Three editors and a rabbi walk into a clubfitting. yes, they walk out with new gear, but also hope for where their games are headed.
For the entire 18-year history of the Hot List, there has been one constant: the undisputed value of getting custom-fit for new clubs. Although we frequently extoll the virtues of clubfitting, it’s not often we tell you what it’s like to get fit, how the experience is no less – and no more – daunting than hitting a shot off the first tee on a busy Saturday morning, and, most importantly, how results can be both game-changing and soul-soothing. What follows are four stories on recent fittings from three of our editors and our part-time contributor and full-time spiritual adviser Rabbi Marc Gellman. Let their wisdom be an inspiration to see how far new clubs – the right clubs – can take you.
Name: Brad Clifton, 37
Type of fitting: Driver
A driver fitting at a driving range: Trust the process and let it fly
Investing in a clubfitting shouldn’t be a tough sell, but golfers find excuses. I’m not good enough to get fit, or I hit my driver just fine, or the new stuff’s not any better than what I play – all might sound like you. That last bit was me. Well, that’s not completely true. You see, I’ve always been a gear nerd. I marvel at the innovators working on tomorrow’s new flexible face or multi-layered core, many of whom left their previous jobs at NASA and Boeing to do so. I believe them when they explain the science behind the design, and then show me the reality of its performance. That’s irrefutable evidence, right before your eyes.
While old-schoolers love scouring eBay for amazing hickory-shafted bargains, I’m all about the shiny new stuff. Putters that make alignment dummy-proof. Wedges that help stop it on a 20-cent piece. And drivers, for the love of God, that can finally end my eternal mission of clearing that netting at the back of the driving range.
Little did I know, the man who was going to help me with my pursuit lived no more than a 9-iron from my front door. Sydney’s a big place – about 5.3 million people for those counting – but not big enough to separate me from TaylorMade master fitter Will Urasaki. Not only do we live in the same postcode, we live on the same block. Small world, and a great ice-breaker to make this fitting a relaxing experience.
“Clubfitting involves a lot of high-tech gadgetry these days, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed,” writes Golf Digest’s Joel Beall. “First, it’s a guaranteed way to get better. Second, it’s easy to educate yourself so that you can have a meaningful dialogue with the fitter. Familiarise yourself with the basics of what launch-monitor numbers mean.”
I’ve paid enough attention to Bryson DeChambeau’s mad-scientist explanations to know high launch and low spin are crucial to maximising distance. Urasaki was there to apply these same principles.
If you go into a fitting unprepared, you have to rely on the fitter’s interpretation of your swings, and you won’t know what questions to ask. It’s similar to taking your car to a mechanic. Without a general understanding of the basics, you enter the transaction wondering if you will be taken advantage of.
But trusted fitters like Urasaki go out of their way to get you understanding everything from the outset. He got me hitting shots with my current driver to see where I was at. After carefully examining my numbers, setup, shot shape and trajectory, he quizzed me on what my “miss” was – the shot that brings me undone the most.
“Far left and right, in any order, at any time,” I replied without hesitation, before explaining my fast swing speed can cause major problems when my hands get out of sync at impact. I also tend to hit down quite steeply with my driver, as Trackman data confirmed, which balloons my spin rate and robs me of even more distance.
The goal was soon clear: “Due to your slight draw swing, we want to help keep that face open to optimise launch and spin for you,” explains Urasaki, before fitting
me into a Sim 2 Max 9-degree head, adjusted one notch lower (8.25 degrees) with a Tensei Blue AV Raw 60-gram X shaft (tipped 0.5 inches) and Golf Pride MCC Plus 4 MID grip. “The reason we are tipping the shaft is to help create more stability at impact but to also help reduce spin,” he adds.
To my surprise, my one-year-old driver had competition. (Now, don’t expect a year-old driver to be obsolete, but I wasn’t fit for this driver, so lesson learned.)
A couple of 80-percent swings to get the feel of my new setup and BOOM! The restricted-flight range ball was too hot for the poor old netting at the back, sailing over into the land beyond.
“Let’s see… 302-yard carry rolling out to 331,” says Urasaki, eyes firmly on our Trackman computer.
“Holy s–t!” I blurted aloud, before teeing up another ball. BOOM! Same result, 326 yards, straight over the back netting with frequent flyer points. Before I could tee up a third and attempt the hat-trick – and potential removal from the premises – Urasaki snatched the driver from my hands and said, “I think that’s the one.”
We tried a few more shafts to compare results but deep down we knew there was no second guessing. I had a new big stick on order, a new controlled swing, and a new thirst to play more golf.
“What we’ve done is allowed you to keep the clubface open 1.5 degrees and that helps reduce on average, about 150rpm in spin,” Urasaki concludes. Happy days.
While my search for more distance was complete, it was the new ball flight and increased accuracy that had me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. For me, keeping my tee shots in play makes golf feel more like a holiday and less like yard work. I also like a pleasing sound at impact, attributes I know are important after almost 10 years of taking notes from our testers at the Hot List.
I’m happy I trusted the data, and Urasaki’s instinct to go with a setup I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. With the right bit of pre-fitting self-study, you should, too.
Name: Christopher Powers, 28
Type of fitting: Putter
Putter intervention: technology and a top-level fitter
When I received an e-mail that I’d been volunteered for a putter fitting by senior editor Mike Stachura, I assumed it was an intervention. (I’d earned a reputation of “serial three-putter” on our old office putting green.) It read: “I’d be forever indebted to you if you did this,” but it might as well have said, “Have a seat; we have something to say to you.”
Before that e-mail, it would not have crossed my mind to get fit for a putter. I thought my issues were completely mental. No magic wand could save me. I quickly learned that a putter fitting won’t cure everything, but it’s more important than I thought. Jon Bock, the master fitter and builder at Club Champion who took me on my putter-fitting journey, simply bent my old putter’s lie angle 1 degree. This was before I even glanced at the hundreds of putters surrounding the practice green. While I was rolling a few, Bock asked questions about my putting problems. I told him I’m great from distance but abysmal from five feet and in. Clearly Bock was an expert on equipment and the technology at his disposal (he’s been doing this for 15 years), but he was also once a teaching pro. He threw all of this knowledge into a blender and scoured the green for a few putters.
My miss is a pull, 99.9 percent of the time, and when it’s not, it’s a push because of over-compensation. Bock noticed I open the face on the backstroke and cut across on the through-stroke. He used what looked like a leftover droid from “The Mandalorian” that measured more things about my putting stroke than I knew could be measured. He called the droid “Sam”. Later, I realised that was short for its name: SAM, as in Science and Motion PuttLab. You have probably heard of launch monitors for driver fittings, but launch monitors and devices like the SAM PuttLab, the Quintic and other systems like Odyssey Fits are bringing that kind of data to putter selection.
First roll I was 15.2 degrees open on the takeaway and 6.5 degrees open at impact. To make a putt with that stroke, I would have to aim like I was trying to miss. My “rotation consistency” was about 58 percent. Does that sound good to you? Unless you are running for elected office, it shouldn’t. Bock said the average for a decent player like myself (8-handicap) is 70 to 75 percent.
What’s rotation consistency? The ability to repeat the relationship between the putterface and the path of the stroke from takeaway to follow-through. Some high-speed cameras can see that, but so can my new friend SAM. It was a teachable moment.
Bock laid out four putters: two big-name models, one other putter that we are not going to talk about, plus an Evnroll ER5 Hatchback, which I’d never heard of. (Pro tip: just because you haven’t heard of it isn’t a good reason not to try it, especially when you’re working with a top-level fitter.) Naturally, I was drawn to the more famous name brands. I didn’t even take the Evnroll seriously at first. (The “other” was dead from the start.) Still, Bock noticed immediately that the Evnroll was the one. I rolled in almost every putt, and the perfect clicking sound was like getting instant feedback. He made some slight adjustments to the loft and lie angle, and I rolled in four more without blinking. Was this the one?
“I’ll just say it now, 110 percent, this is your putter,” Bock said. This might be the most important thing I learned from the fitting: forget what you think you know. Trust your fitter. Trust the results.
The results showed that 110 percent was an understatement. My rotation consistency went from 58 percent to 90! I went from having the putter 6.5 degrees open at impact to 3.2 degrees, and 15.2 degrees open on the takeaway to 11.2. On the follow-through, I was 3.2 degrees closed, as opposed to 0.6 degrees open when I first rolled a few. All of this with a putter I initially scoffed at.
The final stats revealed that my overall consistency – which takes alignment, impact, path and rotation into account – was 75 percent, the same average as a PGA Tour player! “Even on your misses, they still rolled perfectly,” Bock said. “That’s a huge advantage.” In other words, technology. Shockingly, the measurements on this putter weren’t all that different from the one I had been using. Just a quarter of a degree change in loft and lie angle. In other words, these minor changes, changes I didn’t know I needed, made a monumental difference. The right putter with the right specs has brought out the perfect stroke I knew I had in me all the time.
Name: Alex Myers, 38
Type of fitting: Wedge
A fitting with the guru of wedges
“If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” I’ve heard people say that before, but I’ve never quite believed it when they do. That is, until I met Bob Vokey.
On this day, the legendary clubmaker spent more than three hours with me, most of which involved watching my golf swing, and yet he was beaming just as much after as he was when I first showed up to the Titleist Performance Institute for the eponymous Bob Vokey Tour Experience. It should be noted that I’m beaming, too. For years I’ve played off-the-rack Vokey wedges, but now I’ll play actual Vokey wedges. I tried to explain to my wife that this would be like wearing a dress hand sewn by Gianni Versace only much more useful. After all, how many times can you wear a dress?
We start with a pep talk/lecture from the man who has helped create short-game magic for everyone from Seve to Tiger. I learn more about terms like bounce and grind and camber as Vokey takes me through a display of wedges lying on a table. “I make what the players want,” Vokey says flatly. “It’s not rocket science.” But it seems that way as he riffs through different grinds he has developed through the years, who played them and when they were put in play. He says technology changes in wedges as fast as it does in drivers. Though I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, Vokey quickly reassures me. “You don’t find the grind,” he says. “The grind finds you.”
Not surprisingly, a private audience with the man who has had a hand in countless Major championships and is the most popular person on the range at PGA Tour events isn’t cheap. The price of the Vokey Experience is $2,400. But that includes your time with the affable “Voke”, as he’s called – a session that mirrors the process he takes the best players in the world through – and a set of four wedges built for you that can be customised down to colour of label and stamping. Spots are limited, and you have to book the session months in advance.
After our initial show-and-tell lesson, it’s time to go outside to the real classroom, a beautiful grass range that is an oasis in an industrial park. I hit wedge after wedge as Vokey watches where the shots go. More importantly, he uses a monitor to look at things like my swing path and how I’m digging into the turf. Every few swings I’m handed a new or tweaked club as we test different grinds, shafts and bounces. It’s similar to other clubfittings I’ve done except for the fantastic tales Vokey shares. Also, those other fittings were never interrupted by 11-time tour winner Scott Hoch calling to ask for a new set of wedges. Get in line, Scott! It’s my turn. Despite being nervous to hit shots in front of one of the most famous clubmakers in history, I feel at ease with Vokey, who turns 82 this year, because of his infectious energy and positivity. “I’m the highest-paid club washer around!” he says while wiping a wedge down between shots.
I’m most excited to fine-tune the specs on a 60-degree. It’s my favourite, to the point I half-jokingly refer to myself as “Mr 60” around the Golf Digest office. In any event, the process is fun and fruitful as we find a combination that works enough for me to become the first person to hole a 40-yard shot from a particular location. By that point during the three-hour session, I had already decided to heed Vokey’s advice to diversify my portfolio of shots around the green by not just using my favourite club all the time. In Bob I trust.
After receiving my clubs a few weeks later, I couldn’t wait to put them in play. In just the second round with my new favourite toys, I holed a difficult pitch with my shiny 60. As I grinned from ear to ear, I couldn’t help thinking that I wish Voke was here to see it. The real Mr 60 would have been even happier.
Name: Rabbi Marc Gellman, 74
Type of fitting: Full bag, remote
A rabbi finds virtual (golf) salvation
Let’s get one thing straight. It is the archer not the arrows. Lee Trevino was legendary in his young days for beating guys for money by hitting the ball with only a Dr Pepper bottle. Great story, but for mere mortals even a bag of Dr Pepper bottles is not going to do the job. The arrows matter, and here is why: you probably can’t do much to change your swing, but you can change your sticks so that they fit your swing, and this makes a difference you can see and feel.
My story: two new knees and an assortment of health issues kept me from the game for almost 10 years, but thanks to God and a team of doctors and physical therapists, I’m healthier than I have been in years. It was time to return to the game I love and hate and mostly adore. Through the kindness of my pals at Golf Digest, I was hooked up with master fitter James Lee III at Ping for a full bag. Clubfitting is always a hit-and-miss proposition. Success obviously depends on the skill of the fitter, and like great surgeons (and great rabbis) there aren’t that many truly great ones around.
Finding a great clubfitter is like shopping for a therapist. You know you are screwed up, but it’s very hard to find a person who can unscrew you. All this is a truly daunting task, but it’s worth a bit of time and diligence to seek out people who are dedicated to the complex task of fitting arrows to archers.
COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into every normal endeavour, and clubfitting is no exception. Companies like Ping are thinking of fitting in a COVID-inspired but truly creative and remote way. Ping’s master fitters are set up on a Zoom site so that each fitter can do several fittings a day remotely. They call it telefitting. I signed up for a session armed with the basic measurements of my decrepit body, a video I took of my swing from a face-on and side-on view and some other stuff like my favourite ice cream flavour and novel (Rocky Road and Moby Dick). The hard part? I had to accept what my swing really looks like now. All this information lets good fitters know, remotely and with brutal honesty, what they are dealing with. James, a truly charming, patient and wise man, took me through all the numbers and choices, some of which were critical and did not show up on any swing monitor. Example: “Do you really need a 3-wood when you don’t hit it well off the deck?” Touché, James. Touché.
Even with videos and data, clubfitting is a mix of art and science. The possible combinations of shafts and clubs and loft and lie and launch angle and spin rate and landing angle and the confluence of Saturn and Jupiter have made the choices close to infinite. The conventional wisdom is that in-person fittings are the most thorough option for clubfitting because you get a chance to hit the shaft/clubhead combination you are considering. After experiencing telefitting, I’m not sure I agree. I’m betting that telefitting is the best option for most of us. For example, I can’t repeat the same swing 40 or 50 times to get a fair comparison between clubs. I’m also a victim of club lust. At one point I tried to get James to fit me for some Ping Blueprints, which are sexy muscle-back blades played by Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Tony Finau and a bunch of other super-elite, super-human golfers. I’m clearly not them, but I’m prone to human desires. What I needed was a fitter/therapist who could get me to listen to the truth about what tools my body needs to golf the way it can right now. Like the painful break-up of that first high-school crush, this is a message better received long distance. Our therapy/fitting session also allowed James to gently guide me towards the virtues of a 9-wood, which my inflated ego could never have accepted previously but now I find exhilarating. Proper terminology also helps. My new 40-gram ulralight graphite shafts are labelled SR, which no longer means “senior” but “soft regular”. Yes, I’m playing gender-neutral golf shafts, and my ego and game are better for it.
So I say that remote telefitting sessions from any major club manufacturer or golf-fitting company that offers the service are not just easy but desirable. You are trading the immediate advice of a salesperson for the remote advice of an expert. For me, it was a good trade. James was terrific and was firmly resistant to my preconceptions and bad ideas. I now trust him with my deepest secrets. Next week I’m calling James for a wedge consult and for his take on the meaning of my latest dream: I’m playing golf with a bagful of Dr Pepper bottles.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Zohar Lazar