The week of the PGA Merchandise Show is always a learning experience. Even for someone who's been coming to this annual gathering of the industry's best and brightest since 1993. But as I found out once again today, some of the most interesting discussions have very little to do with a new driver or wedge or ball. What has become most interesting to me about the PGA Merchandise Show is the commitment certain groups within this industry make to tapping into and optimizing golfer potential.
No segment invests more in that endeavor than the game's best clubfitters, and that was much in evidence today as I spent time with more than 100 top fitters as part of the 6th Annual Accra Golf Day, an event put on by the Kingston, Ontario-based shaft company to entertain and educate some of its best fitters.
There's no question Golf Digest believes fitting is a crucial element for any golfer's improvement (see our database of fitters here and our Top 100 Clubfitters list here), but I'll go a step farther: Fitting is the great remaining untapped frontier in the game today. And here's one more: In an ever-expanding golf technology universe, the fitter may offer as much potential for lasting and even continual improvement as even the best teacher.
As I was told by teaching pro Kirk Oguri, who works with Woody Lashen at Pete's Golf Pro Shop in Mineola, N.Y., "Imagine a young junior player trying to learn the golf swing using my clubs. I see too many players whose equipment is preventing them from improving, preventing them from getting the positive reinforcement that they should get when they make a good swing."
Lashen believes the real potential lies in more fitters working in concert with teaching pros to optimize each individual golfer. When I ask Oguri and Lashen what would be better, an expert fitting or a series of lessons, they almost in unison respond, "It depends."
"If a guy is missing fairways, you need to know how he's missing them," says Lashen.
"Correcting a swing fault with an equipment fix isn't really the way I'd go, and I'm a big believer in the importance of getting the right equipment," says Oguri.
Says Lashen, "There are just as many times I will send a player to see Kirk as he will send a player to see me."
But it's not happening nowhere near enough. A Golf Digest study estimates that 68 percent of golfers have not been fit for their drivers, but if you check the bags at your local daily fee course, I'd venture a guess that you'd be lucky to find even 1 in 10 players who've gone through a fitting with an expert.
The fact is that clubfitting still scares too many golfers. Yet it's also true that assuming you know enough to fit yourself can do more damage to your game than choosing not to use new equipment at all. The challenge is to get golfers to see the potential benefits of fitting and take advantage of those opportunities, just as they would a trip to the range or even, ahem, a renewal of their subscription to Golf DIgest.
Some more food for thought as you ponder the benefits of fitting:
What's the best time to go through a fitting if you're in the cold-weather states? Many fitters suggest in the early fall. Why? Your swing's in shape, and it will help you get started the following spring.
Older golfers should always go with a softer, senior flex, right? Not necessarily so. It's not unusual today to fit a senior into a stiffer flex shaft because of how they load the shaft on the downswing. In fact, most top fitters believe swing speed is only the most basic of beginnings when it comes to a proper fitting.
Do you need a new driver fitting if you were fit by an expert a couple of years ago? Maybe, maybe not. Technology has changed, but so have you. Why wouldn't you at least find out?