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Swing Analyzer Helps Players Iron Out Equipment Decisions
Jason Fiddler

Jason Fiddler, here juxtaposed against some of the data being analyzed by Swing Labs Performance Fitting, says the system helps players find the right equipment for their game.

Jason Fiddler sees it every day — many times a day, in fact — and it frustrates him to no end.

The problem? It’s people trying to fit their golf game to the equipment residing in their bag. It should be the other way around, said Fiddler, store manager for Fran Johnson’s Golf & Tennis in West Springfield, especially when equipment makers are becoming increasingly innovative — and the innovations come with steep price tags.

“Your equipment should be working for you … you shouldn’t be working for your equipment,” he said, adding that Fran Johnson’s has added a new service that will help most players find the right clubs and even the right ball to suit their swing.

It’s called Swing Labs Performance Fitting, a software program that works with launch-monitoring equipment to analyze a player’s swing and performance, and then recommend options for equipment that will help them get the most out of their abilities — and thus enjoy the game more.

“I see far too many people try to make the club fit their game,” he said, adding that people will do things to add loft, like tee the ball higher, or de-loft clubs, for example. “Instead, they should be getting equipment that really does fit their game, and this system will help them do that.”

Swing Labs is part of a broad strategic initiative to take Fran Johnson’s, which opened 33 years ago, in new directions and to new places — literally and figuratively. While adding the swing-analysis component and reconfiguring the storefront on Riverdale Street in West Springfield to accommodate it, the company is also opening a second retail outlet at the Western Mass. Family Golf Center on Route 9 in Hadley.

That facility features a driving range and miniature golf course, said Cindy Johnson, owner and president of the company, adding that the 1,200-square-foot retail store will be a perfect fit and a natural expansion for the venture started by her father in the basement of the family home.

“This is a great facility that draws people from all over that area,” she said of the golf center. “We’re going to fit in nicely there … it’s a great opportunity for us to gain more exposure for the Fran Johnson’s name.”

Swing Shift

Swing Labs measures such things as ball speed, total distance and carry distance, launch angle, backspin, sidespin, and much more, said Fiddler, former director of golf operations at the Ranch in Southwick, who took up Johnson on her offer to join her company. “It dissects the swing in more ways than any human being needs to know.”

It then crunches those numbers, and rates which equipment options — from balls to clubs to shafts — would be best for the player in question, he said, adding that the software was developed in California, but the system was first introduced in Florida a few years ago and is becoming increasingly popular at golf shops across the country.

Fran Johnson’s acquired the software early last year, and spent several months getting kinks out of both the technology and the setup for the testing area. The company eventually determined that the original site was too cramped and lacked privacy, so a separate room was carved out of what had been retail space, and racks for clubs and balls were relocated.

The Swing Labs technology isn’t for everyone, Fiddler admits, but it can help most players. The system essentially picks up patterns in an individual’s performance, and some high handicappers are so inconsistent that that they don’t really have patterns, meaning that Swing Labs isn’t appropriate for them.

“They go left, and then they go right … they go high and then they go low,” he said of such players. “We could help them, but generally speaking, the better the player, the more this system can benefit them.”

Meanwhile, the system has a flaw, if one could or should call it that: It can only analyze what the launch monitor sees, meaning the swing that the player in question brings to the facility that day.

“It can’t analyze what you did last summer,” Fiddler explained, noting that, while the system is ready and able, and the appointment calendar is filling up fast, players would be advised to wait until their swing is grooved for the season before heading to the test mat.

Sessions take perhaps 45 minutes to an hour, and players are advised to arrive 15 or 20 minutes before their appointment to warm up, and thus maximize the benefit they’ll derive from the analysis. Players generally take 10 to 15 swings, and are given a full readout on their performance, as well as a ranking of several options. Individuals can be tested for irons ($50), the driver ($50), or both ($80).

And while the focus is obviously on clubs, their dimensions, loft, and other specifications, attention is also paid to shafts and which ball a player should be using, said Fiddler, adding that there are myriad options regarding both, and picking the right one can make a big difference in one’s score.

“A lot of people don’t realize that 90% is all about the shaft now,” he said. “The way ball flight can be manipulated now by changing shafts is unbelievable; we’ve had a ton of testimonials … people saying they’ve added 20 or 30 yards because of a new shaft.”

The same is true for balls, he said, using the Titleist Pro V1, a very popular choice among touring professionals and low handicappers, as one example.

“The majority of people playing that ball shouldn’t be playing it,” he said, adding quickly that this situation exists despite a high sticker price. “They’re hurting their swing; performance golf balls like the Pro V1 are designed for someone who really goes after the ball, swinging really hard and putting a lot of spin on the ball. Maybe 90% of the players out there can’t make a Pro V1 do what it was designed to do.”

Fiddler told BusinessWest that early indications are that the Swing Labs system will be a popular service, and with good reason — golf equipment today is engineered to help players improve their games, but they must make intelligent choices about clubs and balls, and not make judgments based on TV commercials or how others in the regular Saturday foursome fare with what’s in their bags.

“If you’re going to spend $400 or a driver or $1,000 on a set of irons,” he said, “you’d better get the right equipment.”

The Swing Labs system is a natural extension of the services at Fran Johnson’s, said its owner, as is the Hadley location, a move that has been pondered for several years now, but the timing and conditions were finally right to take the leap.

The expansion, she continued, gives Fran Johnson’s a presence in Hampshire County — something it has never had before and has coveted — and with relatively little risk, or exposure, for the company. The lease is short-term, with the expectation that it will be lengthened, and the rates are favorable.

“This provides an opportunity to expand our brand, and it wasn’t cost-prohibitive,” she explained.

The new location will compete against a Dick’s Sporting Goods location on the other side of Route 9, a situation that mirrors conditions in West Springfield, but Johnson believes there are opportunities to both attract Dick’s customers and better serve loyal Fran Johnson’s customers from Hampshire County with another, much more convenient location.

Addressing the Problem

The facility will be small, but it will have “a little of everything,” said Johnson, as will the pro shop at Cherry Hill Golf Club, a municipal track in Amherst, which Fran Johnson’s will now stock with equipment.

The corporate name will be prominently displayed in that shop, she continued, adding that the venture, like the Hadley facility and the Swing Labs system, are relatively low-risk, high-reward opportunities for the company to be even more of a driving force in the local golfing community.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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