As a coach, it’s worth considering where your sphere of influence ends, and where someone else’s begins. For example, club fitting. I’m not an expert club-fitter, I’m an expert coach. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have input or offer guidance about which clubs are suitable for students. But I don’t always feel comfortable recommending one brand over another, or even steering a student towards clubs that may be outside of his or her budget. Buying new clubs can be a major investment, and I want my students to make informed choices about their equipment. And that means the best advice may not always be mine!
If you are like me and don’t consider yourself a club fitting expert, you should find local people who are. When a student is looking for a state of the art club-fitting experience, I refer out to an independent club fitter, or a branded custom-fit center (if the player has a preferred brand). However, for either budgetary reasons or personal preference, not all players will want to get custom fitted for their clubs. In these cases, I can confidently point a player in the right direction based on static measurements, impact and ball flight analysis. Additionally, manufacturers websites now have excellent online club-fitting tools that can be used to confirm your recommendation.
Regardless of which club fitting route a player takes, the effects of technology will vary depending on the player. Technology can really make a big difference to some players; for example, mid-range handicappers who haven’t switched their equipment for decades. For others, technology will provide marginal gains. Therefore, it is important for coaches to be honest about what equipment may, or may not do, for a player’s game. Setting unrealistic expectations that are not met will only diminish the coach’s credibility and relationship with the student. Also consider that the level of influence coaches have over students’ equipment buying will vary depending on the individual and his or her needs.
Club Fitting and Novice Players (Approximate level of influence: 80%): Using well-fitted equipment is important for all players, but in my opinion it is critical for new players to use technology that assists their game. Regularly, new golfers argue that they’ll use hand-me-down clubs until their golf skills improve. Of course, this is a catch 22 situation and novice players are often blind to the fact that not all golf clubs are the same. As coaches know, new golfers are less likely to improve until they have equipment that enables them to make controlled swings with forgiving clubs. Fortunately for these players, the price for entry level golf equipment has dramatically decreased. Complete sets, that are reasonable quality, can be bought for less than £200. I strongly urge novice golfers to make this investment and if I know the student’s budget I will make recommendations. Teaching a player with modern technology makes my job easier and increases the chances of a player succeeding and sticking with the game.
Club Fitting and Mid-Handicap Players (Approximate level of influence: 50%): Mid-handicap players can benefit immensely with new technology — especially if they currently have dated or obviously ill-fitting clubs. This potential gain makes the club-buying experience exciting! As in a lesson, the first step is to determine what part of the game the player hopes to improve with new clubs: change in ball flight height, reduced curvature or increased distance. It is also valuable to understand how a player wants the clubs to look. Some players just like traditional looking clubheads and this preference should not be undervalued even if you think the player is sacrificing performance for aesthetics. Based on how students respond to these screening questions, and given a rough budget, I can make some recommendations to inform the player’s club-buying process — either through trying out clubs or consulting an expert club fitter.
Club Fitting and Elite Players (Approximate level of influence: 20%): In general, elite players are most cognizant of their technological needs, current products and club performance. In addition, these students are most likely to utilize expert club fitters. As a coach I like to take a backseat; observe the club fitting session, ask questions and just be a sounding board for competitive players.
As coaches, our job is to help players improve their games and this extend beyond the golf swing. Therefore, club fitting should be within coaches’ sphere of influence,
even if it’s sometimes on the peripheral.
Sue Shapcott is co-founder of The Coach Learning Group and has been a member of the British PGA since 1996. She is a former Curtis Cup player and competed on the European and Asian professional golf tours. In addition to her 20 years’ coaching experience, Sue has a Master’s degree in educational psychology and is a PhD candidate at the University of Bath.
For help with your professional development planning, consider one of her professional development planning courses for golf coaches. For more information visit www.thecoachlearninggroup.com/pgas-of-europe