Forget love, peace and companionship. The best holiday gifts you can give that special someone in your life are golf clubs.
December is a popular time for equipment purchases in the United States. However, if you buy sticks without the aid of a professional club fitter, you're making a bigger mistake than Jingle All the Way 2.
To illustrate this point, I visited my local fitter over the weekend to get tailored for new irons. I switched clubs last summer, finally succumbing to the fact that I no longer needed blades, in exchange for a buddy's borrowed, more-forgiving set. The clubs did offer a better feel on mishits, but this specific set was not customized to my swing, and my ball-striking suffered as an upshot.
Luckily, Golf Digest's Hot List project had an opening, and because the company needed youth and charm to offset the curmudgeonly dispositions of Mike Johnson and Mike Stachura, I was brought on. Selfishly, this provided VIP access to the industry's sharpest, instinctive minds, with many of these respected voices chiming in on what type of clubs would cater to my game.
The educated consensus was I needed longer shafts than standard, a view I hoped would be seconded at my personalized fitting session. While longer shafts were prescribed, they were far from the only diagnosis.
Meeting with Paul Ferrone at Downtown Golf in Stamford, Conn., I began my session hitting 15 shots with a 7-iron, in order to give us a starting point and context. With simulator and launch-monitor technology, we were able to see my average shot from this series went 170 yards, usually at a 114 mph ball speed. The dispersion -- where the balls were landing -- was great, with most landing towards the right of the target.
Paul gave me a club with the long-awaited longer shaft, which felt more comfortable. Unfortunately, while I was getting more distance, the accuracy -- or in my case, lack thereof -- remained the same. Further investigation via club sensors showed the lie angle of the face was off. Basically, instead of striking the ground with the center of the club, I was initially making contact with the toe.
Thanks to an adjustment of two degrees upright, I was hitting shots so sweet that Ben Hogan looked like a chopper by comparison. (Note: slight exaggeration.)
However, Paul was not done tinkering. Though I've been swinging most of my life with a stiff shaft, he still felt we weren't at the right flexibility. Adding another level of stiffness, my ball speed went to 128 mph. This modification took a tad off my distance, but the dispersion was greatly reduced. He also added a club with a slightly bigger grip.
Meaning, within 30 minutes, we had changed my club length, lie angle, shaft flexibility and grip size. The results were shocking: My 7-iron went from 170 yards and all over the place to 195 yards with a tight scattering.
These numbers aren't an aberration, falling in line with results from past Golf Digest studies.
Finding clubs that work best for your swing isn't the only benefit of a fitting. Often, golfers will enter with a certain manufacturer in mind, only to find out through fitting tests the aforementioned brand doesn't conform to their game. Or, that another club is a better match.
Basically, your loved one might desire Brand X, only to leave a fitting with Brand Y in his or her hand.
Golf clubs can be a thousand-dollar investment. Rather than purchasing equipment off the shelf, schedule a fitting for your intended recipient. There's a certain assurance knowing your clubs are fashioned to your swing, rather than trying to fashion your swing for your clubs.
Lastly, I do understand the optics of having a set under the Christmas tree. A scheduled fitting doesn't pack the same pizzazz. My suggestion would be to wrap or box a club, with a card attached explaining the fitting-before-buying process.
Because buying golf equipment is one thing. But helping their game? A greater gift a golfer could not ask.