Senior Golfers–Get Fit

If you remember Arnold Palmer in his prime or Jack Nicklaus dominating the PGA Tour you are probably of the age when golf can take up more of your time—notice I didn’t say retired…simply a shift of priorities. And as the title of this article suggests it’s time to get fit and I don’t mean go to the gym every day, though if you are like me a couple of visits per week wouldn’t do any harm.

What I’m referring to getting clubs that fit your swing.

You hear people say all the time they aren’t “good enough” to have a fitting but that’s not true. No one has a perfect swing and even good players have days when it feels like they are swinging a rock tied to the end of a stick. You don’t have to bring a tour-quality swing to a fitting.

Seniors are like every other golfer in the world. They want more distance. This means making more efficient contact, generating more clubhead speed and for seasoned citizens probably a dose of slice correction is called for as well. These are exactly the types of fixes a good fitter can provide.

To begin with he will have you hit several shots with your current clubs collecting the data on a launch monitor. This provides a baseline or numerical description of the distance, spin and trajectory your swing typically produces. Then drawing from his stock of clubheads, he selects one that is the same as yours and have you hit more shots with shafts that in his experience will help produce better results. Once he is satisfied with the shaft he picks out clubheads for trial until the results have been optimized.

Two more points and you can be on the road to more distance, better scoring and more enjoyment of this ever-frustrating game.

First, going to a fitter that has access to only one brand of clubs might not be the best idea simply because any given manufacturer may not make exactly what you need. Think about it…if one company made the ideal clubs for every golfer then all the other manufacturers would soon be out of business. For this reason, a visit to the professional fitters at a place like Club Champion makes a lot of sense. They have a mind-blowing 35,000 possible club and shaft combinations from which to choose and the expertise to get it right.

Secondly, since its winter and in most of the country it’s too cold and snowy to be on the course, there’s always the question of whether you should wait until the weather improves to get your fitting. For the answer we asked Jay Hubbard, vice president of Club Champion and his reply was succinct, “The off season is a good time to get fit. You’ve been playing all season and you know which clubs are giving you trouble and which ones aren’t. You are familiar with your swing and will replicate it easily during a club fitting making it easier to find the perfect golf equipment.”

Then we asked him to expand on the benefits senior players specifically can expect from having a fitting.

“More than anyone, senior golfers can benefit significantly from regular club fittings. As we age, we lose flexibility and swing speed. These factors can dramatically affect accuracy, distance, trajectory, and carry. Club Champion fitters receive monthly training on club fitting and equipment. They are trained to help every golfer maximize their game. A key component to regaining lost performance is the club shaft. While club manufacturer offers a few shaft alternatives for senior golfers, Club Champion has more than 500 shaft options many, not available from the club manufacturers. Factors such as flex, weight, torque, and kick-point matter and can either dramatically help or hinder the senior golfer. Finding the right shaft, for your game can add as much as 30 yards with your driver and 20 yards with your irons. The result, seniors will enjoy the game more, post lower scores, and play more rounds.”

Who gets the most benefit from dialing in their club specs?

“Club fitting isn’t just for low handicap golfers. The high handicap golfer often benefits the most. We recently conducted a study with Golf Magazine that appeared in the August 2017 issue. One of the high handicap golfers in the study, Joe Dresnok from Palm Coast, Florida is a 71-year-old senior golfer with a 32.1 handicap. After a Club Champion golf club fitting, Dresnok dropped 10 strokes. He commented, “My old clubs were sabotaging me.  “The irons have been spectacular. I just can’t say enough about them. I can’t believe that I can hit greens as frequently, anywhere from 150 to 100 yards, much better than I ever could before. I’m now hitting an 8 iron from where I used to hit a 6 iron.”

Hubbard followed up by adding, “65-year old retired business executive, Samuel Stecker from Hernando Beach, Florida is a 20 handicap. He commented, ‘I am four to six better. The club fitter listened to my physical issues and steered me into the appropriate head and shaft. I am 17 yards farther with my driver and dispersion is as good as ever.’” 

Golf is a lot more fun is we hit the ball better and score lower, so the conclusion is obvious. Get fit and from my own experience I recommend going to one of the master fitters at Club Champion.

NOTE: A Club Champion fitting is easy to arrange simply call 888-340-7820 or go to ClubChampionGolf.com for locations and pricing. My recent driver fitting resulted in specifications for a Ping G400 LST driver with 10-degree loft with a Grand Bassara 39 shaft by Mitsubishi. They also fit me for Srixon Z 765 irons, a forged “muscle-cavity” design, with KBS Tour 90 shafts.

The Right Putter

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Everyone knows if it “looks good” that’s about as far as you need to go finding the right putter. Oh sure, shaft length depends on how much you bend from the waist and how your arms hang but that’s about it.

Well, that’s not only wrong but finding the correct putter takes a lot more analysis by taking into account the loft at address and impact, the amount of rotation in the stroke, alignment and several other factors. The idea is to find a putter that best matches your natural stroke.

A good way to say it is, match the putter to your stroke not change your stroke to match the putter.

A recent visit to Club Champion, the national chain of fitting centers proved this beyond any doubt. I met with Jesse Smith, a master fitter in the Orlando Club Champion location and he put me through a session that changed the way I think about both my putting stroke and the putter I use.

First, Smith had me hit seven 10 foot putts with my current putter, a 35 inch modern-style blade—4 degrees loft, 45 degrees of toe hang, one shaft width of offset and regular size grip. Then we experimented with several different putters changing shape, grip and other specs and settled on one of the same length and offset but a face balanced mid-mallet with only 2.5 degrees loft and a medium diameter oversize grip.

It made a huge difference. No longer did a feel as though I was “fighting” my stroke. Everything having just seemed simpler from aiming to distance control.

Coincidentally, among the three dozen or so previously-loved flat sticks in my garage was a face balanced mallet of the right length so all it needed was to be bent to 2.5-degrees and have the larger grip installed to be put in play. Happily I can report my putting has improved. Essentially three-putts are a thing of the past and there’s a lot more confidence on those ones in the “throw-up zone.”

After the session, which costs $100, Smith anClubChampion_logoswered some questions about the process and how he fits golfers with a putter that allows them to use their natural stroke.

ET: Generally describe the process of putter fitting – the machine that you use and what are the things you look for?

Smith: “Club champion utilizes the technology of Science and Motion PuttLab (SAM for short) to go through the putter fitting process. We start with the customer’s existing putter and take measurements of loft, lie, and length. Then the customer is run through the Science and Motion software, and a detailed report is generated based on the individuals putting mechanics and stroke. We look at many different parameters of the individuals putting stroke with emphasis on face at impact, both static and effective loft, lie angle, consistencies of rotation and timing, and club path. While selecting a putter for an individual the amount of toe-hang, weight, length, loft and lie, as well as swing weight are considerations based on the report the Science and Motion PuttLab generates.”

ET: Which of the factors is the most important?

Smith: “While all aspects of the customers putting stroke are a factor, putter face angle at impact is paramount, which accounts for 83% of overall ball direction.”

ET: You said typically your recommendations are for face balanced putters, why?

Smith: “While recommendations vary greatly as far as toe hang with each client, it seems that most individuals could benefit from reduced rotation of the putter face, which face balanced putters promote. Adding to that, most faced balanced putters are mallets, or have a fair amount of perimeter weight, which are most forgiving on off center hits, and all golfer can benefit from that.”

ET: Same question but concerning the amount of offset?

Smith: “Offset is there on a putter to help an individual aim correctly to what their own mind perceives as straight or on target. Depending on what the natural tendency is of each individual, the amount of offset can be increased or decreased based on putter head design depending on where they are consistently aiming the putter face at setup.”

ET: What is the significance of putter loft? Putter length? Grip size?

Smith: “With putter loft, there are actually two lofts on the putter face, Static loft and Effective loft. Static loft is the loft of the putter at address, and effective loft is the loft on the face at impact (often referred to dynamic loft). Golfers typically increase or decrease the amount of loft on the face by the time the putter face arrives to the ball, making the loft on the face at impact a crucial component of achieving the necessary effective loft on the face at impact. If a player sees a lot of ball skidding or inconsistencies in distance control, loft may be the culprit. Having the correct effective loft on the putter at impact will make for a truer, more consistent roll of the golf ball. Loft can also affect the way a putter sets up for an individual. Important to note as well is that too much loft and the putter can appear closed at address and too little loft and the putter can appear open.”

“Putter length is crucial to having the best chance of making your most consistent putting stroke. It has been shown that a golfer will putt on a more consistent path when putting down their peripheral vision line. Having the right length putter simply positions the golfer’s eyes over or slightly inside of the golf ball at the address position, giving the best opportunity for a consistent stroke. Too long or too short of a putter, can cause issues in path and consistency of the putting stroke. Furthermore, having the right length putter is critical for insuring centered face contact.”

Smith continued, “Choosing the proper grip size is also important as it is based on consistency of putter head rotation, and putter face at impact. If a grip is too small for an individual, they will have a tendency to release the putter face at impact excessively which can lead to a closed position at impact. Conversely, if a putter grip is too large, it can lead to leaving the putter face in an open position at impact. It is important to note that many customers react to weight, toe hang, and rotational properties different than others, which is to say that while people may not react the same to every changing parameter, SAM provides us an extremely solid guideline to make many crucial adjustments for a customer to putt to their fullest potential.”

So take Smith’s advice, match your putter to your stroke not the other way around.

Club Champion Fitting – First Hand Experience

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For years I have written it’s vital to play with properly fitted clubs, not just the driver but everything in the bag through the putter. Golf Magazine found eight out of nine golfers gained distance and scored lower using clubs made for them after a custom fitting. Surprising perhaps, but what really got my attention was the report showed 90 percent are playing with clubs that don’t fit.

With that in mind and having been through sessions by the major manufacturers I knew my time with the fitters at Club Champion Golf in Orlando would be interesting.

Club Champion has 15 locations around the country and a first class repRob Stumpf_ClubChampion_600x650utation for its services to golfers of all skill levels not just professionals and low handicappers. Upon arrival at the Orlando shop, manager Rob Stumpf who is also a master fitter, talked with me about what to expect and the fact Club Champion has, “10,000 plus combinations of heads and shafts. We have over 100 drivers alone, in full compliments of weights, flexes, models, and lengths.”

He emphasized since they don’t represent just one manufacturer they can use any clubhead and any shaft from any maker so Club Champion’s fitters using the data from Trackman can determine the proper club for each individual.

The process is simple. Stumpf had me hit a few drives with my current driver (one fitted by its manufacturer) then, using a similar shaft with a quick-change hosel, he had me hit drives with several different heads. Once he was satisfied the head was correct, several shafts were tried until ball flight, spin rate and other numbers were as good as my swing was capable of producing.

CC driver wall_640x440After the session, which costs $150, the specs representing the best combination were emailed to the main office in Chicago where the new driver was built and within a few days it was in my hands.

So what did it prove? The new driver (a Cobra King LTD head with a Fubuki K60 shaft) raised my smash factor–the relationship of ball speed and clubhead speed–from 1.45 to 1.50 giving me another ten yards of carry without changing my swing one bit. One might say, “10-yards…that’s an expensive 10 yards,” but when accompanied by a better trajectory to give more run out and about half the left-right dispersion, for me it was a big deal.

In effect I’m now playing a shorter golf course but additionally any concern I might have felt over my driver fitting me properly is gone.

Stumpf also had me hit my irons, which I really like, with no thought of changing but he instantly saw results could be improved with a lighter shaft of different construction. Seeing the point he was making I had them changed out from 90-gram steel to the Aerotech SteelFiber i80. It is the quickest half to full club gain in distance I could ever have done, plus the trajectory and spin are better.

Stumpf also shared his thinking giving an expert’s view of the Trackman data and revealing some very interesting points.ClubChampion_logo

“Smash Factor is the first and most important thing I look at. Smash Factor measures efficiency by dividing ball speed by club head speed, thus indicating both how close to the center of the face the customer is hitting the ball and how much the club combination (head and shaft) in turn is working for them. Height, spin, direction…all important, but I almost can’t concern myself with the rest of the numbers until I know the customer is hitting the ball as squarely as their swing allows, and that the clubs are assisting them when they do still miss the center of the face by retaining as much ball speed as possible.”

He continued, “When Smash Factor is optimized on a driver, I know the customer has the best chance of their longer drives occurring more regularly. When Smash Factor is optimized with an iron, we see longer iron yardages but as importantly, if not more importantly, more consistent iron yardages between their good shots and their not so good shots.”

Then Stumpf moved on to evaluation of “…the height and spin of the ball by looking at ‘Land Angle’. This number ties into how the spin rate and launch angle either worked together or didn’t on the shot. Because what’s considered ‘Optimum’ on launch and spin depends on the ball speed the player produces, and because different players have different ‘Attack Angles’, there is no one launch angle and no one spin rate that works for everyone. It depends on how they work together for the individual. Land Angle (measuring how steep the ball is descending) shows me whether or not the player is getting the best compromise between carry distance and roll with the driver, as well as carry yardage and effective stopping action on the irons.”

“Finally I look at ‘Face Angle’ and ‘Club Path’. Depending on the golfer’s directional miss, we either look at heads that are neutral, closed, or open in their face angle to get them hitting it straighter down the fairway, or at the very least, reduce the severity of the miss and get more consistency with the off-line direction of the ball. The best players in the world don’t hit the ball dead straight on every shot, but the better players do know that if they’re going to miss, it’s likely only going to be in one direction, and that the miss is playable. The weight of the shaft we also find to influence the ‘Club Path’, with the trend being lighter shafts working better for faders, heavier shafts working better for drawers of the ball.”CC0033_640x640

“It is certainly possible to help anyone that comes in. The common misconception is that we’re here only for the scratch golfer. Nothing could be further from the truth. My average customer is about a 10 to 15 handicap. If they care about the scores they shoot then I can help them. One of the common questions I field is “What if I’m swinging different the day of the fitting?” The reality is as “off” as our swings can feel at times, the general shape of our swings are about the same. I’m not being funny when I say it’s actually my preference to fit someone who is a little “off” in their swing because I know how to better assist them based on their misses. If someone comes in and just stripes everything it can be harder to see what will be better for them when they’re struggling….which for most of us is more often than we might admit!”

And a word of advice, “Once properly fitted, the performance difference between most clubs from one year to the next is often times small. There are certainly instances where one of the vendors makes a major breakthrough in their technology causing noticeable improvements, but generally speaking most people will start to see an appreciable difference in technology every 3 to 5 years after being properly fit. The head technology changes much quicker than the shaft technology, with heads changing every year, and most shafts having at least a 3 year product cycle.”

With this in mind, a visit to Club Champion can be the best investment in your game you have ever made.