The foursome gathers on the practice tee at Woodlands Country Club, almost like a gathering of scientists working on a Frankenstein-like experiment — which isn’t far from the truth.
Brian Gibbs huddles over a laptop computer. Jim Hollis holds a huge golf bag of Mizuno drivers and 6-irons. Brad Frick crouches to align a range ball, marked on one side with a black stripe, precisely onto the tee next to a monitor.
And then Odette Clemente — the subject of this high-tech study — hits the ball. After each swing, Gibbs, Hollis and Frick check the results, discuss them ... and tell Clemente to try again.
If it all sounds rather sci-fi, then you haven’t bought new clubs recently. Nowadays, equipment experts agree: To attain maximum results in golf, it’s all about fitting.
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Six months into her yearlong quest to go from novice to single-digit handicapper, Clemente, 21 and a USC student, has reached a point where Frick, her instructor, says her swing is consistent enough to determine if the clubs she plays are best for her.
In fact, everyone already knows the answer. Clemente’s well-used Rams, bought “off the rack,” are overdue for replacement.
“She’s outgrown her beginner set,” Frick, 28, said. “The shafts are too weak.”
What does she need now? That’s where Gibbs and Hollis come in.
Gibbs, owner of Woods & Wedges on Two Notch Road, uses a Vector launch monitor to measure Clemente’s club-head speed, launch angle (at which her shots leave the club’s face) and the ball’s spin rate. Based on the results — and on feedback from Clemente, Gibbs and Hollis, a 25-year Mizuno representative — she will be fitted with a driver and irons to use for a year.
As Clemente will discover, fitting can be a long, involved and tiring process.
“When I worked at (the Country Club at) Woodcreek Farms, I went with a member to the TaylorMade center,” Frick said. “That was an ordeal.” The results, though, will be worth it, he said.
Hollis has Mizuno MX950 irons, with steel shafts, and graphite-shafted MX19 irons. Clemente also is replacing her old driver with either a King Cobra (which Gibbs already let her use) or Mizuno’s MX560 (with 12 degrees loft) or the MP600 (10.5 degrees, but with adjustable weights to set up for a draw or a fade).
Hollis also has different driver shafts, including a Diamana — “the Cadillac shaft,” he said — that alone runs $300.
Ball after ball is marked, positioned and then struck; the precision is necessary to get an accurate reading on the Vector, which projects results from pictures of the ball at different locations. A newer monitor, the Trackman, uses a laser, and “you can throw the ball on the ground and hit it,” Gibbs said. “But it’s expensive, and there aren’t any in Columbia.”
“You have to tell us which feels better, too,” Hollis tells Clemente.
The session lasts 90 minutes-plus, and the longer it goes, the more inconsistent Clemente’s shots become. Finally, Frick intervenes. “She’s getting tired, and it’s affecting her swing,” he said.
A decision is reached: Clemente takes three 6-irons with steel, senior graphite and ladies’ graphite shafts, plus a Diamana-shafted MX560 driver. She’ll try the irons again before making a choice.
“I’d like to get her to steel,” Frick said. But Gibbs says for now, Clemente should stick with graphite. Hollis agrees. “We’re trying to get you into your first shaft,” he tells Clemente, “not your last.”
Fitting works, but “sometimes we get too detailed,” Hollis said. “Players lose interest, and if they don’t hit it better right away, they get discouraged. It’s still up to the operator.”
Clemente laughs. “That,” she said, “would be me.”
Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.