Clubfitting 101: Ousting the Industry’s Current Ruler
Another indirect method for fitting certain golf club specifications is by way of using a “clubfitting ruler” for determining one’s golf club length. This common gadget measures the distance between the ground and a part of your hand when standing erect with arms hanging at your sides. The measurement used to be figured to the fingertips or maybe the knuckles, but now many may do it to one’s wrist. One’s “optimal golf club length” is read off the ruler. Whereas with many other golf club parameters I have learned and evolved tremendously from being a beginner until now, I can honestly say that my verdict on the clubfitting ruler has not changed since I was a total beginner. I thought it was silly then, and I think it is silly now. I really do not know whether the designer(s) of that device had the intent of trying to put one into a particular physical posture when performing a swing, if it had more to do with what lengths players generally preferred or played best with when they measured to certain points on the clubfitting ruler, or if other factors were the basis of such a system. But as another secondary way of trying to help golfers swing as well and/or achieve as good a golf ball travel as possible, its merit ranks from essentially irrelevant to downright detrimental if in the wrong hands.
When considering one’s playing posture for instance, even decades ago a typical set of men’s clubs (generally comprising clubheads smaller than today and more the same from company to company due to manufacturing methods then) had lengths that varied from about 43 inches down to 35. This by itself produces club-to-club posture changes even when playing from the identical lie. Next, combine that with the differently sloped hills golf must be played off of, this too of which greatly influences one’s posture even when using the identical club. Then add in the different types of golf shots attempted and yet other factors, and it should be fairly easy to see how one’s posture will (and should) vary markedly anyway no matter what length might be chosen by way of the clubfitting ruler. This makes the clubfitting ruler (or any other “posture-driven” length choosing methods) highly questionable if used for the purpose of fitting to a specified posture, so be wary of that argument. If one cannot accommodate varying posture changes to his or her swing, not a particularly difficult athletic feat given the fact that a golf ball lies still while one is swinging at it, then one really cannot golf at a reasonable skill level. Repeated swinging at the same driving range stall is very good for realizing some things, but not so good for realizing others, such as the constant posture changes induced when getting on the course and actually playing the game of golf.
But perhaps the most telling evidence of how much a “secondary or indirect” method the clubfitting ruler is and how much credence should be granted to it is as follows. When I have a 43-inch driver in my hands that has a clubhead on it I bought maybe 20 years ago, the club seems like it is, well, 43 inches in length. With the identical golf club but a more recently designed head on the club, however, a head that seems the size of my house, the club then looks (and plays) like it is considerably shorter. Do I really need to say more? Choosing golf club length based upon what a clubfitting ruler dictates might preclude one from playing with (or even trying) some very good club designs.
There are always tall golfers who have to bend more at the waist and/or knees and short golfers who have to stand more upright when using “standard” length clubs, and to the best of my knowledge none are hampered to a degree that physical injury or an inability to succeed at golf to their maximum capabilities results from such posture differences. I am not advocating standard length clubs for everyone here, but merely pointing out what a wide range of golf club lengths one may still be able to excel with, no wizardry needed. There is, though, one rather large limiting factor regarding club length, one that might be considered related to the posture differences noted above for the many different physical statures of players. A large percentage of golf club components have (necessary) features such that not too much deviation from the finished club length they are designed for can be worked, or the club(s) will quickly become unplayable in other ways. So while one’s “playing posture” may become better in someone’s mind due to a notable length change, even more critical club fitting/construction concerns can be problematic at such lengths.
I will probably discuss fitting club length more later when approaching the subject from a different perspective, but I just want to briefly comment here on a somewhat recent trend of lessening the length differentials within a set of golf clubs or even making them totally equal (the traditional span is considered half an inch for successive clubs). This practice not only results in club lengths becoming more the same relative to each other within the set, but shaft flexes and total weights as examples conventionally become more equal too. As one might imagine, this may be advantageous in some ways and/or for certain golfing styles toward playing better. However, a gratifying improvement when using this kind of approach can also tend to further mask any fundamental deficiencies in the understanding and application of other, even more advantageous (and proven) clubfitting principles. It does stand to reason that one who can play well with a wider range of club lengths would have an advantage and more versatility at his or her disposal than one who cannot. I will leave it at that for now. Next up, one big reason why such indirect, inaccurate clubfitting procedures are still used.