Custom Fitting- The Evidence Base (VERY long post)

virtuocity

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Didn't want to clog up another thread, so thought I'd rant here, and hopefully spark some respectful critical discussion. I just need to get this down so I can shut up. Yes, it's a long post. You don't have to read it.

When it comes to Custom Fitting, my view is that there should be little scope for critical discussion. There should be an evidence base pointing towards, with some confidence, the impact of custom fitting on the short, medium and long term performance (scores) of consumers. I do acknowledge that isolating the impact of custom fitting as one variable isn't without methodological challenge- golfers might fall into one or more of these categories which can affect performance and/or impact on the static nature of custom fitting:

-The new and improving golfer
-The golfer whose scores are rising with age
-The golfer who is changing their swing a lot (either by fault or design)
-Golfers who practise a lot or not (including the impact of putting practice- how can you conclude that custom fitted irons are helping scores when you are holing more 5 footers than normal?)
-Desire to improve scores vs just happy to play golf

You might think that I'm anti-fitting when actually I come from a position of being open to the idea that it is beneficial, but faced with a lack of evidence to make such conclusions. Similarly, I absolutely accept that if you put me in a fitting room with 1000 shafts / heads, a good fitter will get me closer to 'the numbers' that best match my swing dynamics (although I think a lot of my cynicism about fitting is fuelled by the quiet strengthening of lofts over the past decade- and yes, I did buy Taylormade Rocketbladez... look at that 7 iron distance!!!).

Given I am a complete nerd scientifically curious about this, I spent a wee while last night looking around the net for an answer to the question:

"What is the impact of custom fitting on golfers' performances (across different levels of ability) in the short, medium and long term?".

It wasn't a really long search. Much of what I was stumbling upon was a lot of articles/posts/reflections by and from golfers. Most of what I read was that custom fitting was a very beneficial and enjoyable process and the outcomes justified the additional spend. However, these were often juxtaposed with contradictory stories of either 'misfortune' or consciously developed rationales as to why the number at the bottom of their scorecard wasn't lower than before, as thus:

"So does custom fitting really work? Well, I have to say it has been really beneficial to my game – even if my handicap hasn’t fallen as I might have hoped. I went up half a shot overall, from 10.6 to 11.1, but 50% of that increase came in the last three weeks of the test when I hit a patch of poor form and was trying to push for a good result."

However, I did stumble across this quote:

“92% of golfers custom fit with a launch monitor see immediate benefit after buying new clubs” (Source: Foresight Sports, cited on https://www.silvermere-golf.co.uk/shop/custom-fitting/)

I followed up with Foresight Golf's marketing department (I told you) and asked for access to their research to review their methodology. They came back really quickly advising that the quote actually originates from a PGA of America study from 2010/11 and was provided with this link:

https://sportsandleisureresearch.co.../Golfsmith_Clubfitting-Study_For_PGA_Show.pdf

I have had a bit of a read over the research. In summary, the study found golfers who have been custom fit play better, have more fun and are more satisfied with their purchases.

The most telling findings are:
  • 56% of those who bought custom fit equipment dropped 2 shots off their handicap vs 46% of those who bought 'off the rack'
  • 25% of those who bought custom fit equipment dropped >5 shots off their handicap vs 16% of those who bought 'off the rack'
  • 76% of those who bought custom fit equipment were having 'better average scores' vs 62% of those who bought 'off the rack'
  • 21% of those who bought custom fit equipment reported no difference in scores vs 36% of those who bought 'off the rack'
This is pretty positive, right? On the face of it, the findings seem to indicate positive benefits for those who are custom fit. However, these findings represent a really small part of the study. Having read it all, a number of issues crop up for me:
  • Reporting in respect of handicap changes are reliant on participant self-reporting
  • A vast percentage of participants are improving golfers, whether custom fit or not, and isolating the impact of custom fitting on scores therefore becomes challenging and no reference to managing variables is mentioned in the research
Further issues arise when it comes to the way the study seeks to examine the efficacy of custom fitting. Instead of using a rigorous approach, participants were asked to self-report across the following:
  • I'm hitting longer shots than I did before
  • I've become a better player
  • I'm enjoying golf better than I ever did
  • My friends are complimenting me on my game more than they did previously
  • This is the best golf equipment purchase I have ever made
  • I'm playing more golf than I ever did before
I cannot confidently make links between such reporting and the impact of custom fitting on performance. It is, I suppose, useful from measuring golfers' perceptions, which in itself is interesting, but doesn't answer the question I set out with (above... a long way above).

This study acts as much as a means of advocating the use of launch monitors, and promotion of custom fitting as a benefit for retailers as it does for golfers. The funders of the study include Golfsmith, which isn't surprising. Interesting to me is the theme of consumer justification emerges again. We've probably all done this to a degree. The study found that consumers who were custom fit spent 78% more than consumers who bought off the rack. Either way, it's natural that consumers would be invested in putting a positive spin on purchases- as I said, have we not all done this at some point, either within golf or otherwise?

And thus, we come to the responses of consumers who have been custom fit, and whose handicap has not improved (i.e. has increased or remained stagnant). They were asked why they believed this to be the case. The common responses were "I'm just not playing well" (42%); "I'm working through some swing changes" (30%); "I haven't practised enough" (24%) and "I haven't played enough" (24%).

The study reports that only 8% of participants in the above group stated that they now believe they bought the wrong equipment for their game. That's a tiny percentage considering that (and this wasn't tested, so I'm guessing here) many of them would have been custom fit with the specific goal of lowering their handicap / improving their scores. This needs to be considered more critically. To what extent do golfers continually justify the outlay of clubs (whether custom fit or not) even when they do not result in the desired effect?

So what (now)?

Well, this study comes from over a decade ago when the Nike SQ driver was causing a stir, and there was a bit more wiggle room in pushing limits of R&A standards and regulations in respect of conforming clubs than there is nowadays. This needs to be updated.

I am happy (genuinely) to conclude that golfers find custom fitting to be an enjoyable and beneficial process- their perceptions are well measured within the study. However, I can't conclude with a level of confidence that I would like (personally, and empirically) that these perceptions represent what can be quantified, given the methodological limitations of the study. Alas, this leaves a lot of room for a contemporary comprehensive study with more methodological rigour than what has been examined here. I would welcome this as a consumer. If results confidently predict immediate, medium term and/or long-term improvements in scoring, then it has the potential to significantly damage the second-hand club market, and bolster new product line sales and associated custom fitting services. Manufacturers and golf retailers would naturally enjoy huge benefits from such findings which, in itself raises the question- why is there no such study?

TL; DR- There is a lack of evidence pointing towards the efficacy of custom fitting in how it impacts scores. Evidence suggests that golfers enjoy the process of custom fitting and report benefits in scoring. However, there is a need for more rigid examination of this process in order to justify claims in respect of the positive benefits of custom fitting.

Back to work...
 
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Canary_Yellow

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Thank you - that was a very enjoyable read. It's very difficult to think of a way to actually test the hypothesis that fitting improves scores that isolates all other variables.

Personally, I think there are some obvious things that will help (or at least cannot hinder); grip size, club length, shaft flex. Beyond that, for many mid / higher handicappers, surely their swings are too variable to pin down so specifically what the best shaft and head combo is?

I get the benefit of a very thorough fitting for those that play at an elite level, im thinking Cat 1 (as it used to be) and better. Their swings are sufficiently consistent that it should be possible to see the impact of different shafts / heads because there aren't so many other variables.

In my view, the main benefit of a fitting for those with a higher handicap and a bit less consistency is the mental confidence it gives the player in the equipment they are using. It removes doubt in at least one aspect of the game, and likely leaves that player more committed to improving as a golfer because they know that anything that is going wrong cannot be the clubs.
 

srixon 1

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I think it is partly a mental thing. If you have been fitted for clubs and believe that they are made to measure for you then mentally you will be in a good place. This should improve your confidence to hit the fitted clubs.
 
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virtuocity

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Fair points re: mental confidence. I am absolutely in favour of custom fitting for those who want an enjoyable experience as a consumer, and want to buy mental confidence. However, I'm one of those overly-rational grumps who gets confidence from data, rather than golf pros and adverts. Nothing wrong with the latter at all though.
 

Bdill93

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Great read!

The only real benefit I can quantify from my custom fitting was that my clubs are now longer and therefore I feel more comfortable holding my irons.

My stance used to be so squatted down and uncomfortable, it wouldnt have been repeatable again and again for the next 20 years.

I am 6ft 3" though so taller than the average Joe!
 

fundy

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Fair points re: mental confidence. I am absolutely in favour of custom fitting for those who want an enjoyable experience as a consumer, and want to buy mental confidence. However, I'm one of those overly-rational grumps who gets confidence from data, rather than golf pros and adverts. Nothing wrong with the latter at all though.


Time for you to be the guinea pig imo ;)

Hypothesis: Virtuocity will lower his handicap by a minimum of 2 shots within 6 months of having a full bag custom fitting
 

GB72

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I am naturally cynical and so:

Do I think that custom fitting improves your game: I would guess it does no harm and can benefit but the term 'custom fit' is such a broad once and can range from the full belt and braces service to taking a small selection of options and finding the one that is least bad for you.

Is custom fitting a fun experience: Yes, have enjoyed it when I have been fitted

Does it improve confidence: Can work both ways. I have felt very confident playing with a set of custom fitted clubs but also felt awful on the one occasion I just could not hit the clubs I had bought.

But, most importantly, is custom fitting a tool used by the golf manufacturers to encourage you into a shop so as you can be sold to and is it a tool to persuade you that you are so unique that you have to buy new and fitted rather than use the second hand market and Ebay, Hell yes.
 

fundy

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Fwiw, I think there are so many other factors that make it very hard to get "clean data" to prove this one way or another, and Im not sure handicap reduction is the right measure

One that I think is massively overlooked is how accurate are handicaps and how much do they lag performance because of the calculation method, as well as (historically) trying to define a golfer on a good day not an average day.

I know golfers off 10 who should be off 6 or 7, I also know golfers off 10 who should be off 13 or 14. Take one of each, give them a custom fit and the impact on handicap is going to be very very different if they then put in say 10 cards, and ultimately will have nothing to do with the fitting but everything to do with their handicap and the system
 

Canary_Yellow

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Fair points re: mental confidence. I am absolutely in favour of custom fitting for those who want an enjoyable experience as a consumer, and want to buy mental confidence. However, I'm one of those overly-rational grumps who gets confidence from data, rather than golf pros and adverts. Nothing wrong with the latter at all though.

The good news for someone like me with all the people buying new kit is that there is some good second hand gear with light usage out there for me to buy! There is also a good range of shaft and head combos!
 

RichA

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It probably benefits some more than others. I'm a poor golfer, but it gave me the opportunity to try different clubs, lies, shaft flexes, etc.
The cynic in me sees it from the fitter's viewpoint as a sales appointment, like getting a double-glazing salesman in to measure up and give you a bespoke quote.
I guess a lot of it depends on what you, as the customer, are intending to get out of it.
 

Orikoru

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I think the more abnormal you are the more benefit it will be. So like, if you're really tall, really short, swing is quirky or weird, really flat or steep, or is super fast or super slow.. then fitting probably becomes more important. If you're relatively normal height with a fairly run-of-the-mill swing, then it's just about finding something you're comfortable hitting, and having the confidence that backing it up with cold hard numbers and stats bring - a mental thing, as stated above by @srixon 1 .
 

Ser Shankalot

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I think it can also help (or atleast not hurt) when looking to buy 2nd hand equipment as one can try to mix and match appropriate shafts and heads to get closer to the fitting recommendation. Obviously this only works if the relationship with the fitter is such that he/she will give you that advice when not buying through them.
In the end, I believe it's more about avoiding equipment styles that are actively hurting your game, confidence boost and satisfying the inner nerd in all of us. Plus it can be a lot of fun.
 

BiMGuy

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Do we first need to define the term 'custom fitting'

There is a vast difference between what somewhere like AG offer as custom fitting compared with what TXG can offer.
 

Neilds

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[QUOTE="fundy, post: 2341441, member: 5509"

I know golfers off 10 who should be off 6 or 7, I also know golfers off 10 who should be off 13 or 14.[/QUOTE]

What are you basing this on? Surely if they play regularly and submit cards then their handicap is what it is? I am an 18 handicap but can get the odd birdie, even had 3 in one round but this doesn’t make me a potential scratch golfer ?
 

fundy

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[QUOTE="fundy, post: 2341441, member: 5509"

I know golfers off 10 who should be off 6 or 7, I also know golfers off 10 who should be off 13 or 14.

What are you basing this on? Surely if they play regularly and submit cards then their handicap is what it is? I am an 18 handicap but can get the odd birdie, even had 3 in one round but this doesn’t make me a potential scratch golfer ?[/QUOTE]


Basing it on my own experience, having played the game for best part of 30 years at a variety of clubs with a variety of golfers. Theres plenty of golfers out there who arent playing off what I would call an accurate handicap of their ability, some are sandbaggers, some have vanity handicaps, some only put the minimum cards in, some play badly with card in hand, some had a purple patch for a couple of weeks and ended with a handicap they havent got close to playing to for a year or more since. Sample size of numbers of rounds players submit for handicap at any point in time are far too small in most cases to be statistically reliable, handicap systems are a best guess and nothing more
 

Kennysarmy

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A mate has new irons, plays off around 14, he's admitted he's playing rubbish at the moment and has stated "I'm still getting used to the new clubs" - they were custom fit - my initial thought was surely they should take no getting used to - like a pair of gloves shouldn't they just feel perfect?
 

BiMGuy

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A mate has new irons, plays off around 14, he's admitted he's playing rubbish at the moment and has stated "I'm still getting used to the new clubs" - they were custom fit - my initial thought was surely they should take no getting used to - like a pair of gloves shouldn't they just feel perfect?

That's just an excuse for playing badly ?

it may take a few rounds to get used to distances.
 

sweaty sock

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Its hard to quantify because even 'off the rack' is custom fit to a certain extent. Most golfers spending hundreds of pounds on equipment know enough to get close.

Even the most naive consumer isnt just taking a lucky dip. They are buying a club to, 'go higher', 'stop slicing' etc the marketing already pushes you a long way down the custom fit path before anyone measures your external shoulder rotation at P6...

So far infact that if you want to hit higher and stop slicing, once you already have the off set driver with more loft, 80% of what's possible is already done. So clean data in my view is almost impossible.

The tour guys do what's needed, they get the numbers from trackman etc, then play intermittently with new bat for a length of time to gather strokes gained statistics on the shots they use it, if its worse, back to drawing board, if its better, bingo, successful custom fit.

Clearly very difficult to nearly impossible in a retail situation.
 
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