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Custom club-fitting: Past the pink tees and beyond

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - Golf is one of the hardest sports to play well, maybe the hardest sport to play well. That, combined with the fact it is played by millions, many of whom have as much money as they do ways to spend it, makes it fertile ground for every kind of huckster to come up with a half-baked gimmick they swear will make you hit it 50 yards further and develop the touch of Phil Mickelson around the greens.

I always thought custom club-fitting fit into that category. I figured it for a sham, another way to extract money from the woeful-but-hopeful golfer's wallet. I'm from the old school: You practice enough and you'll get better, no matter what clubs you're playing with. The good athlete will adjust to his clubs.

I think now maybe it doesn't exactly work that way.

I went to PGA Professional Jon Decker, the head instructor at the Grand Cypress Academyof Golf in Orlando, for a custom-club-fitting session. I wasn't particularly hopeful. But it didn't take long - maybe three minutes - for me to discover very interesting things about my clubs.

Decker fitted my driver, an Adams Redline, into a machine called a shaft-frequency meter. Golf pros and others who have been in the game for a while know the shaft is the engine of the club, not the head. Forget what the marketers for the club makers tell you.

I thought my driver's shaft had a "men's regular flex." At least, that's what I had ordered and that's what it said on the shaft. Not so. The driver vibrated in the machine for a while until it produced a reading. Decker then told me something very disturbing.

"You're in the ladies' flex range."

Now, most men have heard those insults when we leave a putt short, or when we top a drive that doesn't make it past the ladies' tees. It always involves comparisons to the female gender, and sometimes there are rituals suggested that would get you convicted for lewd and lascivious conduct if carried out properly.

It turns out that in my case, they were at least partly accurate: I have some woman in my game.

The problem is that major manufacturers, in mass-producing these shafts and clubs, don't always get it right on the assembly line.

"Sometimes it's not an 'R' flex," Decker said. "With their quality control, it's blind luck."

In my case, a blind date with my driver. Decker went through all my clubs: woods, irons and hybrids. Other mistakes were found: My 4-iron hybrid is longer than my 3-iron hybrid, for example.

Then he had me hit off a mat inside the club-fitting building, into a screen. Another machine measured both clubhead speed and ball speed. Mine were fairly respectable on both counts: 87 mph clubhead, 131 mph ball.

We got down to business. After watching my swing and studying the numbers (and my gender), Decker stated the obvious: I needed a stronger, less whippy shaft. Now it was just a matter of finding the right numbers. He had three barrels of drivers for different categories, with varying degrees of shaft frequency. The first was for women, juniors and beginners. The second was for average players, usually those in the 40-50 age range. The third was for pros.

We tried a few from the second barrel - better results, but not ideal. We tried a few from the pro barrel and the results were very impressive. I added 7 mph on clubhead speed and a whopping 10 mph on ball speed, up to 141 mph. According to Decker, that translated to 30 yards more off the tee if I used the correct shaft - just carry, not including roll. He also said I should have steel shafts on my irons, instead of the graphite I was using.

It turns out I have what Decker called a "very fast transition," i.e. the part of the arc from the top of the backswing to the split second just before hitting the ball. With the shaft frequency of 232 on my driver, that meant the clubface was literally twisting and turning by the time of impact. No wonder every swing is an adventure; I know it's going far, I just never know where.

As far as irons, graphite is simply too weak for my swing, which made me feel good and bad. Good in a manly sense - I was a bit touchy after the ladies' flex discovery - but bad because I will now have to pay to replace them with steel. By switching, I will be hitting 9-iron into the green instead of 6-iron, according to Decker.

This all sounded great to me, and I intend to follow through by getting a new driver with a shaft frequency of 255 and switching to steel shafts with my irons. Already I am picturing 300-yard drives and hitting my 9-iron from 175 yards out.

I'll let you know the results. If I don't hit it at least 290, I'll wear a blue bonnet, but I will keep my pants zipped - I am a law-abiding girl.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Custom club-fitting

    matt wrote on: Mar 16, 2006

    Congratulations! You now have the swing speed and ball speed of my 10 year-old son. A little shaft tweeking and practice and you may get up to my wife's numbers. Better hope for an elevated tee and a stiff breeze at your back if you want to hit the ball 300 yards with those numbers, oh and maybe a trampoline in the middle of the fairway.


  • Getting the shaft

    GolfGirl3 wrote on: Mar 13, 2006

    How can I be sure the fitter knows his stuff? Any advice for self-diagnosis? The mens R-flex clubs in my bag (driver wedges, rescue) feel solid. My ladies- flex clubs (irons and woods)feel light, whippy and springy. Is is all in my head? Do I just want to believe I can keep up with the boys?


    • RE: Getting the shaft

      tim wrote on: Mar 20, 2006

      Golfgirl, I don't think it's in your head. My shaft felt whippy to me even before I had it tested.
      No way to determine if a fitter is reputable, though I guess you could check the BBB. They do have a machine that gives readouts, so it isn't just human opinion. It worked for me -- I got a stiffer shaft and I'm hitting it 280-290 now...


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