If you live in the Chicago-land area and you have an addiction to golf equipment, you probably salivate when you hear the name “Club Champion” (formerly EJL Custom Golf). If you see someone walking around with a set of exotic clubs or shafts chances are good they came from Club Champion. Club Champion is the top fitting and building company in Chicago, with eyes on expanding throughout the country. Needless to say, when the guys at Club Champion offered me the chance to come in for a full bag fitting I cleared my schedule and raced there as soon as I could.
My visit started with an introduction to Nick Sherburne, Master Club Fitter and Builder. He gave me a tour of the facilities, outlined the day’s events, and then offered me a bottle of water. “Take it. You’re going to be hitting a lot of balls,” he told me. Put that on the ballot for understatement of the year.
My fitting process started with my irons. I am currently playing Mizuno MX-23 irons with KBS Tour stiff shafts. I hit four or five shots so that we could get baseline readings for ball speed, launch angle, spin rate, and distance so that we could figure out where the room for improvement was. When Nick pulled up the averages, he talked me through some of the various philosophies on what “ideal” 6 iron numbers are and told me that my irons are really a good fit for me. He said that this doesn’t happen too often, but that he has no problem telling a customer, “I can’t improve on what you have.”
Even though my irons were a good fit, Nick thought that we could bring down the launch and spin a touch, and possibly find some more ball speed. Also, he knew that I was dying to start working my way through the wall of goodies, and so he happily obliged. Club Champion carries a wide variety of heads and shafts from many different manufacturers. In addition, every shaft that they have is stocked in -1/2”, standard, +1/2”, +1”, and +1 ½”. This insures that everyone can be fit using a club that is the appropriate length.
Nick explained that because the weight of the shaft has a major impact on the plane of the swing, that’s what he likes to fit first. He immediately went to a Project X 6.0 and attached it to a Miura 501 6 iron head. Trying hard not to drool, I made a few swings and found, for the first time, that I really got along well with this shaft. Nick smiled knowingly as he saw me post some great numbers on the Trackman – good ball speed with slightly lower launch and spin than my irons.
Though Nick and I both knew that the Project X was likely the winner, he had me try a couple of other shafts in the same weight class such as Dynamic Gold. Nothing we tried improved on the performance of the Project X. Nick did mention that he would have the KBS C-Taper shafts in stock very soon, and that I could come back to try them if I wanted. Invitation accepted. At this point, a normal fitting would have moved on to iron heads, but Nick, knowing that I’m a club junkie, allowed me to try a number of other shafts just for fun.
When swinging the Steelfiber iron shaft (85 grams), I really came to understand what Nick meant about the shaft’s impact on the swing: when I really focused, the lighter weight shaft did produce more clubhead and ball speed, but when I got a little lazy things got ugly quickly (Fore right…and left!). The heavier shaft really helped to keep me consistent and kept my plane where it should be.
With the shaft chosen, Nick ran me through about seven or eight different iron heads. After the second or third head, I asked Nick, “Do all of these weigh the same?” He chuckled as if he knew the question was coming and told me that every head weighs exactly the same, give or take a gram. I was shocked to hear that because switching from one head to the next changed the feel completely.
I worked my way through the TaylorMade irons (CBs and MCs) and Cleveland CG16s among others and didn’t find anything stellar in terms of ball speed or dispersion. Then Nick plugged in the Miura Passing Point iron and everything changed. Not only was the feel otherworldly, but I flushed every single one. Even Nick found this hard to believe and after a few swings he switched back to a different head. The other head produced a mixed bag of results, so we went back to the Miura and I started striping it again. Much like with the Project X shaft, the data that Trackman produced made this decision very easy.
The final part of the iron fitting was setting the loft and lie. The Passing Point irons have very strong lofts, and Nick and I decided that it might be better to weaken them one degree. Then we moved to the lie board. A couple of shots revealed that the heel of the club was digging a bit, so Nick flattened the lie angle one degree and we tested it again. I thought it was really cool that Nick actually bent his own demo iron to verify the results instead of just looking at the mark I made at the standard lie angle and telling me, “You’re one degree flat.”
Next came the driver. I brought my current stick (TaylorMade R9 460) and we went through a process similar to the iron fitting: find the right shaft weight and model, and then selecting the right head. As I struggled to find some consistency with the driver, Nick made an interesting point about kinetic linking: during the iron fitting, he told me that my ball speeds were near tour averages. My driver ball speeds are not. He said that this is not uncommon because the pros are able to swing the driver as effectively as they swing their 6 iron; average players like myself are not. I found this interesting and thought I’d share.
Back to the driver, Nick suggested that I needed to drop my spin rates to gain some distance. He had me try a handful of shafts that I’ve seen online, but never had the chance to try before: the entire Oban line, including the Tiger prototype, the Mitsubishi Fubuki, and a handful of others.
As for the fairway wood and hybrids, Nick said that he generally starts with the shaft that the players uses in their driver as their 3W shaft, and then he goes from there. The fairway woods and hybrids usually don’t take as long because the player and fitter are locked in on shaft by that point.
The next step was to fit the wedges. Because Club Champion is an indoor facility, the wedge fitting relies heavily on the lie board and player interview. The fitter asks questions about course conditions, favorite short game shots, shot patterns, and also looks at the results of the player hitting off of a lie board. With this information, the fitter discusses what bounce options would best suit the player and what lofts they should add to their bag. During my wedge fitting, Nick showed me that I needed my wedges to be a degree flat, just like my irons. I’m currently playing the Scratch 8620 wedges with the Digger/Slider grind, and Nick said that these were a good fit for me based on our discussion and the results on the lie board. Nick also recommended that I use the same shaft in my wedges that I use in my irons to keep the feel consistent.
The final part of the fitting was the putter. Putter fittings at Club Champion are done with SAM PuttLab (Science and Motion): a device is attached to the putter shaft perpendicular to the putter face and the player takes five strokes. SAM reads the tempo, club path, effective loft, and face angle of each stroke. Nick showed me that my stroke was very consistent: on each stroke I took the putter back straight and then made an arced forward stroke. My tempo and face angle were both consistent as well. SAM suggested that I use a putter with 4:30 toe hang (check) and a small/regular grip (check). Nick recommended that I take a half inch off my putter to help my stroke and my posture. The biggest change, however, was the loft. SAM showed that I added loft to the putter at impact and needed to reduce the loft on my putter to get better roll. I held my breath as Nick made the adjustment on my longtime gamer, but I was very pleased with the results when he handed it back. The ball came off the putter much more cleanly and rolled much better.
The putter fitting was certainly the biggest surprise for me. I am a big time putter junkie, and I felt like I had done a near-perfect job of finding the putter that worked for me. To an extent I was right: I had the right model, nearly the right length, the right grip, and a headweight the worked for me. However, with all that said, it had never occurred to me to adjust the loft on my putter. I’m glad it occurred to SAM and Nick, however, because it has made a big difference in how well I roll the ball. Having seen for myself the impact that a well-fit putter can make, I would advise anyone with access to take advantage of a SAM fitting or something similar.
The putter fitting brought my first visit to a close, and before I left, Nick went over all of the recommendations with me. When I got home, I found an email with all of the specs that we had laid out and all of the Trackman data that had been gathered.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I found myself at Club Champion’s Willowbrook facility. Nick gave me a quick tour of the shop where most of their building is done, and then we got right back to Trackman to hit the C-Tapers. Long story short: Nick knows his stuff. The KBS C-Taper feels miles better than the Project X, is more balanced, AND it performed better (lower launch, lower spin, better ball speed). After quickly concluding that the C-Taper was an even better fit than the Project X, we tested a couple Miura heads (Passing Point and CB-501) and decided that the Passing Point iron was still the best for me.
In conclusion, being fit by Club Champion was a tremendous learning experience, not to mention a ton of fun. Everyone there was extremely friendly, helpful, and clearly has a passion for the game and for helping people to play their best. The thing I probably enjoyed the most was the unbiased, data-driven fitting procedure. Nick absolutely did not care what brand of iron/wedge/driver I played, so long as it performed the best. I believe that the confidence I am going to have from knowing that I’m playing the best possible equipment for my game is going to be every bit as valuable as the equipment itself. Thank you again to Nick and everyone else at Club Champion for this fantastic opportunity.