I’m just back from a trip to Gainsborough, where Ping’s European HQ is found and also their custom fitting centre.
I always enjoy my visits and find their team of fitters to be knowledgeable, understanding and patient.
This latest visit, though, was a little out of the ordinary and I thought it was worth sharing as an answer to a question I am frequently asked by club golfers: does custom fitting really make a difference?
Let’s go back to the start. Ping recently launched their iBlade irons. All their clubs are custom fit and their policy is only to supply clubs to us for testing that are dialled in to the individual tester.
I was asked for my preferred spec, but rather than going for my tried-and-trusted Project X Pxi 6.0s, a shaft I have used in my irons for the last two years or more, I decided to experiment.
I wanted to test out another shaft (it doesn’t matter which because that’s not the point) and because I was short of time, I simply asked for that manufacturer’s nearest equivalent with my usual length/lie/grips rather than going through a fitting.
The clubs came through and looked a million dollars. I took them straight out on the course. The initial results were mixed, but I thought that was just the unfamiliarity – a bit of practice and they would be fine.
I had a few hours spare one evening to get to grips with them and so I played a round of golf without my woods, meaning I was hitting at least at least two iron shots a hole on average.
I just couldn’t get the right results. Most shots leaked right, and all of them came up short. If you were drawing a dispersion graph, I would say a typical 7 iron was maybe four yards right and eight yards short. That’s a lot, on average.
The flight just didn’t look right – shots were puffing up and then dropping out of the sky. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on launch monitors. So while I may not be able to hit great shots very often, I certainly know what they should look like.
I plucked up the courage to contact Ping and confess that I was struggling. I asked to do what I should have done in the first place – namely go through a custom fitting.
Ping being Ping, it wasn’t a problem. And so last week I brought them back to see what the experts made of the numbers. We went through the custom fitting I should have had in the first place.
To my relief, the Trackman statistics backed up what I thought. Sure enough the shaft/head combination was just not working.
Not because there was anything wrong with the shafts – just because they weren’t working for me with the iBlade heads. It was immediately apparent.
After a bit of tweaking to the lofts, and having tried several different shafts, we were able to get the Trackman numbers back into the right ballpark.
Or, for the traditionalists, you could clearly see from both the flight and the way the ball was coming off the face that the results were better.
(By the way, Ping’s fitters are really, really good in my experience at striking that all-important balance between using the technology at their disposal but also listening to the player. The second element is much under-rated in custom fitting.)
My point is, the head/shaft combo should have worked just fine. The clubs were built perfectly well, and with high-quality components. But together, and in my hands, it was a disaster.
Let’s be candid here – if I was a punter then I would have been several hundreds of pounds worse off. You can’t buy a set of clubs off the shelf and then expect a manufacturer to fit you retrospectively for free.
Or my golf would have suffered and I might have struggled for an entire season before I’d realised why.
I might also have concluded that either Ping clubs or the shaft manufacturer in question – possibly both – were sub-standard. Which would have been total rubbish.
I’m a little embarrassed to relate the story. As somebody who has been covering golf equipment for 15 years I really should know better.
My hope is, by writing this blog, that I change your preconceptions. Next time you buy a new club or a new set, be it irons, driver, fairway, hybrid, wedge or putter, I trust you will do the sensible thing. Namely, seek expert advice and go through a custom fitting.
Yes, it might cost you a little time. But the peace of mind, as well as the guarantee of improved performance, is surely more than worth the hassle.
And thanks, Ping, for helping me get to the bottom of the problem. I promise you I have learned my lesson.