The professional club fitter knows that the set makeup part of the fitting recommendation can be one of the most effective ways to offer measurable improvement to the player, especially for the many millions of average-to-less-skilled golfers.
The reason set makeup fitting has become such a valuable path to game improvement for the average player is simply because of the industry’s move to longer-length woods and lower-lofted irons in the past 30 years.
My experiences have taught me that 3 woods with 14 degrees of loft and 43.5-inch lengths are of little to no help to most average golfers. Neither are many 3, 4 and 5 irons, because of their very low lofts. Yet how many average golfers have these clubs within their current set makeup? Most of them, because of the way so many clubs are sold to average golfers.
It used to be that golfers would buy a driver, 3 wood, 5 wood and a set of irons, 3-PW. Even a recent shift to iron sets of 4-GW still leaves the average golfer with two of the irons with too little loft that many golfers can’t hit well enough to merit carrying them in the bag.
Thus, the common sense goal of set makeup fitting will always be to replace all clubs that the golfer cannot hit consistently well with clubs that hit the ball the same distance, but are easier to hit.
The club fitter’s No. 1 key to set makeup fitting is to find out the lowest-lofted wood and the lowest-lofted iron that the golfer can hit with reasonable consistency in terms of getting the ball up in the air and to fly between the tree lines of the hole. Of these provisos, consistency in hitting the ball well up in the air is key because the fitter can always reduce slice or hook with a length and face angle change in the replacement wood and/or hybrid.
If the golfer cannot hit the 3 wood or 4 wood well up in the air at least 4 of 6 times, the club should not be in the bag. It is far better to have the first wood after the driver be a 5 wood or even 7 wood that the golfer can hit up in the air more than 90 percent of the time and give up a little distance, than to keep hoping for the right swing to be able to hit lower-lofted woods. If the golfer takes lessons and improves, then fine, lower-lofted woods can always be added later.
In terms of the irons, obviously we are talking about replacing low-lofted irons with hybrids or high-lofted fairway woods. Within this is also the matter of what lofts and lengths in the higher-lofted woods are going to deliver the same distance the golfer would have gotten if he or she were to hit the lower-lofted irons well.
Length wise, it is just so much wiser to fit hybrids with the same length as the irons being replaced because that leads to a more consistent distance gap between the lowest lofted iron and the hybrid just above it. Loft wise, it depends on the golfer’s clubhead speed.
The higher the club head speed (typically more than 80 mph with the 6 iron), the more likely it is that the replacement woods or hybrids may need to have a little more loft than the irons being replaced to offer the right distance and distance gap between the last hybrid or fairway wood and the first iron.
As to whether to go to a high-lofted wood or hybrid for the iron replacements, the club fitter consults two things:
- The more the golfer sweeps the ball rather than hits down on the ball, the more likely that high-lofted woods will be a golfer’s iron replacements.
- The golfer’s personal preference/opinion as to whether they are more comfortable or confident with a fairway wood or a hybrid is also key to the selection of the low-loft iron replacement clubs.
Club head speed also plays a role in the set makeup determination. The slower the club head speed, the shorter the distance gap from normal 4-degree loft increments between clubs. Why saddle a slower speed player with a combination of 13 woods and irons when a 4-degree loft gap offers only 6-to-7 yards of difference between each club?
For the good player, set makeup fitting certainly will include some of the same elements for the average player. Not all players who shoot in the 70s can consistently hit the a 3 wood high enough or consistently enough off the deck, nor can they hit a 3 iron (sometimes even a 4 iron) well enough to say it is better to keep it in the bag than an easier-to-hit hybrid that flies the same distance.
For many good players, set makeup fitting has to focus on several other areas:
- Let’s say you can hit your 3 and 4 irons up in the air. Can you stop those shots on the green as well as you could if you hit a higher-launching hybrid that flies the same distance?
- Does your higher club head speed or later release cause a much higher flight with your hybrids so that in high-wind conditions you have control or distance problems? If so, be smart and use hybrids on calmer days and put the lower-lofted irons back in the bag on windy days.
- Players who can get a little off line from day to day might consider replacing their 3 wood and 5 wood with a strong 2 hybrid that is in the area of 40-to-41 inches in length for more control.
- Different horses for different courses. Good players should always have an array of alternative clubs that are better suited to different courses and different hole designs.
Alternative clubs to consider in the set makeup
- A longer-length driver for more wide-open courses and a shorter-length driver for tighter layouts.
- A high-COR, slightly shorter 3 wood or shorter length “mini-driver” for tee shots on courses with more tight par 4s and par 5s.
- A 3 and 4 hybrid for courses with longer par 3s and par 4s that call for long approach shots that have to stick when they land.
- Two drivers — one with less loft, one with more loft — for up and downwind holes on courses where the wind blows frequently and with velocity.
Set makeup fitting is really a test of the golfer’s common sense and control over their ego. To play consistently well, golf shall forever be a game of percentages and good misses. Smart set makeup fitting involves using clubs that give the golfer a higher percentage of consistent shots to improve both the percentage of quality shots and good misses.
Do you think Y.E. Yang feels he is less of a golfer or cares if anyone snickers about the number of hybrids he has been known to carry? At least he didn’t when he beat Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
As a final note, the wedges are most certainly an area in which set makeup fitting plays a significant role in the golfer’s goal to play to the best of their ability. We’ll cover that later in this series when we discuss the topic of wedge fitting.
- What length should your clubs be?
- What lofts should your clubs be?
- Face angle is crucial for a proper fitting
- The best way to fit lie angle
- How to choose the right club head design
- Tom Wishon’s keys to set makeup
- Getting the right size grip, time after time
- What shaft weight should you play?
- What swing weight should your clubs be?
- What shaft flex should I use?
This story is part of a 10-part series from Tom Wishon on professional club fitting.
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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