Golf is a game of detail. Detail in swings, in follow throughs, in angles and perhaps most importantly, in one’s clubs.
“I love to tinker with my clubs,” said sophomore Brett McIntosh. “I’m the person who tinkers the most on the team. I do a bunch of research on it.”
These days, there’s plenty of research for McIntosh to do. The possibilities are endless with the degree of customization available.
For the Michigan men’s golf team, the customization process starts with a trip just down the road to Miles of Golf. A few years ago, before Michigan built its golf practice facility, the team practiced at Miles of Golf’s driving range. Now they use it exclusively for clubs. Michigan assistant coach Nick Pumford played at Michigan when they practiced at the range, and both he and head coach Chris Whitten rely on their expertise on clubs to get each player a perfect fit.
After the static fitting process, which involves taking players’ heights and wrist-to-floor measurements, players choose clubs to try. The team is split down the middle between the brands Titleist and TaylorMade, and most players use a mix of both brands. Since players mostly use the same brands, the fitting process is what accounts for many of the differences between one player’s clubs and another’s.
While others arrive with an open mind and try everything, McIntosh said he always arrives with a few clubs in mind.
“Being a longer hitter, I’m looking for more accuracy,” McIntosh said. “In my driver, I’ll play something heavier. I play heavier shafts — it gives me more feel for where the club head is through the swing and narrows down the dispersion.”
Advanced tracking systems then analyze everything in a player’s swing. They look at ball flight and spin rates and then try to match launch angles with spin rates in order to minimize dispersion — the average difference from one shot to another.
It’s a process that players go through surprisingly often. Since McIntosh arrived in Ann Arbor two years ago he has gone through three drivers, two three-woods, two sets of irons, three sets of wedges and four different putters.
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There are many reasons why a player may choose to switch a club.
“I’ve noticed the advancement in technology a lot in the newest driver I put in play,” McIntosh said of his new TaylorMade. “This new one I have flies different.
“For wedges it’s more wear on the club. My irons were wearing down — I’d been using them for two full years so I switched this winter.”
Players are forced into some changes. Belly-putters will be illegal beginning in 2016. Many players, including McIntosh, have made the switch back to the standard putter, knowing the change is coming. Some go to greater lengths than others to make sure the fit is right.
“I got my new putter custom made for me, guys don’t really get putters custom made.” McIntosh said. “The head is one of 11 in the world. I had it shaped especially for my eye.”
With putters, more emphasis is placed on the visual rather than the technology of the club. Factors include which type of markings a player wants to use to line up the ball and the angle of the shaft that best fits his line of sight.
“Putters have a honeymoon effect,” McIntosh said. “Just having something different puts a different perspective in your mind and it’s almost like a new beginning. It just gets your mind fresh.”
McIntosh will even switch clubs for a single day in order to optimize his bag for the day’s weather.
“If there’s windy conditions, I might switch to a club that flies a lot lower,” he said.
McIntosh is so interested in his craft that he said he might make a career out of it even if he doesn’t play professionally. He says he has thought about going into the club equipment business and doing fittings.
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Still, not everyone likes to change clubs. Some players find something they like and stick with it.
“(Freshman) Bryce (Evon) will never switch his putter in his entire life,” McIntosh said. “He loves his putter, he’s pretty superstitious with it. Bryce doesn’t like to have other people even touch his clubs.”
There’s a certain level of superstition that permeates all areas of the game. Most players won’t let other people hit their clubs out of superstition. At the collegiate level, everyone’s stuff is so custom-fit, from the head to the weight of the shaft, it doesn’t make sense for other people to use a player’s clubs since it’s not going to be perfect for them.
Junior Noori Hyun said he falls somewhere in between the two extremes.
“I wouldn’t call myself superstitious, but at the same time I don’t like to switch clubs,” Hyun said. “I’m more of a feel guy. I use whatever looks and feels good — once it looks and feels good I’ll use it for a long period of time.”
Hyun switched to a new driver eight months ago after playing with his previous driver for just under two years.
“I was starting to think that I might be losing some distance because of the driver,” Hyun said. “I just got a chance to try a new driver, and I really liked how it felt, so there was no reason for me to not change it.”
Whitten takes each player on a case-by-case basis when considering whether or not it is time to switch clubs; there’s no golden rule that applies to everybody.
“It really comes down to how a club performs for an individual,” Whitten said. “Golf’s an individual sport, everybody swings a little differently, so the most important thing is that they have something that fits them well and helps their game.”
Sometimes the coaches need to encourage players to try a new club if they think technology has improved, but other times coaches want players to stick with what they are comfortable with.
“As coaches, we have to take a smart approach to it,” Whitten said. “We want the club to perform well, but at the same time, probably more importantly is a player’s confidence, not only in his swing, but his clubs.”