Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Decision Has Been Made

Regular readers will know that I have been testing new clubs recently including a custom fitting session with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo ( With the golf club being a no go area courtesy of the horse racing at Royal Ascot, with traffic being a nightmare, the course being reduced to twelve holes to accommodate helicopter landings and huge crowds, my wife had booked me another fitting session at Pachesham Golf Club near Leatherhead. It is an independent set up for custom fitting stocking Mizuno, Taylormade, Ping, Yonex, Wilson and Cobra and I was booked in with Andrea Timms, the manager of the facility. As I wanted to go through the bag from my driver, fairways, hybrids, irons and wedges, I was booked in for a session due to last four hours.

I was given a complimentary bucket of balls to warm up with which was a nice touch. I had been to the range on Friday night and to be honest was hitting it as well I had in a long time and was focusing on tempo. Alas, the bucket of balls I'd been given didn't fill me with confidence and I wasn't striking it as sweetly as I'd hoped. Typical

Andrea came down as I was finishing my bucket to see me hit a few, including an obligatory shank before taking me into the fitting studio behind the bay. Before doing anything, we sat down and I explained to Andrea what I wanted, a bit about my good and bad shots, and the fact I'd worked hard changing my swing over the winter and he showed me how the launch monitor worked, the numbers and their meaning. Even though they don't stock Callaway and the X-Hot Pro irons were still on the radar, I'd tried them enough to know the how the numbers would compare.

Then it was time to start. Putting the ball down on the mat for the first time and using my current six iron (Taylormade Tour Preferred) to hit ten shots as a base line, I became very nervous. Andrea assured me this was normal. I didn't hit the first few very well but by ball four or five I'd relaxed and made a few good swings. Once I'd completed the ten shot segment we stopped and had a look at the data and Andrea explained what had been going on.

The Pachesham Fitting Centre (and no that isn't me!!)
In essence, the distance was lower than he'd expected averaging out at 145 yards although it did include the bad ones. He explained that they always keep these in regardless as no-one hits ten perfect shots on the course and its important to get a true picture. My swing speed was around the 83mph mark. The good ones were up at the 149 yard mark and the poor ones around 135 yards. Dispersion too wasn't as tight as I imagined it would have been.

I had explained that initially I wanted try the Ping I20, the Taylormade Rocketbladez Tour and finally the G25. In my fitting with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre, it was the G25 that came out on top but I felt that these really didn't suit my eye despite the figures showing them to be the runaway winner. Before we got cracking, it was time for Andrea to do a fit to look at lie angles. Ping have colour coded dots for different lies and is based initially on a measurement from wrist to floor and then checking that against a players height to get a starting colour. From there it is about putting impact tape on the sole of the club, hitting some shots off an impact board to ensure the initial choice is correct or adjusting this up or down accordingly.

I came out at as a green dot which is 2.25 degrees upright. I wasn't sure, although had been told at other fittings I was two degrees upright but it only took a couple of shots on the impact board and a look at the marks on the tape to show that Andrea knew his stuff.

I started off with the I20. This really suits my eye and we started with the stock Ping shaft. I hit a few good ones but perhaps trying too hard there was a few heavy strikes and a nasty one off the hosel. I was a bit embarrassed but Andrea had seen it all before and told me to relax and just focus on my tempo and swing easily and that it happens more often than I'd think even with some low handicappers. We changed the shaft a few times as the initial numbers, although up on my own clubs hardly set the world alight so we decided to move on and try the Taylormade Rocketbladez Tour. Again these really suit my eye but I had a real horror with these and an nasty outbreaks of the shanks occurred. The problem I've always had, at fittings and manufacturer demo days is you hit ball after ball and the rhythm gets quicker and quicker. Andrea explained I was moving off and in front of it. He suggested we take five and have a rest. I really liked his relaxed approach and was under no time pressure. I had a drink and went back out to the bay on the range and hit a few 7 irons to get my swing back. Even after this I couldn't get on with the club at all. I only tried the stock KBS shaft but we decided to put it on hold.

Andrea then put a Mizuno JPX 825 Pro in my hand. I like Mizuno as they are a forged club with a nice feel. Again I struggled with it and the numbers were disappointing. I hit it well enough but smash factor and yardage were down. We looked at the 3D of the swing and I was on plane and hitting down 2 degrees or so (good) and with the club only 1 degree open (pretty good for me) so it wasn't the technique. The thing I should stress is that this wasn't just a ball bashing exercise. We could analyse each swing, how I hit it as well as looking at things like dispersion. It really is a total 360 study.

That left the Ping G25. I knew I could hit these and we started with the stock shaft. I may have had issues with all the others but from the off with these I just hit them so well. The stock demo model in Ping is a 7 iron and I was only 4 yards shorter with that than my own 6 iron and far longer than the I20 7 iron. A testament to the work Rhys had done with my swing over the winter, I was able to hit a ball and say out loud whether I thought it was good, left or right without turning around to see the monitor and when I did I was invariably correct. I hit one shot in particular that I caught well but felt it went left. It did by about three yards. I just kept them straighter and the circle of ten balls were spread over a 14 yard radius. Pretty tidy by anyone's standard and the dispersion between the front and back was only 11 yards and that included a couple caught heavy. We only tried the stock shaft. The numbers and results were so good, anything else would only give marginal if any improvement.

Several fittings and only one winner. Standard shaft and 2.25 degree upright
With the irons sorted, it was time for the driver. We stepped back onto the range and I hit a few with my own Taylormade Tour Burner. I produced my normal array of left, right and dead straight and so we went back onto the monitor. Most of my shots were low and left which was a pretty true representation of what happens if I am quick with my tempo. I did hit a few good ones too so the numbers were pretty accurate. Andrea took my club off me and looked at the shaft. Waving it around it looked to my untrained eye as though it was pretty whippy, especially as a regular flex. He couldn't believe how wobbly it was "like a piece of cooked spaghetti" and it was no wonder I struggle for consistency. When my tempo and timing is on I hit it well. When I am slightly off it can go anywhere.

Andrea gave me the G25 driver in a regular shaft. It was 10.5 degrees but he closed it down to 10 degrees. I hit it well and again, even when I thought I hadn't caught it well and that it was going left or right, it wasn't too far off line and if you take an average fairway width as twenty yards then all of the balls I hit would have been on the short stuff. Distance was up and the ball flight much better and penetrating. It was back onto the range to hit some outside and see the ball fly. Of course, put a big club in my hand and I wanted to see it fly and swung way too hard and way to quick and the results were nothing like the monitor. When I focused on one dimple on the ball and swung smoothly I suddenly got it out there.

The G25 driver - it should get the ball out there longer and straighter
From there it was onto the fairway woods. I had bought my Taylormade's as a standard set and you would expect their set up to be similar. Andrea looked at the flex of the three wood and it was much stiffer than a R flex should be and the five wood was way too whippy. He explained that Taylormade had a reputation some years ago for producing good heads but that the shafts were a let down and that they weren't always tipped (where the shaft is cut and fitted) in a uniform fashion hence discrepancies like mine. I hadn't been aware of how different these clubs felt and therefore performed. I hit the G25 standard models in both a 3 and 5 wood out on the range. The 5 wood misbehaved but a lot of that was down to "shiny new stick syndrome" and trying to hit it too hard and too quickly. Back to looking at one dimple and swinging smoothly produced pleasing results. I got a better flight and a nice roll out after landing. My current model, especially the five wood tends to fly much higher and not run so far so Andrea explained how I should benefit from a few extra yards.

Next on the agenda was a new hybrid. I have one to replace a three iron. Again he looked at the shaft and although it was suppose to be a regular flex. he could barely flex it and it was akin to a scaffold pole. When he asked how I hit it I said inconsistently and bad shots were left and right he wasn't surprised. Again we went with a standard G25 in 20 degrees of loft. Out on the range I struggled to hit it initially and thought maybe it wasn't the one for me. I was also getting tired so we took another break and moved back inside for a drink. Resuming, Andrea stood behind me with the mantra "dimple and smooth" and I was able to focus on a nice controlled swing. The results were good and I can see this club coming into its own on the longer par threes at my home course.

Last but no least, we came to the wedges. I currently use the Taylormade Z TP wedges in 52 and 58 degrees of loft both with 8 degrees of bounce. Andrea took these from me and asked if I took big divots. I do. He explained that my wedges actually sit toe down and so the toe hits the turf first and that doesn't let the bounce work correctly. He gave me the Ping Tour Wedge model in 52 degrees loft with 10 degrees of bounce. It felt lovely off the mat and I could get some nice control. We decided that in the 58 degree wedge we'd go for a wider sole as that would give me a bit more help out of sand.

With the bag sorted it was time to add up the cost. The session had taken nearly four hours and I was actually quite tired having hit a lot of balls. We adjourned to the shop and Andrea agreed to look online and having priced my order up to price match the best quote. The clubs should take a week or so for Ping to make them up and deliver them. Even then the process isn't over. Andrea then has a thirty minute hand over session so I can hit each club and make sure I am totally happy with everything. That is a reassuring feeling and if I'm not entirely happy he can take it away and tweak it in the exceptionally well equipped workshop.

I have to say I was blown away. The set up at Pachesham is as good as many prestigious courses. Aside from a fantastic one to one custom fitting service, they have a wonderful short game area, used by famous short game coach and TV pundit Mark Roe. He also has his own putting studio for those wanting a unique fit or lesson. Andrea and his team also use it for a custom fitting putter service but as I am happy with my current putter this wasn't an option. The cost of a three hour fitting should have been £125 which might sound steep. However Andrea only charged me £90 and I was there significantly longer. I was under no time pressure. When I lost my swing he encouraged me to stop, take a break and then go outside and just find the tempo again. He didn't try and foist any make or model on me and had I not done my homework and knew what I wanted, would have made recommendations but would have let me try whatever I wanted. With all the numbers on the monitor he can say what suits any golfer the best but at the end of the day, the decision lies with the customer. I was happy to go with his suggestion. He is the man with thirty year experience.

At the end of the day, I've had a number of fittings. Ping G25 won hands down each time. You can't argue with that. I've a new set of clubs coming, set up for my own unique swing so I am hoping this will help me become more accurate but more importantly more consistent. Of course the idiot holding the stick still has to put a good swing on it but the G25 and the big sweet spot should help if I don't find the middle of the club.

I cannot recommend Andrea and Pachesham highly enough if you are in the market for new clubs and would rather get fitted than trust to luck off the shelf. I've been lucky enough to have tried a number of fitters, either the manufacturer themselves or through club professionals and high street outlets. Of all of them though, this has been one of the best I've experienced and Andrea was generous in both his fitting expertise and passing on some swing tips as well. I'll report back once the clubs arrive and we'll see if Homer's Odyssey and single figures can come to fruition.

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