For GOLF.com’s 2023 ClubTest, we flipped the script on the traditional testing process, to provide an inside look at not just new golf club technology but also the fitting process from the perspective of our editors. We call it ClubTest for a reason, and with a diverse group of golfers on our staff — ranging in playing ability and handicaps — we believe this testing and reporting format offers more insight and education in the process of buying equipment, so you can make confident decisions with your own game.
TESTER: Alan Bastable (Executive Editor) | 12 HCP
GOAL: Add more distance and consistency to irons, and fill in holes in the lower end of my bag and also among my wedges.
THE LOWDOWN: Even after working in the golf-media industry for more than two decades, I’ve never been much of a gearhead. Largely, I’ve played whatever equipment I’ve stumbled upon through or at work — a case of balls here, a spiffy new putter there. Which helps explain why, until this fitting, I had a 15-year-old set of cavity-back irons in my bag from a manufacturer that is no longer in business. My fairway woods and hybrid were also dated, and my wedges — a 52° and a 60° — were from two different brands. I did have a new driver model, which I love. Mishmash was the only word for my set, so the notion of getting dialed in with a full-bag fitting from a single clubmaker was not only exciting but also long overdue.
Mishmash is also a good word for my game. I’m a relatively steady 12-handicap but with a steep, sawed-off swing and a left shoulder dip that a colleague of mine has (accurately) likened to the pumping motion of an oil derrick. This flaw leads to too many chunked irons, which I’ve learned to live — and play — with. On good days, when my timing is on, I’m reliable with my driver and serviceable enough with my irons to break 90. On bad days, my tee balls hang out to the right, and too many fat or loose iron shots undo me, and my scores show it. With four kids and a busy schedule, I play about twice a month during the season and also try to sneak in an off-season golf trip. I’ve accepted my swing will likely never markedly improve. The same could not be said of my equipment. Time to hit the upgrade button!
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Check out PXG’s full suite of clubs
FITTING PROCESS: For our first-ever staff-led edition of ClubTest, I was paired with PXG, as in Parsons Xtreme Golf, the nine-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz.-based brand founded by the high-energy serial entrepreneur Bob Parsons. When Parsons started his club company, he handed his engineers a blank check and said — we’re paraphrasing here — “Build me the best $&(@! clubs you can.” Tall order, and I was eager to see how Parson’s team had executed on his vision. My fitting was conducted at PXG’s flagship store in Scottsdale, a gleaming 35,000-square-foot space with three moodily-lit fitting bays, an artificial putting green and retail space. (You’ll enjoy the same experience at any of PXG’s 20-plus locations nationwide.)
My fitter was Nick Janke, PXG’s VP of sales, who from past roles in the business also knows his way around a launch monitor. Janke is not only a PXG and swing-data whiz but he also has a warm and inquisitive nature about him, essential qualities for a fitter. Indeed, the best fitters are part technicians, part therapists. They need not only parse and interpret your swing data but also understand your relationship to golf, which parts of your game you believe most need help — TrackMan reveals only so much — and your improvement goals. Wading through all that information to determine the best clubhead, shaft flex and weight, loft and lie angles is a bit of an art form.
In Nick, I had an artist. For 2 hours and 15 minutes, we worked through my entire bag, minus the putter. Nick’s questions and observations were endless, as was the steady stream of launch-monitor data dancing in our heads (OK, mostly in his). Swing, analyze, adjust, repeat. This is not a cry for sympathy, but by the end of the session, I was physically and mentally spent. Club-testing and -fitting is a glorious grind.
My fitted gear
Full disclosure: My previous gamer was the newest club in my bag, packed with new-age tech and probably the club I swung with the most confidence. Nick had his work cut out for him.
PXG has two driver offerings in its premier line: the Gen 5 0311, built with an eye on delivering speed and distance, and the Gen 5 0311 XF, which is designed more for forgiveness. Like many golfers, I’m in need of more distance and forgiveness. But after hitting both models, it quickly became evident that the FX was better suited for me, largely because the slightly larger face, deeper head shape and 6% higher MOI than the 0311 helped tighten up my dispersion. Adding some extra weight to the heel also helped neutralize my right miss.
Most surprisingly to me, I also picked up speed and distance from my current gamer. When we compared my three best swings with each club, the 9-degree 0311 XF delivered an extra mile per hour of ball speed and five more yards of carry distance (258.1 yards). Experimenting with seven different shafts was also an education, even if it did leave my head spinning. We landed on a stiff-flexed Tour AD TP 5, which helped me keep the ball down (i.e., no ballooning) and minimize misses to the right.
The 0311 is sleek and understated — battleship vibes — an aesthetic you don’t find in many new-age drivers. The face and most of the carbon-fiber crown is gray other than a black band around the perimeter, which — when paired with a small “x” that stares up at you above the center of the clubface — I found useful when squaring up the ball at address. In the sole of the club are three interchangeable weights that you can swap in and out to create a fade bias, draw bias or, by pushing the mass toward the back of the clubhead, high MOI and forgiveness.
You can’t talk about the 0311 without talking about its price. Whereas most drivers from mainstream manufacturers start in the $500 range, the base-model 0311s are only $299. If value is a priority for you when driver-shopping, the 0311 should be on your short list to check out.
Fairway Woods & Hybrids:
Having already dialed in my driver made the same process for my fairway woods much easier, as Nick already had my shaft profile. The biggest question to answer for my fairway woods was which lofts were best suited for my game, and how those would blend with my hybrids. One of the issues with my current gamer set was the 25-yard distance gap I had between my 4-iron equivalent hybrid (22°) and 4-wood (17°). I also increasingly have found myself chunking more 3-woods off the fairway, leading to a loss of confidence with that club. The solution: dump the 3-wood, pick up a new 0311 XF 4-wood (17°) and pair that with two 0311 XF hybrids (19° and 22°).
The hybrids required more tinkering, in particular the 22° as we bounced back and forth between a Ventus Blue S and KBS Tour Proto shaft. On paper, these shafts are similar, which makes actually trying them essential. After a bounty of swings, we agreed the KBS was the best fit. As Nick wrote in an email to me after the fitting: “You really hear the difference in the quality of the strike (which showed up in the higher smash factors), and I could tell the difference in how you described the feel. Six yards longer while averaging six feet higher? Yes, please!”
Indeed, the KBS shafted hybrid flew an average of 185 yards with a 93-foot apex. Pretty sweet. The 19-degree hybrid flew nearly 200 yards without much loss of height, and my 4-wood checked in around 215. I no longer have a 230ish club in my bag, but given how inconsistently and infrequently I was hitting my 3-wood, I can live with that. Bolstering my game from 180-215 was my goal, and this combo of hybrids and fairway woods has accomplished that.
If there was one part of my bag that stood to see immediate gains with a proper fitting, it was my irons. Not only were my gamers relics but they were also off the rack. The notion of new tech tailored to my swing had me giddy, and rightfully so.
It took me all of about one swing with a 0311 Gen 5 XP 7-iron to understand what my bag had been missing: the solidness of the strike was not a feeling which I was familiar, and the ball jumped off the face, as if propelled from a rocket. That was thanks in part to a polymer core that helps keep the mass low in the clubhead while also allowing for a thin, springy face. Also adding pop is the U-shaped channel in the clubface that, as PXG describes it, “creates face movement and transfers energy to simultaneously increase launch angle, trajectory and ball speed.”
It took me all of about one swing with a 7-iron to understand what my bag had been missing.
When it comes to club tech, of course, numbers speak much louder than words, and by the end of my iron fitting, my numbers were positively screaming: I picked up an average of 8.4 mph of ball speed (leading to a 0.9 increase in smash factor — that’s a lot!), 19 yards in carry distance and a 13-foot increase in apex.
There are three models in the line: the 0311 T, 0311 P and 0311 XP. The T is the better-player model (most compact head, narrowest top line, most workable); the XP is the game-improvement option (largest head, wider top line, most forgiving) and the P is somewhere in between. While not as handsome as the woods — the five tungsten weights on the back of the irons give the clubs a bit of bedazzled look, like rhinestones on a biker jacket — all the ball-launching, slice-busting tech is still well disguised, and even more so if you opt for all the all-black Xtreme Dark model.
The irons are an investment: $249 a piece, or $199/piece if you buy five or more, but if your current set was as dated as mine, it’s an investment with guaranteed gains.
Similar to my fairway woods and hybrids, my gamer wedge makeup lacked proper gapping. Beyond my pitching wedge, I had only a 52° and 60°, which didn’t give me enough trajectory options around the greens. The solution: drop the 52° and add both a 50° gap wedge and a 54° to better bridge the divide to my lob wedge (60°).
The gap wedge came from the 0311 XP family, while my 54° and 60° came from the fully-milled Sugar Daddy II line, which have two offerings: the C-Grind with a slightly narrower sole (less bounce) designed for firmer conditions, and the BG-Grind — which I landed in — which has a wider sole (more bounce) better suited for lush conditions and a steep angle of attack (that’s me!). The high-toe weighting helps keeps the clubface square at impact, and I love the “full face” groves that extend almost to the edge of the clubface for those less-than-pure shots. With this new mix of lofts and tech, never have I felt like I’ve had so much versatility around the greens.
The great thing about getting fit is it eliminates those nagging questions about whether your gear is holding you back. When your clubs are dialed in to optimize your strengths — and minimize your weaknesses — you arrive on the tee with confidence and a sense of calm.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long to experience that sensation. The beauty of PXG’s Scottsdale location is its fitting studio, build shop and shipping facility are all under the same roof. This means PXG can turn around custom sets fast — like, really fast. Less than 48 hours after my fitting, my new clubs arrived on my New Jersey doorstep.
In the several rounds I’ve played since then, the biggest difference I’ve noticed is the new muscle in my iron game, with each of my irons flying about 10 yards farther than my previous gamers. This has taken some getting used to, but it’s been a fun kind of acclimation. I still hit bad shots — of course I do! — but my good shots feel purer and launch through better windows, which is not a term I felt comfortable applying to my game until Nick schooled me up.
My previous set of clubs had major distance gaps and consistency issues whereas my new set configuration has allowed me to hit shots I never could before, from 200-yard approaches that fly high and land softly to tricky short shots that require trajectories that are now available to me. My set is now more complete, which means my game is now more complete.
Oh, and I made a new friend, too. “I want you to have my cell-phone number,” Nick said before our fitting wrapped. “You give me two days on the golf course, and I want you to tell me what you’re seeing and what tweaks we need to make. That’s part of the relationship with the fitter side — it’s an ongoing relationship.”
No tweaks needed yet, Nick. But rest assured, that call will be coming.