Friday, May 21, 2021

Buying Golf Clubs – It’s a whole new world!


I’m a golfer. Have been for over fifty years. I took up the game at a very young age, around 7, despite the fact no one in my family played it. From the first time I hit a golf ball, I was hooked. The game was extremely important to me until I was a in my 30s when I began to focus more on my career. During that time, I managed to get my handicap down to as low as a 3 which would have put me near the top 5% of golfers who play and keep a handicap. In order to keep that level of play, one needs to work on one’s game and I was unable to do so. Today, I’m not very good and if I kept a handicap, it would be around 20 or so. Meaning, I suck.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the game! There are few things that feel as good as perfectly struck golf shot and I still hit those on occasion. And the camaraderie of playing with friends in the outdoors just adds to it. In the end, though, it’s the game that keeps us coming back for the torture of badly struck shots just so we can experience that perfectly hit feeling!

In over fifty years of playing, I’ve never really been a big “gear guy.” I know some people who buy and switch putters like empty beers, who buy a new set of clubs every year or two. I’ve owned three sets of clubs in my life (one was a starter set that I had for about 4 years) and have played with 5 putters in all that time.

The first top quality set of clubs I bought were a set of Wilson Staff that I purchased as

Wilson Staff 1974

a junior in high school in 1974. (I did replace the woods a few years later.) I used this
Francis Ouimet

set until 2001. My buddy Clyde used to refer to them as the “Francis Ouimet” signature set. (Non-golfers will want to know that Mr. Ouimet was a US Open champion back in 1913. Since he was an amateur and never turned pro, he wouldn’t have had a set of clubs with his name on them, making this an excellent joke!)

In 2001 I purchased a set of Wilson Fat Shaft irons from a shop called “Second Swing” that specialized in gently used equipment; remember those people who buy new

Dig the Fat Shaft!

clubs every year? Yeah. I’ve used those clubs for the past 20 years as they were state of the art back then and actually added some distance to my game.

Back in March, I took my first lesson in over 25 years and it became immediately apparent that my clubs were no longer my friends. They’re heavy, the shafts don’t really fit my swing anymore and my golf muscles aren’t what they used to be. Frankly, most of my muscles aren’t what they used to be, except for the legs from all the cycling over the last decade. Couple all that with new technology and it became apparent that I should go shopping.

Always get a recommendation

At dinner with a friend a few weeks later, he started telling me about getting fitted for new clubs. Mac and I have played golf together dozens of times over the 30 years of our friendship and his son, Christopher, is a top echelon amateur (plays in national events) so I greatly respect his opinion.

He told me that he’d had great luck with Mulligan’s Pro Shop which is based at a driving range, west of town. Matt and Jay, the owners, were highly skilled at fitting clubs and that there was no charge for the fitting process. He invited me to come to the range with him one weeknight to meet them and see what they had to offer.

I should point out that it’s possible to order golf clubs on the internet of the same quality that I’m talking about and, generally, at a discount of some kind. The issue is, the fit. Unless you know exactly what to order, you’ll be using clubs that are unlikely to fit you properly. There are literally dozens of shaft flexes, weights, lies, and lofts and they all vary by manufacturer’s model! Golf swings are as unique as golfers and unless you’re fitted by a professional, you could be making the game more difficult to play. As this is probably the last set of clubs I’m going to buy (see above) I’m going to make sure I’ve got the right ones!

I met Mac to hit balls a few days later. He was trying out his new Ping irons and invited me to hit a few just to see what I thought. Even as we’re different height, weight, and swing I could tell immediately how much easier his clubs were to hit.

Afterward, he introduced me to Matt and we chatted about what they did. He said they’d be glad to spend time with me but to be sure and make an appointment for a proper fitting after I’d hit clubs of different brands to determine what I liked and to start whinnying down the selections. I was welcome to come anytime that they were open to try what they had.

Fast forward two weeks and MB and I are back at the range and Matt is putting together test clubs for me to hit from six manufacturers. This first step is all about initial look and feel of the clubs. Let me explain.

When a golfer looks down at the ball at address just prior to the shot, the club is also in view as they aim. If the clubhead doesn’t fit the player’s eye (looks too fat, too thin, the score lines look weird, I can’t aim it very well, etc) that puts the shot at risk immediately because hitting a golf ball is a proactive rather than reactive move. One must be committed to it or the shot will rarely come off.

If the look is okay, the feel of the hit is the next critical element. I don’t know how to describe this very well except to say that two different brands of clubs will have a slight, almost imperceptible, difference in how they feel when striking the ball. If it’s a mis-hit, the difference can be jarring; my Fat Shafts when mis-hit in cold weather will leave my hands humming like a door chime. When struck perfectly, there is still a difference and each player has a feel that they prefer for feedback for the next shot.

Matt returned with clubs from Titleist, Callaway, Mizuno, Ping, Wilson, and Taylor Made. I was like a kid in a candy store! I took the time to hit shots with each of the clubs and came away with some winners and some losers.

Titleist T300
Mizuno JPX
Wilson D7

Titleist, Mizuno, and Wilson all fit my eye and had the feel I was looking for and it was apparent from the first swing. Callaway, Ping, and Taylor Made all had a good look to my eye but I could tell fairly quickly that I didn’t really like the feel compared to the others. (That said, if I were properly fitted with these three, it might have been a different story but with so many to choose from, why force yourself into something? It’s not like I’m getting a contract to play their clubs! I’m paying for these.)

After hitting shots for about an hour, I was ready to make the next step – sign up for a fitting. I went back inside and told Matt which clubs I wanted to test and fit for and made an appointment a few weeks later to do just that.

Time to Get Fit!

Last Monday was a big day. MB and I played with two friends in the Quinn Classic, a fundraiser for ALS, at Brandermill Country Club. I hadn’t played the course in at least 25 years and realized that it had gotten narrower over the years. While we had fun, it wasn’t a very impressive display of golf prowess. My highlights included two excellent bunker shots and a couple of par saving putts. Those are hardly spectacular when playing a scramble format, where everyone hits the same shot and the team takes the best one and all move to that spot and do it again until you hole out. When your best result is in a bunker, you suck. Fortunately, we had low expectations and it was a beautiful day to play golf with friends!

The evening was far more rewarding. I got to the shop at 5:00 and Matt was ready for me. I told him which clubs I was interested in fitting and he sent me out to the range to warm up.

After a few minutes, he showed up carrying one club with a small plastic tube filled with electronics attached to the shaft, just below the grip. This tool is called a “Shaft Maximizer” and it’s designed to provide data around your swing to recommend the proper shaft for your clubs. He had me hit a half dozen or so shots with it and then looked at the readout on an Ipad. I was surprised to find that my swing speed still supports the use of a stiff shaft in my clubs. At my age, I was convinced that a more flexible shaft would be better for me. We ended up agreeing to test both as I tried out the clubs to determine what was best and he assured me that there are multiple flexes available I could try.


Next, he went back in the shop and came back with clubs from my three chosen manufacturers and the Track Man. These clubs are "fitting clubs" that with a twist of a special tool, the fitter can adjust the length and lie of the clubs adding as much as a half inch and +/- 2 degrees of change to lie as well.

Track Man has revolutionized golf on many fronts, especially in equipment selection and fitting. Using “radar technology” it provides 26 parameters of data on each shot including clubhead speed, ball speed, launch angle, angle of attack, ball spin rate, and it shows a 3D flight of the ball! (By the way, it works for baseball, tennis, all kind of sports where a moving ball is used.) I had never seen one in action before and, as a bit of a data geek, was fascinated.

We began the session by my hitting each club about ten times to lay down some basic data and compare the performance to each other. The initial result showed that the Wilson club would need to be fitted with a 3rd party shaft which would add a layer of complexity and cost that I didn’t want to indulge, so that one was right out.

The other two clubs, Mizuno and Titleist, were compared for another ten shots and the results were clear. The Mizuno I was able to hit farther but not consistently and this resulted in a bigger dispersion of shots, as much as twenty-three yards in distance, and the mishits were farther off-line, too. Looks like the Titleist is our winner!

The next step was dialing in the fit. Jay came out with a couple of different shafts and I hit a series of shots while he changed shafts and it became clear that the softest stiff shaft was perfect to get the most consistent ball flight, spin rate, and dispersion. It was interesting that while I couldn’t feel a difference, it was very measurable. I then hit another couple of dozen shots with that shaft while Jay adjusted the lie from normal to flat, going back and forth several times. With that, we came to realize that a proper fit for me was one degree flat. We also discussed an increase in grip size, something I’d forgotten over the years. Back in the day, technicians would add two extra layers of tape under the grip to make it easier to get my hands on the grip in comfort. This was a great catch on his part, all due to watching my hand action very carefully during the fitting.

The final fit had me hitting another dozen shots to get a final dispersion pattern to understand what the final clubs would do for me. The difference on screen was remarkable; the new clubs, in addition to being easier to hit, will be far more accurate. That should translate to better scores and more fun! I was impressed and excited by the possibilities!

Order up!

Jay and I went back into the shop to complete the transaction. He wrote up the order for Titleist for a set of T300 irons, 4-9 iron, pitching wedge, and gap wedge, and charged my credit card. Once that was done, he immediately called to place the order and let me know the current fulfillment time was six to seven weeks. (I knew that beforehand, so it wasn’t a surprise.)

I thanked Jay and Matt for their time and expertise. The fitting took about ninety minutes and including the prior hitting session, it was close to three hours. That’s real professional service, in my opinion.

I told them I’d be back later in the summer for a new driver and fairway woods!


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