Golf equipment is expensive. As manufacturers have integrated space-age materials and technologies into their designs and spent vast amounts of capital during the research and development process for each product, the price points of golf equipment have soared.
But despite this advancing technology – and the outlandish claims made by massive marketing campaigns surrounding it – the average golfer hasn’t improved all that much. So how can a player utilize this explosion of technology over the last 20 years to their benefit? The answer is found in two words, club fitting.
Confusing, black magic, techno-babble, alchemy, voodoo… these are all some of the words any clubfitter has heard used to describe club fitting. If a player spends time with 3 clubfitters, each fitter may reach 3 different conclusions, depending on their level of expertise, brand preferences and the tools/options available. This only adds to the confusion.
As club designers innovate, and products are manufactured with such a tremendous variation from one option to the next, it is easy to understand why a golfer would struggle with deciding which product best suits their game, or if custom fitting would benefit their game at all.
So in an effort to make the entire process more transparent, and to help a player understand what exactly a fitter is doing during a fitting session, we at TrueSpec welcome you to Club Fitting 101. Each month, we will cover different aspects of club fitting. Our hope is to take some of the mystery out of the process and educate players on the importance of being fit properly by an experienced and trained club fitting professional.
The first question worth addressing is… what is club fitting? In short, club fitting is the process of determining which golf club allows a player to:
- Consistently strike a ball closest to the center of the face, with
- Clubface that squares to the target line with the sole of the club flush to the ground, that
- Optimizes a player’s performance, feel and consistency, while
- Considering all design characteristics of a club (length, lie, loft, weight, swing weight, shaft material, shaft flex, CG, and more)
Everybody has their own unique golf swing, and a club fitter’s job is not to try and overhaul. With every individual golf swing, there are two fundamental factors to consider:
- The centeredness of the strike on the clubface
- The dynamic face angle of the clubface at impact (raw face angle + lie angle)
These two factors are closely related, as the dynamic face angle will always play a role in whether or not the ball is struck with the center of the face, and the whole of the two will obviously dictate the outcome of the shot.
Let’s talk center-strike first.
Center of Strike
Center-faced contact is crucial to many factors of ball flight. Primarily, it ensures that the maximum amount of energy transfers to the ball, giving the greatest potential for distance. It also eliminates “gear effect” that could be caused from striking the ball off the center of the face. Gear effect is the tendency of the ball to rotate opposite the rotation of the club, if the club twists at impact due to not being struck in the center of the face (think heel fades or toe hooks).
If a player is not striking shots on the center of the face, the first factor to consider would be the length of the club. A club’s length can have direct bearing over where a player tends to impact the face. A player that is striking shots low on the face and on the toe can usually benefit from a club that is slightly longer, while a player striking shots too high on the face and on the heel would typically benefit from a club that is shorter. This is as basic as club fitting gets, and it is only one piece of the puzzle.
Raw Face Angle
The other thing that may impact where a ball strikes the face would be the predominant face-angle tendency at impact. When we say “raw” face angle, we simply mean the angle of the face itself, not factoring in lie angle or loft, which play a significant role in the overall orientation of the face.
Closed-faced impacts tend to shift the strike pattern more towards the toe. Alternatively, open-faced impacts tend to shift the strike pattern towards the heel.
This is fairly easy to read because the start direction of a shot is largely attributable to the angle of the face, so wherever the shot starts, that is where the face was pointing. Therefore, if a shot starts left (for a right-handed player) and the strike is towards the toe, there is a good bet the shot struck the toe due to the angle of the face being closed.
This is because we are striking a sphere with a plane, and even if the centerpoint of the sphere is aligned with the centerpoint of the plane, if that plane is not perpendicular to the direction the plane is moving (face perpendicular to path), the side of the plane that is nearest the ball will strike the ball first.
Other Factors to Consider with Raw Face Angle
Two factors that may contribute to, or resolve raw face angle issues would be:
- Shaft deflection
Applicable mainly to irons – the more offset added to the head, the more the head will close through impact, in turn producing a more closed face angle position. This would be the desired effect for a player who typically leaves the face open. On the flip side, it would exacerbate the problem with a player who tended to close the face too much.
Shaft deflection is the tendency of the head section of the shaft to bend forward of the handle section of the shaft when viewing from the face-on position on the downswing just before impact. Simply put, every single shaft is in a forward deflected position at impact, regardless of the player and regardless of the shaft that is being used. Because of momentum, gravity, and the general physics of the golf swing, shafts bend forward before the clubface makes contact with the ball. The magnitude of this forward bending is what must be considered when fitting a golf club.
Players who have more speed, and have certain hand release patterns, will make the shaft forward deflect more at impact. Those who swing at lower speeds and have early release patterns without much wrist movement would tend to forward deflect the shaft less. The reason forward deflection is so important to consider is that the more the shaft deflects forward, the more the face tends to close, and the more loft is added to the club through impact.
Some shafts tend to have a stiffer profile down towards the tip which would lend itself to players who deflect the shaft a great deal. Other shafts tend to produce a looser tip section, which may help add some deflection.
Dynamic Face Angle
While raw face angle will have a significant effect on where on the face the ball is struck on the horizontal axis of the clubface (heel or toe), there are other factors to consider when addressing the actual direction of a shot. Dynamic face angle is a more comprehensive metric that considers:
- raw face angle (discussed above)
- lie angle
Lie angle is the flushness of the sole of the club to the ground at the moment of impact. This is an incredibly important factor to consider because it has a bearing on both the dynamic angle of the face, as well as the ability of a player to strike the ball vertically in the center of the club. Because a club has loft, if the sole of the club is not perfectly flat against the ground, the face will present in a manner that causes the ball to start offline.
There is a misconception that if the toe of the club digs, it opens the face, therefore causing the ball to start open to the target line, or vice-versa if the heel digs. Remember, in a well-struck shot, the ball is struck first before the ground, so if the ground is causing any twisting of the head due to ground force, the ball is already gone from the face when that is occurring. The reason a toe-dug shot starts open to the target line is because the loft of the face skews the face angle to present more open, even though the blade may be square to the target line. Exactly the opposite is true of a heel-dug shot. This is why a lie angle must be selected for each player that presents the sole of the club flush to the ground at impact, so that any lie angle error does not skew the feedback a player gets regarding the angle of their face.
It is worth mentioning that a lie angle error could also cause the ball to be struck off-center vertically. If the toe is digging, any shot struck towards the toe would also strike high on the face, and any shot struck towards the heel would be struck low on the face.
What causes lie angle error?
The two factors that contribute to a lie angle error are:
- handle position at impact
- amount of shaft droop at impact
The more the player raises the handle of the club in the impact position, the more the toe of the club will dig. We can address this handle error by adjusting the lie angle of the club.
Shaft droop is the amount the tip section of the shaft bends down at impact in relation to the handle section of the shaft. The more a shaft droops, the more a player will dig the toe of the club. Shaft droop error can be addressed by trying a shaft that has a stiffer tip section.
Diagnosing Shot Direction
As you can see, there are a lot of potential reasons that a shot starts left or right of the target line. Is it due to the actual angle of the face (open or closed) or is it due to the lie angle? In reality, it is the combination of both – the dynamic face angle. For instance, if a club is slightly closed at impact (which would cause the ball to start closed to the line) and the toe is also digging (which would cause the ball to start open to the line), the two factors may cancel each other out, and the ball would actually start straight down the target line. However, because the face was closed and the toe was digging, this player would tend to strike the shot off of the toe – this is not quality impact.
Club Design Characteristics
So far, we have only really addressed the centeredness of contact and the dynamic face angle. But there is so much more to consider about the design of the club that fits you best.
There is a general consensus that the stiffness of the shaft a player should play correlates directly to the speed at which they swing. The faster the swing, the stiffer the shaft should be. Though this is not categorically wrong, there are other factors to consider.
- Faster speed typically warrants stiffer flex, but not always
- Different release patterns call for different shaft flex
- Early release on the downswing or extreme wrist angle can require stiffer flex
- Dustin Johnson’s swing speed is higher than Sergio Garcia’s, yet his driver shaft is lighter and more flexible
- Kick point and tip stiffness must be considered
Weighting is also critically important when determining a player’s best fit.
- Heavier weight shafts tend to flight the ball lower and reduce the amount of spin imparted on the ball at impact
- Weight of the shaft affects overall swing weight
- Increasing weight ranges in today’s driver, metalwood, and iron shafts
Finally, a player should also consider which shaft material is best for their irons. For years, steel and graphite were the only options. Shaft manufacturers began to integrate composite shafts into the industry a few years ago, which are a blend of graphite and steel. So which is the best for you?
- Typically produces higher ball flights and spin rates than steel, can also lead to broader shot dispersion
- Beneficial to players with injuries to shoulders, elbows, or wrists due to shock absorbency
- New manufacturing processes are increasing consistency of graphite
- Typically produces lower ball flights and spin rates than graphite, tighter shot dispersion
- Harsher feel at impact
- New designs are lighter, allowing more flex than in the past
- Combination of graphite and steel, theoretically offering best of both worlds
- Priced higher than regular graphite or steel
- Results may vary
Adjustable This and That
It appears that adjustability is here to stay, and it is important to note that any change to the weighting or loft/face angle of a driver or metalwood will have a significant impact on the CG and face orientation of the club. Believe it or not, these variables begin to venture into the realm of extremely complex and are best left in the hands of an experienced club fitter to achieve the desired performance benefits.
Class Dismissed… For Today
Hopefully, the above items provide a basis of knowledge to help clarify the multitude of considerations made when assessing which products may work best for you.
There are so may options when it comes to golf equipment, and even with a basic working knowledge of product design and its typical impacts on performance, a player should still seek help from a qualified individual to help them sort through the ocean of choices they face.
Remember, the primary objective of fitting a club to a player is to give them a tool that enables them to enjoy the game more, and play a little better. We at TrueSpec believe performance should always be your compass when making these decisions, and not aesthetics or feel, though both of those attributes are definitely a consideration. Your scorecard and handicap will thank you for it.