The professional club fitter knows that the set makeup part of the fitting recommendation can be one of the most effective ways to offer measurable improvement to the player, especially for the many millions of average-to-less-skilled golfers.
The reason set makeup fitting has become such a valuable path to game improvement for the average player is simply because of the industry’s move to longer-length woods and lower-lofted irons in the past 30 years.
My experiences have taught me that 3 woods with 14 degrees of loft and 43.5-inch lengths are of little to no help to most average golfers. Neither are many 3, 4 and 5 irons, because of their very low lofts. Yet how many average golfers have these clubs within their current set makeup? Most of them, because of the way so many clubs are sold to average golfers.
It used to be that golfers would buy a driver, 3 wood, 5 wood and a set of irons, 3-PW. Even a recent shift to iron sets of 4-GW still leaves the average golfer with two of the irons with too little loft that many golfers can’t hit well enough to merit carrying them in the bag.
Thus, the common sense goal of set makeup fitting will always be to replace all clubs that the golfer cannot hit consistently well with clubs that hit the ball the same distance, but are easier to hit.
The club fitter’s No. 1 key to set makeup fitting is to find out the lowest-lofted wood and the lowest-lofted iron that the golfer can hit with reasonable consistency in terms of getting the ball up in the air and to fly between the tree lines of the hole. Of these provisos, consistency in hitting the ball well up in the air is key because the fitter can always reduce slice or hook with a length and face angle changein the replacement wood and/or hybrid.
If the golfer cannot hit the 3 wood or 4 wood well up in the air at least 4 of 6 times, the club should not be in the bag. It is far better to have the first wood after the driver be a 5 wood or even 7 wood that the golfer can hit up in the air more than 90 percent of the time and give up a little distance, than to keep hoping for the right swing to be able to hit lower-lofted woods. If the golfer takes lessons and improves, then fine, lower-lofted woods can always be added later.
In terms of the irons, obviously we are talking about replacing low-lofted irons with hybrids or high-lofted fairway woods. Within this is also the matter of what lofts and lengths in the higher-lofted woods are going to deliver the same distance the golfer would have gotten if he or she were to hit the lower-lofted irons well.
Length wise, it is just so much wiser to fit hybrids with the same length as the irons being replacedbecause that leads to a more consistent distance gap between the lowest lofted iron and the hybrid just above it. Loft wise, it depends on the golfer’s clubhead speed.
The higher the club head speed (typically more than 80 mph with the 6 iron), the more likely it is that the replacement woods or hybrids may need to have a little more loft than the irons being replaced to offer the right distance and distance gap between the last hybrid or fairway wood and the first iron.
As to whether to go to a high-lofted wood or hybrid for the iron replacements, the club fitter consults two things:
The more the golfer sweeps the ball rather than hits down on the ball, the more likely that high-lofted woods will be a golfer’s iron replacements.
The golfer’s personal preference/opinion as to whether they are more comfortable or confident with a fairway wood or a hybridis also key to the selection of the low-loft iron replacement clubs.
Club head speed also plays a role in the set makeup determination. The slower the club head speed, the shorter the distance gap from normal 4-degree loft increments between clubs. Why saddle a slower speed player with a combination of 13 woods and irons when a 4-degree loft gap offers only 6-to-7 yards of difference between each club?
For the good player, set makeup fitting certainly will include some of the same elements for the average player. Not all players who shoot in the 70s can consistently hit the a 3 wood high enough or consistently enough off the deck, nor can they hit a 3 iron (sometimes even a 4 iron) well enough to say it is better to keep it in the bag than an easier-to-hit hybrid that flies the same distance.
For many good players, set makeup fitting has to focus on several other areas:
Let’s say you can hit your 3 and 4 irons up in the air. Can you stop those shots on the green as well as you could if you hit a higher-launching hybrid that flies the same distance?
Does your higher club head speed or later release cause a much higher flight with your hybrids so that in high-wind conditions you have control or distance problems? If so, be smart and use hybrids on calmer days and put the lower-lofted irons back in the bag on windy days.
Players who can get a little off line from day to day might consider replacing their 3 wood and 5 wood with a strong 2 hybrid that is in the area of 40-to-41 inches in length for more control.
Different horses for different courses. Good players should always have an array of alternative clubs that are better suited to different courses and different hole designs.
Alternative clubs to considerin the set makeup
A longer-length driver for more wide-open courses and a shorter-length driver for tighter layouts.
A high-COR, slightly shorter 3 wood or shorter length “mini-driver” for tee shots on courses with more tight par 4s and par 5s.
A 3 and 4 hybrid for courses with longer par 3s and par 4s that call for long approach shots that have to stick when they land.
Two drivers — one with less loft, one with more loft — for up and downwind holes on courses where the wind blows frequently and with velocity.
Set makeup fitting is really a test of the golfer’s common sense and control over their ego. To play consistently well, golf shall forever be a game of percentages and good misses. Smart set makeup fitting involves using clubs that give the golfer a higher percentage of consistent shots to improve both the percentage of quality shots and good misses.
Do you think Y.E. Yang feels he is less of a golfer or cares if anyone snickers about the number of hybrids he has been known to carry? At least he didn’t when he beat Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
As a final note, the wedges are most certainly an area in which set makeup fitting plays a significant role in the golfer’s goal to play to the best of their ability. We’ll cover that later in this series when we discuss the topic of wedge fitting.