As an equipment writer and former golf retailer, I've been through countless fittings over the last 20 years, but that doesn't mean I don't still have issues — lots of them. After spending 15 years primarily at a desk, my handicap has crept up into the double digits. I have increasing distance issues off the tee and can't putt worth a lick, despite extensive experimenting with putting styles, grip sizes and clubhead shapes. And I've been holding on to my seven-year-old fairway woods like a baby clings to her blanket, simply because they're reliable. In other words, I'm just like every other golfer.
I recently went to the Golf Galaxy store in East Hanover, N.J., for a Platinum Fitting to see if they could help sort things out. When I arrived my bag of current clubs was whisked away for evaluation while my fitter, PGA professional Chris Elleo, took me around the store to discuss the ins and outs of my game and club preferences.
I liken the initial interview part of a clubfitting fitting to therapy; it's where you get to air your grievances and state your hopes and dreams to an experienced ear. Like all certified fitters at Golf Galaxy, Chris has gone through more than 20 hours of training and testing on the GolfWorks clubfitting method. Like a good journalist, he asked questions that got to the core of my issues so that he could pair me with the equipment that met my needs and fit my eye. He wrote down everything we talked about along with my fitting results in a folder that he gave me at the end of our session.
The iron part of the fitting came first, because it's what the rest of the set is built around. And, as Chris said, "if we started you with the driver, you'd have no energy left for the rest of the set."
I told Chris that while I've come to a place in life where I accept that I can use as much help as possible from my irons, I also have a hard time looking at something too untraditional. So we settled on trying a few Super Game Improvement irons with skinnier toplines and very little offset (because if anything, I tend to pull missed shots, not slice them), and moved to the hitting bay where I could start hitting balls in front of a Trackman launch monitor. The launch monitor is a crucial part of any clubfitting; it tells your fitter your attack angle, face angle,ball speed, launch angle and spin of every shot you hit. Armed with this, Chris identified the club head style that helps me perform my best. Nearly every Golf Galaxy store uses Trackman and Foresight launch monitors, widely accepted as the most reliable in the business.
To determine my ideal shaft length, Chris placed face impact tape on my clubs and had me hit a few different lengths. I'm 5-feet-7 with fairly long legs and shorter arms, so I've always played with standard men's-length clubs. I started playing golf as a six-year-old with clubs that were too long and heavy for me, so it's what I feel most comfortable with, and I told Chris as much. But when he showed me the dispersion of my face-impact patterns, it was plain to see that I made more reliable contact with a shorter shaft length. Chris pointed out that any distance lost by going with a shorter shaft would easily be gained back by making contact with the center of the clubface more consistently, and I could still get the swing weight that feels comfortable because today's irons are easily customizable.
Next, Chris had me hit shots on the launch monitor without impact labels on the face (launch-monitor numbers are only reliable with a clean clubface, since tape alters spin) to get an idea of what shaft and flex I need. This is normally a time consuming part of any fitting because there are so many shafts on the market today, but Golf Galaxy narrows over 600 choices down to just a handful in no time by utilizing the GolfWorks Maltby Shaft Playability Factor. I've played a men's A-flex (also known as Light, Medium or Senior flex) shaft for most of my life, but the Maltby chart had me borderline L-flex. (It might be time to face the fact that I'm getting old.) This makes life easier if I decide to go to a shorter shaft, since shortening an A-flex shaft would make it slightly stiffer, which is the last thing I need.
Lie angle is a club spec that many golfers overlook, but it's vital to fit properly or you'll never hit the ball straight. By putting customized labels on the sole of an iron and having me hit balls off a lie board, Chris verified that I need a two-degree flat lie angle in my irons, which is exactly what I have. (Buying a set "off the rack" would lead me to miss my shots to the left because they would be too upright.)
Next, we moved on to grip style and size, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Golf Galaxy Fitting model places more importance on what feels comfortable to me than what any measuring tool says I should use. When put on a chart, I have a fairly standard women's sized hand, but I much prefer to use a thicker grip. With a skinny grip, I feel like the club is going to slip out of my hands so I grab on for dear life, re-gripping at the top. Obviously, this does nothing good for my game. As Chris pointed out, a softer but thicker grip allows me to feel like I have a secure hold on the club while still touching the pad of my left hand with my fingertips, which is the benchmark for a good grip fit.
Impressively, Chris spent almost as much time on my wedge fitting as he did on the irons. "Wedges are used so differently than irons that is has to be a completely separate process," he explained. First, we discussed how many wedges should be in my bag and what lofts they should have. Chris had me hit shots on the launch monitor to measure how far each club in the bottom of my current set went, so that we could determine if there were any inconsistent gaps between clubs. He also dropped a bomb: in the evaluation of my current set, the Golf Galaxy experts found that the shaft in my pitching wedge measures a full inch and a half longer than that in my gap wedge, which is a different brand. Hence, I have a 20-yard gap between the two clubs on full shots rather than the 10 yards I thought I had. (Oh, the gray hairs this discovery will save me this season.)
The most interesting and unusual part of the wedge fitting was that most of it was done while I use the swings I normally take with each wedge rather than full-swing shots. "Since these are specialty wedges that you use mainly around the green, the fitting should be performed on those type of shots," Chris explained. It made perfect sense, but I'd rarely seen that approach before. So I hit half-pitch shots with face-impact labels to determine shaft length, and half-pitch shots off the lie board with tape on the sole to find the ideal lie and bounce angles for my game. Chris also asked me a series of question about the type of grass and sand I typically play from to help further dial in the bounce angle. Once again, everything — answers to questions, face labels, sole tape, launch-monitor data and recommendations — went in my folder in a neat and easy-to-follow manner.
After a quick break, Chris took me over to the extensive putter wall and asked me a bunch of questions about my putting. I was honest and told him I might have the yips, To help keep my stroke in check, I've been using a center-shafted mallet with a Jumbo grip, but my distance control was off the charts poor and I'm deadly on four-to-six-footers. Chris began by having me hit 25-foot putts to a target with face labels to see what head shape would make me a more consistent putter. He confirmed that I did better with a mallet-style head because its higher MOI better withstands the energy loss on toe and heel hits (my specialty). The tape doesn't lie, and I saw just as clearly as Chris did that I actually hit the center of the face more often with a heel-shafted putter than a center-shafted one. And when I used a mallet with big, bold alignment aids of contrasting colors rather than the mores discreet look that I'm used to, I was better able to line up my putts, and my misses were tap-ins (it's funny how quickly you're able to change preferences when you get better results.)
To check shaft length — a greatly misunderstood and often improperly fitted component of a putter — Chris gave me a Maltby-designed adjustable-shaft putter and asked me to set up to a ball in the way that felt most comfortable to me. Once I was in my stance, he locked in the shaft and looked at the measurement. After using 32- and 33-inch putters my whole life (I crouch down over the ball quite a lot), I'd recently begun using a 34-inch putter to allow myself more arm bend, and that's exactly where Chris said I should be. He also used proprietary boards that show shaft lean at impact both in relation to the target and to my body, which helped him determine what lie and loft angles my putter should have in order to reduce the skidding that happens after impact and get the ball rolling faster.
The putter-grip fitting is a trial and error process, and the Golf Galaxy selection is as large as any I've seen. I told Chris I'm very happy with my oversized paddle and he agreed that it most likely helps my straight-back-straight-through stroke stay on path.
Next, it was driver time. I must admit it's smart to wait until the end of the fitting to tackle the big dog, since you exert a lot of energy just to get enough useable measurements, not to mention that your true swing typically rears its ugly head once you are a little fatigued. I told Chris the types of drivers I'd been experimenting with lately, and he brought me some samples of a couple of different driver models in several different lofts and shafts. I've always been very straight off the tee but even in my competitive junior days could rarely muster up much distance. I still hit it 200 yards on my good days, but most days I'm more like 180 off the tee. I'm still longer than average for a woman, but boy, would it be nice to increase that distance, and I told Chris as much. Once again, he began by putting impact labels on the faces of a few different-length clubs to see which shaft length gave me the most consistent center impact. I'd been playing with a 45 3/4-inch shaft but learned that I'm much more consistent with 45 inches. As Chris pointed out, swing speed might go up with a longer shaft, but it doesn't translate to overall distance if you don't consistently hit near the center of the face. Next, Chris put me on the launch monitor to look at my clubhead speed, shot trajectory, spin, direction and descent angle. All these measurements, in combination with the Maltby Shaft Playability chart, helped Chris give his recommendation for shaft model and flex, and it turned out I was in the right ball park with a softer men's shaft here. (Yes, you can be a different shaft flex in your irons than in your woods—that's why fitting each component of the bag separately is so important.)
Once we had dialed in club model, shaft length and flex, we spent quite a bit of time on the loft I should have in my driver. Common sense says a slower swinger like me should use as much loft as possible to increase launch and gain yardage that way (the ball travels farther in the air than it does on the ground). However, Chris found that I add a lot of loft at impact with a quick release of my hands, an observation he verified with the launch monitor readings. In fact, my launch angle/ball-spin combination was most effective when I used a little less loft than I have in the last couple of years, so he took me from 12 to 10.5 degrees. It was intriguing to me, and the proof was in the numbers. My favorite number was 10, as in 10 more yards.
Luckily, most drivers in 2013 come with adjustable clubheads, and it has never been more important to get fit for your initial settings on a launch monitor. Like anyone else, I am free to tinker with different loft/lie/face-angle combinations based on what will work best for me out on the course in different playing conditions.
Last but not least, it was time to address the mess that is the part of my bag between the driver and the irons. These are the clubs that I've spent the least time figuring out, even though, at my clubhead speed, they're the clubs I use the most next to the putter. I walked into Golf Galaxy with a 5-wood, a 7-wood, a 4-hybrid and an iron set that begins with the 6-iron, and Chris had me hit each of those four clubs on the launch monitor while he recorded the carry distances for each. He also put face-impact labels on each club to see which ones I was most consistent with. Immediately, it was clear that my 7-wood and hybrid go the same distance. I kind of knew that, but as I told Chris, I carry them both because I have two par 3s at my home course where I pull out the 7-wood, and then I use the hybrid for most other times I find myself with that yardage. He was kind enough not to roll his eyes at that confession, but helped me realize that the reason I'm using both is probably that I'm not very consistent with either my 6-iron or my 7-wood. So the best thing for my set would be to get rid of the 7-wood altogether and replaced my 6-iron with an even higher-lofted hybrid. Then I could use the two hybrids, get a new 5-wood that might give me some more distance than the old one I've been using, and as a result have consistent gaps in the three clubs between my driver and my irons. Imagine that.
Chris finished the fitting by writing down all his recommendations in my folder. The Platinum Fitting comes with one free lesson (in my case, with Chris), and a free lie and loft adjustment 30 days after your new equipment comes in, I felt safe knowing that this wasn't the end of the process. And it sure was a good start.
Today's equipment is all great, and getting fit for it by a certified fitter like PGA Professional Chris Elleo makes a big difference. I may have left my platinum fitting with the same swing, but for only $150 I left with a new-found confidence in my clubs and 10 extra yards off the tee.
PLATINUM FITTING EXPERIENCE
Driver fitting, Hybrid/Irons Gap Analysis including Fairway, Woods/Hybrid fitting, Iron fitting, Wedge Gap Analysis, Putter fitting, Suggestions on bag, shoes, glove, tee height and apparel choices