Before I started Practical Golf in 2015, I didn't know much about golf clubs and how they worked. If anything, I was naive about the topic in general and fell victim to many of the same myths that most golfers believe in.
While I don't consider myself a gearhead, I've been fascinated about what makes equipment perform differently for each golfer. I've used that knowledge to my benefit, and along the way hopefully educated some of you.
In this article, I'd like to go over some of the most important concepts about golf clubs that I've learned. I've been fortunate to study under some of the best clubfitters in the industry. I have to give special thanks to Pete's Golf, and their co-owner Woody Lashen, in particular. Many of their staff have taken me under their wing and shown me the truth about the equipment industry.
Here are four concepts that I think every golfer should know when it comes to equipment...
They're Mostly Great, But Not the Same
All of the major golf equipment manufacturers are making excellent products. They employ top-level talent (think aerospace engineers) who are continually trying to push the boundaries of performance each year. Despite that, each OEM has different design philosophies, which make their clubs perform uniquely for each golfer.
For example, I have a very low spin rate on my driver, but most golfers have the exact opposite problem. OEMs try and cater to as many golfers as they can in their design. Therefore, a lot of modern drivers are designed to reduce spin to create more distance. So if I use several clubs, my spin rate falls too low outside of a functional range, and I lose distance and accuracy.
There are more options than ever for golfers to choose from, which becomes a double-edged sword. Clubfitters can fine-tune golf clubs with tens of thousands of potential combinations at their disposal. However, if you choose the wrong combination without testing, you may be leaving some performance on the table.
There Are No Standards
It's important to understand that there are no universal standards in the golf industry. Shaft flex, loft, lie angle, and several other important equipment specs are not created equal. You can make an argument that the shaft industry suffers the most from this issue. Where one company might list their shaft as a stiff flex, another could deem it regular. There isn't a golf watchdog organization who holds them to a performance standard. Unfortunately, golfers base their purchase decisions with minimal knowledge and assume all are created equal.
Another real-world example is driver loft. Many golfers believe that no matter who makes the driver, the loft will perform the same. On top of that, they usually assume that lower loft could lead to more distance off the tee. Both assumptions are incorrect. I tested several drivers from different manufacturers on a launch monitor and found my results were very different when using the same lofts that were listed on the club. A lot of this has to do with where each OEM decides to concentrate their center of gravity (perhaps the most crucial feature of driver design). I've found optimal results setting a driver at 12 degrees with one company and using as little as 9 degrees of loft with another.
Overall, don't assume that all specs are created equal.
The golf industry is incredibly competitive. There are a finite amount of dollars available, and companies fight tooth and nail to convince golfers that their products are better for your game than their competition. While I wouldn't go as far as to call their marketing practices fraudulent, some companies go a little overboard with their claims. In other words, don't believe the hype.
Most companies have a product cycle of 12-24 months. Every year, they're going to come out with a new driver, set of irons, wedges, and putters. Their job is to convince you that what you have right now isn't good enough, and their latest options will increase your performance dramatically. I try my best to test out some of the newer equipment releases each year and measure any changes that I notice. I think the word marginal is more appropriate than a breakthrough.
That's not to say you can't upgrade your performance with new clubs. If you were playing with an older driver that wasn't right for your swing, a newer, more appropriate model could add 20-30 yards of distance and improve your dispersion. A new set of irons could help you launch the ball a little bit higher and improve your mishits. Both improvements could help you hit 2-3 more greens in regulation resulting in a drop of several strokes in your handicap.
However, once you get the right clubs, you don't need to upgrade every 1-2 years. Trust me; you're not missing out on explosive gains. The only equipment that does need to be changed out semi-regularly is your wedges. The right driver or irons could last you as long as 5-10 years.
When To Get Custom Fit
In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big proponent of golfers getting custom-fit for clubs. As I stated earlier, there is more opportunity than ever to fine-tune your equipment. In short, it can make your good shots a little bit better, but more importantly, limit the damage on errant swings. There are tangible gains that can result in lower scores. Think of equipment as a refinement. Don't expect to show up to the course as a completely new golfer.
Custom fitting has caught on more in recent years as well. Not all clubfitters have the same level of knowledge (and ethics). But you have a much better opportunity to find one now than you did 10-20 years ago because of improvements in technology like launch monitors.
So when should you get custom fit? I believe it makes more sense to do it when your swing is more established. If you're an absolute beginner, it likely makes more sense to take some lessons to settle on a more permanent technique. So if you are planning on making any swing changes (whatever level you are), it's probably best to wait.
For example, years ago, I was fit for clubs when I had a very vertical swing plane. I delivered the club to the ball in a completely different pattern than I do now. Before I made the change, the irons I was playing with were matched up well with my technique. Afterward, they were entirely wrong for my new swing, and it cost me strokes on the course.
Another persistent myth out there is that custom fitting is only for advanced golfers. This is not true. The opposite is usually right. Golfers who are less skilled at striking the ball need all the help they can get. Why make the game harder for yourself? Conversely, a very skilled ball striker can make subtle adjustments to compensate for clubs that aren't necessarily right for them.
On the whole, I believe custom fitting can help you upgrade your results on the course. If you get the right clubs, it might save many of you money in the long run. It won't be necessary to buy new releases every year (as hard as that may be to avoid). Also, having the right golf clubs can give you more confidence on the course because you know you're not fighting against your equipment.
Wrapping It Up
There is certainly a lot more detail and nuance to golf equipment. Nevertheless, the topics I covered are important to make you a smarter consumer.
Remember the following:
- Modern technology is excellent, but not all clubs are not created equal. There is a specific combination that will work best for your swing regardless of the brand name.
- There are no standards when it comes to most golf club specifications. Don't purchase blindly assuming that numbers like loft and shaft flex are the same across the board.
- Don't believe all the marketing hype! New equipment can help, but it won't totally change your results.
- Custom fitting will give you the best chance to find the right clubs for your game.