One of the simplest ways golfers can improve their games is through proper club fitting, which is often overlooked because of the emphasis golf equipment companies place on trying to help golfers hit the ball farther. Adding distance is great, but it doesn’t always come with an improvement in shot consistency. Sometimes, it actually has the opposite effect, whereas a proper fitting almost always improves shot consistency and often leads to more distance as well.
When I speak about shot consistency, exactly what am I talking about? A higher percentage of on-center hits? Sure, that’s an improvement in shot consistency. But so too, and perhaps even more important, are elements of consistency such as a reduction in how far a slice or hook curves off line, or a reduction in the number of poor shots.
Perhaps the best way to express what an improvement in shot consistency means is to help the golfer “miss the ball” better. If you’ve played the game a while, you are well aware of the type of shots that are classified as a “good misses.” No one hits all the shots well. In fact, the best golfers can be said to be those who “miss their shots the best.”
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to offer some of the best fitting tips for “better missed shots” and from it, better shot consistency.
1. A shorter driver, but also shorter fairway woods
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the percentage of golfers who have improved their tee shot consistency by going much shorter with the length of their driver is nothing short of spectacular. The only male golfers who have a real chance to play well with a 45-inch driver are those with a smooth tempo, great swing rhythm/timing, inside-out to square swing path, later release and good golf athletic ability on top of those things.
For golfers who fall short in one or more of those elements, don’t even think about a driver longer than 44 inches. If the golfer falls short in three or more of those factors, don’t go longer than 43 to 43.5 inches. Longer length only means higher club head speed for golfers with a later-to-very-late release. And even for those with a later release, for 98 percent of them longer length means more off-center hits.
But don’t just think shorter drivers for better shot consistency. Think shorter fairway woods, too. The old fairway wood length standards were 43 inches for a 3 wood, 42.5 inches for a 4 wood, 42 inches for a 5 wood and 41 inches for a 7 wood. Golfers should consider using fairway woods that are a half inch to a full inch shorter than that if they do not possess most of the above ideal swing tempo/release characteristics. You’d be amazed at the improvement in shot consistency from shorter fairway woods.
2. Proper face angle fitting to address misdirection tendencies
Preaching to the choir, element No. 2 for shot consistency is to fit the face angle of the driver, fairway woods and even the hybrids to offset the golfer’s slice or hook tendency with those clubs.
Always keep these two key points in mind when viewing a face angle change for improving shot consistency through better accuracy:
- At a carry distance of 200 yards, a 1-degree change in the face angle from what it was before represents a slice or hook reduction of 4 to 5 yards.
- For a face angle change to work best, you have to know the face angle of your present clubs so you know how much of a change to make to bring about a visible reduction in the slice or hook.
For a face angle change to do its job, you have to address the ball with the face angle sitting as it is designed. All too often, golfers not used to an open or closed face will rotate the head to assume a more square position at address. If you hook or slice and want that to be immediately reduced, you’ll need to just get used to the fact that if you slice or hook the ball, your new face angle is going to sit with the face pointing in the opposite direction of your misdirection tendency.
One last point for golfers with one of the adjustable hosel drivers: The only way these drivers can change the loft is if the golfer always holds the face square in the address position. If you are a relatively straight hitter, fine, you won’t need any face angle help. But if you are a chronic fader/slicer/drawer/hooker, a change in the face angle from what you currently use can be a huge help.
As such, trying to get that from one of the adjustable hosel drivers is difficult and confusing. For that reason, it is best to work with a club fitter who knows his stuff and can source the right driver head that has both the loft AND face angle you need.
3. Matching total weight and swing weight to the golfer’s transition, tempo and strength
If the total weight and/or the swing weight are too heavy for the golfer, more off-center hits, pushed shots and thin shots can result. If the total weight and/or the swing weight are too light for the golfer, a more outside-in path, slice and off-center hits can result.
While we talk a lot in fitting about the total weight (shaft weight) and the swing weight as separately fit elements, from a shot consistency standpoint you have to think of the two working together. For many golfers, the swing weight (meaning the head weight FEEL) is more important for shot consistency improvement than the total weight.
Typically, the more forceful the transition, the faster the tempo and the stronger the golfer, the heavier the total weight (shaft weight) and swing weight would be to best match the golfer’s timing and rhythm. And vice versa, usually the more smooth the transition and tempo and the weaker the golfer, the lighter the total weight (shaft weight) and swing weight would be. It’s not always this way, however, because golfers develop differences in what they think feels best when they swing the club.
It’s also totally possible for golfers with a stronger transition and tempo to end up being well fit into a lighter weight shaft (lighter total weight), but much less likely that a weaker/smoother-swinging golfer would be well fit into a heavy shaft for a heavy total weight.
If a stronger golfer with a little more aggressive transition move were to use a 55-to-65-gram shaft, the light total weight of such a light shaft weight can be offset by using a little to a lot higher swing weight. But on the other hand, it is rarely if ever a good thing to fit a golfer with a smooth transition/tempo and below average strength with a shaft that weighs more than 75 grams, but then try to mute that heavier shaft effect with a low swing weight.
But do remember, weight fitting also has to take the golfer’s personal, acquired preference for the weight feel of the clubs into account. There can be infrequent times when the weaker/smoother-swinging player prefers a heavy feel while a strong/aggressive player could possibly like a lighter feel.
In the end, there is no such thing as a total weight/swing weight detector in fitting. You start with the tendencies of swing force versus club weighting listed here, then experiment to find the combination that works best. In the end, the right total weight and swing weight is found when the golfer never has to make any type of conscious move or effort to control his swing tempo and timing.
4. MOI match the woods and the irons instead of swingweight matching
Ask any mechanical engineer. If the goal is to build all the clubs in a set so they swing with exactly the same effort and feel, the best way to do that is to build the clubs to have the same MOI rather than the same swing weight. MOI matching has been around now for 10 years so the statistics are starting to show tendencies.
When the MOI is chosen properly for the golfer, again based on his transition, tempo, strength and personal FEEL preference, the subtle improvements show up as more on-center hits more often, fewer pulled and pushed shots and a few more greens hit in regulation. But what MOI is right for each golfer is still a guess-and-check process.
The way the best club fitters do it is to build a test club of at least the 5 or 6 iron that possesses everything BUT the weighting the golfer needs in his fitting. The club has the right length, loft, lie, shaft and grip, but the head weight is left light. Then the golfer goes through a process of hit three shots, after which weight is added to the head. This process is repeated until the point is found when the golfer definitely perceives the head weight to be too heavy and too laboring to swing consistently on tempo. A fitter then backs off some of the weight and that becomes the benchmark club from which the MOI is measured and then duplicated on the other clubs in the set.
Final point: For the vast majority of golfers, the best MOI for the driver and woods will be +60-to-70 g/cm2 (the MOI measurement increment) higher than what was found to be the golfer’s best MOI in the irons.
5. Set makeup changes: so underappreciated, but so important
One of the most overlooked fitting factors that will assuredly improve overall shot consistency and deliver better misses for golfers is the set makeup. The whole concept of proper set makeup fitting is to get rid of hard-to-hit clubs and replace them with clubs that hit the ball the same distance and are easier to hit more consistently.
I am talking about the following elements:
- Having an alternative “control driver” of shorter length and higher loft. It can be used in lieu of the normal driver for courses with a greater number of tight tee shot holes, or for days when the swing is not as much “in sync” as other days.
- No three wood for the majority of golfers. Many should start with a 4 or 5 wood, unless the golfer definitely has the skill to consistently hit a fairway wood with 14-to-15 degrees of loft off the ground well up in the air.
- Having more woods, and definitely a 7 wood for most average players. Even a 9 wood for many golfers will work well, especially if the golfer tends to sweep the ball and/or has an early to midway release. And make it a little shorter as well.
- More hybrids instead of more fairway woods? As the golfer’s release gets from midway to slightly later than midway, and as the golfer can consistently hit down and through the shot, the option leans for more hybrids instead of more fairway woods to avoid the hard to hit low-lofted irons.
- Use one more hybrid than the golfer thinks he/she should use. Get the golfer to be totally honest in answering this question, “What is the lowest number iron I can hit consistently well 4 out of 5 times from normal lies?” If he is an 8-handicap golfer or lower, make that iron the break between the last hybrid and first iron in the set. If he is above an 8 handicap, add on one more hybrid and start the irons one number higher than what the golfer thinks he should use. Today’s much lower-lofted irons are fine as long as the golfer is honest in admitting what iron number sees the first big increase in inconsistency and starting the hybrids there. Don’t let ego get in the way of a smart set makeup that allows you to hit more greens and score better.
- Additional wedges. Or rather, tailor the wedge set makeup to the grass, sand and green design of the golf course(s) the golfer plays the most. It is very smart for a golfer to have different wedges of different lofts and sole designs so he can pick the wedge set makeup for the course he happens to be playing that day (this is a big topic to know what wedges to play for what differences in turf, sand and green design, and one I promise to write a detailed story about it in the future).
6. Grip size and feel for comfort
Forget the hand size/finger size charts that golfers use as a deciding factor for grip size. Fit for grip size ONLY on the basis of golfer comfort. Regardless of hand/finger size, the best grip size for every golfer is the size that he feels is most comfortable and allows him to maintain a secure hold on the grip with the least amount of grip pressure with the hands and forearms.
One more thing about grips versus shot consistency: Scrub/wash your rubber grips every other round, and lightly sand the rubber grips every 1 to 2 months as needed with 220- to 240-grit sandpaper. Keeping grips feeling more new can most definitely can help the golfer maintain a higher level of swing and shot consistency.
7. The correct lie angle for ALL the clubs
You’ve all seen the diagram that shows the ball going left when the toe end of the club head is up at impact and the ball going right when the heel side of the head is up at impact.
It goes without saying that dynamic lie fitting eliminates all possibility of an ill-fit lie from ever causing an offline shot. As such, why NOT do it? And think about getting your woods and hybrids fit dynamically for lie. Can’t find anyone with fairway woods and hybrids that can be bent to accommodate a wide range of lie fitting needs? If you look hard enough, you will. They do exist.
I can’t tell you enough in strong terms how valuable all of these fitting keys can be for your score and your enjoyment of this great game. Don’t pooh-pooh these fitting elements as either being less important or something only for mid-handicap players and above. They work to deliver better misses, which in turn means lower scores. Have fun, and as always the very best to everyone in this great game.
Best irons of 2021 Part 1 on GolfWRX Radio
What are the best irons of 2021? GolfWRX Staffers Brian Knudson and Ryan Barath break down the 2021 Best Irons lists that were published this week.
The Wedge Guy: Playing your best
No matter what our experience, ability and handicap, all of us golfers have one thing in common–we want to play the best we can every time we tee it up. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. Having a bad day on the course is just part of the game, it seems, regardless of your skill level. But there are things we can do to make that happen less often, and other ways to get back on track when a round begins to go awry.
Let’s start with giving ourselves the best chance of a good round every time.
Setting up a good round
It all starts on your drive to the course, or even when you are getting dressed to go play. Think about good shots you’ve been hitting recently, and good swings you’ve made. Picture drives that were long and straight, iron shots that just hunted the flag, recovery shots that saved par and putts that dropped. I know it’s a cliché, but there really is no substitute for positive thoughts when it comes to golf.
When you get to the course, whether you change shoes in the parking lot or the locker room, S-L-O-W….D-O-W-N. Savor the fact that you have a round of golf in front of you —not work, not yard or house chores. It is time for F-U-N!
Give yourself a chance to perform your best golf right from the first tee
If it’s worth taking a few hours out of your day, it’s darn sure worth taking an extra 10-15 minutes to give yourself a chance. Stretch your legs and back/shoulder muscles that have shortened up from a few days or a week at the office and/or even a few hours of sleep. This is crucial to performing your best. Take a dozen or two back and forth horizontal swings with your sand wedge to get the blood flowing. These aren’t “practice swings” but more like baseball swings to further stretch out your shoulders and back and upper arms and get the feel of the club in your hands.
And for Pete’s sake, hit at least a dozen or so shots before you go to the first tee. At least a few chips and/or pitches and some putts. You have to get the feel of impact refreshed to have a chance.
Getting the derailed train back on track
We all are going to hit bad shots, no matter what kind of game you have, but what wrecks a round is when you get it going sideways for more than one hole. When that happens, the round can still be saved, but the key is to remove the stress caused by the bad shots or holes and build on something you can believe in. It is normal to find yourself tightening up as a result of a bad hole or two, so take an extra minute to “step outside”. Walk away from your group (since you are probably last to hit now anyway), and take some deep breaths. Get your tension down and get positive thoughts back into your head. Take some practice swings with those positive thoughts back in mind.
Here are what I find to be four keys to getting the train back on track
Reach for the 3-wood. If you have hit a couple of bad drives, drop back to the 3-wood, and get one in the fairway. It won’t be all that much shorter than your driver, and it will build some confidence. If the driver is the problem, in fact, bench it for the rest of the round.
Play to the “safe” side. If your iron shots are not sharp, play to the safe side of the greens and give yourself a chance to avoid the big number and put a par or two on the card. When you get your “mojo” back, you can fire at the flags again.
Play the fault. If you are blocking shots right, or a hook has raised its ugly head, play it! That is, if you can’t find the fault and fix it quickly. The range is the place to fix things, the course is for scoring. Unless you can find the fix quickly, just “dance with who brung you.”
Loosen up. A few bad shots will cause us to build body tension, and the first place that manifests is in our grip pressure. You cannot hold a golf club lightly enough, in my opinion–your body won’t let you. But you sure can get into a death grip quickly when the tension mounts. Run a mental check on your grip pressure and lighten up, particularly in the right thumb and forefingers. It will change things immediately.
So, there are my thoughts on playing your best. I’ll bet the readers have their own suggestions, too, so let’s all share our ideas, OK? This should be fun and informative for all of us.
And as always, if you have a topic you would like me to address in a future column, just shoot me an email to [email protected].
Club Junkie: Rapsodo MLM Personal Launch Monitor, Srixon XV balls, TaylorMade SIM2 Max 3-wood
I have been using a Rapsodo MLM for most of the year to track my practice and give me some numbers on my range sessions. The MLM is great for tracking your bag, distances, dispersion, and ball speed. Use it indoors into a net or on the range; the MLM has so many features. New Srixon XV golf balls are softer and more playable for the golfer who doesn’t need super low spin.
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