Snowflakes started falling on the range as I began to loosen up for my fitting at True Spec Golf in Columbus, Ohio. Appropriately enough, it was April 1. Mother Nature had clearly pranked me. At least the snow melted as soon as it landed on the newly greened range grass.
True Spec’s Columbus location occupies one side of the range at Brookside Golf & Country Club, a course that regularly co-hosts the final round of U.S. Open qualifying. True Spec uses a brand-agnostic approach to custom fitting and building clubs to best fit any player’s golf swing. That means you get to try a much wider variety of clubheads and shafts than you would at a typical demo day. And while most big box golf stores can put you on a simulator or launch monitor and walk you through several brands of clubheads, the shafts are limited to the stock options and perhaps a handful of special-order shafts, In comparison, True Spec boasts some 50,000 clubhead and shaft combinations to find just the right fit for any player. With 23 locations in the U.S. and three in Europe, you may need to travel a little to get fit. (Maybe finally take the wife to Paris and work in a full bag fitting for yourself?)
Back to the Snow
On that snowy April Fool’s Day in Columbus, I was happy to find that True Spec’s indoor-to-outdoor hitting bay is, indeed, heated. Services range from shaft-only fittings or gap analyses for $125 to full bag fittings for $375. Most fittings last an hour. Iron and wedge, as well as all woods will take two hours. For a full bag fitting, be prepared to put in three hours of swings.
I chose to do a driver fitting because, although I’d driven the ball well the summer before, as fall swept into central Ohio my drives were more and more erratic. My gamer was a Ping 410 LST with 9 degrees of loft and Ping’s “Tour” 65-gram shaft. At age 58, I have had some doubts that my swing speed still supported using a low spin head. I also hoped that a more “forgiving” head might tighten my dispersion pattern a bit.
Chad Evans, a 26-year PGA Professional, is a Master Fitter for True Spec and, on this day, had the unenviable task of finding a new driver setup that would complement my “new” and clearly still erratic swing. Less than a month before I had taken a lesson that changed several aspects of my swing and I was (and am) still working to get those parts to work in concert.
I warmed up with a six iron and after slapping a dozen shots out onto the wet grass, I was ready to let the big dog eat (or at least sniff at a few dry pieces of kibble). My first drive with my current driver flew 251 yards, launched at 13.3 degrees and spun at 2039 RPM, producing a 1.47 efficiency number (or smash factor).
“That’s going to be tough to beat,” Chad said.
I assured him that the swing was the exception rather than the rule. I continued hitting a handful more shots with my 410, setting a baseline for the fitting. As I hit, Chad assembled a quiver of drivers that fit our goals of tightening dispersion and maximizing distance.
Chad noted that my swing was coming too much from the inside with a high angle of attack. As the session wore on, that resulted in a lot of blocks out to the right side of the range. As I said, the new swing had not completely taken hold yet. But the drives were serviceable for the most part, and the swing speed was pretty close to where I’ve been in recent years, so that was reassuring.
Which Comes First: The Shaft or the Head?
Chad likes to start with the club head. He believes that the equation for a quality fitting is 60-40, club head to shaft. The shaft is often referred to as the “engine” of the golf club, but Chad disagrees.
“The numbers start with the head,” he said. “The shaft is about feel. Find the club head that performs best for you, then you can fine tune the feel with the shaft. The shaft is complimentary.”
The variables in the shaft that make up “feel” include its weight, flex, torque, bend, weight distribution and even the paint scheme. A lot goes into the shaft, and there are a lot of different shafts to choose from, but they do tend to fall into categories that make the fitting them easier. Over the course of 100 or so swings, Chad continually put different shafts into the different club heads, and only on a couple of occasions did I really notice an improvement in feel. The Fujikura Ventus Blue and KBS TD stood out to me in terms of feeling smooth and solid throughout my swings. The others did not feel bad, these just felt better.
I asked Chad a question that I’ve been asked a few times: are premium shafts really worth their often steep price tags? Chad readily admits that you can get lucky with a stock shaft. The brands want to provide options that can be used by the largest number of golfers after all, but those options are still limited. And stock shafts are often not quite the same animal as the same as the “real deal” shafts you can purchase aftermarket or through True Spec. Often stock shafts are mass produced versions that are made to approximate the premium model. For example, some stock Ventus shafts lack the Velocore tip that you’ll find in a shaft purchased directly from Fujikura. In addition, Chad points out, the variations in the mass-produced shafts can make them perform very differently, not only from the “real” model but from “identical” stock shafts on the rack right next to it.
The first driver head that I tried was the TaylorMade Stealth with a Ventus Red shaft. I really liked the feel of the ball coming off the face, but numbers showed that the 410 was still a better fit. Over the next hour, I worked through the Callaway Rogue Max, Cobra LTDx, Titlest TSi2, Ping 425 Max, and a couple other heads. I lost track of the shafts that Chad swapped in and out of rotation, but I’m pretty sure it exceeded the number of heads by maybe a factor of two. All of them were reasonably close in performance characteristics to the Ping Tour 65, but we were looking to see if one noticeably improved ball speed, launch or dispersion without another metric significantly dropping.
After what had to be at least a jumbo bucket of range balls, Chad arrived at a conclusion. He could fit me into a driver that would perform better than the one I walked in with, but there was not going to be a night and day difference in performance. I really appreciated the honesty.
Following the fitting, Chad sent an email with some notes from the fitting and a quote for a recommended club head and shaft combination. He even pointed out some aspects of my swing that had impacts on my performance.
Chad’s best setup for me was essentially a toss up between the Callaway Rogue Max or the Titleist TSi2 coupled with the Ventus Blue or the TD. My slight preference for the TSi head shape pushed it over the Rogue. In the end, Chad paired the TSi2 with a KBS TD 60-gram Cat 3 shaft in stiff.
The paring included a $550 clubhead coupled with a $375 shaft. Final cost, including shaft puring, assembly and taxes would run $1,097.43. Yikes.
A few years ago, I’d have probably scoffed at the idea of spending $1,000 on a driver. I think most golfers would have to mentally debate that purchase for a while. With the modest performance gains shown by the recommended combination, I could not justify buying a new driver when mine was clearly not costing me strokes (I wish the same could be said of my swing). But if I had picked up a five or more yards on average or minimized my misses significantly, I would be sweating out that purchase decision.
Happily for my wallet, Chad also recommended simply replacing the Ping LST head with a 425 (or even 410) Max, paired with my current shaft, to bring the spin numbers up a little to help maximize carry and minimize dispersion. It should be noted that the Ping 410 and 425 Max clubheads are relatively low spinning options compared to some brand’s “regular-guy” heads.
A custom fitting like the one I got from True Spec is not going to be something that works for every golfer or every golfer’s pocketbook. Getting exactly the clubhead and shaft that best fit your swing, however, can help you maximize your performance. Can you get lucky walking into a big box golf store and walking out with a driver played by your favorite PGA Tour player? Sure. (That PGA Tour player is definitely not playing a stock shaft, by the way.) Obviously stock shafts are not horrible. They can get the job done, but they can also be inconsistent.
If you want to take some of the chance out of the club buying process start with a quality fitting like the one I got from Chad at True Spec. It will help ensure that you make a more reliable buying decision and might just teach you a thing or two about your game and your clubs in the process.