Because golf is a maddening game that has caused many very smart people to temporarily lose their minds, there is constant tinkering in order to shave strokes. Perhaps it's the position of the hands or the angle of the club at impact.
Or maybe it's the club itself.
All clubs are not created equal. Buying clubs off the rack is fine for the beginner. But for most golfers, clubs are personal. Golfers might go through several drivers, irons or putters before finding one that fits.
The best way to find the right clubs is to get fitted.
"There's two equations to a golf swing problem,'' said Bob VanSweden, who owns a fitting shop in St. Petersburg. "The first is that the equipment doesn't fit you. The second is the swing. We can solve 50 percent of that equation. Then you get with an instructor and fix your swing.''
VanSweden, 43, can talk for hours about shaft flex, lie angle, bounce ratios and spin rate. He is a firm believer in the technology of golf. In his shop, there is a launch monitor, racks of shafts and club heads, club-making machines and artificial turf and a net for practice swings.
When somebody wants to be fitted for clubs, he lets the machines run the data. Golfers are hooked up to the FlightScope Launch Monitor, which measures factors such as club head speed, ball spin and shaft flexibility.
Armed with the data, VanSweden can tell what kind of shaft (flexible for the slow swinger, stiff for the fast swinger) a player needs. The monitor also will show how a ball comes off the club face, determining the lie angle of the club as well as the loft degree and length of the club.
"It's just like a suit,'' VanSweden said. "Not everybody's able to get a suit off the shelf.''
He charges $100 for club fittings, but sometimes, that fee will be waived if someone buys a set of clubs. Sets of clubs can cost between several hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars.
Every club in the bag
Drivers are the most popular clubs to get fitted. Getting the length of the shaft right is an important step. Then finding the right sized club head and face angle is determined.
"Sometimes, you see people hit the ball a mile but it comes down like a parachute,'' VanSweden said. "That's because they have too much spin. We want the ball to come off at a certain angle with less spin so there is more distance.''
Irons also are important. VanSweden will get four sets of data before making an iron: shaft flex, length, lie angle and grip size.
"You've got to match the shaft up first before you do the lie angle,'' VanSweden said. "Different shafts are going to bow differently with club head speed.
"And grip size is key. It's what connects you to the golf club.''
When fitting loftier clubs, such as wedges, VanSweden factors in bounce ratios. That's how the club sweeps under the ball at contact. The higher the bounce, the more the club sweeps through. The less bounce, the more the club digs in.
"You have two types of wedge players, sweeper/slider and a driver/digger,'' VanSweden said. "A sweeper/slider is going to pick at the ball more; typically someone up north, where the ground is softer. If you live down here, we're on that hard sand. You'll be more of a driver/digger to try to get some spin.''
Even putters get fitted
There are, unofficially, a gazillion putters on the market. VanSweden believes technology can help golfers find the right one. He uses high-speed cameras to analyze how the ball comes off the club face. Then he matches the putter to the swing.
"The first thing we do is take their existing putter, measure you and find out the length,'' VanSweden said. "The ball is launching off the face and skidding before it rolls. The goal is to minimize the skid and launch and get the ball rolling as fast as you can. We'll change the loft of the putter until we get zero backspin.''
VanSweden has two putter machines, one for regular-sized shafts and one for oversized shafts. He can adjust the putter face until it is just right.
"It's all about tweaking, tweaking, tweaking,'' he said.
The simple approach
Not every club fitter is convinced technology is the answer. There aren't any fancy machines in Rick Yarrington's shop in Gulfport. He has been fitting golfers with clubs for 40 years, and he has a basic philosophy.
"There's so much baloney in this industry,'' Yarrington said. "I have a very trained eye. I simplify things.''
Yarrington, 54, has made a living fitting average golfers with the right clubs. He will take a static fitting to look at setup and spine alignment. He also will do a dynamic fitting to find club head speed. With that information, he can determine shaft length and flexibility.
"It's not golf-a-metrics,'' Yarrington said. "I'm from the old school. I used to make clubs from trees. I've been helping people all these years, not hoodwinking them. You don't need all that stuff. Like George Bush said, it's not rocket surgery.
"I've never needed or wanted any of those big machines. It's just ridiculous.''
And he doesn't carry a lot of the big-name clubs. Yarrington knows his market, everyday golfers playing on a budget.
"It's like in fishing,'' Yarrington said. "There's a saying that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish. Ninety-five percent of the people who play this game struggle to break 100. I don't want to complicate it for them. Some people try to buy a golf game. They get these fancy, overpriced clubs. They don't need it.
"I had a guy in here the other day who was telling me I don't sell the big-name clubs. I said, 'What difference does it make?' He said, 'I want the big-name clubs.' I asked him what he shot. And he said he's been playing for four years and never broke 100. So I told him, you (stink) either way. You might as well save a little money.''