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Any custom golf shop worth its reputation establishes its "own way" of doing things. Those "tricks of the trade" are experimental at first – a few willing customers take the chance on a new idea. They come back reporting success. The ideas get refined and eventually become the "things we do".
Our fitting methodology, described in detail in another section, discusses methods that are "standard" as well as the unique discoveries that distinguish the Golf Lab.
We thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of the things about how we put sets together that are relatively unknown and others that we have found are better if not done "by the book".
For players who are reading the Golf Lab website at a distance, this section could provide some "food for thought" and questions you can ask your personal club maker.
Counter-balancing golf clubs with Balance-Certified Stabilizers and Tour Lock Opti-Vibe weights has produced extraordinary results for players of all skill levels.
Changing the balance of a golf club can make it easier to swing. It can increase swing speed and help a player swing more consistently.
We conduct fittings for counterweights with our Achiever launch monitor. Starting with a driver, we record a series of shots. We then test with a light Stabilizer and a heavy Stabilizer and compare the results. Most of the time, swing speed increases by 2-4 MPH. Most of the time, center contact percentage improves. And, most of the time, the consistency of a player's swing path and face angle at impact improves. Once we find the correct weight, we make sure that the player visits the range to make sure his results outdoors are the same.
The same method works for irons. At the end of 2009, we started to experiment with Opti-Vibe weights positioned under a player's lower hand in an iron shaft. Counter weighting golf clubs is still an emerging science with very few practitioners. If you haven't tried it, now is the time to see for yourself.
Counter weights seem to produce the best results for players with moderate swing speeds. The only players who show less benefit, as a group, are very high swing speed, very low index tournament players.
The most dramatic results have been achieved by combining the lightest weight shafts with fifteen gram Opti-Vibe weights under the lower hand and a twelve gram weight in the butt. The contrast between shaft weight and the counterweights produces a feel different from any other shaft and counter weight combination.
If you are interested in more information, see the archives on this website. We have published several articles and newsletters on the subject. (link**)
SST PURE ™
SST PURE ™ is a patented process to test and align shafts before installation in golf clubs.
Golf shafts are imperfect objects – whether built by hand or mass produced on machinery. Internal stresses can cause a shaft to perform irregularly. In a game where a fraction of an inch closer to center can be the difference between a birdie and a bogey – a high percentage of PGA Tour professionals take advantage of the SST PURE ™ process.
PUREing a shaft occurs in two steps. First, the shaft is tested with a sensitive load cell that determines the exact point where it is the stiffest. In SST nomenclature, that is referred to as the "hard side". SST PURE doctrine declares that the "most stable plane" of a shaft occurs when the hard side is positioned at 9 o'clock in the line of flight.
The second operation utilizes accelerometers fastened to a tip mass to find the most stable "FLO plane". ("FLO" stands for "flat line oscillation.) The shaft is "twanged" in a horizontal plane, starting with the hard side at 9 o'clock. The instruments guide the operator a few degrees in each direction to find the flattest "flo plane". The shaft is then installed in that position.
Proprietary testing has shown that PUREing improves performance of shafts. (No "independent" testing service has stepped up to stand the cost of confirming the proprietary test results.)
Moment of Inertia Matching
Matching golf clubs by swing weight was "invented" in 1922. Not much has changed since. Matched swing weights is the only indicator of verifiable quality in off the rack golf clubs.
There's a "new" method that is gaining a loyal following among custom club makers. Moment of Inertia (MOI) matching is aimed at matching the feel of clubs IN MOTION, rather than resting on a scale.
This is not a new concept – it was just too complicated. We conducted extensive testing and went through Tom Wishon Technology certification four years ago. In those days, MOI matching was a tedious process that added a couple of hours to building a set of clubs. As happens with many new ideas, the results were subtle and the new golf clubs got credit for improving a player's performance – while the fact that they were MOI matched was soon forgotten.
Recently a new electronic gizmo hit the market that makes MOI matching a snap.
There's even a "poor man's method" for MOI matching which involves allowing swing weights to increase half a point through the set. We favor the "quick and easy" approach. When you think about the way a typical set of irons sets up, the wedges are frequently quite heavy – by choice – at somewhere between D-5 and D-9 on the swing weight scale. Doesn't it stand to reason that the set would feel better if the swing weights were set to increase gradually rather than jump from the nine iron to the wedges? If you want the precise method, we have the gizmo that lets us do it the hard way too. It only costs time and money.
"Standard" Club Lengths
The "conventional wisdom" of club lengths involves measuring the distance from the crease in a player's wrist to the floor. "Wrist to floor" measurements are then converted into a chart which gives the recommended club length. Off the rack sets are set at a ½" club to club progression.
Beginning players who are striving to achieve consistency for the first time should consider the "single club length" set – available in a commercial product from 1 Iron Golf. In "single length" every iron in the set is the same length – usually matched to the 7 iron. The theory is that it is easier to learn the golf swing if every club is hit with the same stance and same swing.
We have a less dramatic method to make irons easier to hit. Since most players have increased difficulty hitting long irons, we vary the club length at the long end of the set. Starting with a player's "most reliable" iron, we increase club length by ¼" rather than ½". The result is longer irons that are easier to hit because they are shorter.
Wedges present the opposite problem. Rather than decreasing the length from a player's pitching wedge through gap wedge, we suggest that a player consider leaving all of his wedges the same length. That allows the same consistency of stance and swing with wedges that is the strength of the 1 Iron Golf method. At a minimum, the wedges should not decrease in length by more than ¼".
Women and juniors frequently find themselves playing irons that are too long. It is not wise to buy a set of golf clubs that a junior will "grow into".
Finally, in fitting for length it is important to judge the "correct" length from a player's stance and swing rather than "by the chart". Tall, strong players with upright setup positions might require a little more shaft length to feel comfortable.
"Standard" Swing Weight
When you buy golf clubs off the rack, there is a high probability that the irons will be a D-0 or D-1 swing weight. The way swing weight is measured is discussed in another section of the Golf Lab website.
How do you know that D-0 is right for you?
In fact, for a lot of players, particularly good players, D-1 is too light. When you think about the underlying physics, more distance is obtained with higher club speed. But, if a player can swing a heavier club at the same speed – pretty common for good players – he will get more distance from a club with a heavier head. Plus, a heavier club might well "stay on plane" better.
At the Golf Lab, we have found a way to test for ideal swing weight. Starting with a player's own club at D-1, we record a series of shots with our Achiever launch monitor. We then add strips of lead tape to increase swing weight a couple of points. The player hits another series of shots. If ball speed increases, we go again. We continue to increase swing weight until ball speed begins to decline. Then, we step back to the prior weight.
A secondary benefit is frequently that swing path and face angle at impact become more consistent.
It is common for Tour players to end up with irons that are D-4 to D-6 swing weight. Don't be afraid of "heavy" swing weights.
"Standard" Lie Angles
We always fit irons for lie angle dynamically. A player swings his clubs, hitting a ball from a hard surface. An adhesive label on the bottom of the club indicates the spot that strikes the hard surface. The conventional wisdom says make sure the marks are in the center of the sole.
Most iron sets that come off the rack employ some conventional progression of swing weights – sometimes half a degree, sometimes a degree. The reference point is usually based on a 60* or 61* five iron.
It is important to understand how lie angles affect shot shape. A lie angle that is too upright will tend to help a player "turn the club over". Assistance hitting the high draw is a good thing with long irons. Therefore, when we set lie angles, we try to find a spot just slightly toward the heel of the club with long irons. Our theory? A little help to produce a draw and keep from losing a long iron right is a good thing.
Just the opposite with short irons, especially wedges. To start, an incorrect lie angle will cause a bigger miss with short irons due to the effect of loft. The dangerous miss with wedges is "long left". The danger is compounded by a tendency for players to "grip down" on wedges, hold their hands a little lower and try for the "knock down". All of those tendencies exacerbate the tendency flatten the lie and consequently to miss long left.
When fitting lie for wedges, we like a contact point just slightly toward the toe from center. At times, we will even flatten the lie angle from the pitching wedge for the sand and lob wedges. Some player tendencies are hard to find indoors but very easy to spot on the golf course. That's why an in-depth fitting will always include at least nine holes of golf.
"Standard" Grip Size
We use a lot of midsize grips for men. We also use a lot of mens' grips for women.
Most Tour Players will emphasize a "light grip pressure" as a key to playing well. It's hard to avoid squeezing a small grip.
We have also found in player testing with our Achiever launch monitor that the consistency of face angle at impact is frequently improved by simply replacing a smaller grip with a larger grip.
Womens' clubs always come with "ladies" grips. A high percentage of women have very long fingers. Small grips cause uncomfortable digging into the palm of a player's upper hand.
Don't be seduced by soft grips. Feel is enhanced by the ability to feel vibration up the shaft. The very best grips for feel are velvet cords. That's our opinion influenced by scientist Jeff Lindner from Balance-Certified.
If you can't take cord grips, Tour Velvet from Golf Pride and Crossline from Lamkin are good choices.
Fix the Driver First
Most players who come to the Golf Lab for a fitting want to start with the driver first.
That's great for us because it's usually the "low hanging fruit".
Why? Most drivers today are at least 45" long. Those are the short ones. Some are 45.5" or 46". When we put them on the swing weight scale, we never know what we're going to find. Some come in totally light-headed at D-0 – others sluggish D-9 and up.
One of the first questions we ask a player who comes in for a fitting in the "get acquainted" session is "how many catastrophic drives do you hit in an average round?" No player has ever said "zero". That includes very good players. Alas, a catastrophe to a low index player might be quite playable for a high handicapper.
Most players who are shooting over 90 have three to four drives that they classify as "catastrophic" every round. That includes sky balls, grounders, and over the fence or in the water. Catastrophic drives always result in at least a double bogey – frequently worse.
Many years ago in a different business we knew a saddlemaker who was famous for his craftsmanship and design. When asked how he knew how much to charge he said, "I just figure to make the best and get the most."
As much as we would like to have that level of confidence we know better. There is a "street price" for every product – enforced by mass distribution and the Internet.
Besides, a couple of shops in Scottsdale have a stranglehold on "get the most".
We charge "street price" for our golf clubs. You never have to worry about paying more at the Golf Lab.
That's why we charge separately for our fitting services. It is also why we don't deduct fitting fees from club prices.
On an afternoon in December 2009 we had three customers in the shop. One was buying a decked-out set of Miura "Baby Blades" – Tour Concept shats SST PUREd ™. That's top of the line at $245 per club.
Another player was buying a rebuilt set of Bridgestone J-33 Combo forged irons in excellent condition. Set up with Nippon 950 shafts – hardstepped to a perfect flex with a premium cord grip – the price was $125 per club – just about the same as an off the rack set of forged blades at Golfsmith.
Meantime, two tradesmen suffering a bad earnings year were completing the purchase of two complete sets of irons – including wedges – for just $225 each for the entire set.
As a custom shop that has been around for ten years, we know the market. If you want the best there is – finished to "Tour Quality" – we can do that. If you want the best you can buy for a price – we can do that too. The only difference is in the cost of the heads, shafts and grips that we use. We can't quite match the price of a "bubble pack" from Costco – but we can come close. Why risk off the shelf when you can get better quality, made to measure?
We'd like to leave you with one though about value. Golf clubs are one of the very few products that an ordinary guy can buy that are exactly the same quality and finishing as the most elite players in the world. Put a set of Miura irons together with Nippon, KB Tour or Aerotech shafts. Set them up with SST PURE ™. Set the swing weights and flex perfectly. Tiger Woods can't do better. You'll pay just north of $200 per stick.
Think about buying the equivalent watch, car, suit or house. Impossible.
As preposterous as it might seem, try to imagine a set irons that fits you perfectly. They perform better than any others you have owned. You win a few tournament trophies. You will love them and keep forever. Think of the money you will save when you don't buy new clubs year after year looking for the next elusive "magic set".