Fergus Bisset: Grail Quest Part 1

Fergus Bisset begins the search for a new set of irons in an effort to transform his ailing golfing fortunes.

Titleist 714 AP2 irons

Like most amateurs, I'm constantly on a forlorn hunt to unearth a golfing holy grail. I'm convinced that out there somewhere, within the pages of a tattered-old instruction manual or lurking deep in the recesses of my troubled psyche is a secret that will transform me from also-ran into world-beater. Well, let's not go too far, maybe into an infrequent Medal winner.

Needless to say, I'm yet to find it. Yes, there have been many epiphanies when, for a brief yet fantastic moment, I've thought "Eureka." But, alas, each time the euphoria has turned to disappointment and frustration all too quickly.

Over the years I've sought to: change my grip, my stance, my takeaway, the speed of my swing, to add a pause at the top of my swing, to groove a consistent fade, to develop a strong draw, to hit it arrow straight, to shift my weight, to keep my weight centred, to position my weight more on the left side, to close my eyes, to breathe out on the downswing, to ... ok, so, I've tried pretty much everything.

One thing I've always been determined, (some would say stubborn,) about is that, "a bad workman blames his tools;" that pilot error rather than equipment is the barrier to progressing in the game. For that reason I've had basically the same clubs in my bag since I moved back to Scotland and took up golf seriously again some 10 years ago.

After moving north, my improvement was initially rapid as I was playing so much more regularly. My handicap came down from six to one in two years. But then I stalled and started tinkering. I began my, to this point hopeless, grail quest. "Maybe if I just shorten my backswing slightly?" Or, "What about moving the ball back an inch in my stance?" The handicap began creeping up and, by the end of last year I was up to four.

Now that might not seem too terrible, but it is a quadrupling of handicap in the space of about four or five years. Can you imagine playing off a good eight then, five years later, slumping to 32?

Through the low years, I've bemoaned my bad form to all who'll pretend to listen and some (often people with considerably more golfing knowledge than me) have even offered advice to try to shut me up. Frequently I've been told to change my kit, in particular my, rather tired, bladed irons. I've responded with the workman/tools analogy, they've sighed, raised their eyebrows and looked at me with pity.

Then, last year, I took part in a driver test Golf Monthly were conducting, trialing a number of models and allowing the experts from each manufacturer to custom-fit the correct shaft, loft, face angle etc. I was rather impressed, particularly by the process and results from the guys at Titleist.

I had a Titleist driver anyway, but just one I'd picked up off the rack with a stiff shaft. When I compared it against the 913 D2 model they selected for me, the result was like night and day - Not so much in terms of extra distance, although I was gaining a good few yards, but more in terms of consistency of dispersion. With the custom-fit model, I was finding an area 10 yards in diameter every time I made a half-decent swing.

Obviously I had to get one, and I've been driving it with far greater consistency since then. And that made me think a little: If the custom-fit driver is that much better than my "off-the-rack" one, what about my off-the-rack blades that I've had for 10 years? Those "trusty" irons that I've defended so resolutely in the face of expert advice and compelling on-course evidence that they're not aiding my performance?

It was time to bite the bullet. Owing to the success with the Titleist driver, I thought it best to contact them with regards irons and I was talked through the process for custom fitting. I'm going to start that process and document it here in a series of articles.

The initial phase will be to take advantage of Titleist's new trial set system. At a number of clubs and golf facilities across the country (400 in fact,) pros are receiving bags full of trial clubs that golfers can take away and try. If they like the results they can then arrange for a custom-fitting at their nearest Titleist fitting centre - this can be checked on the Titleist website and there are 285 of them. The concept is that golfers can take the clubs out, to the range or onto the course, and get a good feel for them without the pressure of a pro or assistant being there to watch them hit. I like that idea as I know I'm inclined to hit some howlers when the pro is around - generally because I try to knock the skin off it in a childish attempt to impress.

So, I'm going to head to the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen and have a chat with them to start the wheels rolling. I'm wondering if this could be the secret, the fountain of youth, the elixir of all knowledge, ok then, the key to knocking a shot or two off my handicap. I'll let you know how things progress within the pages of my secret grail diary. Or, if you'd prefer, on this website.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?