Joshua Chervokas has been the director of custom operations shop at New York Golf Center for seven years. Nearly a year ago, he took over as chief operating officer of the distinguished retail and custom club fitting enterprise. The NYGC partners with Cool Clubs to, in their words, “deliver the highest quality custom fitting and building experience in the world.” Joshua took the time recently to answer our questions on his history with golf and what the custom club fitting experience means to the game (and why it is so important) as it passes the midway point of the Twenty-Teens. Our thanks to Joshua for his time and words, and to Mary Beth Lacy for facilitating the interview.
1. Tell us about your entry into golf…how old? who influenced? what got you hooked?
I started playing golf at 10 yrs old and was completely hooked by the time I was 12. This is in the late 70’s and early 80’s when golf was not cool. My father joined Sleepy Hollow Country Club when Tennis was all the rage and though I was an avid tennis player to begin with I quickly gravitated to golf. The beautiful thing about growing up at Sleepy was that we have the Lower 9 which was 9 holes taken away from the 18 hole course when A.W. Tillinghast added to the original C.B. Macdonald design. We pretty much had our own C. B. Macdonald 9 hole course as kids to play all day without bothering anyone or having them bothering them us. We would play all day long every summer! I did not realize how spoiled I was then just to have such a gem of a course to play but also to be able to play so much golf at such a young age.
2. Folks love “the rack.” They walk in and buy the club their friend has, or a touring pro has. How do you get them to recognize the importance of club fitting?
All of our staff are avid golfers who have benefitted greatly from the process of custom fitting and so they do a fantastic job of communicating with our customers the importance of getting fit. People always ask what the best club is and we let them know that the products we sell are all fantastic but what is important is which one performs best for the individual golfer. What is crucial is to match your swing characteristics to the equipment which gives you the most benefit. There is no one design fits all in golf as there are so many unique swing techniques. The other thing that has been helping is that People now see Trackman numbers during PGA broadcasts, the Press has been promoting the idea of fitting and even the manufacturers themselves to an extent are letting golfers know that fitting is not mumbo jumbo but rather a process which gives real performance advantages to all golfers.
3. Walk us through the steps of a proper club fitting, please.
I am glad you ask this question as there is so much confusion in the market as to what constitutes a “fitting”. First off, if anyone tells you they can fit you into set of clubs in 15 minutes you should run away. In order to properly fit someone we must gather a statistically relevant set of data. As most golfers lack the consistency of a PGA tour player this means we need to get them to hit hundreds of shots over time. To fit a full bag it takes us 4.5 hours and we always spread it out over a few visits as physical and mental fatigue makes it almost impossible to do in one day.
The process starts with determining the proper length of club and lie angle for each golfers unique height, arm length and swing technique. We are focusing on getting golfers into the correct posture as well as getting them to hit the center of the club face as often as we can. After we get these factors right we begin to look at their particular launch conditions. The most important of these are Swing-Speed, Ball-Speed, Launch Angle, Spin Rate, Spin Axis, Efficiency of Strike (Smash Factor), Max Apex, Landing Angle and dispersion from center. Once we establish how fast a golfer swings we know the optimum values we will need from all of these categories to give them the best performance. The optimum values change as swing-speed changes and so that is our baseline factor. We then use a combination of heads and shafts in an effort to influence these numbers and get a golfer as close to the optimum values as possible. In addition to focusing on achieving optimum values we also pay careful attention to what combination gives a golfer the most consistency and allows them to make their best swings most often.
4. What if a golfer has an off day? Are you open to bringing her/him back for a second or third fitting?
Absolutely! Our primary goal is to get a good fit and help golfers play better golf. Since we always interview each golfer about their tendencies, if we see something opposite of what they normally do we have a discussion about the data we are getting and plan a course of action which can result in rescheduling. In some instances golfers are just struggling to make good contact. This is another instance in which we ask players to reschedule. I must say that we do over 1200 fittings a year and it only happens a handful of times a year but when it does we always take great care of our golfers.
5. What if a golfer comes back and says “this just isn’t right,” when it was right during the fittings? How do you adjust the equipment? (the old “the customer is always right” scenario)
This is a grey area for sure. We always stand behind our work but as our process is scientific we always ask the customer to bring in the clubs we fit and their previous club which they think is better. At no charge we do the analysis on both and see one, if there is a problem and Two, what is the cause. This happens very infrequently because our process is so thorough and we don’t make recommendations unless we have seen performance benefits in the first place. We are brutally honest about expectations in our shops. If we do see a problem we do our best to make any necessary adjustments and if the Golfer has somehow changed something in their swing we show them the data behind the results. I have to say that in the rare case that we bring players back they most often see that what we fit them into is clearly the best and that gives them peace of mind. If they are still not happy and have been clearly shown that they were given a good fit we will still work with them to try and make them happy but in this case the customer is not always right.
6. Golfers love the advertising glitz in a club purchase. Is there a hidden factor/piece of a club fitting that all golfers should know about?
The one thing I would stress is that what the marketing guys tell you and what is true is not always one in the same. For instance 95% of the adjustability in the market does not decouple face angle from loft. If they tell you a Driver is adjustable for loft they are talking about changing the face angle as well. We test every club released and most shafts as well to know exactly what each club does and then we gather our own Launch Monitor data as well to know exactly what performs regardless of Manufacturers claims. This is a huge advantage we have over most of our completion and I would recommend that consumers take advantage of this weather they are getting fit or just trying and buying.
7. How will you get the word out about your enterprise? Will you take it to the people, as Sergio did at Bethpage last month?
Well, in addition to doing interviews with outlets like yours we also promote through our website, Local TV ads and marketing events. I find that interviews like this do the best job in explaining what we really do and how it’s different from what you would get at a big box store but the biggest marketing tool we have is the customers themselves. The truth is that we really do get golfers noticeable results and I would say that 85% of all our customers refer at least one other person for a fitting. In many cases we fit one guy in an office and then he starts to send in all the golfers they have so in this way we are taking it to the people already!
8. Can a person be fit long-distance/over the web, or is it imperative you have her/him in your studio for a proper fitting?
Unfortunately it is just not possible to fit someone remotely. Even if they send us data from a Trackman session they did, we cannot gather data against it to prove or disprove performance benefits of equipment alternatives. People who offer this type of service are just trying to sell you something and are really putting a black eye on fitting in general. If we offered a predictive service we would defiantly have many problems with unsatisfied golfers who did not get the results they were expecting so we just won’t compromise the process. That is why we get such good results and have virtually no issues with unsatisfied clients.
9. What question haven’t I asked, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please.
The one question you have not asked which customers bring up all the time is “am I good enough to be fit?” There is a mis-conception in the industry that you need to be a skilled player to see the benefits of club fitting. This is simply not true. In fact, the more skilled the player is the more ability they have to make swing compensations to cover up the damages of poorly fitting equipment. If you gave Tiger Woods a short Lady’s flex driver he would figure out how to hit it straight and solid in a few swings. It would still not perform as well as his Gamer but he could make it work. The average golfer does not have the capacity to make these types of adjustments so the simpler we can make it the better results they will get. I like to say as long as you have a pattern of shots you can be fit. Now there are cases where players are just so inconsistent in what they do or make such poor contact that there is nothing we can do to help them. On these occasions we are always honest and let them know we cannot get a good fit on them. We have the advantage over all of the other top fitting locations in the country in this regard as we are also a huge retailer of stock equipment. In these we will not charge the customer for their fitting and will set them up with one of our sales experts who can help get them into some clubs they can buy to help them learn and improve.