Golf Club Fitting: The Science of Trial and Error

One question often asked over and over again when it comes to procedural matters in golf club fitting can be paraphrased something like, “What is the best scientific way to fit this or that particular golf club specification, or do I just have to use trial and error?”  Another version of the same inquiry is similar to, “Is there not a more scientific way to determine this or that golf club specification for my customers or me, or am I just stuck with using trial and error?”

The answers given to such inquiries often include examples such as the infamous grip-on-a-stick method of fitting golf grip size, where this method might be touted as being based on pure scientific principles.  Contrarily, it might be touted that choosing one’s grip size by swinging various golf clubs with varying grip sizes on them is a method that lacks scientific reasoning.  Similar examples abound regarding the use of a stand-at-attention clubfitting ruler.  With one’s arms hanging by one’s sides, a measurement is taken from the ground to some body part to determine one’s club length and deemed (by uncounted clubfitters) to be the epitome of scientific clubfitting, whereas swinging with different golf club lengths and analyzing the results is deemed unscientific, disordered, time consuming, and generally an unworthy task that is best avoided.

I was recently browsing through some Internet golf forums and found someone doing an experiment to see if golfers could tell the difference between two successive grip sizes where one grip had just one extra layer of tape wrapped underneath it around the shaft.  The individual went through painstaking efforts to make everything else on the two clubs identical to eliminate any other extraneous influences.  Then when he was all set to initiate the testing he made the comment equivalent to, “In order to make the test as ‘scientifically’ accurate as possible, I will make absolutely sure that no tested golfers are allowed to swing the golf clubs when trying to determine which is the larger and smaller grip size, if they are able to tell any difference between them at all.”  If this were not such a sad situation it would really be quite humorous.

Now is it possible to lower your golf score some (although perhaps inconsistently) by using these clubfitting methods still so regularly used and judged scientifically sound by the clubfitting trade?  Sure, if you get a little lucky.  Is it just as likely your average score might go higher instead by using such methods?  Absolutely, it happens all the time.  Is it possible to lower your score the most that can be reasonably expected for your swinging talent and on a more consistent basis as well?  Not with these applications I assure you.  Competent clubfitting just does not include these or other impertinent methods (like MOI [Moment of Insanity] golf club matching [the ultimate in scientific irrelevance respecting golf club fitting] that I will be having some fun with soon) even though such methods are scientifically based.

Let it be understood here that when approached and structured well, trial and error comprised of actual swing performance analysis while using varying club specification values in order to determine a final value is not only a highly scientific process, but it is far and away the best scientific process for determining a golf club specification value.  Now the principles of trial and error and scientific clubfitting can be analyzed separately.  One can randomly grab any two clubs in a golf shop, swing them alternately, and there is a good chance one club will be swung better than the other.  This is trial and error in its broadest scope where no other science is applied.  But if each club has a different shaft, different grip size, different swingweight value, and so on, then there is no way to definitively determine which golf club specification(s) or specification value(s) is responsible for one club being swung better than the other (nor why nor how).  Thus, this manner alone is not a very effective means of clubfitting.

Oppositely, scientific clubfitting can be applied with no reference whatever to (trial and error) swing performance.  Both the grip-on-a-stick and stand-at-attention clubfitting ruler methods can be considered scientific in that they are based on certain mathematical relationships between one’s physical body and golf club dimensions.  But just because something is scientific in nature does not mean it is relevant to (or even trying to be relevant to) a particular goal.  Even in theory these scientific (and in these two cases unequivocally static) methods are contrived for maximum clubfitting convenience, not maximum performance.  I could devise and add other scientific clubfitting methods in which zero swing performance is required, like a chart that would choose one’s shaft flex and/or weight based upon some mathematical determination(s) of one’s body strength.  The swing-performance relevance of all of these methods would be comparable.  I might collectively call these static methods the scientific-no-swing-quick-fit clubfitting process.  This would have no connection whatsoever to one’s actual swing performance because none of the individual methods applied would actually address that issue in the slightest manner.  But it would be a completely scientific (and very fast) process.  Yet this kind of science really has nothing to do with genuine game improvement through judicious clubfitting.

However, by combining the principles of trial and error and scientific clubfitting in a well-structured, systematic manner, they become elements of a comprehensive, single process.  Trial and error becomes part of a larger, scientifically engineered clubfitting process.  In fact, it is the most critical element of an integrated, scientific, and dynamic process.  Trial and error clubfitting via swing performance has a crowning, scientific advantage over any other clubfitting method that will become apparent shortly.

One reason trial and error swing performance is often frowned upon is something I may have revealed earlier, which is because of a widespread belief that less-skilled golfers in particular do not swing consistently enough to be able to choose their club specifications in this manner.  But this belief is totally baseless.  To exemplify, over a longer time span, while an established player’s swing will not change much (unless done so intentionally) because his/her swing is more developed already, a lesser-skilled player’s swing will gradually change over that time span.  And yes, from a certain point of view this can be called swing “inconsistency” relative to a better player’s swing.  But over the course of a single day (or hour) when any given club specification value might be determined, the degree of swing inconsistency of a lesser-skilled player relative to a more accomplished player is nowhere near as much as one might believe.

Even if scientific data were to prove me wrong on this specific point, no change in the clubfitting process would be made.  Under properly formed testing conditions, if you were to make five golf swings with a golf club having one particular grip size on it, then five swings with a club having a different grip size on it, and all ten of these swings were horribly inconsistent with none of them even close to being alike, you are still giving yourself a far better chance of determining which is your better grip size over using the ludicrous grip-on-a-stick scientific method (I will elaborate more about this later).  If you are not comfortable with this scenario for whatever reason(s), well I hate to sound like one of your parents, but you just have to do it anyway.  You simply must engage in your swing performance the best you can and do trial and error testing for those different grip sizes in order to give yourself a legitimate chance of choosing your best grip size.  Anything less and you must accept that luck will play a greater role than talent regarding whether or not your best club fit will be achieved.  There is another common reason I touched on above why trial and error clubfitting is regularly (and unwisely) frowned upon, but more on that later.