Drivers are expensive, especially when you’re buying the latest model. You might have an idea what the best drivers are but that doesn’t always mean it will be the right one for you. When 'buying without trying' you are risking spending upwards of £500 on a club that might not suit your swing, but without a trained eye looking over the shot data even if you try it first you may not be getting an accurate reflection of how the club is performing. That’s why a professional fitting makes sense for golfers of all skill levels.
The team at Wilson Staff recently invited members of the golf media to check out their new range of gear for 2023 and part of the experience was a professional fitting for their new driver. The event took place at Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa where myself and various other golf media members, under the watchful gaze of Wilson’s expert fitters (Duncan and Joe), put the brand's new driver through its paces on the range.
It was an eye opening experience for me. What I thought I knew about my swing and which driver shaft I believed was right for me turned out to be as wide of the mark as one of my dreaded slices. I also discovered I was not using the right ball for my game, but that's another story.
So what happens at a professional fitting and is it worth paying for one? Read on and I’ll tell you.
When getting fitted for a driver you will first be asked to hit some shots with your current driver so that the fitter can get a baseline of all of your numbers. For me that was the TaylorMade Stealth HD which I’ve had in the bag for most of 2022.
It was love at first sight for me with the Stealth but we've hit something of a rocky period of late. I began the year hitting it really well but then I made some swing changes in the summer and my driving has started to become somewhat erratic in the latter part of the year.
So I took the Stealth with me to Formby Hall to see how it fared against the new Wilson driver. I warmed up by hitting 50 shots with the Stealth but I was struggling for any kind of consistency, which has been par for the course (sorry!) for me since about July when I began tinkering with my swing. I’ve had rounds where I hit almost every fairway and rounds where I’ve missed all of them. When I’m not quite on it I lose too many drives to the right, which I'm sure is something most of you can relate to.
The Stealth HD is a draw biased driver that gives me that little bit of extra help I needed. It’s perhaps as much of a placebo effect as anything else, but either way it was working for me. Until it wasn’t, that is.
So recently I've been erratic with the big stick, which is why I was excited about having a professional fitter do a deep dive into my equipment set up to ensure I'm using the right gear for my swing. Spoiler alert, I was not using the right gear.
When it was my turn to be fitted, I hit five shots with the Stealth. Two of them were good strikes and flew straight, the other three were not. One left (a pull, it's never a hook) and two right.
My fitter, a very knowledgeable and friendly guy called Duncan, had a look at the data and deduced that I was getting too much spin with the Stealth. He had a look at the shaft I was using and then selected a shaft to go with the head of the new Wilson driver.
“This should spin less and give you a bit more stability” he told me. I took a few practice swings and then hit my first shot with the new Wilson driver. It felt like a good swing and I looked up expecting to see the ball flying high, long and handsome. Instead it nosedived spectacularly and hit the ground about forty yards in front of me. Honestly, it was like a Roger Federer topspin forehand. Dodgy range ball, not my fault!
After some gentle ribbing from Duncan I reloaded and hit another. A beauty. Straight as an arrow and with a nice penetrating flight. The same thing happened with my second shot. And third. And fourth. What kind of sorcery is this? I never hit four straight drives in a row? Just for good measure I added a fifth.
The new Wilson driver isn’t going to be available until early in the new year but I was ready to grab it and make a run for it there and then. Five straight drives in a row, all around the same distance? Anyone watching would have been fooled into thinking I’m actually pretty good.
Duncan crunched the numbers and informed me that not only was it spinning less and flying straighter, but I’d gained around 10 yards too. Now in fairness to the Stealth, I hadn’t hit it particularly well so the distance was down on what I’d expect it to be. The carry distance with the Wilson wasn’t much greater than my usual average but the impressive thing was the consistency which I was able to hit it.
It had to be the shaft because when Duncan switched it out for a different one (a regular flex), the results were not the same. The launch was noticeably higher but the flight wasn’t as straight. Of course that’s because of my swing and my tendency to leak drives to the right when I'm a little off, but that’s the whole point of getting a fitting. You aren’t going to find a club that will fix your bad swings, it’s all about minimising the damage of a bad swing and maximising the benefit of the good ones.
I went back to the original shaft and the difference was clear. Just a lower, more penetrating launch and less spinny looking flight. The benefit of less spin is twofold. You’ll get more distance and it won’t slice or hook quite as much, hence you’ll find more fairways.
The next day I played 18 holes at Royal Birkdale using the driver which had been made up to my specifications and overall it performed well for me. Other than three of my dreaded slice swings, I hit the ball very nicely off the tee and was extremely happy with the ball flight in difficult windy conditions.
I’ll have a full review of the driver early in 2023 but I definitely felt more confident with it knowing that I’d been fitted by an expert and that the set up was tailored to maximise my strengths and reduce my weaknesses. The ball flight is especially important and that is heavily influenced by spin. With my swing I need something with low spin and a lower launch which all comes down to having the right shaft.
If you know exactly what specifications you require in a driver then getting fitted is not as important, but it’s still advisable as technology is evolving all of the time and there might be a shaft that you haven’t tried which could be perfect for you. The actual driver heads are less important for the average golfer as really there's not a great deal of difference between the leading brands. They're all really good, whether it's a TaylorMade, Cobra, Callaway, Titleist, Ping, Mizuno or whatever.
There are subtle differences and the major brands usually have an option for the very accomplished player and one for the average golfer. So generally you will have a fair idea which one you need and it’s mainly the shaft that you will need to experiment with.
I’m fairly sure if I’d used the Stealth head with the shaft that was used with the new Wilson that I’d have enjoyed similar results. The Stealth is a great driver and was my choice for the best of 2022. As I said, initially I couldn’t go wrong with it but as my swing changed my game off the tee became a lot less consistent. I hadn’t been fitted for the Stealth, I just chose the stiff shaft option because that's what I was told I needed the last time I was fitted (which was in American Golf).
However, not all stiff shafts are created equally (oh come on, grow up!). I’ve had a stiff shaft in my drivers for many years but I have now discovered that the stiff flex I have been using is not ideally suited to my swing. Not anymore anyway. I’ve lost a bit of club head speed since I was last fitted and I sit right in between stiff and regular flex. I wondered whether my recent accuracy problems with the Stealth were because I no longer swing it fast enough to warrant the stiff shaft, but Duncan allayed those concerns. My problem wasn't speed, it was spin.
He informed me that I could use a regular shaft for a little extra whip which would probably give me a few more yards, but that I’d be better off with the stability of a stiff shaft which will help with accuracy. Not just any stiff shaft though, it was a specific, heavier weighted shaft designed for lower spin and a medium launch.
I'd never have figured this out for myself, especially because the shaft I was using was a Fujikawa stiff and the one that Duncan fitted me with was also a Fujikawa stiff. Who knew that there could be such a difference between stiff shafts made by the same manufacturer? Ok, plenty of people knew that, but I'll be honest, I thought that you had to be a really good player for it to matter. I didn't think someone of my distinctly average skills would see any discernible difference but I was wrong.
For the record my TaylorMade Stealth HD was fitted with a Fujikawa Airspeeder shaft in stiff flex, but Duncan recommended the Fujikawa Ventus Blue 6, also in stiff flex. Having now researched both I can see the difference in the specifications of them, but without having experienced it myself on the range I'd never have expected that they would perform so differently.
The Airspeeder shaft produces a high launch with medium spin, whereas I needed a lower launch and less spin, which is the Ventus Blue 6. That's why the Stealth had a higher launch and less accuracy. I didn't need the launch monitor numbers to tell me that as it was plainly visible to the naked eye.
It's important to stress here that while the Ventus Blue 6 outperformed the Airspeeder shaft for me, it could well be the opposite for you. There is no 'best and worst' driver head or driver shaft, only the 'best and worst' for each individual. And to find out what that is for you, well you really need the help of an expert.
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New drivers cost a lot of money so you really want to get it right. Being fitted by a professional is the best way of ensuring that you are getting the right club for you. Fittings are free if you go to the likes of American Golf, but paying for an independent fitting is usually a better option because you don’t feel under pressure to buy from them (you've paid for their services already) and the fitter is under no pressure to sell something to you.
Most golf courses and driving ranges will offer a fitting service. Technology is so advanced and widespread now that it isn’t difficult to find a professional fitter with access to the best launch monitors, and if you are paying for a fitting rather than buying a club from them then you can be sure of an unbiased assessment of exactly what your requirements are, and that will stand you in good stead for any future purchases. And when you know the specifications that you need, you can then go shopping around for the best deal.