Fitting for Lie Angle

As with length, there are both static and dynamic ways to fit for lie angle. As with length, the dynamic methods will just about always get it right, but the static methods are quite reliable for a remarkably large share of the golfing population.

Static Fitting

Static lie methods, at least the valid ones, are basically the same as the static length methods. They size up the golfer for length, assuming that the clubs will be the "standard" lie angles. So let's review the table of "standard men's" lengths and lies from the previous chapter. Remember that these are traditional numbers, based on the norms for golf clubs in the mid-1990s. There would be different numbers today, generally longer clubs and more upright lies, and more variation from model to model. But they are just a set of numbers; you would still have to do a fitting to get the correct numbers.

Club Length Lie
1-wood 43" 55
3-wood 42" 56
5-wood 41" 57
1-iron 39.5" 56
2-iron 39" 57
3-iron 38.5" 58
4-iron 38" 59
5-iron 37.5" 60
6-iron 37" 61
7-iron 36.5" 62
8-iron 36" 63
9-iron 35.5" 64
Wedges 35.5" 64

The rationale for a combined length/lie table like this is a pretty good one:

  • By keeping the lie "standard" and choosing length for your body proportions, you are keeping the "standard" (and presumably optimum) swing plane. You are proportioning your swing to your body. Fallacy: your ideal club length may not just be dependent on your body measurements. See the section on length fitting.
  • By keeping the lie "standard", you will be able to use the generally available components without having to bend them to a custom lie angle. Fallacy: length is a more basic fitting element than lie angle. You should choose the length first, and then get or create the lie angle that complements it for that golfer's swing.
  • If the golfer's swing plane is other than "standard" (or if other factors -- like swingweight -- dictate the length), it is an easy matter to calculate the change in lie angle for a change in length.

While we're talking about static lie fitting, let's kill off an obvious "method" that used to be a lot more popular. It is less popular now because it has been debunked. I'm talking about having the golfer set up at address, and adjusting things (properly lie, but some will adjust length) until the club is neither toe-up nor toe-down. No matter how precise you are about this, you are going to get it wrong. That's because impact position is not the same as address position; the club is going to be more toe-down at impact. Two reasons:

  1. Because of the centrifugal force pulling on the clubhead at impact, the hands are higher and the shoulder-hands-clubhead is more nearly a straight line at impact than at address. Look at the photo here of Shane Lowry. Notice how much more upright the shaft is at impact than it was at address. Lowry is more exaggerated than most in this regard, but all golfers have it to some degree. 
  2. The shaft will bend more toe-down at impact. This is called "toe droop" by shaft engineers and clubfitters.

High hands aren't the same amount from one golfer's swing to another's, nor is toe droop. Thus you can't even apply a correction factor to a static measure measurement; the factor would have to be distinct to the golfer.

My assessment is that static lie fitting is ineffective at best, and more honestly not really fitting at all.

Dynamic Fitting

Dynamic fitting for lie is easier than dynamic fitting for length. The dynamic lie test is very easy and usually very accurate. In most good professional fittings, it is the last step of the process before turning the golfer loose with the clubs. The fitter adjusts the clubs (usually irons for lie angle (and often loft as well) using a bending machine.

Tape the soles of the calibration clubs with masking tape. Place a piece of thin plywood or masonite on the ground, its surface level with the ground on which the golfer is standing. Have the golfer take a few good swings with each club, at a ball located on the center of the plywood. The effective swings must "clip grass"; that is, it must strike the plywood so that it marks the masking tape on the sole.

Now look at where the mark on the masking tape is:

  • If it is right in the middle of the sole (that is, under the sweet spot), then that club is the right lie for that golfer at that length.
  • If it is more towards the heel, the club is either too long or too upright.
  • If it is more towards the toe, the club is either too short or too flat.
That said, you have to be careful that you are reading valid information from the sole. If the clubface is not square when the sole impacts the board, then the scuff will not be centered even if the lie is perfect. But you can tell in a couple of ways.
  • The ball flight will hook or slice if the clubface was not square to the clubhead path.
  • The scuff mark will not be in the middle of the sole front-to-back. If the face was closed, the scuff  will be toward the face (and probably more toward the toe than appropriate for the lie angle). Conversely, and open face will result in a scuff toward the back of the sole (as well as toward the heel). I learned this last one from a Henry-Griffitts fitting manual from around 1990.
So you have a scuff mark. If it is in the middle of the sole, you're set; the lie is correct for the golfer. But if not, you need an estimate of what distance on the sole corresponds to what lie angle error (or length error). This is highly dependent on the shape of the sole (especially the amount of rocker, which is heel-toe curvature), and is probably not a reliable way to get a final measurement. I have seen soles so curved that 1/12" corresponded to a degree of lie, and soles so flat that a degree of lie moved the mark over 3/8". But most irons seem to have a sole rocker of  3/16" to 1/4" per degree.

Example: A valid scuff mark is centered about 3/8" away from the center of the sole, toward the toe. Since it is toward the toe, it is too flat; it needs to be bent more upright. If the sole rocker is a "normal" 1/4" per degree, then 3/8" represents an error of one and a half degrees. We have to bend the club 1.5 more upright.

Variations

There are variants of dynamic lie fitting. Here are two I am familiar with:
  • Plastic lie board - This is a very minor change from the method above. Instead of taping the sole and hitting the ball from a wooden board, you can use a plastic board designed for the purpose. The "lie board" is usually black or dark green. Since the plastic is softer than the sole of the club, some of the pigmented plastic will scrape off the board onto the club. Instead of looking at a scuffed tape, you are looking at a dark mark on the sole of the club.

    Here's a modification I made to the lie board I use. The board originally came with an indentation for the ball about an inch from one end. That's a problem! If you turn it so the ball is at the target end of the board, the mark will only show if sole contact is fat, or at least not the proper divot-after-ball. And if you turn it around the other way, even a slightly fat hit will send the ball downrange -- or wreck it altogether. (Don't ask how I know.) I used a drill to make a couple of indentations a third of the way from each end. Much better!
  • Vertical line on the ball - You don't need a board at all for this; you can hit off grass or a range mat. Make a straight line on the ball with a Sharpie or a dry-erase marker. Place the ball so (a) the line is the first thing the clubface contacts and (b) the line is perfectly vertical. Hit the ball. An image of the line will transfer to the clubface. The angle between the line image and the grooves should be exactly 90 if the lie is correct. If not, you know exactly how much to correct.

    This is a much better method in theory. My problem with it is in practice. I am very skeptical that you can orient the line perfectly vertical, only only slightly less skeptical that you can read the angle between the line and the grooves accurately. Remember every degree of uncertainty in either of these measurements is a potential lie angle error of a degree. I'm pretty sure I can't do it freehand; if you can, more power to you.

Trading Length and Lie

It is well known that changing the length of the club will change whether the clubhead at impact is toe-up or toe-down. The lie angle of the club doesn't change, but the lie angle error of the fit will be different. There is a trade between length and effective lie.

Let's start with a diagram of why length and lie trade off. Consider the two length/lie pictures. In each picture, the hands are at height h, the length of the club is c, and the lie in which the club is being used is angle L. Note that L is not necessarily the lie angle of the club; but if the picture reflects what is happening at impact, it should be the lie angle of the club.

It should be clear from this that the club on the left is a lot more upright than the one on the right; that is, the angle L is larger. As a result, the shaft c is longer on the right, because it has to reach further to get to the ball. If you do the trigonometry (I won't ask you to; there are trigonometriphobes in my family, so I sympathize with the affliction) you will find that:

  • At the sort of lie angles where golf clubs live (53 degrees to 64 degrees)
  • Every degree more upright needs roughly 1/2" less length, and
  • Every degree flatter needs roughly 1/2" more length.
So our design rule is pretty simple. The industry-wide "rule of thumb" is that 1/2" of length trades with 1 degree of lie. That is, if you make a club 2 degrees more upright, you can make it 1" shorter and still fit the golfer that it fit originally. My analysis shows this to be a pretty good rule of thumb; it's a little over .5" for a driver and about .3" for a wedge or 9-iron, with the rest of the clubs falling somewhere in between.

This suggests that you can make up for a misfitted lie angle by lengthening or shortening the club. You can, but it is not a good idea. We went to some trouble to find the right length for the golfer. That is one of the first fitting measures that should be determined. In a normal fitting, lie angle should be one of the last things. Bending the clubs to the right lie angle is part of the fine tuning and testing when the golfer comes in to claim the clubs.

But what if you don't have bending tools: a loft-lie machine and a bending bar? I was in that position myself the first dozen years of building clubs. It is a problem, and a difficult one. Here are some solutions:
  • If you only need a small change in length, one that keeps all clubs within the range of comfortable lengths for the golfer, then maybe it's OK to use length to tune the lie. But you have to be very careful here. For instance, you will be affecting heft (swingweight and moment of inertia) and shaft flex when you make arbitrary changes to the length. Don't do this unless you really know what you are doing.
  • If only one or two clubs need bending, you can improvise. I used a big-ol' pipe wrench with padded jaws to do the bending, and a big woodworking vise to hold the clubhead. Measurement is also an issue; it is a very important part of any bending operation. I used a level and a protractor. Today there are much more convenient tools, such as a Wixey angle gauge, which are not terribly expensive. (The Wixey is about $20-$30 as of this writing in 2017.)
  • You can pay a pro shop to bend your clubs. Before I got my Scotland loft-lie machine, there was a shop in my area that charged $4 for each club, and would bend to spec. It's probably more expensive today, but still a bargain compared to the alternatives.

Last modified May 11, 2017