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:
- Misses to the right with my driver.
- 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.
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.
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.