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Right Fit Makes All the Difference on Links

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — More so than in other sports, using the right equipment in golf can result in better scores. In football, everyone plays with the same ball every time and the pads players wear don’t much affect their performance.

“If I buy a pair of Air Jordans, I’m not going to dunk a basketball. But if I’ve got a good putter in my hand, I can sink more putts,” says Chris Carfangia, the PGA course professional at Pine Lakes Golf Club in Hubbard. “The equipment that you use is 50% of your result. You still have to move the club.”

It’s for that simple reason seasoned golfers can spend years fine-tuning their sets of clubs to fit their styles. But as new golfers come onto the scene following a resurgence led by young players such as Rickie Fowler and Jordan Speith, reaching that level of customization can be daunting.

And while there are new players to help, the questions pros like Carfangia ask still apply to those who have golfed for years and never stop looking to improve their game.

While the quality is lesser, local course pros agree that it’s best for new players to start with a less expensive set than to buy the best, most expensive clubs individually.

First, beginners are less likely to be able to tell the difference between the two unless they try the clubs one right after the other, says Steve Thomas, director of marketing and corporate sales for Golf Headquarter, Boardman. Over a full round, the results will likely be similar. Second, he says, is that if you spend $1,000 on a set, it just makes the frustration of a bad round even worse.

“You want a beginner set to see if this is the game for you and to improve your game,” adds Michael Murphy, director of golf at Kennsington Golf Club in Canfield. “You can get a set from Top Flite with the driver, irons, woods and the whole shebang for $199. After that, find out what works for you and go from there.”

The first step in moving up in quality is often getting fitted for clubs. Places such as Golf Headquarters and Avalon Golf and Country Club have set up systems to help golfers measure their swings – variables such as swing speed, club angle and transition from upswing to downswing are measured – and find the right fit. More often than not, having the right shaft makes a huge difference.

“You have to have the right loft and shaft combination to get an ideal launch and spin rate,” says Adam Scott, director of golf for the Avalon golf courses. “Each shaft has a different characteristic. … If you’re a high hitter and you want to bring it down, you’ll want a stiffer shaft. As it gets stiffer, it brings that flight down and as you get weaker, it puts it up.”


Adam Scott is director of golf for the Avalon clubs.

The length of the club is also a deciding factor. Standard clubs are made for golfers between five feet seven inches and six feet one inch. For those outside of that height range, swings can come in off center and have a negative effect.

“If you’re too upright with a standard set, then your [club] is off the ground the entire time,” says Kenn-sington’s Murphy. “And then you go the other way and you come out too flat. … When the club comes into the ball, you want it to be as square as possible.”

In the system used at Golf Headquarters, the simulator recommends six shafts for a golfer, three stiff steel and three flexible graphite.

A properly fitted club, Murphy adds, can trim about five strokes for a medium-handicap golfer.

With personalization so common, most top-end brands are starting to offer alterations at no cost. They want their loyalists to be able to make their club exactly right and fit their game perfectly.

“Every once in a while, for a crazy shaft, they might [charge]. But for what’s normal on the shelf, you can call in and adjust it,” says Nick Dinsmore, the pro shop manager at Avalon Golf and Country Club.

While much of the emphasis is put on drivers and irons, there’s also the short game. Of the clubs in a golfer’s bag, it’s the putter that likely will be used most over the course of a game. “You’ll use your driver, over 18 holes, maybe nine times,” Murphy says. “But each hole is designed to two-putt. If you play all 18 holes, you’re using it 36 times if you’re good.”

And once a golfer has zeroed in on the clubs he wants, he needn’t worry much about them becoming outdated quickly. While manufacturers release new clubs annually, they change little. USGA rules set limits on things such as the coefficient of restitution and characteristic time – the ratio of swing speed to ball speed and the elasticity of the face of a club – that limit what manufacturers can do when designing clubs.

“I’ve fit people who have a driver from three or five years ago and they work just as well as new ones,” Carfangia says.

Beyond clubs, the type of golf ball used also plays a role. Balls are sorted into two categories: hard and soft. Harder balls are more forgiving of swings that don’t hit a club’s sweet spot while soft balls allow for more spin.

“The harder golf ball will generally fly straighter for the guy having problems, but he won’t have the feel around the green,” Thomas says. “When you watch the pros on TV and they hit the green and it sucks right back down the green, you’ll have a heck of a time doing that with a ball that’s hard as a rock.”

When it comes to the rest of the equipment, gear such as gloves and cleats, it’s personal preference. Some people like the feel of authentic leather gloves while others are more than content with the artificial alternative. For cleats, Scott says, the choice comes down to how comfortable golfers are with how much they move during their swing.

“It’s all how your body works, your swing and what you’re comfortable with,” he says. “If you have a lot of body movement, then you may want shoes with spikes to keep you stable.”

Style is the one intangible that the pros work with as they help golfers find the right equipment. The sports adage of “Look good, feel good, play good” rings true as much on the golf course as anywhere else.

“It’s a cliché, but 90% of the game is between your ears,” Thomas says. “If you feel comfortable with the club when you’re looking down, you’re more likely to hit better.”

Pictured at top: Golf Headquarters’ Steve Thomas. 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.