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Senior Golfer - On The Green

Custom clubfitting can help my game and yours

The Putting Green

I wanted to purchase a new set of irons for 2012, but I didn't know which ones. I also knew that I needed them to be custom fit, so I found a person who I think is knowledgeable, skillful, and has a passion for the game.

His name is Rich Hopkins. He's diminutive in stature, but a giant when it comes to custom clubfitting. He suffers from a congenital disease, AS HLB-27, that calcifies his bones, but it doesn't stop him from playing golf. He believes that you can make your golf game better through custom clubfitting. Oh yes, he also built his own clubs and been a master clubmaker for more than 30 years.

Prior to meeting Hopkins at the Golfsmith store in Schaumburg, my idea of custom clubfitting was to go to a demo day, hit a few clubs from each manufacturer, decide which one went best, and then ask for the name of a pro or rep to visit to get custom fit. I know that buying clubs off the rack is not the way to go, but I never knew what was meant by custom clubfitting.

Since meeting Hopkins, I have totally changed my ideas about clubfitting, but I'm also very wary because I've gotten different results from custom fitters. For example, I went to one manufacturer who said I need a set of irons with stiff steel shafts that would be a half to one inch longer than standard, and were four degrees upright. Another told me that I needed regular shafts, standard length, with mid-size or jumbo grips, and lies that were two degrees upright. A club pro told me that the clubs I was hitting needed to be reshafted because I was using stiff shafts and they needed to be regular.

The first thing Hopkins did was take me to a fitting bay, where a state-of-the-art swing monitor would record seven different variables ranging from clubhead speed to launch angle to sidespin to total distance. The goal was to provide me with the scientific evidence I needed to compare my clubs with new technology.

Hopkins had me hit four separate shots with my six-iron and the same number with five other models based on my preferences of looks and style. Hopkins told me that while I was hitting a stiff shaft with my MacGregor irons, it's comparable to a regular shaft from other manufacturers. He added that the stiffness varies from one manufacturer to another because there is no industry standard.

For each of my swings, the monitor recorded the results and produced an average that would be used for comparing one brand with another. Hopkins pointed out that the right club will add five to seven yards of distance without any change in my swing. He noted that my swing was good, but I was hitting all the shots slightly fat causing me to lose about five yards on even solid hits.

Due to space constraints, I won't go through all the comparisons between my clubs and the other five brands. Suffice it to say, there were all 2012 technology irons from reputable, well-known manufacturers. My swing speeds were basically the same from all clubs, between 72-74 mph.

A comparison of my clubs with four others revealed that I was hitting the right clubs. However, when it came to the fifth, there was a significant difference. In the interest of fairness, the club I wanted to purchase came out last among the clubs. Hopkins noted that my launch angle is very good with all brands, but my backspin with #5 was perfect. Moreover, the ball traveled six yards further with the #5 brand compared to my clubs. Hopkins noted that my test irons were all regular shafts based on my swing speed.

The next step was to limit my choices to two clubs. If I wanted five to 10 yards more without changing my swing, Hopkins would fit these clubs. He would need to check my loft and lie, as well as my shaft. He recommended that I get bigger (i.e., mid-size or jumbo) grips because of the size of my hands. He said the club will probably work more efficiently with the appropriate grips.

Hopkins will fit all my irons, including hybrids and wedges, with the correct shafts, tweak the lengths, lofts and lies to fit my swing, and then prepare the set. But, this is not end of clubfitting, as least as far as Hopkins is concerned.

He wants me to hit the new set at the range and on the course so that I feel comfortable with them and come back to him with feedback. Armed with this information, he'll use lie-tape with every club in the bag. Why? Because my lie is different with each club within my set. "We need to treat each club as separate," Hopkins said.

Custom club fitting also includes working on the clubs so they feel better when I swing it. With all the hybrids and their larger heads, the club may feel heavier. Hopkins can change the weight so that it is easier to swing these clubs. "Every club is different, it's like a snowflake," Hopkins added. Hopkins suggested that clubfitting can make you swing better without making any changes in your swing, but he also notes that not every clubfitter does it correctly.

Next month, we'll ask Hopkins some questions about clubfitting and seniors.

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