a good fitter. I still fit clubs and often see immediate improvement in my students.
    For my own use I finally ended up with a set WAY out of the norm – all very long and stiff. Now I play well without a lot of practice. I became more accurate and consistent. I don’t have to alter my basic swing at all to use the clubs. A little warm up and I am ready to play. They even eliminated my big miss.

  3. Bobalu

    Jul 26, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Great article- you nailed it. Keep up the good work!

  4. Golfandpuff

    Jul 26, 2017 at 11:15 am

    I would certainly enjoy the chance to delve into a club fitting world. If only there were a way for me to make it affordable! I also look at guys like Langer who don’t change much year after year vs. other big names that are always looking, testing, playing, new equipment. Is Freddie still hitting that r9?

    I did email a fancy place near me in Atlanta for a fitting and a few upfront questions. I never received a reply. I certainly appreciate articles like these as well as golf wrx for keeping me informed.

  5. Peter Campbell

    Jul 26, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Cant’t lie…Ive been on the site quite a few times. Great content on it!

  6. Tommy

    Jul 26, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Exactly…..time and money is the commodity in question here, not the endless options. Most barely have time to even play much less to spend that precious time in a fitting bay with someone who might not even know what they’re doing. If we could fly to Carlsbad, now that we know of SOMEONE who knows, and spend a couple grand for your time and upgrades, that would be great. What happens when we get home and find that we don’t feel comfortable with our new $$$$ setup? Very few swing as consistently as a former touring pro. It’s a real conundrum.

    • Peter Campbell

      Jul 26, 2017 at 11:48 am

      Thanks for the comment Tommy. It is tricky, equipment costs keep increasing every year it seems like. One company ups their price, then the rest follow suit. And there is no denying certain fitting and build shops have had a tendency to always push people into expensive aftermarket products even when not much gain is realized. Nobody wants to get fit for clubs then get a huge bill One comment i will make that you mentioned and we see almost daily is that the thought the average player isn’t consistent. We see quite the opposite a lot of the time. Even high handicap players, who have really inconsistent start lines and ball flights, have more consistent swings than they realize some of the time. Their path, aoa, impact locations, speed, while maybe not the best or desirable motion, is actually pretty consistent for many high handicap players. The one thing that isn’t, and is unfortunately the most important piece of the puzzle, is where the club face is in relation to the path. So there are many ways fitting wise to help a player achieve a more consistent face angle at impact, or at least help bias one direction. Hope that makes sense. Appreciate the read!

    • birdie

      Jul 26, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      i think a major misconception is how many amateurs think just because they don’t have a perfect repeatable swing that they don’t have repeatable features of their swing that would allow a fitter to best find equipment that suits them.

      whether its tempo, transition, release, or one of the many many aspects of the swing, even if you are high handicap and not hitting center of face consistently you are in fact making a similar swing. And even as you improve, your changes are probably less drastic than you might imagine.

  7. BigBoy

    Jul 25, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    It’s why i still play my 10yr old Orlimar 3 wood.

    • Lloyd

      Jul 25, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      … and I still play with my 20+ y.o. Powerbilt TPS 180cc 15º 3 wood… with a bore-thru steel shaft too.

    • Peter Campbell

      Jul 26, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      too funny you mention that. I occasionally bring in old school products to test against that brands newest release and see how they stack up. I brought in my old orlimar strong 3 wood to see how it does and will be testing it this week. I loved that thing. I personally still game a burner 2.0 driving iron i had built up years ago. A 3 iron bent really strong basically…I simply cant find anything that beats its numbers, let alone the confidence i have with it having relied on so many times in tournaments on tight tee shots.

  8. Anthony

    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    This is exactly what I have done for the past 17 years and have constantly worked with the tech (not when I was playing, like you) and found that my entire bag make up is completely different to when I was at the top of my game!!! This is a great article and many should take note and improve their game with all the tech possible to get the greater understanding of what actually works, not what they think works….
    Well done Peter.

  9. AJ

    Jul 25, 2017 at 10:34 am

    New equipment is fun and I know thats what WRX is all about, but I think people take their tinkering way too far. The difference between 1 product and 1000 others is so small it is actually more about how you we swinging during the test than what the clubs did. Golf is about consistency to shoot lower scores… so regularly changing variables will not improve consistentcy. Manufacturers want you to think their new products are game changers but really the only game changer is hard practice every day. You can shoot lower scores with the equipment in your bag now if you put the time into your game and take the doubt out of your “specs”. Adapt and evolve.

    • Someone

      Jul 25, 2017 at 10:47 am

      i think it’s a mix of the two. at some point you need to get fitted. and then play that equipment long enough, say at least 2-4 years before getting fitted for anything new.

    • Noob

      Jul 25, 2017 at 11:24 am

      AJ, did you not read any of the article? He said, he would build sets to the same specs all across the board (shaft, weight, flex, etc) so that the only variables would be the design-look of the head and materials used in it. Then, you know how each one performs according to how you swing, and can eliminate the head you didn’t like, etc. Yeah we can all adapt, but you can’t be adapting to every club in the club all the time and every shot, if every club in the bag were all different from each other and expecting great results. You should get dialed in to what works for your swing the best and have a whole set matched and built to that

      • The_Sad_Reality

        Jul 25, 2017 at 6:31 pm

        But the sad reality is that most of these fitters are NOT using science to fit golfers and are not truly building clubs to the same specs (as stated in the article). That’s because they are not using MOI measurements and they are not taking into account the weight distribution of the components across the build. They use trial-and-error and the resulting measurements in their fitting approach rather than hard science that eliminates the many variables that are introduced by the variation in golfers’ inconsistent swings. Today’s fitters can never be sure that they have actually fit a golfer with the most optimal setup. All they might be able to say is, of the equipment tested, that it was the build that produced the best numbers on that day. Be wary of fitters who are not versed in MOI (and MBI) and preach swingweight and use lie boards for lie angle adjustments.

      • Peter Campbell

        Jul 25, 2017 at 8:03 pm

        Hey Noob, appreciate the comment. It never hurts to test and see whats out there. So many different looks and feels, and of course Lots of marketing and hype, but it helps to truly do solid testing or fitting to see what is helping our game or not worth the time or money. Many times it may be the current set, then at least we now that!

    • AJ

      Jul 25, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      Not discounting a good fitting, He certainly does his dillegence to make testing fair. I posed the question why spend so much effort regularly testing everything when what you have can produce lower scores if you practice vs tinker. There is no holy grail of equipment and no one makes the same swing twice so what works slightly better today doesn’t tomorrow. Swings evolve so eliminate the variable of rapidly changing equipment. You are not gonna get another 50 yards or double your accuracy with a new stick. Familiarity develops feel. Same reason why gaming the same putter for a decade makes sense, the more you practice with it the more in tune you are with it.

      • Peter Campbell

        Jul 25, 2017 at 9:39 pm

        Completely agree with your point AJ. Once we know what setup works best, whether it is their current set or something different, putting time in to practice and play is crucial. Its tough to say it in an article, but i guess my point was to not be afraid to try to new things when the landscape changes. Such as just going and buying a new driver with your same specs. As the materials and golf balls change, simply staying in the same shaft or setup simply because it feels comfortable and good might not be the best idea. But i totally agree with what your saying, most players don’t need to be over thinking or over tinkering. There will always be certain players that love that aspect of the game, and thats fine, but for most players quality practice time cant be beaten to improve your scores. Thanks for the read and comments, much appreciated!

        • Noob

          Jul 25, 2017 at 11:39 pm

          But here we are, on WRX! A tinkerer’s paradise of tinkering information! So why not tinker? Tinker with it all till death. It’s never ending with so much stuff out there.

  10. Josh

    Jul 25, 2017 at 8:16 am

    $5000/yr in new golf equipment. Easy enough.

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Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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