The Terrible Twos of Golf Club Fitting: Part Twenty-Four

Particularly if you are a serious clubfitter (even if fitting yourself), you owe it to yourself to at least browse through the Rules of Golf that pertain to equipment, because there are certain regulations pertaining to golf grips and a grip can be made non-conforming or illegal for play if for instance one decides to add build-up tape to the shaft in a certain manner before grip installation.  As can be seen by the listed grip sizes at the start of my immediately previous entry, successive golf grip sizes up to the present have generally been made in increments technically labeled as .020 (inches) apart, corresponding to twenty thousandths or one fiftieth of an inch in diameter.  However, presumably because of the way a grip commonly stretches when the same core size grip is installed on various shaft butt diameters that vary by the same .020, successive golf grip sizes achieved by interchanging various core size golf grips and shaft butt diameters are more regularly referred to as being one sixty-fourth or closer to fifteen thousandths (.015) of an inch apart in diameter.  For an approximate reference against more oversized grips known as midsize grips, often considered as being a diameter that is one sixteenth of an inch oversized, there can technically be as many as four different grip sizes between a men’s standard and midsize grip.  As many as eight different potentially game-affecting grip sizes exist between a men’s standard and jumbo size grip, a jumbo grip most often considered to be one eighth of an inch oversized in diameter.  As alluded to earlier, these long-standing reference figures are already showing some signs of change heading into the future, but it is still important reference data to be aware of at this time.

Now the grips that will be used for this specific testing have been predetermined to be Victory golf grip models M62, M60, and M58 for the three test clubs being constructed.  But any grip model of choice may be substituted.  Just make sure that the same base grip model is used for all of the test clubs or this specific testing will be invalid.  As noted earlier, different base grip models (even of the same grip manufacturer) can vary notably in their designed diameters along the length of the grip, their weights, and more from any so-called standard values, rendering this particular testing worthless if grips are mixed in this regard.  (And different grip manufacturers may have different “standard” grip size dimensions to begin with just as different shaft manufacturers often have their own standards as to what constitutes a given shaft flex value).  Most popular and/or top-of-the-line grip models should be available in various grip core sizes to use and experiment with, but this is not always the case.  Some grip models, even popular models, may only come in a single core size to somehow try to work with and this sort of thing appears to be becoming more and more prevalent, especially as an increase in the number of grip manufacturers that are trying to conveniently sell their wares has been apparent of late.  This is also partly because so many golfers and/or clubfitters are completely oblivious to the critical importance of golf grip sizing and how little this specification needs to change in order to produce major golf performance changes.  I am as curious as anyone to see if more core sizes in more base grip models might become available to any notable degree after this post title sequence is finished and its information becomes more widespread.

Anyway, it is now time to go over some critically important numbers that need to be very carefully minded in order to perform this testing successfully.  The following numbers have been slightly altered from published manufacturer specifications in order to simplify explanations a bit.  The nominally designed target or center weight of the M62 Victory grip is 47 grams.  The M60 is 50 grams and the M58 is 52 grams.  If not stated earlier, the traditional Victory model is no longer available to the general public but only to tour players if I understand correctly, but there are numerous other models available and each must be prudently investigated as to what each model’s specific “numbers” are.  Now in addition to these nominal Victory weights there is the tolerance range I have described previously, and in this case the tolerance range for the Victory model is plus or minus 3 grams.  What this means is that if just randomly grabbing any M62 grip and any M58 grip, it is possible that one could end up with the smallest (diameter-wise) grip on one of the test clubs (the M62) that is actually the heaviest in weight among the three grips (up to 50 grams allowed) and the largest diameter grip (the M58) that is actually the lightest in weight among the three grips (down to 49 grams allowed).  (Not to confuse the issue here but just for added reference, I have often found that grips on the lighter side of the tolerance range also turn out to be a little on the smaller size [diameter-wise] from those right in the middle of the tolerance range and vise versa, but this is not always the case).

Now there are many clubfitters today that will contend that the weight of a given golf grip is essentially irrelevant or inapplicable toward the choosing of one’s best golf grip size.  The fitting knowledge of such so-called clubfitters is really poor, and this is some of what I refer to when saying that the clubfitting industry is still in its infancy in many ways with respect to understanding athletic or activity performance in general, golf swing performance more specifically, and golf club fitting.  As will ultimately be learned, for two different base grip models of identical installed diameters that have nominal weights of 70 and 40 grams as examples due to the material(s) the grips are constructed of, a golfer can easily need different grip diameters within each of these models in order to make his/her best golf swings.  As such, competently fitting the golf club specification known as “golf grip size” is not limited to fitting a dimension of a grip’s diameter from one side to another as is implied by the commonly seen grip size charts noted earlier.  A grip’s weight is also a critical element in the determination of one’s best golf grip diameter, and other grip design features can be influential as well.

A comparable lesson to this has been learned by the clubfitting industry in recent decades with respect to golf shaft weights.  When all golf shaft models were much closer to the same weight for about fifty years, there was no real need to learn such a thing.  But with the inception and continuing evolving of lighter and lighter shafts made of graphite and other materials starting about a mere 40 years ago, the clubfitting trade has certainly now come to learn about the element of shaft weight differences in the fitting of golf shafts to golfers, so much so that some may now consider shaft weight to be a more important consideration than shaft flex.  A similar lesson exists for the fitting of one’s best golf grip size.  This has not previously been learned well by the clubfitting trade in large part due to the atrociously inept way this industry has always taught and practiced the fitting of golf grips to golfers.  And with the introduction in more recent years of a wider range of golf grip weights for the same size diameters, the trade had better learn this lesson well and quickly or its reputation will go even lower than it already is (if that is even possible).  Anyone stating that golf grip weight is irrelevant toward the selection of one’s best golf grip diameter can be dismissed as being inferior in his/her experience and/or knowledge regarding activity performance in general, golf swing performance more specifically, and of course clubfitting expertise in much the same way as he/she would be easily dismissed as being inferior if stating that golf shaft weight is irrelevant toward best fitting one’s golf club(s).

So in learning this information and getting back to the specific grip core sizes to be used in this testing, it should hopefully become abundantly clear that just the possibility of the ideally lightest grip weight actually being the heaviest and vise versa is unacceptable and could easily result in inaccurate and invalid test results.  Thus, a maximum effort needs to be made to locate an M62 grip as close as possible to 47 grams, an M60 at 50 grams, and an M58 at 52 grams for this testing.  Failing to pay attention to the details in such matters will open the door to all kinds of possible errors and potentially prevent one from gaining the knowledge one needs to learn through this specific testing.

Now if only a single core size grip is available, equal care must be taken to make sure that all of the test grips to be used are of equal value at the model’s nominal value, for example three M60 grips at exactly 50 grams.  Adjustments to the grip weights are not to be made if for instance one grip will be stretched down the shaft more to try to create a grip size that is one sixty-fourth of an inch undersized (the S300 iron shaft has a butt diameter of .600) and another grip will have build-up tape installed on the bare shaft first before grip installation.  Here we get into a big reason why I prefer to interchange shaft and grip core sizes to achieve desired grip sizes whenever possible over adding build-up tape, as the build-up tape adds another, potentially inconsistent element into the equation that must be very carefully attended to.  A typical masking tape might have a single-layer thickness of .005 inches, but when wrapping it around a golf shaft this thickness appears on both sides of the shaft, doubling the thickness and resulting in a total diameter increase of .010 for a single wrap.  At that value, a second wrapping over the first would result in a total shaft diameter increase of .020, which would theoretically be the equivalent of increasing the final grip diameter by one size upon grip installation.

So in lieu of using an M62 at 47 grams, an M60 at 50 grams, and an M58 at 52 grams with each installed on one of the test clubs in a normal manner, three M60 grips at 50 grams each would be used, one stretched down the shaft more upon installation to try to make it equivalent in diameter (though not weight) to what an M62 grip would be, one installed normally, and one installed with two wraps of build-up tape (not including the double-coated adhesive tape used for grip installation) applied to the bare shaft first.  The build-up tape will naturally result in an increase in the “effective” grip weight of that grip in addition to its diameter.  This is the way to best scientifically proceed despite certain discrepancies between the two scenarios like the differences in grip weights and lengths on the clubs having the undersized grips on them.  One should not intentionally search out a lighter and more out-of-tolerance grip weight for the grip that is to be stretched undersized under such circumstances.

As recorded earlier, build-up tapes can come in a variety of thickness, must be carefully researched, and must be kept consistent if reliable results are to be obtained.  Potential effects would come into play much more if and when more build-up tape is used.  For example, if having a shaft with a .600 shaft butt size, an M60 core standard size golf grip, and wanting to achieve a jumbo size golf grip, 16 (yes, 16) wraps of build-up tape of the thickness noted would have to be applied to the shaft before grip installation in order to theoretically achieve the jumbo (diameter) size.  If the thickness of the build-up tape used were unknowingly different by just one thousandth (.001) of an inch, one would end up with about a full grip size difference than when using no build-up tape and a ready-made jumbo size golf grip having an M60 core size (jumbo and midsize golf grips can also be labeled as M60 core size grips, but the terms jumbo or midsize are generally designated somewhere on the grip, often on the grip cap).

Then there is the grip weight issue just discussed.  Even if the build-up tape used with the .600 shaft and M60 standard size golf grip produced an exact diameter match with the .600 shaft and ready-made jumbo size golf grip, the effective weights of the two grips may be substantially different and may be easily distinguishable from one another in terms of golfing performance when properly tested against each other.  Thus, whichever technique might be used (whether by voluntary choice or being forced into the situation), make sure the same technique is applied consistently and the two are not intermixed within the same testing sequence or from test clubs to playing clubs, or one can expect inconsistent and invalid results even among identical grip diameters let alone adding the element of different grip diameters.  So even though I mentioned earlier that the use of build-up tape might actually help grips go on easier under certain conditions, overall I find that there are more potential disadvantages than advantages associated with that technique as opposed to interchanging grip core and shaft sizes to achieve desired grip sizes and using simpler, standard gripping procedure when able to do so effectively.

After appropriate grips are selected to install, the final remaining task for test golf club construction before testing can begin is to install the grips, so I will now go over certain aspects of this standard gripping procedure just noted.  As indicated when other aspects were detailed, by the time this post title sequence is completed and it is learned exactly what is being tested for and what the results are, one will feasibly be quite glad for the particulars about to be given.  And since multiple matching twos (or more) of test clubs will have to be made over time in order to implement sound fundamental clubfitting in certain fitting areas, this specific background information has been judged important.

As for installing the test golf grips, relatively speaking with the correct knowledge and some practice, golf grip installation is one of the easier tasks with respect to clubmaking.  But even so and like just about anything in life, it might still be considered a continuing education experience that never ends.  As a case in point, I have essentially used the same double-coated adhesive tape model from the same tape manufacturer for around the last quarter of a century even though at times I have gotten some pretty lousy product.  I will not name the manufacturer at this specific time or disclose why I have “stuck” with them through the years.  But I will relate that over this time period the tape has been changed perhaps a half-dozen times or more, and in certain respects each time this happens it is like trying to learn the gripping process all over again regarding factors like exactly how to best wrap the tape, what solvent or solution might be best to mutually use with the tape for grip installation and how to best apply it, and more.  Changes have been made in the tape’s thickness, liner type, the way the adhesive was manufactured, and the part number has been changed multiple times, presumably corresponding to some change made to the tape each time this is done.  I guess that is progress.

So it is tough if not impossible to provide one or more techniques here with respect to certain elements of golf club gripping procedure that could be considered “ageless” to be sure.  One may have to do much experimenting on one’s own with any different, currently available double-coated tapes and solvents or solutions for instance to determine what combination might be best for installing one’s golf grips.  And right after one settles on something, something will probably change to justify rechecking such components again (along with one’s method[s] of using them).  In talking with someone at one of the grip manufacturers perhaps twenty-five years ago already, he told me that they had already been searching seemingly forever for a way to install golf grips without the separate need for double-coated adhesive tape.  I cannot really say whether that is a viable dream or not, but as a practical matter one has to go with what is best available at the time one needs to grip a golf club.  I can, however, address certain aspects of golf club gripping technique that might be considered more universal over time.  Even some of these general aspects continue to be poorly understood, taught, and practiced by the clubfitting trade overall.  So I will address certain issues here, and this information may be somewhat helpful even toward making any needed decisions regarding other related elements that are harder to definitively sanction.

First and foremost, make sure you have access to at least a decent regular vise and a good quality shaft clamp that will hold a golf club securely in the vise in the position you place it in while pushing on and aligning a golf grip and yet not damage the club’s shaft when satisfactorily tightened in the vise.  When my wife and I got married we had to rent for years and my earliest golf grip installations were performed without a vise.  Not unlike many others just starting out, I held the club with one hand after I put the double-coated adhesive tape on, covered the floor with something or other, doused the inside of the grip and tape with solvent, pushed the grip on with my other hand, and then I likely placed the club in what I deemed to be its playing position (I cannot recall this explicitly) and tried to align the grip to the clubface as well as I could.  While this can work to a degree to at least allow one to play and practice some golf, it is hardly suitable for the type of testing that needs to be done here or for long-term gripping prospects as will be explained next.  Fortunately, after the initial thrill of learning to grip my own clubs subsided, I evolved into a more “advanced” mode of mounting a vise on a piece of wood, securing that unit in the middle of the kitchen table where the removable leaf of the table would be connected if utilized, and then I put a couple of bowling balls on the table to help stabilize it a little when gripping my clubs.  Everybody has to start somewhere.

Perhaps you are not completely convinced of the importance of using a vise when doing serious gripping because of the following.  Many different sources recommend using a vise to initially get a golf grip on a club, but then advise removing the club from the vise, placing the club in its playing position (however that is supposed to be interpreted by any given individual), and then performing the final grip alignment based upon that playing position.  I would question the legitimate need for vise too if I gripped golf clubs in that manner, but that is horrible procedural advice for gripping that should never be practiced.  While advised for all clubs, that recommendation has been devised in large measure due to the existence of the golf club specification of face angle on woods (although hybrids can certainly be included now and iron heads [including putters] can be affected as well [explained more shortly]).  Golf club face angle is a club specification that in and of itself remains very badly understood respecting direct golf swing performance let alone trying to combine and/or analyze the specification in conjunction with golf grip alignment.

In any event, some so-called club fitters and/or makers believe that grip alignment upon installation should especially take into account a wood’s face angle and be adjusted based on the natural resting position of the clubhead on actual ground.  (I am assuming the use of a ribbed golf grip here that was considered the standard in golf grip design for decades [although this has appeared to change recently] and which will have the greatest impact on this discussion).  Since the face angle of a wood (or any other club, but the face angle specification can have a more dramatic effect on a wood) cannot be readily determined or taken into consideration when the wood is secured in a conventional vise and manner for gripping, it is deemed very important by these sources to remove the wood from the vise immediately after getting the grip on and aligning the grip as represented above.  This is incorrect procedure.