The Terrible Twos Syndrome of Golf Club Fitting: Part Forty-Two

Here I continue my discussion of extremely critical grip size fitting as it relates to being able to most consistently make one’s best golf swings through golf club fitting, starting to now add in the element of differing golf shafts whereas prior discussions were primarily focused on the relationship(s) between the clubhead and grip sides of a golf club when the identical shaft was used.  Despite that several golf shaft specifications can be listed and considered for any given shaft, for the purpose of the continued testing here I will concentrate primarily on just one particular shaft specification, that of its weight.  The weight of a golf club’s shaft is really all that needs to be addressed here in order to learn the next clubfitting fundamental.  And this will be consistent with previous discussions dealing with golf club swingweighting, which basically sets the clubhead weight for any given golf club, and also grip weight, discussed previously as also being a foundationally important element of what golf grip diameter will be best for one.

As I have noted before, the common usage of the term “golf grip size” generally evokes only a measurement of a grip’s diameter from side to side, but a golf grip’s weight is also an integral part of a golf grip’s “size” and is very critical toward the selection of one’s golf grip size.  While a golf shaft’s weight has become fairly widely accepted as a factor to consider in golf club fitting even by golfers that are otherwise quite clueless about proper clubfitting fundamentals, a situation continues to exist where the so-called professional clubfitting trade as a whole remains quite clueless itself regarding the fact that golf grip weight (which has begun to vary quite a bit of late, mostly toward the lighter side) is no less of an important consideration in comprehensive and capable clubfitting than shaft weight is.  This is the sort of very rudimentary stuff that contributes to the continuing poor reputation of the clubfitting trade, where it often appears that any person right off the street and not even in the given field might have certain fundamental understandings about the subject at hand better than an entire so-called professional trade does.

Now perhaps the element of golf shaft weight is a routine consideration for many people today as an element that seems to have always been around.  But this is simply not true.  When considered within the context of the whole of golf history, alterations in golf shaft weights, particularly toward the lighter side, are still extremely new to the golf industry.  In this context the topic can be (and is in fact) still very much misunderstood, especially within the realm of competent clubfitting.  Bear in mind again that for perhaps fifty years after steel golf shafts eventually overtook wood (wood used for uncounted years before steel’s arrival) there was predominantly only a single weight of steel golf shaft available for everyone, or at least a far narrower range of weights than has been available since the introduction of lighter weight steel, graphite and other technologically advanced shafts.  Such advancement began to flourish roughly forty years ago and continues to this day.  That time period is essentially just the blink of an eye even though it never seems like that to younger players (or clubfitters) that have “always” had such components around them.  Such a perception can probably be likened to my very own feeling regarding golf club swingweighting.  It was simply always around throughout my entire lifetime and I certainly took it for granted (even though I did not understand its operation at the time) and perceived it as always being there, yet it was actually invented not that many years before I was born.

And even swingweighting, which was invented decades before lighter golf shafts started to appear, is not correctly understood by most people to this day.  In observing the date that this particular post is entered, know that to this day when browsing through entities like Internet golf forums (deserving of at least one post all its own that I plan to do) the subject of golf club swingweighting remains badly misunderstood by the vast majority of so-called clubfitting experts associated with such entities that totally butcher explaining the specification’s intended and desired functioning.  So despite that swingweighting can be a bit more bewildering a subject than golf shaft weight to the uninitiated (although it should not be to a true professional in the trade), perhaps it should not really be surprising that something decades newer than swingweighting, in the form of lighter golf shafts, still has its aspects that are not yet well understood.

Now even when just discussing golf shaft weight there can still be elements involved that can be further broken down, such as the fact that technology today allows two different shaft models of the exact same total weights to have that weight distributed differently along their lengths, which can be a very relevant factor in what is about to be discussed.  So in order to present the simplest example at the start I will impose a few conditions for the following testing.  As of today’s technology, there are golf shafts that still exceed 120 grams in weight, but I will select a 120 gram steel shaft for the next testing.  Going the other way, there are multiple shaft models that weight in at even less than 50 grams (and still going down), but for easier mathematical comprehension I will select a graphite golf shaft of 60 grams.  I will say that both shafts (just one of each) shall be tested as part of two drivers since that is what most golfers seem to be most concerned with (though I can honestly say I personally never recall being any more concerned with that particular club than any other I played with).  I shall say each shaft’s uncut length is 45 inches.

Normally the shaft weights selected would be listed for the shafts’ uncut lengths and their weights will decrease from there (in varying amounts based of course upon how much the shafts are cut down to achieve a determined test club length and also the shafts’ designs).  But again for the sake of initial simplicity the shafts’ weights can be considered to be the weights presented above both before and after any test club shaft trimming is performed, which naturally would not be true in detailed practice.  The weight distributions of these two golf shafts, again one steel and one graphite, shall be considered evenly distributed along their lengths.  The outer diameters of the shafts, predominantly referring here to the shafts’ butt diameters and continuing along the portions of the shafts that the grips will be installed on and ultimately held onto by one will also be considered to be identical.  And while I have distinctly noted before that golf club swingweight (when analyzed properly) is unrelated to shaft flex, in order to humor those people that still believe otherwise I shall say that the flexing characteristics of each of the shafts anywhere along their lengths are also identical.  (Shafts lengths might now be divided into an overkill 50 different sections [or maybe it is 5] with flexing characteristics analyzed over each individual section, but that is best left for another discussion).

Each of these shafts for testing purposes should ideally be installed in driver clubheads having identical clubhead specifications, the only exception being their weights which can be inconsistent and will be adjusted later anyhow.  Installation should be in the same fundamental manner as when constructing the identical (before installing different grip models) test club irons described earlier.  In dealing with two different golf shaft models this time, it shall be assumed that installation for both can and is performed identically, which in reality may not be the case for reasons not limited to the use of different shaft materials, models, and/or different installation instructions from different shaft makers.  As with the test iron recommendations and for the best learning experience(s), it is highly recommended that test driver construction be implemented in a manner that allows lower swingweight values to be achieved (I will stick with my recommendation of C5 for men’s clubs for consistency) for any golf grip model, size, and/or style tried on either of the test drivers, with swingweight value increases subsequently made with lead tape application to the clubheads or other method of choice.  And both test drivers shall be of the identical length (before any grips are installed, and more on that later), so if all above is adhered to the same amount of shaft length trimming from their butt ends (if any) will be performed.  The specific length dimension of the two clubs is irrelevant with respect to this particular testing as long as it is identical for both.  Perhaps I have even inadvertently missed one or more relevant elements, but through this description one should hopefully be adequately informed regarding various requirements to obtain the most precise results from coming comparative testing.  These many redundancies are extremely critical toward curing The Terrible Twos Syndrome of Golf Club Fitting, a self-inflicted syndrome that has helped garner a poor performance record and reputation for the clubfitting trade as a whole.

Now I will take a short detour here regarding a very relevant and associated background topic.  I have on occasion mentioned specific names in discussing clubfitting materials of others that have been previously published.  One of these names has been Ralph Maltby, who has indisputably been an important pioneering influence regarding the development of the golf club fitting (and component) trade to date.  Prior to Maltby’s first edition of Golf Club Design, Fitting, Alteration, & Repair, published information on these subjects available to the general public (and even private club makers/fitters by profession) was to say the least pretty scant.  For example there was a small green booklet by Kenneth Smith (another pioneer in the golf industry to be sure) titled Golf Club Alterations and Repairs: A Professional Shop Manual of Instruction that first came out about 1965 that was only around 30 pages long (and yet still contained some very enlightening information).  But then there was Maltby coming out with this behemoth manual of around 900 pages long to discuss the titled subjects (with clubfitting being only one part of the contents) about 1974, with many revised versions and/or derivatives of that original work regarding yet other related subjects published since then.

Still being somewhat young and inexperienced around those years and not being very interested in (or very good at to be sure) history regarding any given subject, I cannot authoritatively state the precise amount of completely original material developed by Maltby, especially referring to his earliest works that set the foundation for others that followed.  As just one example, Maltby clearly preached the highly inadvisable grip-on-a-stick method of fitting golf grip size beginning in his 1974 published manual, but Ping Golf (quite young itself back then) may have been implementing its mail-order clubfitting process and using the same or basically the same grip fitting process for years before that already.  So I cannot really be sure about any number of specifics in this particular area, again especially disclaiming the accuracy of my knowledge concerning past golf history, as that is neither a specialty nor a particular interest of mine.

So while I am unsure of the exact amount of original material produced by Maltby, there is still little doubt that he has produced a considerable amount of original material in his works.  Now (neither fortunately nor unfortunately) it is just a plain fact that a significant amount of Maltby’s work is incorrect and/or incomplete, specifically referring here to his golf club fitting theories and practices.  This includes but is not limited to proper golf grip size fitting, swingweighting and its relationship to shaft flex, and information pertaining to golf club face angle, all important aspects of capable clubfitting.  (Up to a certain point in time I collected and studied every work that Maltby produced, but this has not been the case for me in more recent years.  Thus, it is possible that more recent works of his have to some degree amended the mentioned and other clubfitting topics.  But even if true and without even investigating such works I will boldly presume that the needed corrections and/or completions of these clubfitting theories and practices have not been accomplished nearly to the extent that they already have been with respect to certain clubfitting topics and will yet be with respect to other clubfitting topics within Waggle Weight Wisdom™).

Notwithstanding Maltby’s incorrect and/or incomplete theories and practices concerning various clubfitting subjects, which have to some degree led the clubfitting industry down some wrong paths in the continuing development of this trade since his works have come out, it is still rather easy to admire and respect the man for his achievements in the field.  And I do indeed admire and respect Maltby for reasons that go beyond the enterprise of presenting his original material in front of the public for scrutiny.  I can point to the fact that virtually all attempting to produce clubfitting materials after Maltby’s originals have with few exceptions fundamentally repeated Maltby’s theories and practices but usually just added some minor twists of their own.  That is certainly a testament to the impact of Maltby’s work on the industry as a whole and maybe an indication of how much the trade needed someone like Maltby to step forward with more information at the time, including about clubfitting.  The greater awareness and expansion of the clubfitting trade largely as a result of Maltby’s early works, a trade whose availability and competence is of critical importance for the future health of the game of golf, have still been positive occurrences in the continuing development of the golf industry despite the fact that certain clubfitting theories and practices presented to date remain incorrect and/or incomplete.

I am also much more partial to Maltby’s simpler structure with respect to the manner in which he generally presents his work, which can stand the test of time better, than that of his predecessors as a whole.  Alternately, here I describe a different clubfitting book by a different author subsequent to Maltby that regularly sits at the bottom of my personal pile collecting dust.  This book views substantially more club specifications as being critical to fit for effective clubfitting than Maltby’s early works, perhaps as many as twenty total.  As I have noted before, this has become a one-upmanship sort of thing for many people, with many of these additional specifications being more superfluous in nature.  Then for each listed club specification an assignment is given of a small, medium, or large effect toward how much the specification affects golfing performance, somewhat illogical as any given specification might be any of the three depending on exactly how far off from ideal the club specification’s value may be for one.  Not only that, but the small, medium, or large effect is actually assigned to each of five different characteristics also assigned to come into play concerning each listed golf club specification.  And this is just the broad, “simplified” view before getting into some of the finer details.  That particular work can be hard to stomach and is not very well suited for the characteristics of golfers in general (including clubfitters), reinforcing here that the subject at hand is foundationally based upon swinging at an object that just sits there and stares back while one is swinging at it.

Generally speaking I can actually very often find an underlying fondness and/or respect in one or more ways regarding the things and/or people I choose to satirize (even myself) from time to time here.  But this specific clubfitting book (and numerous others like it) is so poorly thought out and/or presented regarding numerous golf swing and/or clubfitting theories and practices (regardless of whether those theories and practices are correct or incorrect, and in this case they are even more incorrect than predecessor works regarding various clubfitting topics) that it is even too poor to have some fun with in a manner that might be able to stimulate notable improvements in such a work.  Even the further giving of bad publicity is not justified in this instance.  That and other such works have dragged the clubfitting trade decisively backward rather than helping it forward from what Maltby essentially began.  To that end, Maltby’s simpler and/or straighter approach (at least in his earlier works that I have) in dealing with many clubfitting topics remains far preferable to that of many subsequent so-called clubfitting educators, where a maze of often-unneeded matter needs to be capably navigated first before finally discovering what the author truly knows about any given clubfitting topic.

In addition to his published works, I was in my most intense phase of trying to play golf for a living during approximately the same time Maltby founded and grew his company named The GolfWorks.  At the time (I cannot speak about today as I have not placed an order with them for possibly a decade or more) the company was second to none, with generally first-rate service, all the golf-related products one needed with good pricing and shipping, and a very welcome generous return policy for someone like me who too often had no idea what he was doing at the time.  While I never intentionally abused that return policy, there were many times when I ordered full cases of grips (generally 150) just to hopefully get 25 around the specific weight I was looking for (not always accomplished) to do the particular work I wanted to do and returned all others with no questions asked (grips were only about one dollar apiece back then and it was still a financial struggle to make ends meet on our middle-class means while trying to learn various aspects of golf).  If not for that policy then, I am quite certain I never would have developed the clubfitting knowledge I have to this point and I will always be grateful for and have fond memories of those years.

One memory that remains particularly strong was the ordering of my own loft and lie machine from The GolfWorks.  We were renting at the time and could not bolt it down anywhere, but one could buy a platform that one could stand on while adjusting clubs.  When my wife stood on it to try to help me I was moving her and the machine all over the kitchen just about throwing her into the appliances while attempting to adjust clubs.  There was little choice but to return it (the loft and lie machine, not my wife), but I never had any recalled problems returning anything big or small for these or any other reasons as I was (slowly) learning various aspects of the game back then.  Compare that to today where one often needs to first get an authorization in advance to return anything and/or pay a restocking fee, two changes in service that might make it more difficult for one to learn some of the things I did in a hands-on fashion and leaving one to observe materials that may be great or produced by people having no knowledge of the subject whatsoever.  In case one is not experienced enough, books, manuals, and other media about all kinds of subjects are produced all the time by people completely unqualified to make them.

Last but not least, to the very best of my knowledge Maltby’s designs, whether for tools, clubheads, or any other items are generally available to the public, even a beginner trying to learn on one’s own, which is nice.  I have heard about, but never dealt with, golf club component companies that only sell to so-called professional clubfitting shops or those who are “serious” clubfitters (whatever that is supposed to mean), apparently proven by filling out some application and hoping to be accepted.  Particularly regarding component brands, such brands are often backed by their very own specific clubfitting theories and practices to be utilized during clubfitting, and companies selling such component brands exclusively to so-called professional clubfitting shops can indicate a presumptuousness on the part of such companies that their clubfitting knowledge is superior to others.  But ironically these component company brands can be major contributors to the poor overall performance record and horrible reputation to date of the clubfitting trade.  Accordingly, one might want to beware of component brands only available at so-called professional clubfitting entities and not to the general public unless the brand is endorsed here.

So even though numerous of Maltby’s clubfitting theories and practices are incorrect, I nevertheless feel pretty respectful and there is in fact apparent original matter within his works that is quite good, relevant, and helpful, including the following information that I learned well through Maltby’s work and that is of vital importance toward understanding the next phase of testing.