You're determined that 2015 is going to be your breakthrough year on the golf course. Joining a club, new woods and irons, lessons and more practice time are all part of the plan.
But what about club fitting? Have you overlooked this crucial aspect of taking your game to new heights?
If so, you're not alone. With the advent of launch monitors and equipment advancements, not being professionally fit for clubs is an oversight for anyone who's serious about the game.
"By getting fit for your clubs, you can make the game easier," said PGA Professional Tyrus York of the High Performance Golf Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. "For example, by having a driver that is fit to your swing, you can optimize ball flight, which will not only lead to distance gains, but also improved accuracy."
If you do plan on getting fit for clubs, it's important to understand a process where disconnect exists between consumers and many in the golf industry.
Why you should see a professional club fitter
One person who knows as much as anyone about professional club fitting is Ed Grabowy, head club fitter since 1991 at The Golf Doctor in Woodstock, Ga.
Grabowy is certified as an Advanced Professional "Class A" Clubmaker by the Professional Clubmaker's Society and a Professional Clubmaker by the Golf Clubmaker's Association. He was twice named Worldwide Clubmaker of the Year by the GCA and honored on eight occasions as the PCS's Regional Clubmaker of the Year.
"The most important thing I've found, and I'm talking 23 years of doing this, is understanding the way golfers swing," he said. "The shaft matching a golfer's swing I'd say is 80 percent of the fitting process, with length, loft, lie and grip making up the other 20 percent."
What's especially noteworthy is that a golfer's swing is about much more than just clubhead speed.
"I classify golfers as hitters, swingers and in-betweeners," said Grabowy, whose background is as an engineer. "Hitters, like Sergio Garcia or Tiger Woods, are aggressive and create a lot of acceleration, while swingers, like Ernie Els or Fred Couples, are much smoother.”
When it comes to shafts, what is different about the needs of a swinger versus a hitter, and which style of player is more prevalent?
"Ninety percent of all golfers are hitters," Grabowy said. "Swingers can hit a shaft that's whippier at the bottom, while hitters need a shaft that's stiffer at the bottom. Swingers can hit shafts with higher torques; hitters need lower torque."
Challenges often arise with club fitting because of preconceived notions that customers have. Those who pursue professional club fitting need to approach the process with an open mind and not let their expectations -- or egos in some cases -- interfere.
"I fit a golfer from Kennesaw State who had a swing speed of 133 mph and a ball speed of 184 mph, and he left with regular flex shafts," Grabowy said. "I've also had ladies in their late 50s who have been fit for stiff shafts."
While more golfers today are aware of the benefits of club fitting, too many are being poorly fit in local golf shops, big box stores and even by manufacturers.
"I'm not sure how the fitting carts can do what we do," he said. "I probably have 40 different shafts and they might have three or four. I don't see how they can do it.”
In terms of what to expect, Grabowy said that fitting a player for a full set of clubs will take about two and a half hours and include "educating" a player about his or her needs. The fitting process also remains pretty much the same for woods, irons and wedges.
"It's all about matching the shaft to the swing," Grabowy said. "With wedges, if someone really comes down on the ball, they might be better with less bounce, but the process doesn't really change."
Paul Azinger on the importance of equipment, club-fitting
Do swing changes have an effect?
Many golfers who are investing in fitting also will be investing in instruction in search of a better golf game. Can swing changes that players make influence the way their equipment fits?
That depends on whom you ask.
"Fitting a player's swing versus relying on static measurements is a debated topic among fitters," said York, the 2014 Kentucky PGA Teacher of the Year. "When you rely on solely fitting the swing, improvements made to the swing and/or posture can change the fit of the club, with iron length and lie angle being most vulnerable."
Swing changes can affect lie angles, Grabowy acknowledged, but he added that "lie angle is most important to the better player, and overall there's usually not going to be much change."
For golfers who are interested in finding a qualified,professional fitter, the Golf Digest top-100 list would be a good place to start.
Such services can come with a fairly lofty price tag, possibly up to a couple of hundred dollars depending on one's needs, but it can be money well spent.
"We used to discount fittings but we don't anymore," Grabowy said. "I've figured out that it's the fitting that has the most value.