Behind the scenes with Titleist’s European Tour fitterFebruary 7, 2018 Golf Equipment
We speak to 'the oracle' Liam McDougall who works on Titleist's European Tour truck fitting the world's best players into new gear...
Equipment plays a huge role in the success tour players have.
It can often be blamed when things aren’t going well but it can also take much of the credit when a player begins to turn things around.
But those who don’t often get the credit are the guys working day-in-day-out, 40 weeks of the year on the equipment tour trucks which travel to most European Tour events.
And that man on the Titleist tour truck is Liam McDougall.
He has been referred to recently by Eddie Pepperell as the the ‘lanky oracle with glasses’ and credited for improving his performance off the tee with the Titleist 917 D2 driver.
“I went to see him in April. I explained to him my shot patterns, what I did and didn’t like to see, and what I wanted.
“I came away from that session so much more knowledgeable. I said to him that I was afraid to use the driver because I’d hit so many shots low and left with it.
“Subsequently, and purely out of fear, I would then hit some high and right. He explained to me that my driver simply wasn’t creating enough backspin to basically rule out the low, left shot.
“In hindsight, I was so incredibly naive when it came to the technical aspects of equipment. As soon as we added backspin to the driver, and put a different, higher spinning ball in play, the low and left shot pretty much disappeared, and my confidence gradually returned.
“This change was 100% the reason behind my top 20 at the US Open. I was unafraid to hit driver that week on a course that demanded good driving, in an environment that was also quite challenging.”
So we caught up with ‘the oracle’ himself to get the lowdown on what it’s like to have a job fitting the world’s best players.
Are tour players generally good fun to work with or can they be a bit stubborn?
“It’s an exciting environment to work in for sure, especially when you can help a player and they take the time to thank you for the work you have done. What I will say here is it’s amazing what a small text message of ‘thanks’ does.”
What’s the banter like between the guys working on the tour trucks? Is it all in good spirits or can it get quite competitive?
“My take on this is that the industry we work in is small and tour life even smaller – it’s in your best interest to get on with everyone.
“Take us, we have a good relationship with the Ping guys; sometimes they will use our truck and we will use theirs when the truck schedules become challenging.”
How different is it fitting tour players compared to mid-handicap club golfers?
“Honestly, I find fitting tour players easier than mid-handicap club golfers. Why you ask? Because the players I work with on tour are repeating the same swings, all the time, striking the same location on the face every time.”
How knowledgeable generally, are tour players about their equipment? Do they all take an interest into why something is working better or do they just like to be told?
“It changes from player to player and you have to be able to adapt to that environment.
“I have worked with a tour player that has an engineering and maths degree; combine that with swing knowledge and the ability to play and let’s just say, if you go to work with him, you better know your stuff!
“On the flip side, someone I get on well with, Stephen Gallacher, just looks at me and says ‘fix that’ and he has complete faith in what I do for him.”
What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever been asked to do by a tour player during a fitting?
“I’d have to say being asked to put cotton wool in a driver to dampen the sound to make it perform like an old persimmon!”
We’ve seen some high profile tour players move into the Titleist 917 driver without a contract, can you put it down to anything in particular that has worked well for them?
“In a nut shell, the focus we as a brand put on product performance plays its part here. For those players that were approved to test 917, we have seen the majority of them put it in play as the overall benefits they saw were second to none.”
People say ‘drives for show, putts for dough’ but would you say confidence off the tee is a bigger factor for some tour players?
“In my world I have seen people go from really struggling off the tee to dramatically improving and this gives them confidence without a doubt. That said, this question is highly debatable.
“To compete at tour level you need to not only drive it well, but hole the putts as well, or making a living becomes hard. I see people on social media debating stats etc… but at the end of the day, it’s all relevant.”
What is it generally that tour players are looking for when getting fitted into a driver?
“This varies between players but I would say when players’ speeds sit below tour average, their focus would go to all-out distance more times than not.
“At the other end of the spectrum when you get players with really high ball speeds, on most occasions they will look to take one side of the course out of play.”
Have you ever had other tour players coming over from rival brands when not happy with their current contracted gear?
“This is definitely something that happens from time to time, and more often than not, in certain product categories…”
What is your usual process if seeding new product with the players once it is ready to be tested? Take the new 718 irons for example?
“You really have to understand the product and study that part of the bag to know what you’re looking for; both visually and in the numbers.
You then look at what the player is already using and talk them through what they’ll see with the newer model.
“After which I will measure all specs of the club to the players request, and make up what we think will be a good starting point, paying close attention and matching up; offset, bounce, leading edge roll, swing weight, top line request and visual request.
“We’ll then go through the numbers, dynamically checking the lie angles on all clubs against their current gamers, and watching ball flight parameters to make sure they’re giving us exactly what we want. During that process I’m constantly gathering feedback on visuals, sound and feel from the player.
“The final step is on course testing from different grasses and ensuring we build confidence in the clubs so that they’re good to go straight in to competition.”
Around three-quarters of tour players have split-sets of irons. What is the main reason for this? More distance and forgiveness in the longer irons?
“Both of those things! I’d say it’s mainly looking at the top end of the bag, aiming for the ball to launch higher and land softer while maintaining speed.”
How long would a proper fitting with a tour player take from start to finish? Or is it an ongoing process that continues from week to week with the odd tweak here and there?
“I prefer to do work off-site over one full day or preferably two days, focussing on off course and on course testing. This allows players to fully focus on competing at a tournament.”
With having such a variation with the 718 irons and 818 hybrids do you believe that gives Titleist an advantage from a fitting point of view?
“As you say, fitting is so important, and that’s why every club Titleist makes has this in mind.
“It’s why we have all the different models in the 718 range and also why we have the adjustable Surefit hosel in our hybrids.
“Ensuring we are able to make every club right for that golfer hopefully makes the game easier and gives the golfer the ability to shoot lower scores.”