August 18, 2009

Misfits

Maybe you and your irons just weren't made for each other

"I'm not good enough to get custom-fit" is the refrain of so many golfers who buy their irons off the rack. Convinced their swing inconsistencies override the potential benefits of clubs built just for them, these modest souls don't allow that sometimes the chicken came before the egg. Fitters say the reason a lot of people hit it sideways is because they haven't been custom-fit. Trying to figure out the swing with clubs whose length, weight, lie angle, shaft flex or grip size don't match the body encourages players to make unnatural compensations that prevent them from developing proper mechanics.

"If a shaft is too stiff for a player, he'll hang back on his right side to get the ball airborne," says Randy Henry, co-founder of Henry-Griffitts, a pioneer of interchangeable head-shaft fitting systems. "And if the length and lie angle are off, then their posture is doomed from the start."

"The higher the handicap, the more necessary it is for that player to get fit," says Bob Van Sweden, TaylorMade's 2009 national clubfitter of the year.

Time and expense are two more reasons golfers don't consider getting custom-fit. Generally a private session with a certified clubfitter takes at least an hour, and the iron set built for you typically costs about $150 more than a comparable set. (The fee for a fitting session is often included in the price of the clubs.)

Of course, there are more convenient, albeit slightly less thorough, alternatives. With programs like Ping's Web-Fit, an online order is processed after consumers enter basic static measurements about their bodies plus factors such as swing speed and typical trajectory. Demo days offer golfers the opportunity to hit a bunch of clubs with different specs side by side to determine which ones feel best. There's also "retro-fitting," in which a person gets measured and has the old set bent and adjusted to fit, or even reshafted.

But only during a complete fitting are factors such as face angle, launch angle, spin rate, ball speed, attack angle and club path scrutinized to discover the head-shaft combination that optimizes distance and consistency. Plus, an experienced fitter will likely recognize swing flaws stemming from ill-fitted equipment and consider intangibles like a player's level of fitness and tempo.

"Often I see golfers get tired at the end of a fitting and start to stand more upright," says Jacques Intriere, a two-time Professional Clubfitters' Society regional clubmaker of the year. "This reflects what likely happens on their back nine. One solution is to put slightly longer shafts in their shorter irons."

"Another of the most overlooked problems of buying off the rack is set makeup," says Fred Glass, head professional at Neshanic Valley Golf Course in New Jersey. "When I fit, I use the launch monitor to get the person into the mix of irons, hybrids and fairway woods that gives them the exact right distance gaps. Sometimes getting custom-fit can be cheaper because I won't sell people long irons they don't need."

Many fitters believe it's worth measuring launch conditions once a year, like going to the doctor for a checkup. You likely won't need new irons, but if your swing has evolved significantly, the specifications might need to be tweaked.

"At the end of the day what a fitted set gives is peace of mind," says Van Sweden. "When you hit a bad shot, it's nice to know 100 percent of the problem was the swing."



Q: Is it better to be fitted outside or inside?

Point

You've got to get fit in real conditions. That means being outside, hitting off real grass, viewing the entire ball flight down-range. Even if there's some wind, that's a regular part of the game, so it's beneficial to see how different setups result in certain trajectories for a player against that element. And though indoor spaces are set up with enough room to swing, a lot of people can't help but feel claustrophobic with four walls and a ceiling. If this affects their comfort level, it will affect their swing, and the fitting session won't be as productive.

-- Bob Van Sweden, The Golf Repair Center Largo, Fla.

Counterpoint

There's a lot of value in the controlled environment of an indoor studio. The temperature is constant, there's zero wind and sun, and the ground is always perfectly level. Launch monitors are so accurate nowadays, that as long as you have a simulator that shows trajectory, it's just as good as being outside. In my shop, players hit into a screen that displays virtual holes. Because they're hitting shots into fairways and green complexes, in a way it's better than being on a plain old range. And for people who live in colder parts of the country, they can improve their gear any time of the year.

-- Jacques Intriere, Greenwich (Conn.) Golf Fitting Studio



How to spot an incompetent fitter

Launch monitors are marvelous machines, but if a fitter lacks proper knowledge of the golf swing, it'll be as valuable as having a chimp look at your X-rays. Here are five hints that fitters might have been selling sneakers two weeks ago:

They don't have you swing your current clubs first. They don't use face impact tape to ascertain strike-consistency patterns. There is very limited grip selection. The session takes less than 30 minutes The final recommendation just happens to be in stock and on sale.