One of the biggest misconceptions Kevin Hofstetter sees in golf is the idea that club fitting is only useful for professional players.
Hofstetter believes the opposite to be true – that being fitted with the proper equipment can be of great benefit to the average weekend duffer.
To find out why, I sent the most average golfer I know – myself – to see him at Woods to Wedges inside the Wehrle Golf Dome in Clarence.
That’s where Hofstetter works as the club-fitting manager. Specifically, I was there to use the Trackman system, a revolutionary ball-flight analyzer relatively new to Western New York.
Trackman is a radar device that traces the trajectory of a golfer’s shot from the critical moment of impact to landing. The radar paints a precise picture of what happens when the clubhead meets the ball – generating a unique data set of 26 specific measurements.
Those are then recorded for comparative purposes.
For a club-fitter like Hofstetter, knowing what the ball is doing in reaction to the swing allows him to match the player with the right equipment. But the Trackman technology is being used for much more than that.
More than 150 current PGA Tour players – Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan among them – are using the system to perfect their swings.
Nationwide, there are more than 350 Trackman-licensed facilities in the U.S. that are making the $25,000 device available for club fitting or practice purposes.
“The beauty of the Trackman, the reason why the best players in the world rely on it, is because it’s a very accurate, precise machine,” said Hofstetter.
Renowned swing coach Sean Foley, who works with the above three pros, calls Trackman the “greatest teaching tool ever.”
Here’s how the club-fitting portion of the process works.
I booked an appointment ahead of time – Woods to Wedges is the only local golf facility to offer the technology – and after arriving Hofstetter had me warm up by hitting a few balls with my own clubs.
Then it was time for the driver fitting. I currently play a TaylorMade RocketBallz driver with 10.5 degrees of loft and a stiff shaft. Hofstetter had me hit about 10 shots with my current club to establish a baseline data set.
Some of my averages looked like this: 90.4 mph club-head speed, 136.5 mph ball speed, a 10.1-degree launch angle and back spin of 2,232 rpms. Additionally, I was offline by 6 yards, I had a carry distance of 197 yards and total distance of 244 yards with an attack angle of minus-0.3 and a maximum height of 13 yards.
Not surprisingly, those numbers look pretty sad next to the PGA Tour averages that are available on Trackmangolf.com. Hofstetter, though, said a better comparison for the average male golfer is to LPGA Tour averages. Some of those averages include a 94 mph club-head speed, 140 mph ball speed, 13.2-degree launch angle, 2,611 spin rate, maximum height of 25 yards and carry distance of 218 yards.
“We noticed that your launch angle was around 10, a little low, so we definitely wanted to increase that because the machine will give us the optimal trajectory,” Hofstetter said. “We wanted to be up closer to that 13 or 15 range.”
After going through several different options – Hofstetter said more than 10,000 club combinations are possible – I found the biggest improvement with the Ping G25 driver. I saw improvement in my numbers across the board with that club, including a launch angle of 12.1 degrees, a maximum height of 17 yards, 211 yards of carry and 255 yards of total distance.
“It’s a way to make objective comparisons between clubs and shafts,” Hofstetter said. “The latest and newest isn’t always better. That’s why we always start with a player’s current equipment. If something new isn’t outperforming what they’re already playing, then what’s the point?
“We’re not afraid to tell people that. We’re trying to give them objective data.”
Next up was the iron fitting. Again, I hit about 10 shots with my current 7-iron, a Cleveland TA7, to get some baseline data.
With the driver, Hofstetter was focused mostly on ball speed, launch and attack angles and the maximum height. With the irons, however, he keyed on a different set of data, including the dispersion pattern, which shows accuracy and consistency – important factors when considering irons.
“Everybody wants distance, of course, but it’s useless unless it’s going to be consistent distance,” Hofstetter said. “So we don’t want a 7-iron that goes 10 yards further on one swing and not the other. We want it to be consistent.
“With the irons we make sure we’re getting it on a playable trajectory. If it’s coming in too hot, too low, we’re not going to be able to hold the green if we’re not getting enough spin on the shot. And landing angle is very important.”
Hofstetter said a landing angle between 45 and 50 degrees is desired, as that will help iron shots hold the green. I was achieving that, barely, with my current club checking in at 45.1 degrees. I also had an average distance of 163 yards and maximum height of 29 yards. My shot was offline, though, by an average of 5 yards.
After again experimenting with several club options, I performed similarly in all those areas. One noticeable difference, however, came with a PingG25 iron. I hit that club on average just 2 yards offline with only 1 yard of shot bend, compared with 5 and 7, respectively, with my current club. The Ping iron was also a half-inch longer than my current club, which Hofstetter determined might be best considering my height (6-foot-1).
All of that data, which Hofstetter does a solid job breaking down into easy-to-understand terms, will give me plenty to think about when considering an upgrade to my clubs (which is probably why my wife wasn’t thrilled with this assignment).
By the end of this month, Hofstetter expects to have fitted about 300 players using the Trackman system – more than all of last year. Driver fittings take about an hour, as do iron fittings, and Hofstetter suggests trying not to do them on the same day to avoid fatigue.
The cost of a session is $49.99, although that price is deducted if a player makes a club purchase at the store. They are under no obligation to do so, however, and the Trackman data can be emailed to them for training purposes.
After finishing on the Trackman system, Hofstetter and I headed over to the SAM PuttLab, an analysis and training system that analyzes the 28 most important parameters of the putting stroke.
“It gives you a ton of data about your putting stroke. Everything from face angle, path, tempo and rhythm, and what your face angle at impact is,” Hofstetter said. “The key is to pare that down to some workable numbers, things you can focus on. It measures your strengths and weaknesses.”
For example, my “effective loft” which combines the actual loft of my putter plus the shaft angle, was extremely high at 9.6.
Hofstetter said a measurement between 2 and 3 degrees is ideal and suggested a simple tweak to my putting stroke. Immediately, I noticed the ball rolling smooth and not jumping off the face, and the effective loft was 2.7 degrees.
“We can make adjustments to things like your ball position or set up,” Hofstetter said, “or we can make adjustments to the loft or the lie to make your putter perform better.”
A putter fitting takes about 35 minutes, and follows the same pricing structure as the Trackman system.
• It’s been a big couple weeks for the Shaw family of Orchard Park. Sydney Shaw, 17, won the International Junior Golf Tour’s Summer Series event at Ridgemont Country Club in Rochester. Shaw shot rounds of 87 and 76 for a 3-shot win over Depew’s Sarah Godfrey-Singleton. Lancaster’s Emily Connors took third and North Tonawanda’s Kase was fourth.
Sydney’s younger brother, Aidan, 12, won a PGA Junior Series event at Penn State University late last month, finishing with rounds of 85 and 82 for a one-shot victory in the boys 12 to 14 division.
• The New York State Junior Golf Tour is hosting a number of parent-junior tournaments this summer. They are two-player scramble events for any junior (ages 10 to 18) and adult team.
Upcoming tournaments are Sunday at Willowbrook in Lockport, July 27 at Glen Oak in Amherst and Aug. 10 at Ivy Ridge in Akron. Tournaments start at 3 p.m.
The cost is $65 per team and includes golf, cart for 18 holes and lunch for all, as well as gifts and prizes for all juniors. Contact tour director Rick Zurak at 390-0549 or email@example.com for more information.
• Local golf news of note is welcome at the email address below.