Midterm results are in: Custom-fit drivers win in a landslide

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Despite living on the East Coast, I’ve had an undeniable thirst this year for 10-day weather forecasts in the Midwest. No, meteorology isn’t normally my thing. But, Golfweek has been in the midst of a season-long research study tracking the effects of custom-fit drivers on a group of average Joes. The study required our Chicagoland-based participants to play golf—a lot of it—with their old drivers and new custom-fit ones.

And play they did, tallying hundreds of rounds during the just-completed golf season. All in the name of research! The results showed the fitted clubs were an improvement over the old gear, both objectively (raw stats) and empirically.

Simply put, the players love their custom-fit drivers. But the raw numbers only tell part of the story because several panelists dealt with illness, injury or both. We believe the comparisons between the old and new drivers would’ve revealed even bigger performance differences were it not for COVID (thankfully, all of them are fine), back surgery, skin cancer, nerve issues, and more.

2022 TrackMan System

First, though, let’s look back at the initial fittings that took place at Club Champion headquarters in Willowbrook, Illinois. The company’s Master Fitters used the TrackMan launch monitor to record each player’s shot data. The averages for the group are represented below.

The test panel, which is comprised of golfers who’d been custom-fit for their previous drivers and those using off-the-rack clubs, enjoyed significant gains with the new custom clubs on fitting day.

There was no stopping the panelists once the weather broke in Chicago. After outfitting all their clubs with the Arccos Caddie shot-tracking system, we captured literally thousands of shots using the old and new drivers. From there, we analyzed each players’ data, as well as the group’s cumulative numbers, which were based on high-stakes shots in multi-day tournaments, easygoing nine-hole rounds, and everything in between.

Here are some key findings, based on the group’s averages:

1. Handicaps dropped by two strokes with the custom-fit driver

Nearly two-thirds of the testers saw their handicaps come down by at least two strokes per round, and as many as four strokes. Keep in mind, our panelists were custom-fit for the driver only. Imagine what might happen if they were fit for all 14 clubs.

2. Gained an average of 15 yards with the new driver

Two-thirds of the players picked up at least 16 yards, with one-third hitting it longer by 20 yards or more. Put another way, the guys are using shorter clubs into par-4s. Interestingly, every player gained distance except for one outlier who’s shorter by one yard.

3. One stroke improvement, per round, in the Strokes Gained: Driver category

Not only that, but a couple of players improved their stat line by nearly three strokes compared to the old club.

4. Percentage of fairways hit was unchanged

That said, there’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence suggesting bad misses—the ones that get golfers in trouble and cost strokes—occur much less often with the custom-fit drivers.

It bears repeating: Due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, the raw numbers might not give the complete picture. When combined with first-person experiences, the benefits of the custom-fit drivers appear far richer than the raw numbers might suggest. What follows is a sampling of anecdotal evidence.

Jordan Gamelin

“The driver went from my worst club in the bag to the best,” said Jordan Gamelin, a manufacturing sales professional. “I never knew how much a fitted driver would mean to me. I’ve increased my average distance by 20-plus yards and the misses are less dramatic.” Gamelin, 34, added, “I used to hit a fade-slice and thought I needed more flex in my shaft. But the Club Champion fitter put me in a shaft with an extra-stiff tip and it made a huge difference in control. Unfortunately, my handicap remained about the same [went from 7 to 6] because the rest of my game, at times, was horrendous.”

Aaron Salo, 45, had a grand time with the new lumber as well. “I hit the longest drives of my life on at least five holes at my home course,” said the wine, beer and spirits company exec. “I also used the custom driver on a couple holes where I never hit the old one, simply because my misses were better and shots didn’t go left.” But a case of hip tendonitis derailed his momentum. “My whole swing got out of whack,” he admitted. Even so, Salo shaved two strokes (16 to 14) off his handicap this year.

The retired orthodontist, Ray McMullen, also had some nagging issues that impacted his game. Even so, the handicap decreased from 18 to 16. McMullen, 68, recounted the up-and-down season this way: “My new driver did well, but my short game was in the dumper.”

Unfortunately, a bad case of tennis elbow proved to be Cully Johnson’s kryptonite. According to the national science lab employee, “There were a few rounds where I just had no arm control and failed to break 80 twice.” Not all was lost, though. “The [new] driver was a strength. It’s given my game more consistency,” said Johnson, 43. “On bad days, the ball is still in play and my floor has been raised, which was a major goal of mine. Wish I’d done a proper fitting years ago.” His handicap improved from +2 to +3 with the new club.

Jerry Brankin, a fintech analyst, encountered a different sort of problem. “I was getting a little flat in my takeaway, probably from playing softball. The result was some low hooks,” he said. “The new driver is very different than the old one. The custom club sets up neutral and feels noticeably lighter. I learned I could swing 85-percent and get the same distance as before with more control.” The forty-five year old wrapped up the year at a 12 after starting at 15.

What do all these guys have in common? With the new clubs, their raw data was good but might not blow away someone on first glance. Yet, they can’t stop talking about how much better the new driver performs than the old one. That scenario repeated itself time and again. And, let’s not forget we’ve featured several other players in previous articles who also had great experiences with their new fitted drivers. Click here to view those articles.

That’s a wrap. We hope you’ve enjoyed the six-part series on custom fitting. Based on our findings, it’s reasonable to expect properly-fit clubs to have a major impact both in your performance and how much fun you have on the course. One final note: The off-season is a fine time to go through a fitting session, particularly since you’ll have brand-new custom-fit clubs to start next golf season.

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