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Opinion & Analysis

Club fitting isn’t magic

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I talk with golfers all the time about the benefits of having properly fit clubs and how they can help improve your game. But recently I have encountered some players who have actually come away from a club fitting disappointed in the final results, and it had me asking some questions, the most important being

“What were your expectations going in?”

As much as club fitting has made its way into the mainstream, the biggest misconception is that once you get a set of clubs that have been custom fit, you’ll suddenly start hitting more greens and hitting it 30 yards farther—when in reality that’s just not the case.

It’s not that those things can’t occur, but there is still a direct correlation between swing dynamics and skill level with what is possible in a club fitting because, after all, it’s physics, not magic.

Every time I drop change, I think of Gob and I giggle - GIF on Imgur

It’s all about creating the potential for better

In the modern “Amazon” world, we all want things NOW! With club fitting, there is still a lot of opportunities to quickly see improvements that come from reduced dispersion and more consistent results. For a driver that means limiting a miss to one direction, while hopefully increasing distance through optimization.

Now speaking of optimization the chart below, which was developed by Ping, it’s a scientific breakdown of launch, spin, and distance optimization based on ball speed. This means that at 150 mph, the farthest you are going to hit the ball under standard conditions is around 270 yards total. To put that into perspective, to reach 150 mph ball speed you need to be just over 100 mph in clubhead speed.

Why you shouldn't chase high launch, low spin in 2020 | Today's Golfer

If you are going into a driver fitting, and you are already seeing results within these ranges, don’t expect to magically pick up 25 yards out of thin air. Instead, you should have much more focused goals like the examples below

  • Seeing much tighter downrange dispersion. On the course, this will result in hitting more fairways, which should lead to hitting more greens, ultimately resulting in better scoring.
  • Reducing a big miss. A big advantage with newer drivers isn’t that they are way longer off the middle of the face—that’s just not true. It’s that away from the “sweet spot,” you will see a tighter variance in the launch and spin because of ever-improving MOI and driver adjustability. If you have one or two big driver misses in a round of golf that leads to a double bogey or worse and you can bring that number down to just one or even zero, you will see shots add up a lot slower on your scorecard.

At the end of the day, golf clubs are inanimate objects, just like a bike or even a car. Just because you have invested in making sure you have the best of the best equipment doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work on your game to see improvement.

New shoes won’t make you faster, but they can prevent injury and allow for more training—the end result you become a faster runner. Much the same way you can buy the most expensive and best-fit road bike in the world, but it’s not going to mean you are ready for the Tour de France.

Properly fit golf clubs give you the best opportunity to make better swings and the potential to be a better player—but it’s still up to you to utilize that potential.

This topic and a deeper discussion can be found in the most recent episode of the GolfWRX “On Spec” podcast with the conversation starting at 34:45

 

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Ryan Barath is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. CrashTestDummy

    Apr 27, 2021 at 4:46 pm

    Technique is paramount, but really ill-fit golf equipment can make technique worse. Ill-fit equipment can create a lot of bad habits in the golf swing from trying to adapt to that poorly fit equipment. Having a good fitted golf set means you can work on technique more efficiently and better while eliminating a limiting factor.

    Most golfers I see would benefit from getting fitted because they are in such ill-fit equipment for their swings (strength, tempo) or using such old technology. Yeah, fitting is not going turn an average golfer into a pro, but can definitely improve a golfer’s game in terms of accuracy, trajectories, shot shapes, and marginally improve distances.

  2. JG

    Apr 27, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    . If you know your golf products and are an actual player, go with your gut and don’t spend the 150-500 on a fitting. If you’re Joe Schmo then a fitting might help you better understand the game a little more.
    I went to club champion last year and they put me in a Accra tz5 m5 (80 grams) tipped 1.5 and playing at 43.5. Lol I’m not Cameron champ! I could not hit that thing and wasted soooo much money on a shaft I couldn’t hit. I even lost 20 yards on my drives. I went to a demo day 4 months later to try out driver shafts and ended up going venture black standard. Worked great and easier to hit.

  3. PCGR

    Apr 27, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Personally I like club fitting, unfortunately with club fittings they are only as good as your fitter. It’s true to set realistic expectations, the fitter isn’t going to make you magically a better golfer. But they can find the proper lie angle for your irons, proper shaft and a few good options of club heads that can help you play your best. I’ve been fitted, well and poorly, being 6’4”, stock or off the wall clubs do not work well for me. And even getting fitted once professionally doesn’t always translate to other brands specs, some manufacturers offer different lie angles then offers. Some brands I’m upright 2 degrees others I’ve been as little as .5 degree, some brands I’m plus .5 inch length and some brands are already longer length. This is where I find a proper fitting helps give me the ability to square up the club face and get the best numbers with my swing.

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Opinion & Analysis

Junior golf development 101

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So here’s a best guess: At 7-years-old, in the United States, there are about 200 junior boy golfers “trying.” That is, they are taking lessons, going to tournaments, and doing some sort of practice. In my estimation, this number doubles every year until high school. This means that at 13 there are 12,800 players trying. It also means that each and every year, it gets almost twice as tough to win. This of course continued until about 400 of these players go on to play NCAA Division 1 golf and another 1,000 or so go on to play NCAA D2, D3, NAIA, or club golf.

So why is this important? Because between 7-13 years old kids are gonna change A LOT. In particular, kids who start early and have some success are going to face infinitely better competition in three years. Likewise, students who start at 12 are going to lack experience playing competitive golf. This includes traveling, charting courses, and maybe playing in different conditions.

The difficulty with golf is that to become a college athlete the data suggest that by the end of freshman year in high school you should be able to shot about 78. Below are the scoring differentials (basically, handicaps) of players who, according to best guess are on pace to play college golf:

So what is a kid or parent to do? I would focus on the player developing at least six shots. They are:

  • go-to shot off the tee
  • stock iron shot
  • low iron shot
  • low spinning chip
  • flopper
  • bump and run

I would challenge them with games:

  • round with just even irons or odd
  • draw back; every time they miss a putt on the course, they draw the putt away from the hole a putter length
  • play the red tees and try to shoot as low as possible

The secret sauce for kids is to have the desire and internal motivation to continue to learn and grow. Kids that love golf and have a future will not only have some scoring success but will have a deep passion and interest for the game. They will spend countless hours honing different shots and trajectories, all while avoiding the dangers of adolescence (which, of course, is the real goal of youth sports).

The reality is that success, particularly in junior golf, has a ton to do with things people don’t consider. This includes when puberty happens, who your children play with at the club (other competitive players?), how much they want to compete and access to their club.

In fact, in all cases, your kid would be better off at the goat ranch down the road, without a range, with three kids of the same skill level than alone on his fancy range pounding perfect range balls.

Let that sink in.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work?

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Having been in the wedge business for over thirty years now, and having focused my entire life’s work on how to make wedges work better, one of my biggest frustrations is how under-informed most golfers are about wedges in general, and how misinformed most are about the elements of a wedge that really affect performance.

That under-informed and misinformed “double whammy” helps make the wedge category to be the least dynamic of the entire golf equipment industry. Consider this if you will. Golfers carry only one driver and only one putter, but an average of three wedges. BUT – and it’s a big “but” – every year, unit sales of both drivers and putters are more than double the unit sales of wedges.
So why is that?

Over those thirty-plus years, I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers to ask that very question, and I’ve complemented that statistical insight with hundreds of one-on-one interviews with golfers of all skill levels. My key takeaways are:

  • Most golfers have not had a track record of improved performance with new wedges that mirror their positive experience with a new driver or putter.
  • A large percentage of golfers consider their wedge play to be one of the weaker parts of their games.
  • And most golfers do not really understand that wedge play is the most challenging aspect of golf.
  • On that last point, I wrote a post almost two years ago addressing this very subject, “Why Wedge Mastery Is So Elusive” (read it here).

So now let’s dive into what really makes a wedge work. In essence, wedges are not that much different from all the other clubs in our bags. The three key elements that make any club do what it does are:

  • The distribution of mass around the clubhead
  • The shaft characteristics
  • The specifications for weight, shaft length and lie angle

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

For any golf club to perform to its optimum for a given golfer, these three key measurements must be correct. Shaft length and lie angle work together to help that golfer deliver the clubhead to the ball as accurately as possible time and again. If either spec is off even a little bit, quality contact will be sacrificed. The overall weight of the club is much more critical than the mystical “swing weight”, and I’ve always believed that in wedges, that overall weight should be slightly heavier than the set-match 9-iron, but not dramatically so.

We encounter so many golfers who have migrated to light steel or graphite shafts in their irons, but are still trying to play off-the-rack wedges with their heavy stiff steel shafts that complete prohibit the making of a consistent swing evolution from their short irons to their wedges.

That leads to the consistent observation that so many golfers completely ignore the shaft specifics in their wedges, even after undergoing a custom fitting of their irons to try to get the right shaft to optimize performance through the set. The fact is, to optimize performance your wedges need to be pretty consistent with your irons in shaft weight, material and flex.

Now it’s time to dive into the design of a wedge head, expanding on what I wrote in that post of two years ago (please go back to that link and read it again!)

The wedge “wizards” would have you believe that the only things that matter in wedge design are “grooves and grinds.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Grooves can only do so much, and their primary purpose is the same as the tread on your tires – to channel away moisture and matter to allow more of the clubface to contact the ball. In our robotic testing of Edison Forged wedges – on a dry ball – the complete absence of grooves only reduced spin by 15 percent! But, when you add moisture and/or matter, that changes dramatically.

Understand the USGA hasn’t changed the Rules of Golf that govern groove geometry in over 12 years, and every company serious about their wedge product pushes those rules to the limit. There is no story here!
For years, I have consistently taken umbrage to the constant drivel about “grinds.” The fact is that you will encounter every kind of lie and turf imaginable during the life of your wedges, and unless you are an elite tour-caliber player, it is unlikely you can discern the difference from one specialized grind to another.

Almost all wedge sole designs are pretty darn good, once you learn how to use the bounce to your advantage, but that’s a post for another time.

Now, the clubhead.

Very simply, what makes any golf club work – and wedges are no different – is the way mass is distributed around the clubhead. Period.

All modern drivers are about the same, with subtle nuanced differences from brand to brand. Likewise, there are only about four distinctly different kinds of irons: Single piece tour blades, modern distance blades with internal technologies, game improvement designs with accented perimeter weighting and whatever a “super game improvement iron” is. Fairways, hybrids, even putters are sold primarily by touting the design parameters of the clubhead.

So, why not wedges?]

This has gotten long, so next week I’ll dive into “The anatomy of a wedge head.”

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: 2023 PGA Merchandise Show recap

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All the new interesting things we enjoyed and appreciated.

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