Fitting for Length
Having said why we should get it right, how do we make sure we
it right? There are three classes of methods in common use:
Both the static fingertip height method and the dynamic method depend
a "standard" club. For the fingertip-height method, the standard is a
of "ideal" measurements, not physical clubs that the clubfitter must
In the case of the dynamic method, the standard club is a physical
of clubs of known length and lie.
The visual sizing-up approach, common in many pro
shops and most
golfing "department stores". This involves no more than looking at the
golfer's gender (and height, if it's unusual), and taking a hot guess.
This gives a decent fit (perhaps not ideal, but acceptable)
to at least
half the population. But that's hardly a desirable "design method"; the
less said about it, the better.
- Static measurement of the golfer. For
example, some club manufacturers
(Ping and Nicklaus come to mind) supply their retailers with a hinged,
telescoping shaft to measure the position of a golfer's grip at
But I feel that a naive static "measurement" of a properly positioned
at address gives a club that's too short or a lie that's too flat, for
several reasons. Because of
the flex of the shaft, the clubhead will be toe-down at impact. Also,
golfer's position at impact is going to have the arms and club in the
plane, making it play longer (i.e.- more upright) than it was at
I prefer estimating club length from a static measurement of the
Properly used, static fitting will give a good match for
perhaps 90% of
the golfing population, in my experience.
- Dynamic measurement
of the golfer swinging
Obviously this is a more accurate, fitting 95-99% of the
The only ones that aren't fitted correctly are those with a swing that
doesn't repeat, so it's impossible to get a consistent measurement.
dynamic measurement of the golfer swinging a club. This
involves much of the input from normal dynamic measurement, but also
includes an educated evaluation of the golfer's swing and swing faults.
A good instructor can not only notice them, but understand whether and
how the problems might be caused by too-long or too-short clubs.
is the most accurate method of fitting for length, since it
incorporates all the information from dynamic fitting, plus the eye of
a good instructor capable of evaluating things like posture and balance
that might be thrown off by bad club length. Of course, it requires a
very good understanding of the golf swing, as well as an instructor's
eye for swing problems. Not many are capable of this level of
evaluation. I doubt I could do this. I know some fitters who can, and
they have an enviable record of success.
Every static method of determining the proper length depends on
a "standard set" of lengths, and measuring the golfer's deviation
from this "standard", in some way related to proper length.
The method I'll discuss here uses the measurement of the golfer's
fingertip height, but the current Golfsmith recommendation is based
on wrist height.
Since the methods depend on a "standard",
let's start with the nominal club lengths for a "standard" men's set.
following table agrees with the recommendations from Golfsmith (before
about 1995), GolfWorks, and numerous books:
I am unable to account for the seeming discontinuity of the length-lie
relationship between the woods and the irons, but these measurements
been around for quite a few years and seem to cover quite a range of
The nominal women's set is one inch shorter for each club, at
More recently, Golfsmith has come out with new
all the clubs 1/2" longer. Many of their clubheads are being built with
lies more upright than the traditional standard. In reading between the
lines of Golfsmith's comments about the reason, it seems to be based on
the fact that the majority of golfers slice. The longer clubs and more
upright lie both contribute to a hook, which may lessen the average
slice. Of course, if you have a hook, it will make it worse. And, in
event, it will result in striking the ball "toe up".Finally,
modern clubs (as of 2017, but true for probably a decade before that)
seem to be based on a drive of 45-46 inches. That is a commercial
reality, not a recommendation from me -- nor from most experienced
clubfitters I know. Most golfers can't handle a 45" club. In my
estimation, 44" or even 43" results in a lower score for all but the
tallest and/or most skilled golfers.
According to Carl Paul in Golfsmith's "Golf Clubs - Design and
the best way to design the length for any particular golfer is ...
"... by measuring the golfer's 'hand height'. This is
by measuring the distance from the golfer's fingertips to the floor
he stands erect with arms hanging straight by his side. Standard
are based on the average 'hand height' of 27 inches for men. A general
rule of thumb in determining proper shaft length is to increase or
the club length by 1/4 to 1/2 inch for each full inch of 'hand height'
over or under the 27 inch average."
Geometry says that changing club length by only 1/2" per inch of hand
isn't enough. My own calculations indicate that you want about a
ratio; that is, add or subtract an inch of club length for each inch of
hand height. Moreover, I know at least one rather tall person who
feel comfortable with his clubs until they were increased to a full
to his hand height.
One reason for being "conservative" in changing length (that
Carl Paul's rule of thumb) is that changes in length can make
differences in swingweight and non-negligible differences in flex. If
go a full inch of club difference for each inch of fingertip height
you need to take some design measures to keep swingweight and flex from
getting out of hand. We'll get into some of these design approaches in
As a testimonial to the value of fingertip-height measurement,
relate a personal experience. My brother visited me, and we decided to
go golfing. He hadn't swung a club in almost twenty years, and had no
of his own. Since my garage and basement contain about two sets for
member of the family, I told him to pick a set that felt good and he
use it. I fully expected him to pick one of mine, since we're a similar
height and build. So I was surprised when he picked my wife's set. I
even more surprised (matched only by his own surprise) when he hit the
ball better than he ever had twenty years ago. When we got home, I gave
him a fingertip-height measurement. His fingertips were almost and inch
and a half lower than mine, and the same height as my wife's. The
in length between my wife's clubs and mine is almost exactly an inch
Anyway, now you've heard Carl Paul's opinion and mine; you're
develop your own. ("One nice thing about standards is there are so many
of them to choose from." - anonymous engineer.)
This is the most accurate method (especially if it adds a skilled, educated eye for swing faults), since it measures directly the length
of club the golfer needs. The minuses are the necessity for
several calibration clubs and the time and place to take some swings.
(Note that there is a similar procedure for dynamic fitting of lie angle.
What is described here is related, but it determines length
from lie angle. After you've read and understood the chapter on fitting
lie angle, you would do well to combine the fitting of length and lie.)
Here's how to dynamically fit for length:
You need several clubs of differing lengths. Ideally, you'd
want a series
of, say, 5-irons of known lengths in 1/2" increments (though
1" will do nicely). It would be a good idea to have both irons
and woods, say a set of 5-irons and a set of drivers or 3-woods.
That is because most people can hit woods that are longer than
the longest iron they can hit well. So you want a measure of each.
Prepare the clubs so you can see, after each swing, where the
clubface struck the ball. This is easiest and most professional
looking with "impact tape" made for the purpose. But a perfectly
serviceable and much less expensive solution is to take a bit of
talcum powder or foot spray powder to the range, and lightly dust the clubface with it.
You'll see the imprint of the ball very clearly after the shot.
Have the golfer swing at the ball with various length clubs,
the point of impact on the clubface. Is it high or low, heel or toe?
But, most important is it CONSISTENTLY in the same
This test was designed to find the longest club the golfer can
- If it is consistent in the middle of the clubface, try a
club. It's possible the golfer can deal with a longer club, and might
get more length (or even more comfort) with one.
- If it is inconsistent, a shorter club might be called for.
Or it might just be that this golfer has an inconsistent swing.
The clubfitter has to be enough of a swing coach to tell the
But do experiment, because even most inconsistent ball-strikers have
some length beyond with they become even less consistent
markedly less consistent. Find this point and treat it as the maximum
length the golfer can handle.
- If it is consistent but on the heel, the golfer may need a
club. Conversely, consistent but on the toe may indicate a longer club.
But don't count on it. While geometry suggests this, experience seems
to suggest otherwise. The consistent toe or heel hit most often
faulty setup. In that case, going to a longer or shorter club will not
change the position of the ball mark; the difference in length is
compensated for in the setup.
You probably ought to determine the shortest
club as well. This
will usually be a wedge, and you shouldn't try to use the 5-irons for
this purpose. A few sizes of wedge will usually suffice, and the
too-short wedge will result in either an awkward stance or balls hit
too thin. Nothing as easy to read as ball marks on a club face,
The professional clubmaker should keep a set of calibration
hand, since their presence makes the more accurate dynamic measurement
easy. If the one-time clubmaker cannot get one or more calibrated clubs
for a dynamic measurement, they should be reassured by the fact that
fingertip-height approach gives the right answer nine times out of ten.
Last modified May 8, 2017