Fergus Bisset – Grail Quest Part 3

Fergus has been to Titleist for a custom fit and learned more about his game in two hours than he has in the last two years.

I'm feeling enlightened this morning, which is nice. But I'm also feeling a touch foolish, which isn't uncommon. Both sensations have been triggered by a mind-bending experiment I took part in yesterday evening. It involved nothing in powder or pill form, no electrodes, and no hypnotics. In fact it was all totally above board and at the end of it, the whole process made blindingly obvious sense.

This was my visit to the Titleist Fitting Centre at Kings Acre to the south of Edinburgh, where I spent a fascinating couple of hours in the company of expert Titleist custom-fitter Graeme Noblett. If you haven't read the first two parts of this series - here's a link to the first, and here to the second. Basically, I'm fed up with my aged blades, (stiff shafted brutes that are clearly doing me no favours,) and have decided to be properly fitted for a gleaming new set of Titleist irons. The objective is to see whether doing this can improve my handicap this season. It's drifted to four (the highest it's been for 10 years,) and it's making me decidedly unhappy.

I went to Kings Acre having decided, after my visit to the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre last week, and having spent some time with a demo set, that I was keen to go with Titleist's AP2s - A forged iron with the look and head-shape of a players' club but with a touch more forgiveness thanks to the small cavity back and progressive centre of gravity throughout the set.

Now I tried to go to Kings Acre with no pre-conceptions and Graeme was keen to stress at the outset that this would be ideal. But he then said, "I know that's pretty much impossible though. Everyone has some sort of pre-conception about what they think they want or need and that's something important to take into consideration."

My pre-conceptions (that I was trying not to have, but secretly did,) were: That I wanted the AP2 irons, that I expected to need a slightly longer shaft, that I would need a stiff (or maybe even extra stiff) shaft (because I'm so very strong!) That I would be looking for a set of 3-PW, that I might need the irons to sit slightly upright and that, if I thought about wedges, I'd just go for a straight swap, replacing, like for like, my 52 and 56 degree clubs.

From Graeme's side though, he's professional enough to approach every client with no pre-conceptions. Each person who comes through the door, regardless of ability, is a new and unique project. He starts from the beginning to find out as much as he can about their game. He doesn't just want to see them hit balls and compare numbers on the Trackman, (although it's an important part of the process,) he also want to know how they play, where they play, what their bad shots are, what flight they want to see - to gain every piece of information possible to make the correct choices.

So we began by looking at the length of shaft. I had thought that maybe, being on the tall side, I might need slightly longer than standard but, after analysing shots with standard length shaft and 0.5 inch longer, it turned out I was striking it more consistently from the middle with the standard length.

As Graeme said, that would make sense as, for my entire golfing career, I've been using standard length shafts and have adapted to that. I do, as thought, need the clubs to sit a couple of degrees upright and, after trying numerous shafts - from the x-stiff KBS to the lightweight Project X, it turned out that I produced the best numbers, in terms of spin-rate and launch angle, with the standard Dynamic Gold S300. That was a preconception that I could brush aside, I'd never have thought that would be the best shaft for me. Just that alone shows the importance of custom-fitting. If I'd been buying off the rack I would never have chosen S300 shafts, and I would have been wrong.

So, after hitting a good number of shots and having chatted through the options, we settled on AP2s, standard length, 2 degrees upright with Dynamic Gold S300 shafts. And that is a great thing about this process, it's a mutual decision between player and fitter - are we both happy? Is this the right choice? There's no element of Graeme saying - "I know you're not sure, but this is the right option." It's not a sale, it's an exercise in getting what is exactly right for the player and what they're totally happy with, whether they're a touring pro or 20 handicapper.

Next up was to chat about the make-up of the set. I've always just had 3-iron to PW so, without much thought, I suggested I stick with that.

Graeme said fine, but he didn't want to just go with it as a matter of course. We began to talk more about my game and where strengths and weaknesses lie. He could see from me hitting balls that I don't have too much problem with longer shots, so he wondered if I had issues closer to the green.

I was keen to find out more about Titleist's Vokey SM5 wedges so conversation turned to that end of the bag. I currently have 52 and 56 degree wedges with 10 degrees of bounce - There's no rhyme or reason to that, it's just what I've always carried.

"So do you find yourself playing a lot of partial shots?" Graeme asked. "Because there's a fairly big gap there - pitching wedge to gap."

I do actually. I'm always trying to play soft shots with my wedge as I can't quite get there with 52.

"And are you quite comfortable with that?"

Not really. Wedge play is the weakest part of my game tee to green, and I'm happier hitting a full 7-iron than half a pitching wedge.

"So it's the weakest part of your game and it's a crucial part too. You don't make many birdies hitting in 3-iron but you should be able to with wedge," Graeme said. "Do you think you might benefit from having a selection of wedges that might help you do that?"

Erm, well, erm, yes that would make sense wouldn't it. To be honest, I've always just brushed wedge play aside as something I'm not very good at. I've also thought that it doesn't really matter which wedges I use, I'll be equally useless with whatever's in my bag. But that's a pretty closed-minded approach and Graeme, in the nicest possible way, made me see that.

We started to look at the SM5 wedges. Impressive looking weapons - a classic wedge shape with sleek lines and three finish options: Tour Chrome, Gold Nickel and Raw Black. They feature new TX3 grooves with larger volume and the Spin Milled technology provides optimum trajectory and control.

There's a beautiful feel off the face of these clubs and I couldn't believe the spin I was generating. Even though the shots I was hitting were landing on driving range turf, you could actually see them spinning back. The only chance I've got of making my current wedges make the ball come back is to use an old balata, the day after a monsoon.

Graeme suggested I should maybe consider changing lofts. So 50, 54 and 58 degrees in order to plug those distance gaps and to give more short shot options with a 58 degree wedge. We also talked about the different grind options available with the SM5s. I didn't really understand this until he talked it through but it's basically a different shape to the sole that will suit different players depending on their swing plane, angle of attack and technique around the putting surfaces.

With the 54 and 58 degree wedges, I liked the M Grind which has a crescent shape sole and some relief around the toe and the heel, allowing you to open and close the face without affecting the bounce. I was playing some shots with those wedges that I didn't think I had in me. With the 58, Graeme told me to open the face as much as I dared and make a full swing. The club slid under the ball and it popped up beautifully, I could almost hear it spinning. When it hit the ground it took one hop before fizzing backwards. I laughed in disbelief. "Yeah, I get that a lot," Graeme said.

So I was convinced on the wedges, but I had a concern about the top end of my bag. I would have to lose something and I'd be reluctant to give up a 3-iron.

"What do you currently have a the top end?" Graeme asked.

Well, I've got 3-wood and then a hybrid 2 that I don't really like.

"Why do you have it in the bag if you don't really like it?" He wondered.

I'm really not sure. Graeme went into his Aladdin's Cave out back and came back with a fantastic looking stick - a 712U forged utility 3-iron.

"Have a go with that," he said.

I hit one shot, turned back in amazement to Graeme and said, "I want one."

Well that was easy. The ball just absolutely fizzes off the face of this thing and I hit a couple that were rolling out to 230 yards - exactly the distance I want for a club between my 3-wood and longest iron. The 712U delivers the performance of a hybrid with the looks of a long-iron. So it could replace my hybrid (that I don't like anyway) and still perform as a strong 3-iron to boot.

Job done - 712U 3-iron, AP2 4-iron to PW and SM5 wedges Tour Chrome - 50, 54 and 58 degrees.

I'd come into this fitting with the pre-conception (yes I know I shouldn't have) that I would simply be looking to get a new set of irons - to replace my old 3-PW with a new 3-PW. But I came away having re-analysed my entire game and bag set-up. It was a fabulous process – so useful and so obvious when I think about it now. I can't recommend it highly enough. There must be so many golfers out there, not only using clubs that are not quite right for them, but also with a bag set-up that doesn't give them the best opportunity to be the best they can be. Go and see Graeme at Titleist ASAP.

As I drove away I was smiling but then wondered to myself, why the hell didn't I do this sooner? And that made me a little depressed at the thought of all those wasted years... at least I'm doing it now. Oh God, this sounds like a romance novel. It's time to stop.

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?