When you walk into Cool Clubs in either San Francisco or Scottsdale, chances are you’ll be greeted by Clare Cornelius or Sue O’Connor. These Master Club Fitters have cemented themselves as two of a small number of women in the golf industry who know the ins-and-outs of fitting and building a club to the precise specification for each golfer they work with.
When you talk to them, you quickly learn that they are passionate about club fitting. They get joy out of helping players improve their games, and have found a sense of purpose in this space.
“Ultimately we want people to play better golf and maximize the enjoyment they get from the game,” O’Connor said.
It’s no surprise for someone who has gone through the process of getting properly fitted that having a set built for you can make a huge difference. But making sure you get fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing is equally important.
“It’s pretty easy to read a book and learn the basic stuff,” Cornelius said, adding, “but until you start doing it, you don’t realize that it’s technical and it’s also art. In order to fit people and really fine tune everything, you have to marry both of those parts and it’s a matter of experience, and doing it over and over again, with the understanding that every golfer is different.”
As part of MyGolfSpy’s series on Women’s Golf Month, we sat down with Sue and Clare to learn about how they got into the club fitting business, mistakes they made in beginning, what they learned from those mistakes, and how the club industry can start recruiting more women into the business.
MGS: Before you became Master Club Fitters, how did you get into golf?
Sue: I didn’t start playing golf until I was almost 40 years old. I’d moved to Chicago and the sports that I had participated in as an adult were not available. My husband came home one day and suggested I try golf. I said, “Why would I want to play a stupid sport like that?” Well, turns out I ended up really loving the sport and now I work in golf!
Clare: I got into it when I was about 14. I grew up playing all kinds of sports. I never really liked golf but my dad thought I’d be pretty good at it. So, I decided to give it a try and then qualified for my high school team. I was bad at the time, but as I got a lot better, I began to enjoy the challenge of it and fell in love with the game.
MGS: Did you ever think ‘I’m going to work in the golf industry one day’?
Sue: I was looking for a way to play inexpensively and I thought if I worked at a golf course, I could get playing privileges and free range balls. So, I found a job in a pro shop working in merchandise. Then I met a guy who worked primarily as a project manager at a construction company but had started a club fitting company. He asked if I wanted to help him, and it sounded like a cool opportunity. Seeing club fitting onsite really piqued my interest when I started noticing the different shapes of club heads and varying types of shafts and learning what that meant.
I started building clubs with him, and because we were in Chicago, I couldn’t keep busy enough during the winters. That’s when I discovered Cool Clubs in Arizona. I called them up, and boom, now I’m here full time.
Clare: During my last two years in college I was on the golf team and I was studying exercise science and wanted to stay and do something with golf. I thought perhaps I would get into coaching, so I started looking around for opportunities in that space when I graduated. I made the move to San Francisco and found a job coaching a high school team and started working at a Golfsmith. Five months later I found Cool Clubs and started working there full time, and have been here for five and a half years.
MGS: What makes a club fitter good at their job?
Sue: To me club fitting is like putting together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle and putting all the parts and pieces together that make the whole set work for the player. And it’s constantly continuing your education in the space, and also empowering who you’re fitting with that knowledge. My goal is to add value in terms of playability, performance, confidence, enjoyment, and education. I want to increase their golf IQ by teaching them about equipment design and shaft profiles so they have a better understanding of why certain choices are made. I think it’s extremely helpful when players know why some clubs and shafts are better than others for their game.
MGS: Can you give us an example of what educating that player would look like?
Sue: We often have players come in and insist that they need a 3 wood in their bag. Many of them will hit a 4 or 5 wood farther than a 3 wood because the extra loft helps them launch the ball into the air higher and they subsequently get more carry distance and total distance. Traditionally the 3 wood was the next club in the bag after the driver, but that club does not maximize distance off the fairway for everyone. By using the Trackman data, we can illustrate the difference in the performance of the various lofts of the fairway woods. Then we can put the best one in their bag with a shaft that enhances the performance even more.
MGS: What’s a funny story of when you first started out and perhaps didn’t give someone the club they needed?
Sue: Well I hold the record for fitting the slowest swing speed and fastest swing speed in one day. A woman came in and was swinging her driver at 48 miles an hour in the morning. Then later that afternoon, a guy from college came in was swinging his driver at 128 miles an hour. When I got back to the shop I had to change gears because each golfer is completely different, and you’re thinking about how you’re building their sets totally different.
Clare: I have some funny stories that I probably shouldn’t share, but clearly the one where you’re fitting a left-handed player and you’re halfway through the fitting and you go over, grab another club for them, put it together and hand it to the person being fit, and they look at you like you’ve gone nuts… Then it turns out they’re right-handed.
MGS: How can we get more women into the club fitting industry?
Sue: I have given presentations at public and private clubs and have gone into detail about club, shaft, and grip design as well as set makeup. The target audience is women’s golf groups. While these women might not be in the market for a job in the golf industry, they have daughters and granddaughters so hopefully, I can spark some interest. When Clare and I do our jobs well and players see the enthusiasm we have for our jobs and the game, maybe we can get more women interested in the industry. Perhaps we could also convince the media who cover the LPGA events to run a few vignettes on women in the industry. For example, they could follow a club head from design through manufacturing into the store shelf emphasizing the woman engineer through to the woman fitter. Maybe Golf Channel’s Morning Drive could do a series on women in the industry from players through equipment and shaft Rep’s to sales and fitting.
Clare: A big part of it is that women aren’t aware of what jobs are available. And I think Sue is touching on that with what she’s showing the girls and women she fits by doing those presentations. For my part, it’s about being enthusiastic about what I’m doing, and I fit numerous junior players and some pretty good female junior golfers. Maybe if I help them improve their game and have fun with it, it can help spark an interest in what I do.