You Have The Power To Demand Better
(By GolfSpy T) Almost inconceivably there are some of you who still haven't heard of Miura. Worse yet, there remain some who have heard of Miura, but can't see a degree past the cost. And why is that? Here's a theory. While you've been busy checking price tags you many not have even realized that big golf companies haven't simply taught you to spend less (but spend often), they've actually conditioned you to expect less.
Sure, big OEM clubs cost less than the so-called boutique brands, but unless you win some sort of contest, you'll quickly find out that even so-called "custom orders" have their limitations. Sure we can do a custom shaft upgrade. Just choose from these 5. Want custom grips? Absolutely...just pick from these 3..and no, we don't stock IOmic. Frequency matched shafts? Good luck. "Sorting is done by the shaft manufacturer, we just assemble them". Custom ferrules? Anything you want...as long as it's black. As consumers, when we don't realize what's possible, too often we settle for what's on the rack.
What you need to realize is that as a consumer you have the power to demand better. It's your right to expect that if a club is supposed to be 27°, it's 27° - not some number in between 26 and 28 (if you're lucky). You absolutely should expect that every iron in your set will be perfectly weighted and balanced. When it comes to spending your hard earned money, you deserve nothing less than a Tour Van quality finished product built to exacting specifications with whatever level of customization you desire. If you believe you deserve better than off-the-rack, and that you deserve the very best your money can buy, then I believe you deserve Miura.
A Miura Fitting Story
Shortly before 11:30 on dank, rainy Thursday morning, having already driven 45 minutes from my home just outside Saratoga Springs, NY, I boarded an equally dank south-bound Amtrak that would transport me to Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan. To mitigate any risk of getting lost in the city's sequentially numbered streets, I took an early train, making sure to arrive early for my 3:00 appointment. While 189 miles (378 round trip) is a long way to travel for an iron fitting, having already heard from Miura, and having experienced their clubs for myself, the journey wasn't so much about hitting golf balls as it was spending some time with a fitter who could provide me with the critical missing 3rd perspective on Miura's legendary irons. His perspective, that of a man who has seen nearly everything the industry has to offer, would ultimately cement my belief that a small company in Himeji Japan, one whose products many American golfers still haven't tried, is producing what are without a doubt the world's finest forged irons.
While the ride into Manhattan was nothing to speak of, on the return trip a group of mostly in the bag Yankee fans boarded my train. One sat next to me and recounted how he and his friends had left the game early - well before the Bronx Bombers erased 6 run deficit in dramatic fashion; 3 grand slams, a major league record.
I didn't care, but I had neither the heart nor the courage to let tell him that, or that I am a Sox (and more recently a Tiger's) fan, or that baseball was the farthest thing from my mind today. I didn't show him my swollen hands. I didn't tell him that I was on my way home from a Miura fitting, and that I'd just put four of the company's heads to 100 or so golf balls. I never mentioned that I had tried no less than 6 different shafts from Project X, KBS, and Nippon. I was tired. I didn't bother to tell him that perhaps my swing isn't as bad as I thought, but that it still wasn't good enough. I should have told him that even at close to double the cost of most anything on the rack, Miura irons are the best value in golf. I thought he should know that, just like I think you should know that.
When in Manhattan...
My destination is only 3 and half blocks from Penn station. After a short walk, which included a stop for what is almost certainly the worst smoothie in the state (if not the country), $5 the poorer, I walked into the New York Golf Center. For a guy from the burbs, stepping through those doors for the first time is a surreal experience. With a security guard standing sentry at the door, the New York Golf Center seems almost out of place. It is a golf oasis nestled in an urban dessert of skyscrapers, street vendors, and non-stop commotion. The walls and isles are packed tight with apparel and footwear. Despite comparatively confined quarters, the selection which includes names like PUMA, Travis Mathew, and J. Lindeburg, more than rivals the the Golf Galaxies and Dicks Sporting Good chains which are commonplace in the stripmall-lined streets of my home town. One thing, however, is conspicuous in absence. With the exception of a small, yet prominent display case at the base of a flight of stairs, there is no indication that the New York Golf Center stocks a single golf clubs.
The second floor of the New York Golf Center is where the action is. Golf bags and iron sets line every inch of the wood paneled walls. Of particular prominence are two sets of custom assembled Miura irons. The first is a USA themed set of CB-501s outfitted with red, white, and blue, ferrules, grips, and matching paint fill. The 2nd is a set of the newly released Limited Edition Black Tournament Blades. Outfitted with bright orange and yellow ferrules and matching grips, sticker price on the blades, an 11-piece set that includes wedges, is $3300. Clearly I'm not in Kansas anymore.
At the edge of a well-outfitted putting area, Vokey, Cleveland, and Callaway wedges are stacked in a rack floor to ceiling. Drivers, woods, and hybrids fill the interior. The putting green is flanked by fitting carts and a radar-equipped hitting bay that affords golfers the opportunity to try, try, and try again before they buy. For a golf equipment junkie, this is the champagne room.
It is between the putting green and a row of fitting carts that I first meet Josh Chervokas, Director of the NY Golf Center's custom shop, and the guy tasked with putting me into the right set of Miura irons. Tall, in a pair of plaid pants, a bright green polo, and black cap (all PUMA), Josh doesn't look the part of one of the top club fitters (Miura or otherwise) on the East coast. In my mind I pictured him older, more reserved, more traditional...more like the Miura brand itself. The guy I just introduced myself to is none of the above. He is Rickie Fowler's uncle, or at least he looks the part.
I'd later learn, Josh grew up playing the game at the Sleepy Hollow Golf Club in Scarobourgh, NY. With plenty dog-leg right holes, Josh, a lefty, developed a draw to give himself an advantage over his right-handed friends. He now calls Bethpage his home track, which is the perfect playground for him to test his collection of largely custom built toys, most of which show off Josh's colorful style and affinity for bright grips, ferrules, and custom paint fill. While Josh describes himself as a "featherhead" who has a few different sets of clubs that all see play from time to time, if he's playing you for money, his left-handed gunmetal Miura blades with early KBS C-Taper prototype shafts will most definitely be in his bag.
While at first glance Josh doesn't look the part of a seasoned fitter, when it comes to pairing a golfer and his tools, Josh is the real deal. He performs around 600 fittings annually and has been featured in Golf Magazine (most recently in the 2011 edition). The thing is, the conservative looking guy in their stock photo bears little resemblance the man standing in front of me right now, and looks nothing like a man who would later tell me that Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is the most frequently played song on his iPod. He is personable, he is engaging, and he is all business.
It's funny what one overhears while browsing through the isles of a golf shop. Sometimes the staff forgets you're there, and may say something not otherwise meant for public consumption. What I learned about Josh while hiding quietly among a the golf bags in the minutes before my session is that despite his relaxed appearance, he takes his craft as seriously as a 4-foot putt to win the Masters. His reputation is everything to him and its on the line with each and every fitting he performs, and with every set of clubs he builds. Like Katsuhiro Miura (or Miura-san as those inside Miura commonly refer to him), for Josh cutting a corner or taking a shortcut simply is not an option. He is a professed believer in integrity and absolute perfection. On these things there can be no compromise.
Steadily rising as more people become aware of their offerings, Miura currently accounts for about 10% of Josh's custom fittings business. Some come to the New York Golf Center specifically looking for Miura, others Josh and his staff introduce to the brand. While cost invariably enters the discussion we talk about Miura, in the heart of Mid-Town Manhattan, where Josh Chervokas practices his trade, money is seldom an issue.
Josh explains, "New York City certainly affords me a high percentage of clients for whom cost is no object. That type of clientele always demands the best product be it golf clubs, cars, wine, or any other interests they might have and Miura has proven to be the best product I can put my hands on. That being said, golf is an obsessive game and many of my clients are hard working folk who might not spend as freely on their other endeavors, but see the value of spending on their passion for golf".
The Miura Difference
Though the New York Golf Center is one of over 100 Miura dealers in the US, they are not a Miura dealer exclusively. Like they are at nearly any other pro shop in the country, TaylorMade, Mizuno, and Titleist are staples here. Josh and his team will gladly fit their clientele for any brand they stock, but as a seasoned club fitter and builder, Josh doesn't just sell it all, he has seen it all - good and bad; and when his customers demand the very best, Josh fits them for Miura.
Perfection is the place where Miura and a fitting with Josh Chervokas overlap. He has been fitting golfers for and assembling Miura clubs since 2008 and believes that there simply is no comparison to be drawn between Miura and other brands. "Miura head weights are always within one gram of perfect, the necks are dead straight and the lofts and lies are always perfect". Josh further explains that "this type of quality is simply not possible in a mass market production line, which is why Miura will always be a boutique product. Any change in this philosophy and craftsmanship would stop Miura from being Miura".
While operating on smaller scale allows Miura to be more methodical and more precise in its manufacturing techniques, the secret to producing the best irons in the golf equipment industry lies not simply with manufacturing less product. The commitment to being the very best is ingrained deep in the company culture and it all starts with Miura-san himself. Miura's President, Adam Barr, explains it this way:
The company has developed a tradition of patient perfectionism that comes straight from Miura-san. He is a compelling mixture of pride and high standards in the same person. He is always proud of his work, but he always feels he can do even better, and that becomes his mission on the next attempt. Everyone at the factory and forge feels the same way.
The actual mechanics of tight tolerances and high production standards involves a patient design of processes, and an insistence that hands and machinery be capable of making the clubs to those standards. The hand processes, from polishing to grinding to paint fill and beyond, are taught and learned patiently and throughly. On the machine portion, the drill used to create the shaft receptacle in the hosels, for example, has to be able to create the same diameter hole every time, and it has to be straight vertically. Nothing less will do. Same with the steel selected for forging, so that the grain is uniform and fine. And the spin-forging machine, so that every joint is the same.
Finally, the fact that Miura has no ambitions in mass production enables us to literally keep an eye -- a set of educated eyes -- on every head. If it's not right, it simply doesn't leave the factory or forge.
What I found surprising is that, unlike bigger OEMs, Miura doesn't provide its dealers with fitting carts, and despite a serious effort to expand their dealer network, there are no plans to do so. As Mr. Barr told me, the decision boils down to giving Miura's dealers and fitting experts the freedom to do what they do best. He says:
"Rather than impose a system on them, we want to let them do what they know how to do -- that is, work with their customers in a way that best helps a particular golfer's game. If some dealer/fitters find it's best to assemble their clubs in a cart, that's fine. But there's no need to mandate one. The Miura dealer/fitter can shaft up the demo clubs he thinks best for the golfer who comes to him for help. We believe a golf swing is indeed like a fingerprint: unique to its owner, and for that reason we don't want to do anything that would 'overstandardize' the fitting process".
In fact, Josh's custom Miura cart is entirely his own creation. Using FAZ-Fit connectors to join head to shaft, the do-it-yourself approach allows Josh to stay up to date with the latest premium shaft offerings. He's also able to offer multiple lengths and flexes (including hard and soft stepped options) for every shaft in his arsenal. It's an added bit of precision that standard OEM carts simply don't offer.
Though they don't provide a cart, Josh's relationship with Miura does allow him to offer his customers options he simply can't with other brands. Through Miura, he can order a variety of non-standard options including custom head weights, special grinds, and from time to time a special finish. This flexibility allows Josh to dial in a truly custom setup for every golfer he fits for Miura.
As unique as Miura irons are, the fitting process itself is anything but. There are no proprietary shaft analyzers, no motion capture systems, no diodes or sensors to connect to your body. Technology of course plays a role in the fitting process, but even that isn't what you might expect. While I had anticipated being fit on a Flightscope launch monitor, Josh informed me that the New York Golf Center had recently replaced that system with a camera-based system from HD Golf. Curious about the change, I asked Josh to explain why he moved away from the popular system. He told me:
"Flightscope and Trackman are both great systems, but radar-based systems perform better outside where they can measure the entire flight of the ball. When used indoors the vertical launch, ballspeed, and backspin numbers provided by these systems are quite good, but I find that axis of rotation (curvature of the ballflight) and the club path/face angle measurements can be misleading and inaccurate. The HD system uses overhead cameras and gives me a better understanding of where a golfer is hitting the ball, not just how far and how high".
Beyond that, Josh's fitting process itself is almost matter of fact. It starts with a series of shots to help him determine if any adjustments to the standard length and lie are needed (they weren't). What I would later piece together is that during that first 10 shots or so Josh was also sizing up my ability to make consistent contact with the center of the club face. This would be his first step in finding my perfect Miura match.
Blades vs. Cavity Backs - Which Should You Play?
When it comes to determining the right type of club for the golfer there are countless and often contrasting philosophies. Some would suggest that everyone should play blades as they will ultimately make you a better golfer. Other's suggest that anyone with a handicap above 5 should be playing a large game-improvement iron. It's a debate that has always fascinated me, and I was curious to learn how Josh's thoughts on the subject compared to the Miura company line.
In the days leading up to the Miura fitting, I checked in with Adam Barr, and asked him to explain the Miura philosophy of blades vs. cavitybacks and who should play what. He provided me with examples of high handicap golfers playing Tournament Blades, and skilled players playing the new Passing Point 9003s. He further explained, "In a nutshell, our philosophy is, play what works for your game and gives you the most pleasure in golf. Think for yourself as a golfer (with the aid of competent fitting advice), instead of doing what custom dictates".
The Miura philosophy is so simple, and yet, as golfers I think far too often we forgot that we play this game for pleasure, not the mental torture it often provides. From my end of things, as a guy who loves the clean lines and overall look of a blade, the Miura policy, was certainly what I wanted to hear, and brought me perilously close to an interpretation that I would have expressed to Josh as "Adam Barr says I should play blades". What a child won't say when he wants something, right?
Like any knowledgeable fitter, Josh has his own opinions on the cavity-back vs. blade debate. He believes "custom fitting is all about matching clubs to a golfer's particular tendencies". While most manufacturers will target clubs to a segment of golfers based on handicap, Josh views handicap as a starting point only. He explains, "the number one factor in determining a style of head is consistency of center contact. Some high handicappers hit it in the middle of the club consistently but have terrible short games. Some low handicappers make marginal contact but have exquisite short games. I rely mostly on impact tape and efficiency ratings to help me determine if a design is forgiving enough for a particular player".
Remember those first 10 or so shots I told you about. I perhaps made center contact on 5 of them (and that might be overstating it). I hadn't realized it at the time, but after those first few swings, Josh had already made the assessment that I wasn't an ideal candidate for Miura Tournament Blades (even if Adam Barr says I should play them).
Heads, Shafts, and Crunching the Numbers
The majority of my hour plus fitting was spent moving back between the new Passing Point 9003, the CB-202, and the CB-501. I assumed that the Passing Points would be the most popular in the lineup, and Josh confirmed that he's been building plenty of them since they came out earlier this year. In his assessment the newest iron in the Miura lineup offers a great balance of forgiveness and playability, but like anything else, isn't a perfect fit for everyone. Even with Passing Point's popularity the New York Golf Center continues to sell a good mix of the entire Miura lineup.
As I tried each Miura head, what was impossible not to notice is the consistency at impact from game-improvement Passing Points, all the way to the Tournament Blades (more on that in a bit). With little to no difference in feel between the 4 Miura heads Josh had me hit (Passing Point 9003, CB-202, CB-501, and the Tournament Blades), the Miura customer is free to focus on finding an iron that suites the eye, and provides the performance his game requires. The outstanding Miura feel is never compromised.
Along the way we mixed and matched shafts including the KBS (standard Tour and C-Taper), Project X, and even the comparatively lighter Nippon Super Peening Blue. In most cases I tried multiple flexes to help Josh dial in my perfect fit. For his part Josh did an excellent job of keeping me calm and relaxed (even while I sprayed balls around his studio), which is an undervalued skill for a fitter.
Between each series of shots I took a break to give Josh the opportunity to crunch the data and review the numbers with me. While I was almost exclusively focused on distance and accuracy, Josh's eyes were trained on launch angles, spin rates, and smash factors. We talked about ideal launch conditions and which combinations were spinning too much, and which were launching too high. He was also able to show me that my swingpath was actually pretty good, and more importantly, relatively consistent. Finding out that I wasn't coming over the top like I have in the past was news (good news) to me. Josh further explained that much of my inconsistency stemmed from my hands being too quick or too slow. While this was hardly a swing lesson, Josh gave me a little something to feel good about, which definitely made the fitting less stressful.
After the first 3 or 4 clubs, though I was aware Josh had me retrying certain combinations, I made an effort to stop paying attention to what combo I was actually hitting. Granted, I knew what I wanted (and wasn't aware that Josh had already determined I wasn't going to get it), but I had committed myself to not letting my personal bias toward any shaft or head lead me to try and influence the results. Swing, have fun, and try and learn a little something - that was the plan.
I maintained that commitment right up until Josh presented me with his final recommendation. In that moment I felt a a degree of disappointment stemming from the simple fact that he had made his determination without even giving me the opportunity to hit the Tournament Blades. Not one to go down without a fight, I quickly suggested that we give the blades a try...you know...just in case. He indulged my little blade fantasy and hooked me up with the appropriate shaft combination.
Standing over the ball with the Tournament Blade in my hand, I committed to hitting that club better than I'd ever hit any club in my life. I wanted the blades in my bag. I was going to influence the results, and those results were going to be awesome. I took my swings, and although I missed a couple, I was nearly certain I had striped a few balls solidly enough to convince Josh that he had gotten it wrong. As it turns out, I'm no Rickie Fowler (and Josh isn't actually his uncle).
Damn the Numbers
As he did with every other combination I had hit previously, Josh reviewed the numbers with me, and while they weren't that bad (that's how I chose to remember it anyway), he explained that with the blades, my inability to make consistent center contact was causing the ball to launch too high and spin too much. Finding a diplomatic way to tell a golfer he sucks is another undervalued skill for a fitter, and Josh has mastered it.
You probably won't be surprised to learn that, unable to argue the numbers with him, I found myself wondering how frequently Josh's customers ignore his recommendations and buy what they want instead of what the data suggest will actually improve their game.
Josh tells me that his recommendations are rarely rejected. While he points out his customers are always free to buy whatever they want he adds:
"I also stress that I am extremely serious about my craft and my only goal is to help them play their best golf. I lay my reputation on the line with each fit and so it is more important for me to be successful than to sell something. People almost always respond to this type of reasoning and ultimately choose what they need as opposed to what they want".
I've never been one for dead solid reasoning, but Josh has a point. Do I want to play blades, or do I want to play better? Since the "both" option was off the table, a decision had to be made.
Now in my mind, the relationship between a club fitter and his client isn't totally unlike that of a doctor and his patient. As with your doctor, if you're not willing to trust your fitter's recommendations, than what's the point really? Of course, I also never want to be "that guy" either. I have tremendous respect for what Josh does and the level of commitment he puts into his work. When you take home a set of clubs from a reputable fitter, you become a trustee of his reputation. The last thing I want to do is put the wrong set of clubs (even a set of Miura Limited Edition Black Blades) into my bag, raise my scores, and tell anybody who asks that Josh Chervokas built my new Miuras and my handicap went up 5 strokes.
So in the end it wasn't was so much a decision as it was a matter of showing a little faith in a guy who knows a lot more about club fitting than I do. I'll save the details of what Josh is building for me for part 2, but I can tell you that a quick visit to his shop confirmed what I suspected all along. Josh and I share a similar style when it comes to outfitting, and personalizing our clubs. We discussed some options, and came up with what you might call a non-traditional (pimped out) design plan. The clubs are being assembled as I write this, and while I haven't seen them yet, I can say with almost certainty, that the level of quality and personalization I'm getting from the combination of a Miura heads and a skilled builder (one who's a bit of a non-conformist) absolutely cannot be matched by any other OEM in the golf industry today.
Are Miura Irons Right for You?
Each and every time I've put a Miura iron into a MyGolfSpy tester's hands, without exception that tester has said two things; "These are the best feeling irons I've ever hit", and "...but they're so expensive". Now as Josh has already told us, cost is not a consideration for everyone. Many of his customers have the luxury of focusing exclusively on quality, and when quality alone is the issue, for Josh, the answer is always Miura. The thing is, Josh isn't alone. He's only one of well over 100 dealers in the US, and I suspect if you talked to any of those other Miura dealers in the country, perhaps the world, regardless of what other bands they fit for (and most fit for multiple brands) they'll all tell you the same thing; No other manufacturer consistently delivers a product as technically perfect as Miura.
When you're accustomed to seeing a press release anytime a given manufacture's clubs finish anywhere in the top 10, it can be difficult to imagine that best irons in the world are being manufactured by a company who can't say with any degree of certainty how many of its clubs are in play on Tour from one week to the next. That's the thing about Miura. While they are naturally proud any time a PGA pro finds success with their clubs (that success includes two Masters (Olazabal '91, Woosnam '94), a US Open (Goosen 2001), and most recently the 2011 TPC Sawgrass (Choi)), the company seldom comments publicly on the rumored use of their clubs, and according to company President, Adam Barr, they are "just as happy when an unknown club champion, junior, or recreational player gets satisfaction from our clubs".
So do I think you should be playing Miura? Absolutely, but I also understand that just like with a set of irons, no argument I can make is going to work for everybody. If all you see is the sticker price ($1400 to over $2000) then Miura may never be right for you. If you can comprehend that in this day and age true quality and craftsmanship are the rarest of commodities, then perhaps you will appreciate that cost is not the same as value and that perfection is priceless.
For me the best argument is perhaps the most basic. Since the first time I picked up a Miura iron I have never for a moment contemplated playing anything else. In that respect I am a reformed equipment junkie. It wasn't long ago I was like many of you. Each year I'd put something new in my hoping the change would bring some sort of revelation to my golf game. Even if logic and reason suggested it would do more harm than good, I wanted the latest and greatest. I think as golf equipment connoisseurs we're on an almost constant quest to find the last set of irons we'll ever need. In Miura I've found something better. I've found the last set of irons I'll ever want, and you can't put a price tag on that.
Coming in Part 2
In PART 2 I'll show you the irons that Josh built for me, and explain why working with a skilled builder is the only way to ensure you actually get what you're paying for.