Derek Clements of the Sunday Times continues to be put through his paces as he gets his game in shape, visiting the TaylorMade Performance Lab at Wentworth
At every European Tour event a number of magnificent trucks pull up and park in the vicinity of the practice ground. They all look very much the same, each weighing around 24 tons unladen and each sporting the logo of a golf-club manufacturer.
Throughout the practice days, pro-am and four rounds of whatever tournament they might be at, the sides of the trucks are pulled out to reveal a fully-functional workshop staffed by the best in the business at their jobs. A steady stream of players come and go, bringing clubs to be tweaked or picking up new ones, taking prototypes to the range to test them, having a favourite driver or putter repaired.
On board the TaylorMade truck is some six tons of equipment – thousands upon thousands of graphite and steel shafts, iron heads, driver heads, fairway wood heads, rescue club heads, putters, grips, caps, visors, balls, gloves – you name it, they carry it.
It also helps the company that Dustin Johnson, one of the biggest hitters in golf, is a staff player and that Darren Clarke, who has used their clubs for a number of years, is the Open champion.
Why? Because club golfers see the best players on the planet using a particular brand of and decide they want those clubs in their bag, too. Except that the average golfer would be unable to get the ball off the ground with the clubs Dustin Johnson uses. The American generates tremendous clubhead speed, so he needs a stiff shaft on his woods and irons. A very stiff shaft.
But that is just the start of it. Lofts and lies need to be adapted to his physique and to the way he swings the club and strikes the ball. And he has big hands, so he needs a thicker than normal grip to ensure that his fingernails don't stick into the palm of his hands as he grips the club.
There is also a high chance that that the likes of Clarke and Johnson will used bladed irons – these have a smaller sweet spot than cavity back irons but since the top pros hit the ball so consistently well they have no need of cavity backs.
Clubs golfers are a different kettle of fish. Huge titanium drivers have massive sweet spots, allowing players of all abilities to thrash at the ball off the tee, but how do you know that you have the right shaft in your club? Or that you have the right head at the end of the shaft, for that matter?
“I have always used clubs fitted with regular shafts, so my new set will also have regular shafts.....”
Mmmm. First of all, just because a player has always used regular flex shafts, how does he know that is the flex best suited to his game? And here's something else to consider – a single manufacturer will use many different types of regular shafts, with different kick-points and suchlike. And the shafts that manufacturer A uses, will be different from the shafts that manufacturer B employs. And so on and so on. Then there are different types of stiff flexes, some of which might be regarded as regular by another clubmaker.
And it is for all of those reasons (along with the cost of a new set of golf clubs) that every amateur golfer who is considering a change of equipment should have them custom-fitted.
At the beginning of my process, one of the first things that I did was to be measured for a set of clubs suited to my build, swing speed, launch angle I generate and suchlike.
I ended up with a TaylorMade RBZ driver, three wood, five wood and rescue club, all fitted with graphite shafts, a set of R11 irons with steel shafts, 54-degree and 58-degree lob wedges and a Ghost putter which measures only 34 inches.
The driver's loft is 10.5 degrees, where I had always previously used a 9-degree driver – I was convinced the ball would not travel as far but I estimate that on a well-hit shot I have gained 15 yards. With the three and five woods, the advantage is even greater. And here's an oddity – the driver has a “regular” shaft while the fairway woods both have lightweight stiff shafts.
I have also gained distance with my irons, but that may be as much about improved technique as anything else. And I have been won over by the shorter putter. The theory is that because I have to stretch further down the grip, the less likely I am to use my wrists in my putting stroke. I was a sceptic, but no longer. It definitely works.
Tom Godwin heads up the TaylorMade performance lab at Wentworth and showed me around. It is an astonishing facility. There are cameras situated all around the lab, filming your swing from every conceivable angle. It records clubhead speed, launch angle, point of impact, foot movement, head movement – you name it, this kit will film it and record it, at the end of which an avatar appears on screen and produces a golf swing that is the perfect representation of the player.
“We always start off my asking customers what they want to get out of their club fitting,” says Tom. “I mean, if somebody swings the club from out to in and produces a huge slice, we could help to compensate for that by giving them offset clubs, but most people want to see a genuine improvement in their games. They see having a set of custom-built clubs as the first step in that process.
“One of the reasons we employ golf coaches such as myself to work with customers on their fitting is that we can also give them advice about swing faults they may have, which means we are helping them twice over – first by ensuring they have the correct clubs and then by helping them to swing those clubs a little better. We can fit somebody for a set of clubs and if they go away and have a series of lessons they can come back and we will tweak their clubs if necessary.”
“We have hundreds of head-shaft combinations, but after putting people though the Trackman technology we employ then I can pretty quickly narrow things doing to a particular family of shafts that I know will work for that player.”
Godwin says the shaft is the key to everything. It is the engine that powers every shot, and if a golfer is using a set of clubs fitted with unsuitable shafts he or she will never play to his or her full potential.
There are still far too many club golfers willing to take the chance of buying a set of clubs straight off the shelf, and then wondering why they never improve. Most people, when spending upwards of £1,000 on anything would test it first, would shop around. Golfers, it seems, are slow to get the message.
But the penny is gradually starting to drop. Godwin says that the TaylorMade performance lab at Wentworth is fully booked, so if you have been convinced that this is the route you should be taking (and it really is), you had better get your appointment booked soon.
For further information, call 01344 846306 or visit www.taylormadegolf.eu