Throughout my golf career, I have been fortunate to spend time with some of the best club fitters in the world. Before I became a full-time golf instructor, I was a Tour Rep for TrackMan, which had me traveling around the U.S. and beyond to top club fitters and golf professionals. Through that experience, combined with my own teaching and fitting background, I have come to understand the many mistakes that can be made during a club fitting.
This article is not meant as a criticism toward any club fitter or golf professional. I simply want to pass on what I’ve learned to GolfWRXers and the greater golf community to do my part to make sure golfers don’t end up with a set of clubs that are a detriment to their games (and their wallets). These are the 5 biggest mistakes in club fitting.
1. Using Face Tape
Face tape has been used in club fitting for a long time. It is extremely helpful in showing us where on the club face a golf ball was struck, and it helps us understand more about why the ball is flying the way it does. This is the only way I would ever recommend using tape on the face of a golf club.
If you are a club fitter or a golf professional trying to protect your golf club during a fitting, it’s fine to put tape on the top or bottom of a wood to protect it from sole wear or potential sky marks. It’s a grave mistake to use tape on the face when you’re evaluating ball flight and/or launch monitor numbers, however, and you can see why in the example below.
With the tape on his driver club face, this golfer had about 700 more rpm of spin and 14 yards less total distance. If you are a golf professional and you want to dial in your students, DO NOT use face tape when you’re evaluating ball flight. A good alternative to face tape is Dr. Scholls foot spray. It may sound a little strange, but it will show where the ball was struck and have little to no effect on the ball flight.
2. Assuming Optimal Launch and Spin are Uniform
This is something I hear quite a bit, even from golf equipment manufacturers. Not too long ago, many in the golf industry were in agreement that the optimal launch and spin for any golfer with a driver for maximum distance was a 17-degree launch angle with 1700 rpm of spin. This might be true in a bubble, but we as humans have thousands of different combinations of swings and speeds, making this guideline almost completely useless. Take a look at some numbers for two very different golfers below: Player A and Player B. I want you to consider what you think good launch and spin should be for both.
In this scenario, I think most would assume that Player A (a low-speed player) would need significantly more spin to be optimal than Player B (a high-speed player). The rule of thumb is that the slower a golfer swings, the more spin they need to keep the ball in the air for maximum distance. Using that guideline, however, you wouldn’t optimize either golfer.
In club fittings, everything hinges on the specific needs of the golfer in front of you. The three main player inputs that determine optimal launch and spin are:
- Club Head Speed
- Attack Angle
- Desired Trajectory
In choosing a desired trajectory, a golfer has three options. They can opt for a high trajectory for maximum carry distance, a low trajectory for the most roll out (and sometimes the most total distance, depending on the conditions of the courses they play), or a combination that balances the two (carry and total). For simplicity, let’s assume both of these golfers want to optimize for the combination of carry and total. Now, let’s take a look at the optimization chart for each player below.
Player A Optimized
As it turns out, Player B with 135 mph of club head speed needs more spin than Player A with 76 mph of club head speed. It goes against my instincts, too, but it’s true. The reason is the Attack Angle for each player.
- Player A is hitting 5-degrees up on the ball, so he is already launching the ball into the air. For that reason, he doesn’t need as much spin for optimal distance.
- Player B is hitting 3-degrees down on the ball, so he needs more more loft and more spin to keep the ball in the air for optimal distance.
3. Only Looking at Distance Gained
This is the biggest and most common mistake I see during fittings. Both golfers and fitters are guilty of focusing on the one shot that travels 8-10 yards further during a fitting, and because it has the most distance potential, they assume that it’s the best club. I will never tell anyone that distance isn’t important, but I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on it in both driver and iron fittings.
Dispersion is huge for playability, and I suggest fitters take the time to allow golfers to hit plenty of shots in fittings. This allows them to not only optimize for distance, but also for dispersion.
Golf equipment manufacturers have given us fantastic equipment that can makes it very easy to adjust ball flight. The ability we have to tweak weighting, face angle, and lie angle can be vital to our ability to create a tighter dispersion. If you’re fitting outside, however, I encourage all fitters to go beyond the flat, perfect lies of the driving range. Have golfers hit shots from different lies and locations, and get them out on the course if you can. By testing clubs for the shots golfers are most likely to encounter during a normal round of play, you’re going to gain a much better understanding of what club will actually perform best for them.
Above are the Trackman numbers for a highly skilled junior golfer during a driver fitting. He was carrying shots about 245 yards with a total distance of 260 yards, and the ball was flying very straight. In the fitting, we were able to narrow down his best options to two drivers. With one of them, he cracked the longest shot he hit all day: 251.5 yards in the air, rolling out to almost 280 yards.
With that driver, he also recorded his fastest ball speed and best total distance by about 8 yards. When we look at the full picture, however, we will see it was not the best driver for him.
Driver #2 (white) is absolutely the most consistent in length and dispersion despite the fact that he hit Driver #1 (yellow) farther one time. Most golfers only think of their bad shots as “outliers,” when in fact they should often be discounting their very best shot with a club in the cases when the majority of their shots with the club are off-target.
4. Using a Lie Board
Lie boards are a thing of the past. There, I said it. Basing any loft or lie adjustments purely off a lie board is completely useless. On any well struck golf shot, the golf ball has already left the golf club before any significant ground and club interaction has occurred. This means the marks on the bottom of the club tells us next to nothing.
Above is a great picture from a friend of mine, Errol Helling. He’s the owner of Profectus Golf in Nashville, Tennessee. The photo shows the difference in where two golf clubs point at address: one at 3-degrees upright (pointing left) and one at 2-degrees flat (pointing right). It’s important to remember that the photo shows “static loft.” We are most interested in “dynamic loft” and the face angle at impact because that’s what effects ball flight. Just because we have an iron that is orientated a direction at setup does not mean it will point in the same direction at impact.
5. Looking at Divot Direction and Depth
Recently, this has been a frequent topic of discussion in the golf world. I hate to disagree with one of the greats of our game, Ben Hogan, but the secret is not in the dirt. I can’t say that Hogan was wrong, as his thoughts on the golf swing worked very well for him, but we now know that divot direction and divot depth tell us very little about ball flight. You can hit any kind of golf shot with every kind of divot, so why assume that the divot is going to tell us anything valuable?
Below are some pictures of shots I hit on the range. The divot direction is indicated by the alignment stick (on the left in each photo) that travels directly through the divot. The target line is the alignment stick on the right side of the picture. As you can see, the divots had no correlation to direction or curvature.
If you are trying to determine swing faults or fitting issues by looking at divots, you will be chasing an answer that does not exist. Keep your focus on impact location, face angle, club path, and angle of attack, and you’ll be on your way to better fittings.