Club Champion Driver Fitting Review: Fitters Double as Relationship Counselors?
There is an ongoing effort to convince people of the benefits of getting fit for clubs. Naysayers and those who are self-conscious about their game object by saying that it’s just a money grab from custom shops, or they are simply positive they won’t benefit from it. Despite the many different shapes and sizes of humans, it turns out that we are all “off-the-rack” players. How convenient is that?
Hopefully you picked up on the excessive sarcasm of the last statement, but the very few beacons of common sense in the golfing community who do understand the immense value in being properly fit tend to draw the line at irons and don’t extend the fitting experience to their drivers. That may be through no fault of their own. The intricacies of a driver fitting are far less discussed, and with manufacturers putting out drivers that are more adjustable than the last, the average duffer has developed an ignorant and unfounded sense of confidence in his ability to self-diagnose his swing and fit himself with the new adjustable hosel and a sliding, spinning, or whatever weight or weights.
Sorry, average duffer, you’re wrong.
There is so much more to it than loft, face angle, and an adjustment wrench. One afternoon getting fit for a driver at Club Champion will have you wondering why you ever thought sitting on your couch, wrench in hand, locking and unlocking that clubhead after every Sunday disaster was sufficient.
A new Club Champion location opened in Bellevue, Washington, and we were kindly invited to check out the new shop by means of a complimentary driver fitting. Regional manager, Eric Hambleton, would be heading up the fitting, and it turns out he’s part expert fitter, part heckler (in the best possible way), and part mad scientist. But more on that later. First, it’s important to address the main reason people don’t get fit for their clubs, a reason only spoken about anonymously on internet forums: I don’t know if I’m good enough to get fit.
Golf is difficult enough as it is, and the pressure grows exponentially when asked to perform on the spot in front of someone. But as cliché as it sounds, the worse you are, the more you will likely benefit from a fitting. Club Champion hires golf experts, but they hire real people as well. A Club Champion fitter is engaging, social, they are a teacher, and as was the case with Eric, they’re a lot of fun to be around. They have a knack for making you feel right at home. So if you suck, no big deal, you’re going to suck in front of the fitter, but they’re going to make you have a good time regardless. Eventually, if you get comfortable enough in the reality that you aren’t a professional, you will have a great time. And those bad shots? A Club Champion fitter will laugh WITH you at those, not at you.
Let’s get this party started, but we need some back story first. We need to know why this invitation from Club Champion to get fit for a driver couldn’t have come at a better time.
Once upon a time, my driver was flawless, my go-to club, and it bowed to my every whim. But that was then, and things change. The relationship had grown strained. Seldom did I pull it from the bag, and when I did, we just weren’t communicating. I wanted to do one thing, she wanted to do something else . . . always. Whenever we were together on the tee box an awkward silence would fall over the group because everyone knew how unstable our relationship had become. We couldn’t stand each other. I am partly to blame in the deterioration of our romance. As things got hard, as things didn’t go my way, I would ignore her more until we finally separated. I put her up for the season and we didn’t see each other for over six months.
That’s where we’re starting. Now we can get to the fitting.
Similar to an iron fitting, you need to get baseline data with your current club or clubs so progress and improvements are measurable. The starting club, the driver I currently play, is a TaylorMade R1, what used to be ol’ reliable. The shaft is a UST Mamiya VTS ProForce Silver 6s. This is very important; remember this.
The baseline numbers weren’t good. They were downright awful, but that was expected.
Eric started by first putting new heads on my existing shaft. First up was a Cobra F6+ because I had expressed interest in that. I hit about 10-15 balls. Okay, let’s try a new head, this time the TaylorMade M1 and another 10-15 balls.
This process continued as we tried nearly every head available: super adjustable, low-spin, white heads, black heads, you name it. We weren’t seeing the results we were hoping for, so Eric, with his thumb and index finger on his chin, began staring at the wall of shafts. This was going to be a long day.
As we tried nearly every combination of shafts and heads for over an hour, one thing was certain: don’t shelf your driver for half a year out of disgust, blow the dust off of it to go to a fitting, and assume you will put up numbers representative of your past play.
I was annoyed. This is why I put the driver up through the fall and winter, but like any relationship, if you don’t put in the work and stop talking to each other, things aren’t going to get any better.
Eric took a seat almost as if to brace himself for what he was about to say to me.
“I don’t know if you’re going to like this . . . tell me how you feel about it.”
God, what was he going to suggest? The Knuth High Heat driver?
“You’re having consistency issues, you know that, and I don’t feel I can give you the best fitting right now. How would you feel about coming back another day?”
The look on his face was that of a 20-year-old who just told his parents that he was dropping his science degree to pursue a career in interpretive dance. I, unlike a parent who was just told that their child was going to major in interpretive dance, however, couldn’t have been more pleased with his suggestion. I knew I wasn’t hitting well, and that will certainly affect the quality of the fitting. That’s a defining characteristic of Club Champion. They don’t have ties or obligations to manufacturers, and they don’t work on commission, so there is no incentive for them to force you into ill-fitting equipment for a buck. Their sole concern is to educate golfers on clubs and their swing in a lighthearted environment.
I told Eric I thought that was a great idea. I didn’t feel pressured, and I would have time to shake the rust off before the next session.
A week later and we were back at it with a slightly more oiled swing and with some measurable results.
The problem we began seeing was a higher than desired spin rate, a common issue amongst amateur golfers. So we started again trying a number of different heads; this wasn’t just limited to performance. We also took looks into consideration, how the head appeals to the eye at address. We tried the PING G LS Tec, and while we saw marginal improvement, it looked like a spaceship — too big and distracting.
We tried the Callaway XR Sub Zero. Nope. Disappointingly nope. That was a driver I was excited about putting through the paces, but instead it put me through the paces.
The numbers on the PING were an improvement over my current setup, but I was not digging that boat of a clubhead. Remember when I said Eric was a mad scientist? He came up with something, not a remedy or solution, but he came up with something that would give him a better understanding of what I needed in a driver, and it meant decorating the PING G in tape of the lead variety and a lot of it.
Frustratingly, my current driver numbers were still the best, but unbeknownst to me that was what Eric had been thinking, and his tape job was only a means of confirming that. He told me that my head might be the best one for me . . . As someone who writes about golf equipment and a proponent that newer doesn’t mean better, I was a disappointed hypocrite. But I knew he was right, and I knew was telling me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear.
Alright, let’s start hooking up the jilted ex (the R1) to some shafts.
The next 45 minutes or so was dedicated to grabbing and wrenching shafts from Club Champion’s rainbow of options on the wall. All were stiff flex but with different weights, kick points, etc., and we were seeing progress, but we were missing something.
You see, from the last time I was striping consistent drives up until things went sour and necessitated this fitting, I’ve had some recurrence of injuries, I’ve moved across the country, I’ve turned 30, blah, blah, excuse, excuse. The bottom line is that I was struggling to control a stiff shaft. No! Not a regular flex! My masculinity! Yeah, I’m not that guy. If you put it in my hand, and I hit it better, I’m going with it, even if it’s a pink driver . . .
It didn’t work anyway. It still felt unsettled at the top. You might be thinking, “Go to a coach and fix your crap!” Believe me, that was a frequent topic of self-reflection, but swings do tend to change due to a myriad of factors, and I was confident with every other club in my bag.
What happened next is why Club Champion is the best.
Eric took the club out of my hands. Without saying a word, he walked to the far end of the wall, a spot we hadn’t been taking samples from, and he put the R1 head on a new shaft.
When he walked back he said, “3-wood.”
“Hmm. Alright,” was all I could say. I mean, he is the fitting expert, and I like trying different things. Why not?
Sweet baby Jesus, it worked!
We went through several variations, but ultimately we found that I was getting more distance, lower spin, and better launch angles from a regular flex Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana B-Series fairway shaft in 60 grams.
We were done, and when I returned to pick up the shaft I took a handful of test hits to verify we had made the right decision. I had gained greater consistency and about 35 more yards of carry, but remember, I had a significant drop off in performance with my former setup. Don’t expect to walk in as someone who drops 250 yarders down the middle and walk out with a new 285 yard cannon.
So what was learned from this experience? Yes, my dysfunctional relationship with my driver was fixed, or at least on its way to being fixed, but we learned more than that. We learned that Club Champion fitters are absolutely deserving of their “expert” moniker, they are some of the most engaging people you will meet in the golf industry, and they will always fit you to what is best for your game, even if that means fewer dollars in their pocket. Sure a driver fitting is an additional cost to you, but if that additional cost equates to more enjoyable golf, isn’t that worth it?