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Custom-made Golf Clubs

Custom-made golf clubs provide links weapons made expressly for you
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

(continued from page 1)

"It's been our experience that 75 percent of the people who come to us are not using the proper clubs for their swing," says Clark Renner, the senior club specialist at Callaway who helps professional players and VIPs find the right tools. "They usually have the wrong flex in their shafts and the wrong loft in their drivers. There is this myth around that less loft in a driver face will give a player more distance. That's usually true only for good players. For higher handicap players, more loft is usually the right thing to get the ball airborne longer."  

It usually takes a referral from a club professional or golf club dealer with a Callaway account to get fitted for clubs at Callaway. When the appointment is made, you will be asked to bring your driver and 5-iron. These relics of your golf game tell tales. Renner, or possibly club specialist John Degen, will examine them rather like archaeologists interpreting the use of primitive tools. They will observe where the wear marks are on the face. This can tell them if you are hitting the ball squarely. They will also test the shaft for its degree of flex.  

Then they will ask you to hit a few shots on stage. That's the hitting platform in the room that's equipped with two high-speed cameras, one directly overhead of the ball, the other at tee height on the opposite side of the ball from your address. These cameras rip off frames at the rate of 2,500 a second. When the film is replayed on a television monitor, it has the eerie look of a sonogram of the birth of a golf shot.

The cameras are linked to a computer that will determine club head speed, speed of the ball at launch, the height angle of launch, the angle of dispersion from down the middle, the side spin on the ball both directionally and by rate of revolution, back spin and side spin in rpms, and what Callaway has called an efficiency ratio, which is the ball speed divided by the club head speed (a ball speed of 1.5 times club head speed is considered to be 100 percent efficient).  

Now the bright lights, the cameras, the monitors, the stage and the technobabble may all be a bit daunting in the beginning, at least until you get comfortable with being the star of what amounts to a video production. What your club fitter is looking for, what the cameras and the computer are trying to calculate, is how you hit the ball, how high, what direction, how far, and what the plane of your swing is based on your old clubs. He analyzes the characteristics, discusses the nature of your swing, and then starts reaching into the bins of Callaway drivers and 5-irons that surround you, the ones with bar codes on them that tell the computer, the fitter and the player the lie and loft of the head, the properties of the shaft, and the swing weight of each club.  

If the testing concludes that you are hitting the ball with the toe of the club too upright and thus starting every shot to the left, the fitter will offer you a club with a flatter lie. Depending on where the ball is traveling, the specialist will give you a proper lie angle that will give you the straight ball flight. Callaway has designed shafts based on a given player's swing speed and swing type, and will fit your shaft accordingly. Callaway will also determine the loft of the driver by proper launch parameters. With drivers, if your launch angle is too high, he will offer a club with less loft. If too low, he will offer a club with more loft.

If you hit the ball to the right, you might try a club with a face angle more to the left, and vice versa. With each club you will make many swings until you find the one that feels the best and seems to provide the most consistent ball flight as seen on the television monitors. You might go through a dozen drivers of various lofts, shaft flexes and lengths, and lie angles before you find the one for you. Same with the irons. As dazzling as the technology can be, it's still you hitting the shot and searching for the sweet spot. By the end of the session, the Callaway computer will print out a spec sheet for your personalized set of Callaway clubs.  

Only a few miles from Callaway's performance center is the one operated by Taylor Made-Adidas Golf, another giant of the golf industry. Its testing and fitting center, across the street from its headquarters building in Carlsbad, consists of a driving range cut into the side of a hill with a sign that warns pedestrians of the possibility of rattlesnakes. Here, fitter Gary Gallagher will take you out in the Southern California sunshine and do things more the old-fashioned way. Here, you get to hit balls the way you usually do, and to see the results of your efforts. Here, too, you will need a referral. Don't expect to walk in off the street.  

Gallagher will talk with you about your game, about your handicap, how far you can hit a 6-iron, whether you fade or draw the ball. He will take a bunch of clubs, a bucket of balls and a plastic board to the range. Along the sole of the 6-iron he will put a strip of tape. Then he will ask you to hit balls off the plastic board. This isn't so bad once you get over the fear of hitting the board. In fact, it becomes pretty easy since you can drive down and through the ball without burying it in the ground. Gallagher will then look at where the scuff marks are on the tape to determine where the club is striking the ground in relation to the ball. If the scuff mark is toward the toe, your swing may be too flat. If it's toward the heel, it may be too upright.  

"I think you have to see the ball in the air to really tell what a player is doing with his swing," says Gallagher. "When you see what he can do consistently with his swing, you try to match your clubs to it. If you see that he can't carry a driver 200 yards and hits it real low, then you go to a club with more flex in the shaft, maybe a lower kick point in the shaft [which launches the ball higher] and maybe more loft in the face. You have to keep working at it until there is a series of shots that look good and feel good to the player. Most players can't put a consistently good swing on the ball, so in a sense you're looking for the club that forgives him the most. You are trying to give him a club that minimizes his misses."  


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