As the golf season heats up, we examine the latest equipment trends

     Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are over. The cold-weather preseason hype is over, and we’re deep into prime golf season. So instead of speculating on which equipment will be hot this season, we asked an expert which equipment actually is hot, and why.

     The answer: Equipment that’s precisely tailored to your body and your swing. You could call this the “Summer of Science” in golf. Let’s get into it and you’ll see the trend.

     Custom fitting. This is such a growth area nationwide that Chicago-area Golfsmith stores have built more fitting bays and invested in new-generation equipment to better arrive at the right length, lie angle, shaft type and flex, grip size and more. And why wouldn’t you get fitted first? A basic fitting is typically free, and at most stores even when you opt for the more expensive measuring—$60 bucks at Golfsmith—that cost goes toward almost any club order.

     And the clubmakers are doing their part. Most of them certify salespeople in their specific fitting techniques, and once you’ve ordered, you don’t have to wait long for the goods. Marc Corbett, general manager of the Orland Park Golfsmith, says most companies make delivery within 10 days to two weeks and Mizuno typically within a week. Oh, and the majority of personalized tweaks you can make to your new clubs don’t cost anything.

     Sounds like a square deal. But why is the custom-fitting trend taking off this year? Our guess is that it’s a combination of three things: (1) The technology is proven and now familiar; (2) recreational players have realized that it’s not just enough to play the brand or the club the pros hit—you need to have it fitted just like they do; and (3) the economy. When you realize you want new clubs, it’s all you think about. But how do you justify a new set of irons every couple years? You don’t. Instead you shell out the dough now for clubs that could last you five or 10 years because they fit just right and improve your game.

     Callaway RAZR Fit driver, $300. When Callaway gets into adjustable clubs, you know the customizing trend’s locked on, because competitors like TaylorMade were doing it a decade ago. Callaway fans are liking the results. The RAZR Fit’s “OptiFit” hosel lets you adjust the face angle, and the OptiFit weights are designed to promote a draw or neutral ball flight.

     Taylor Made RocketBallz driver, $299. It’s termed a “max game-improvement driver” in reviews, but it’s selling strong this summer because it’s not just for higher handicappers. It definitely is forgiving and long, but it’s got enough feel to satisfy solid lower mid-handicappers, too.

     Mizuno MP-59 irons, $999. Mizuno has always been serious about irons for better players, and local stores—and reviewers—are pleased with this set, which features a pure titanium insert that spreads weight to the perimeter while allowing the club to maintain that classic thin-line, easy-to-square-up Mizuno look. By the way, roughly 60 percent of his Mizuno iron sales are custom-fit, Corbett says.

     Ping Nome putter, $300. Hunter Mahan won the World Match Play Championships with this stick, a—you guessed it—stunningly customizable belly putter from the company that likes to leave consonants out of its product names. The shaft is adjustable from 37.5" to 46.5" in tiny increments to help you get your eyes right over or slightly inside the ball no matter your height or where you anchor the putter to your body (perfect for experimenters).

     And the putter comes in three hosel configurations to suit the degree to which you open and close the clubface during your swing. Apparently Ping has found that players using longer putters have more of this “screen door” effect than other golfers—something great “feel” putters like Ben Crenshaw had whether putting with a blade putter or a croquet mallet.

     The Nome’s success this summer fits the trend. “Everything with putters falls into the custom fitting thing,” Corbett says. “We’ve had way more putter custom fits, and what goes on the PGA Tour goes in the store, including the longer mid-length to belly-style putters are popular.”

     TourBound Golf Academy Robot Swing Trainer. Didn’t expect that one, did you? Well, this machine fits the “customizing technology” theme, but in the opposite way: Instead of conforming to the swing you have, this high-tech device reads your swing and then literally guides you in making the swing you and your teacher want you to have.

     The brainchild of teaching pro Scot Nei and located at the golf haven Play18 Chicago in the Loop, the Robot Swing Trainer looks a bit like an arcade game with slender robotic arms that intersect at a golf club that you grip as well.

     After analyzing your normal swing, the robot swings the club with you to correct problems in setup, takeaway, swing plane—you name it. Nei says sometimes he’ll program the machine to overcorrect for a few swings, to help you feel the difference between your old swing and your new one.

     But the key is the dozen or two ideal swings you take in succession with the robot before hitting on your own. Then you repeat the process. Nei makes a compelling case: A teacher can spend hours describing the right swing to you or trying to guide you with his two hands, but this runs the risk of being confusing or incomplete. Says Nei, “I tell my students, turn off your mouth and ears and just feel the swing the machine is teaching you.” And he instructs his teachers to use as few words as possible, too.

     If you’ve missed the Robot at recent Chicago golf events, plan to catch it at Medinah during the Ryder Cup. And the Internet is full of videos showing it in full swing. It costs a few hundred dollars or more for instruction, but Nei is adamant that your muscle memory develops so fast this way, it’s a bargain in the end.

     “I have one student, a woman, who started as a total beginner with me and in three months she had a swing that looked like she’d been playing her whole life,”
he says.

     Nei counts some pros from regional tours on his client roster.

     So there you have it in this Summer of Science. Maybe next summer the golf laboratories will discover the chemical formula for natural talent. CG