The Importance of Properly Fitted Golf Clubs
By: Jeffrey Severini
PGA Golf Professional
Throughout my years of teaching golf, there have been many occasions where a student has come to me with a fairly good golf swing but terrible results. The golf clubs that are being used are not fitted for that person. The clubs that a person plays with should be fitted to his build, hand size, swing speed, desired ball flight, and type of swing. The following is a typical sequence of events that occurs as a result of using ill-fitted equipment. A student makes a good swing, but the ball travels right. On the next swing he will swing the club down to the left to stop it from going right, only to watch it start left than fade or slice to the right. He then might close the clubface at address, swing down to the left and across his body and watch it go either left or right.
A student will ask me how come he only hits his 7-iron about 130 yards. The guy who is pulling his ball to the target will be hitting it farther because he is releasing the clubhead. This person, however, has to aim so far right and put the same amount of pull and clubhead release on each and every shot to get the ball going to his target. This person, who wants more consistency, finds it hard to believe when I tell him that he is aimed 30 yards right of his target. This is just one instance where improperly fitted equipment has damaged someone's golf game and destroyed the golfer's perception of proper alignment. Once I get this person square to his target, he will continue to pull the ball left because his arms and clubhead will still be going down and left too much. I now have to get him swinging his clubhead down and straighter through impact. He might even have to feel the club work from inside the target line to outside the target line through impact. One often has to go a mile to get an inch, and bad habits are hard to break!
At this point we are back to the student's original starting point, which happened to be a much better swing than he has now. Remember the shots that started straight then faded or sliced right? He was actually putting a better swing on the ball when it was starting straight and going right. (Note: A shaft that is too stiff can also make the shot go right.) His original problem was having a golf club that was not fitted for him! The lie angle on his golf clubs was too flat for him. By definition, the lie angle is the angle between the shaft and the ground line that is made when the clubhead is soled in a position where it touches the ground directly at the center line of the clubface. (See Diagram A.) If a person's lie angle is too flat (e.g. heel of the club in the air at impact), he will generally miss his shots to the right. If his lie angle is too upright he will generally miss his shots to the left. The scary thing is that these shots will go in the direction that the lie angle dictates, no matter how good the swing. The golfer will then make compensating movements in his swing and/or adjustments in his setup to hit good shots.
The best swing for someone is the one that is the simplest and most repeatable. Take Jim Furyk, whose golf swing is repeatable for him. (Furyk is a PGA tour player who swings the club well outside his target line on his backswing.) If Jim swung the club on plane throughout the swing we would never hear from him again. The unnatural and compensatory movements that one puts into his golf swing to make up for bad equipment are extremely difficult to repeat. (See Diagram B.)
Note: With a 5-iron, 1) A lie angle of 2 off equates to 21' off line; 2) A lie angle of 4 off equates to 42' off line.
Many people have said to me, "My lie angle is alright, the bottom of the club lays flat on the ground when I set up." This means the golf clubs are absolutely too flat, assuming the set up is alright. At address the toe of your club should definitely be in the air to some degree. During the downswing a few things are happening. The shaft is flexing downward and centrifugal force is pulling one's arms away from his body, forcing the toe of the club down even further. People who generate more centrifugal force than others will generally need a more upright golf club. A person's height also influences the lie angle.
Shaft flex and shaft length are other major factors to consider when getting properly fitted for equipment. Shaft flex is simply the flexibility of a shaft, the degree to which it bends. For years club fitters and golf professionals have fitted golfers with shafts according to how fast their swings were in miles per hour (mph). However, research indicates that it is not just how fast one swings but how one swings it fast. For example, Nick Price swings a driver approximately 116 mph and John Daly swings a driver at 133 mph. The old school would say that John Daly needs a stiffer shaft.
This is not true at all! Price actually needs a and plays with a stiffer driver because he puts more stress (flex) on a shaft than Daly does. Price's swing is a lot shorter than Daly's his tempo is quicker and his change of direction from backswing to downswing is quicker. Price uses an extra stiff (X) shaft and Daly uses a stiff (S). If Price were to swing a whipper shaft than he does, he would have to make compensatory movements in his golf swing to hit it straight. Remember, compensatory movements are difficult to repeat. If he started hitting shots left, he night start sliding his body toward the target on the downswing and/or delay the release of the clubhead. If Daly were to swing a shaft that is too stiff for him, he would start losing his shots to the right, in which case he might swing faster from the top of his backswing to put the necessary stress or flex on the shaft to get it to square up at impact. The clubface should be square at separation, which is that point at which the ball leaves the clubface; it occurs a fraction of a second after impact.
Shaft length must also be fitted correctly to the golfer. The ideal shaft length for a golfer is the one that allows him to assume his best posture in the set up. Posture, body relaxation and tempo are the most underrated aspects of good golf, along with balance, of course. If a shaft is too short a person might bend over the ball too much, creating a very steep backswing, which can cause topped shots, slices and even fat shots, depending on weight distribution at impact. A golfer might also bend his knees too much in the set up to get the shorter club down to the ground. This can lead to standing up on the downswing and topping the ball. A shaft that is too long might force a golfer to stand up too tall in his set up. He might then swing the club too much around his body on the backswing, which can lead to shanks, heeled shots, fat shots and slices, depending on how they bring the club down (e.g. over the top or under the bottom of the plane). A club that is too long can also cause off-center hits. The club is too long for the player to hit the sweet spot of the clubface consistently on the ball.
With a driver: 1) Impact 1/2" off center equates to 7% loss of carry distance; 2) Impact 1" off center equates to 14% loss of carry distance.
Altering a golf club will do many things to its performance. For example, for every inch of length added or subtracted to a club, it's lie angle changes 2 , and it's swing weight is moved 6 points. Lengthening a club will increase the shaft's flex and its overall weight. A clubhead's weight distribution will also affect its performance. Weight on the sole or back of a wood will send the ball high. Weight on the top of the club will lower the ball flight. Please keep in mind that adding more weight to a clubhead will slow down clubhead speed and soften the shaft! I do not recommend that you add any weight to your clubs - the drawbacks are usually greater than the rewards.
The abundance of golfers trying to play with improperly fitted equipment is saddening. Hopefully, the days of buying clubs off the rack are over. Unfortunately, without access to an outdoor range, a disservice is being done by club fitters. They will just sell you a club off the rack or have you hit into a net. No matter what you are told, there is no way to evaluate ball flight when hitting into a net. Please be careful when buying your golf equipment.
Published 1999, APA & Highlight.
Jeffrey J. Severini, PGA Golf Professional 973-207-8747