This months not so “Quick 9” is with master clubmaker, Tom Wishon. Tom discusses club design, golf club myths, getting properly fitted, future technology and much more. You’ll learn a ton. I promise.
I’m so thankful to Tom for agreeing to do is and put this important (and often VERY misunderstood) information out there for you.
First: Who exactly is Tom Wishon?
With more than 35 years of experience in the field, Tom Wishon Golf Technology is recognized as one of the industry leaders in the research of golf club design, performance and clubfitting technology. Our R&D has been at the forefront of the golf industry including the development of more than 50 golf club design technology firsts as well as countless discoveries in the science of golf club performance for golfers.
Having begun his golf equipment career in 1972, Tom Wishon has designed over 300 original and innovative clubhead models, more than any other single person in the 500 year history of the game. His clubhead designs represent more than 50 different technology firsts.
Tom Wishon is the only designer from the custom clubmaking side of the golf industry whose clubhead designs have been used to win on the PGA Tour, the Champions Senior Tour and in Ryder Cup competition. He has designed and custom built the golf clubs used in competition by Scott Verplank, Bruce Lietzke, Ben Crenshaw, as well as the last set of clubs played by Payne Stewart before his tragic accident in 1999.
Tom is the also the author of 9 books within the field of golf club design, performance and clubfitting, in addition to hundreds of equipment related articles written for virtually every golf publication in the golf industry. As Terry McSweeney, Director of Communications for the PGA of America states,
“Tom has the unique ability to communicate technical issues about golf equipment so non-technically minded people can easily understand and follow the subject”
Two of Wishon’s books, The Search for the Perfect Golf Club and The Search for the Perfect Driver qualified for best-selling status and won successive Book of the Year awards in 2006 and 2007 from the International Network of Golf, the oldest and largest organization of golf industry media professionals in the world. Shortly after they were published, both books became a part of the curriculum for membership training in the PGA’s of Sweden, Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He is considered the ‘go-to guy’ by the equipment editors for many of the major consumer golf publications in their search for honest, marketing-free explanations about the technical performance of golf clubs. Jim Achenbach, equipment editory for Golfweek magazine has said,
“Tom is the smartest person in the golf industry when it comes to golf clubs.”
As Tom stated in making his decision to establish his own company in 2003:
“I completely respect the product design work of the large golf equipment companies. But my three decades in golf club R&D has proven without question that the best set of golf clubs any golfer will ever play will be a set of professionally custom fit golf clubs, and not a set of standard made clubs simply bought off the shelf.
I am committed to educating golfers about the tangible, game improvement benefits of being professionally custom fit because I know this is the only way any golfer can hope to play to the best of their ability and benefit the most from swing instruction.”
Let the Interview begin . . .
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I began my career as a PGA club professional from 1972 to 1980 working in the Northern California Section of the PGA in the SF Bay area. I fell in love with equipment when I taught myself club repair as a way to supplement my income at the time.
I operated a full club repair service for 12 golf courses in the North Bay area of SF which triggered my desire to know everything possible about how golf clubs worked and why one club worked better for one golfer vs another.
I began working in the national side of the golf equipment industry in the 80s. My break came when I was asked to be president of Dynacraft Golf Inc in Newark, OH in 1986. Dynacraft was a leading component clubmaking supply company that was 50% owned by Dynamic Precision Casting Corp, who today is still one of the 4 largest clubhead production factories in the golf industry, manufacturing clubheads for many of the largest golf club companies.
I spent months at the Dynamic Precision factory where I learned everything about clubhead production and from that, began my career in clubhead design that same year in 1986. I served as president of Dynacraft from 86 to 93, then accepted the position of VP for Golfsmith International in 93 to run their component clubmaking division. Then we started Tom Wishon Golf Technology in 2002.
From 1986 to present, I have had the pleasure to design more than 350 different models of driver, wood, hybrid, iron, wedge models during which I have been able to create over 50 different design technology firsts in the industry.
This includes the first adjustable hosel driver in 1995, the first high COR fairway woods in 2004, the first high COR hybrid heads in 2006, the first high COR irons in 2004, the first moveable weight driver in 2005 among others. I have had the pleasure to design and create custom head models for tour players such as Bruce Lietzke, Scott Verplank, Ben Crenshaw and I sadly had the pleasure of designing the last set of clubs played by Payne Stewart before his tragic, untimely accident in 1999.
During my career I have written 10 books and over 250 magazine articles all related to club performance and Clubfitting technology. Two of my books are a part of the curriculum required for membership in the Swedish PGA, British PGA, Dutch PGA and German PGA for teaching Clubfitting and club performance technology.
2. Where in the world does someone start to begin the process of getting equipment that is as close to one’s unique swing characteristics as possible?
By finding an independent custom clubmaker/clubfitter who can perform a professional fitting analysis to measure and analyze the golfer and their swing characteristics to know what each of the 12 key fitting specifications needs to be for each one of the clubs in the bag – and then to custom build the clubs so they possess each one of the recommended fitting specs.
The independent custom clubmakers are akin to what a tailor is to a suit – individuals who have studied, trained and gained experience working one on one with golfers, one at a time, to analyze and determine what each of the key fitting specs needs to be for each different golfer.
But unlike the tailor for a suit, because professional Clubfitting has never been marketed heavily to consumers to generate awareness and demand, the price golfers will pay a professional independent custom clubmaker will be commensurate with what golfers pay for any brand name marketed club bought in any of the big golf retail stores – but with the huge added benefit that the clubmaker will custom fit and custom build the clubs so EVERY spec on the clubs properly fits the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics.
The best resources to find a professional independent custom clubmaker are:
The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals) –
The ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild)
The Wishon Golf Clubfitter Locator
The major branded golf equipment companies and their retailers have never been able to pursue a business model of one golfer at a time, one custom fit set at a time. The reason is because you simply cannot achieve the volume in sales required by the large golf companies and big box/online retailers by putting golfers through a 90min to 2 hr fitting analysis followed by individually building the clubs to possess the specifications determined in the fitting analysis.
Not only that, but because there are far too many retail outlets for the major brand clubs, no retailer can make enough profit selling the heavily marketed brand clubs to be able to devote even close to the time required to properly fit, let alone custom build the clubs for one golfer at a time.
Proper fitting to ensure the highest level of game improvement requires that all 12 of the key fitting specifications for each club in the bag are determined for each different golfer through a professional and extensive analysis followed by custom building the clubs to accurately display each of the recommended fitting specs.
The 12 key fitting specs for each club are length, loft, lie, face angle, shaft weight, shaft flex, shaft bend profile, total weight, swingweight, set makeup, grip style/size and the clubhead model design.
3. What are the biggest myths about the driver that you encounter?
First, that the longer the length of the driver, the farther you will hit the ball. There is an old adage in Clubfitting that has been proven for decades – “The longer the length of the club, the more difficult it is to hit accurately and consistently on center.” But don’t just take my word for this. For well more than ten years, the average driver length on the PGA Tour has been 44.5”.
Yet for more than a decade, the standard driver length offered to male golfers in the drivers sold by all of the major brand companies has been between 45” and 46” – and for women, 44.5”. What does that say when the world’s best players CHOOSE to play driver lengths that are shorter than what the major golf companies sell to all the average men and women that play this game?
Second, that you can be custom fit for your clubs in any of the traditional big box stores or pro shops that sell major brand equipment. Fitting at such operations is typically limited to hitting a handful of drivers taken off the rack until a $10/hour sales person says this is the one for you.
Fitting is as I have said, all 12 key fitting specs for all clubs in the bag determined by a thorough analysis of the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics by a professional clubfitter who has a depth of experience in the trade.
Third, that so many average golfers believe that they have to be lower handicap players for custom fitting to matter and help. The fact is the exact opposite. Players who shoot between low 80s and 100 benefit the most from professional Clubfitting for two reasons.
- So many of the standard specs on drivers today, namely the 45-46” standard length, makes the driver much more difficult to hit for average ability players. So the vast majority of clubfitters know when they see an average golfer wanting more consistency/success with the driver, shorter length is the first thing in mind.
- Good fitting for the average player is not done to CURE swing mistakes. It is done to reduce the severity and the frequency of their poor swing shots. Shorter driver lengths at 43 to 44”, higher lofts to better match to the average player’s 75 to 95mph clubhead speeds, a face angle spec which is chosen more closed to offset the average player’s tendency to slice the ball, and the shaft and weighting of the club matched to the golfer’s clubhead speed + downswing tempo and swing force – do these things and you can count on at least 85-90% of all average golfers walking away hitting the driver more consistently than before.
4. What 3 recommendations could help the average golfer improve in terms of technology?
First, the path to improvement through better equipment is in the FIT more than it is in the clubhead design. The big golf companies have always focused their marketing on their clubhead designs. This of course compels the golfer to think that the head design is the most important element. But today, ALL companies have drivers at the limit of the rules for face COR and distance.
They now all have high COR fairway wood, hybrid and iron designs. Loft angles on irons today are between 6* and 8* lower than they were 30 years ago – to make iron lofts any lower to offer more distance risks giving golfers a 3-, 4-, 5- and even a 6-iron that are so low in loft that most golfers can’t hit the clubs very well. Clubhead design technology has hit the wall in other words.
But proper fitting, in which the golfer is carefully and professionally analyzed and measured to determine his/her best fit specifications for all 12 of the key fitting specs on all clubs in the bag is virtually unknown to most golfers. Find a GOOD, EXPERIENCED clubfitter to work with and you will walk away with measurable game improvement.
Second, being FIT correctly also leads to learning better swing fundamentals through lessons more quickly. With drivers and woods that are too long for most average players to swing with control and consistency, with loft angles on 3 to 5 of the clubs in the bag too low for the average golfer to be able to hit consistently well up in the air to fly, and with everything else standard on the clubs sold off the rack, average golfers can find that it is very difficult to take lessons and master the swing changes for permanent improvement taught by their instructor.
Get FIT for the right lengths, lofts, lies, face angles, shaft, weighting and grip size and learning a new swing change will come easier.
Third, re-read points number one and number two above.
Don’t believe proper clubfitting is that important? Think about this. Golf is the ONLY sport in which we use a “stick” to hit a ball in which the “sticks” are not commonly custom fit and offered for ALL of their possible fitting specifications to the participants. Baseball and softball are similar “stick hits ball” sports in which the participant’s success and enjoyment is measured by how well they hit the ball.
Ball players have forever been able to walk into a sports store to buy a new bat and select that bat from a wide variety of different LENGTHS, WEIGHTS and HANDLE DIAMETERS – which are the three key fitting specs for a bat. Imagine how ball players who have been used to always buying their bats with the right length, weight and handle diameter for their swing would view a store that only offers bats in 33”, 33 oz and with one handle diameter and not in the lengths from 29” to 36”, weights from light to heavy and handle diameters from thin to thick.
Now take tennis, another “stick hits ball” sport just like golf. Walk into a good tennis shop and what do you see? Rackets are never pre strung because the players know they need to select the type of string and the string tension that best matches their racket speed, strength and manner of play, spin vs flat. The unstrung rackets are also stocked in different grip diameters, with the size noted on the side of the racket.
Here again, what do you think a tennis player would think if he/she walked into a store and saw all the rackets pre strung with one type of string to one tension and all the grips at 4 7/8” when they know they need a specific string type, string tension and grip size to play their best?
But not golf. Golf is the only “stick hits ball” sport in which the players never question that the clubs displayed on the racks are made to a single length, single loft option, single lie option, single everything option – one size fits all. Sure, golfers can choose from an L, A, R, S or X flex in the shaft. They can do that. But consider this – there has NEVER been any sort of industry standard for shaft flex in golf. Never.
So the R flex from one company can commonly be as stiff as the S flex from another company and sometimes even the A flex from a third. At least in tennis where string tension is the equivalent of shaft flex in a golf club, string tension is UNIFORM and STANDARDIZED. A 53 lb tension is a 53 lb tension no matter if you had your racket strung in Hawaii or Maine.
Golf has always existed with the companies marketing the clubhead and saying nothing about full specs fitting as is routine with bats and rackets because it is too difficult from an inventory standpoint for golf companies and golf retailers to offer all of the key fitting specs in golf clubs to golfers. So here we sit with a one size fits all approach in golf clubs while golfers, just like baseball, softball and tennis players, are so very different from each other in their combination of size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics.
Once again – read points 1 and 2 above if you want golf clubs that will allow YOU to play to the best of your given ability.
It can do both but for most golfers, it minimizes their swing faults by reducing the severity and the frequency of your worst shots. For example, Golf Digest magazine has said 70% of all golfers slice the ball to some degree. That’s understandable because hitting the ball straight requires delivering the clubface square, which is tough to learn to do for anyone with less than average neuro-muscular control with above average athletic ability.
While lessons to turn those slicing swing mistakes into a square path with square face are always the sure cure, most golfers ARE UNABLE TO FULLY CURE THEIR SLICE WITH LESSONS. Lessons cost money. Lessons take repeated work AND many follow up hours on the range to groove the correct swing motions.
Most people who take lessons to cure their slice do not see real success because, 1) it costs too much, 2) it takes too much time in practice, 3) it takes a certain level of neuro-muscular control and athletic ability that may golfers simply do not possess.
On the other hand, moderate slicers of the ball can be fit with a driver/woods with a shorter length and more closed face angle and with the same swing, experience a visible reduction in the amount they slice the ball. From this type of game improvement fitting, the 15 to 30 yard slice can be reduced to a 5 to 15 yard fade. It’s still a fade, but it is an average shot pattern that is now in play more often than before, which gives the golfer more open shots to the green, which allows the golfer to hit more greens or get closer to the greens more often, which leads to a few more pars and bogeys with fewer double or triple bogeys.
And that’s how proper full specs fitting works to deliver visible improvement – it rarely CURES the shot problems, but rather it increases the number of decent shots while reducing the frequency and severity of the golfer’s poor shots. Added all up, full specs fitting can offer on average between a 3 and 10 shot improvement for over 80% of the golfers who shoot between low 80s and 100.
But ONLY if the fitting is done by a good, experienced clubfitter who fits the golfer for all 12 of the key specs for all clubs in the bag. Not 2 or 3 specs fit for 1 or 2 clubs in the bag. And once again, to find a good clubfitter, use the resources listed above.
6. If you had the power to change 1 thing, globally, in the golf equipment industry, what would it be?
I hate to keep sounding like a broken record but if I had the power to change one thing in the golf equipment industry it would be to somehow be able to make all golfers aware of the proven fact that being properly fit by a good clubfitter will allow a huge percentage of average golfers to play better than if they continue to buy their clubs off the rack through the traditional golf retail stores and shops.
And with that, to also be able to get more golfers to understand that the quality of the FIT is far more important than the image and ego associated with a certain model or brand name sitting in their golf bag.
7. I once was fitted for a driver but the club that was built and sent to me just was not the same one I demoed. Can this happen?
Yes, this is possible when golfers place an order for a big company club through a retail golf store or pro shop for a number of reasons. First, all clubheads and shafts are produced with +/- tolerances for every one of their design and production specifications. It is definitely possible that the head and or shaft in the ordered club came out of production with a little different tolerance than the head and or shaft in the demo club they hit.
But the biggest reason for this is simply because the workers assigned to build the special order clubs from the big companies do make mistakes and the QC inspections do not catch these mistakes. I hate to say this but it’s a law of averages thing related to the work ethic of lower wage workers who do not view their work with much passion for doing the very best job they can in a job that is the same, day after day after day.
At the same token, while it can happen that an independent custom clubmaker could also make a mistake in a custom build, that tends to not happen nearly as often as it does with orders from the big companies because far more clubmakers have a much greater level of care and interest and passion for their work. The big company worker is a lower wage employee, doing the same job day in and day out.
The custom clubmaker is an independent business owner who CHOSE to become a clubmaker because he had a strong interest in the field. Therefore, the independent custom clubmaker is not only more motivated to do a good job because of his interest, but he also knows he must do a good job because this is his business that he wishes to keep growing and a good reputation is the most important element in achieving that success.
I’m optimistic that little by little, more and more golfers are beginning to discover that proper fitting could be better than continuing to buy their equipment off the rack through the big box retail/on line stores and pro shops. It’s not an avalanche by any means, but it is an increase in awareness that is beginning to grow.
But with more golfers who are open to listening to the facts about fitting comes a prickly situation in which the golfers who know so very little about REAL fitting vs false fitting can be susceptible to being fooled into not doing their due diligence enough to find a good fitter to work with.
The big companies and big retailers know full well that there is a growing awareness among golfers about custom fitting so they are increasing their marketing to claim that they offer custom fitting. But the big companies and their big retailers are trapped by their standard off the rack volume business model as the only way they can achieve the highest level of sales.
So there is no way they can offer a 90min to 2 hr fitting analysis that results in the clubs being built from scratch to offer the golfers all 12 of the key Clubfitting specs for all the clubs in the bag. It is going to be a challenge to teach golfers the difference between a “slam-bam” fitting that falls short of what the “tailor to the suit” type of fitting can offer.
9. What is new and noteworthy at WishonGolf?
We’re so different than any other golf equipment company because everything at Wishon Golf revolves around full specs fitting to the golfer’s different combinations of size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics. So when we design clubheads and shafts, we focus on creating different models that are designed to best match to specific swing characteristics of golfers from plus/scratch all the way up to 100 shooters and everywhere in between.
When I work in design concepts, the first thing I look at is whether we have a clubhead or shaft model for this swing type or that player type rather than to simply look at trends for what might sell better or attract more marketing attention.
All my design work is focused on being able to deliver any combination of fitting specs and fitting performance for any type of golfer because that’s what club performance should be about for all golfers – getting the right clubs that allows every golfer to play to the very best of their abilities.
As such we’re very proud that we have developed a hand select service with an all bendable hosel line of drivers, fairway woods and hybrids so clubmakers can now much better custom fit their golfers for whatever lofts, lies and face angles they need in these clubs.
No one had figured out how to make these head types with the ability to be custom altered to hit any loft, lie or face angle in their drivers/woods/hybrids previously. So this is a real step forward in being able to offer the most game improvement possible through proper fitting.
I will say that one thing I am most proud of that so few golfers know about because we are so under-marketed at Wishon Golf is the depth of our head design and fitting research knowledge. Over the years, we have contributed 10 books and countless technical articles explaining clubitting technology and club performance.
No company knows as much as we do about how to choose the best lengths, lofts, lies, face angles, shafts, total weights, swingweights, set makeup, clubhead design and grips for golfers.
Head design wise, we’re very proud of how much we’ve been able to lead the whole industry in clubhead design technology. And very few know about this again because we have been so under-marketed. Over the past 3 years, the other companies have introduced their adjustable hosel drivers, high COR fairway woods, high COR hybrids, high COR irons, moveable weight drivers as “new” technology for the industry.
Yet few know that we designed the first adjustable hosel woods in 1995, the first high COR fairway woods in 2004, the first high COR hybrids in 2006, the first high COR irons in 2004 and the first universal movable weight driver in 2006.
On the other hand, that information plus $4 will get you a coffee at Starbuck’s any day. So we keep working hard to do what we can to continue teaching the clubfitters everything possible about club performance and fitting technology, and we keep trying to get information out there about the benefits of real, full specs fitting so that a few more golfers can realize they would be so much better off working with a good, experienced independent clubfitter for their equipment needs than to continue to walk into big box golf stores to buy their clubs off the rack.
Books by Tom Wishon