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I’ve always had a kind of love/hate relationship with my driver and fairway woods.  I should say fairway wood, singular, because I don’t think I have ever carried more than one fairway wood, generally a spoon (ahh, the TaylorMade spoon, so great) or at most a 3-wood.  Historically my relationship with these creatures was only okay, sometimes dismal, rarely great, and even more rarely great with anything approaching consistency.

As I noted on the piece I did on the rest of my set, I have the exact same shaft and grip setup on ALL of my irons, including the gap wedge and including the sand wedge.  You will note that all of those shafts are STEEL shafts.

Once upon a time, people played with steel shafts in their woods, too.  Crazy, I know.  So you could have the exact same shaft through your WHOLE set.  Minds blown.  I have (still) the most beautiful Cleveland Classic persimmon (that’s a wood, kids, as in piece of dead tree) driver with a Dynamic Gold S400 steel shaft in it.  The head is about the size of my current 3-wood.  Gorgeous piece of golf furniture, that thing.  Nothing surpassed cracking a nice balata off the center of it.  But alas, along came the “metal wood” and graphite shafts.  The graphite wasn’t very good initially, and the metalwoods made a horrible ‘tink’ sound when you hit them (as opposed to the totally-satisfying ‘clank’ today’s Volkswagen-sized drivers make).  Along came Titanium shafts.  Which were awesome, actually.  Light, very low torque, but pricey.  Still, I loved the Ti.  Then graphite got better.  Slowly, then all of a sudden, no one played wooden clubs at all and they figured out how to make better titanium alloys and then figured out if you make the clubhead LARGER that would also make the sweetspot larger and then they figured bigger is always better and then the USGA said WHOA KIDS here’s where you’re gonna stop with this nonsense and wrote a bunch of rules about permissible volume of the clubheads or something and even more importantly there’s this thing called COR (coefficient of restitution) that we’re so awesome we can actually measure and here’s how much like a little trampoline you can actually legally have your club be.  Voila! and here we are today with these pumpkin-on-a-toothpick drivers that weigh 100 grams or something and graphite shafts in every possible transmogrification and Tour players who play 500-yard par fours driver-9-iron (though the 9-iron is generally from the rough).  Bomb-n-Gouge, Baby.  Thanks, technology.

During this time I had a number of more modern drivers after that delicious Cleveland persimmon, almost all of them purchased a generation or two old, and none of them all that tasty.  After I read the Wishon book, I bought a couple of his Graduated Roll drivers (GRT) from eBay (sorry, Tom) and had one of them shafted with a steel shaft (despite the rather strange look from my club guy) and the other with a 75-gram X-flex graphite shaft I’d had in another driver that I didn’t totally hate and hadn’t thrown in a lake yet.  The steel-shafted one was utterly unplayable – way too heavy.  The other one was reasonably playable, though sub-par and not in a good way.

What I always struggled with in the woods area was figuring out which of the 11,000,000 possible graphite shaft weight/flex/kickpoint/length/color configurations would match what I knew was the best setup in the rest of the set.  Should the graphite shaft in the driver be heavier? lighter? longer? shorter? stiffer? whippier? Forty-five inches? What? Easy there, Indiana Jones, put away the bullwhip. Soooo many stupid variables, and trial-and-error was exhausting and immensely frustrating (and not free $ either).

Eventually I had had enough struggling and found out that Titleist does fitting at their Test Facility in Acushnet, MA.  Since we spend a fair amount of time on Cape Cod every summer, it was an easy stop-over on my way down.  I booked an appointment for a Friday morning (they only did two per day, one morning and one afternoon when I did it) online.

The Test Facility is kind of hidden away in this residential area of Acushnet, and you’re driving through a couple curvy streets and wondering if you’re going the right way at all and whether your GPS is broken when you turn a corner and are met by a gate, a rather tall fence, and a guard tower (like in a prison movie).  Titleist does a lot of ball testing and other top secret work there, apparently, and take the security almost as seriously as the TSA, only effectively.  My name was on the list.

Inside the gates lies one of the most immaculate little golf practice facilities I have ever seen North of Augusta, Georgia.  Range area, practice greens, bunkers.  Two very nice chaps took me over to a very long tee in one corner, where there was a white tent and all the gadgetry and test clubs (you could also hit from under the tent in case it rained).  The launch monitor was a white panel that sat on the ground behind me, perhaps the size of a 20″ monitor standing vertically.  I warmed up and hit maybe 30-40 drives with my own driver, they noted the stats, and then they started handing me drivers.  Hit five balls, change shafts, hit five balls, repeat.  Find a combination that seems to work and keep hitting until it seems consistent in a good way.  Finally we narrowed it down to a pair of combinations that seemed pretty solid, and I hit each a dozen plus times, back and forth, tweaking, and then it was like magic.  Pew. Pew.  Long, high, straight arcs out into the gray sky and floating down gently onto the perfect fairway.  Just a touch of fade at the top.  Change, just a touch of draw at the top of the arc.  Unbelievable.  I felt like Charlton Heston and I had just been given two stone tablets after wandering in the desert for 40 years, and I’m not even religious.  (We then repeated the process with the 3-wood.)

After all this, I learned two things: one, it turned out that I didn’t need anything too exotic in the shaft department; my current one was simply too heavy and a tad too stiff, so I went from a 75-gram X shaft to a 55-gram S-shaft that was tipped an inch or two (I forget which).

At the end of the fitting, they give you the specs on paper (and via email) and you toodle off and order it through any pro shop that has a Titleist account (this way they’re not taking sales from their pro network.)  I also got to see the Iron Byron robots in the ball testing area, which was cool.  The whole thing took maybe an hour and a half.

Note: I didn’t think about this before going, but quite naturally they are going to fit you for TITLEIST clubs only, though the specs would be somewhat transportable.  You can go to be fit for woods only, irons only, wedges only, or any combination of those you want.

So this is the current love of my life:


Titleist 909D 10.5* driver, standard lie, Aldila NV-55 S-shaft, tipped an inch (or two).  White/black  GolfPride grip with an extra wrap, just like all the other clubs in the bag. There are, occasionally, days when I am certain using this club is cheating and I hit 12 or more fairways. Other days I just have a strong suspicion it’s cheating. What I can say with a straight face, is I have never, ever had driving days like that with any other driver I have ever had, even way back when I was young, played every day, and it never rained.

The companion 3-wood:

3woodTitleist 909F 3-wood, 15*, standard lie, gray Diamana 75-FW S-shaft, tipped not quite enough, but close.  Same grips as others.  I say “tipped not quite enough” because it is [still!] slightly off and if I don’t actively remind myself to swing slightly easier I WILL spray the ball into an adjacent county.  Whether it’s the county to the left, or the county to right is a toss-up.

BONUS: As I ordered both clubs late in the season (September), and Titleist had a new driver model coming out, they held my driver order (which was for the old model) in error. After they realized this (I called), another fellow there at the Titleist called me and apologized and asked me if I would like a free dozen personalized balls of my choice? Yes, please. They – accidentally, I assume – sent me two dozen ProV1x’s. (shhhhhhh.) Now THAT’S customer service.

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