100% Custom, No Exceptions
Because every club is built specifically for an individual, you’re never going to see KZG products in the annual Hot List or similar large scale club features. King asserts “what good is it to provide product when we don’t know anything about the player who will test it or who is going to build the club. Give me the specs of the player and we’ll build the club, but that’s not how they work.”
This leaves KZG a bit hamstrung, even if it's mostly by choice. These are the inherent realities of being a very small fish in a very large and unforgiving pond; nevertheless the KZG platform is entirely intriguing, and one I thought our readers might like to learn about.
I went out to the KZG Performance Center in Palm Desert, CA to spend some time with their team to see exactly what they do.
Warning: don’t be surprised if you become a little frustrated and depressed when you realize your custom fit clubs were anything but...
Step 1: The Interview
Think of this less as a generic questionnaire, and more of an opportunity for your fitter to hone in on what exactly it is you’re trying to achieve and how they are going to help you get there. If you’re working with a fitter who has done this thousands of times, they are going to know what questions to ask and how to ask them.
During my time at KZG, I worked with their master fitter, Brad Whalen, who is a +4 on the course and something more like a +10 on Trackman. As we chatted about my game and the relative strengths (um, maybe putting and short game) and weaknesses (pretty much everything else) it became clear we’d focus on irons that allowed me to control distance and a driver to maximize accuracy.
For me, it was important this felt less like I was filling out a questionnaire in the waiting room at a physician’s office and more like a casual conversation about my game.
Step 2: The Fitting
Because I wanted to hit everything in their lineup, we spread this process out over two days. The first afternoon we focused on irons and finished up the next day with woods and wedges.
KZG offers nine different forged irons and six performance cast irons. My eyes were immediately drawn to two of the forged models, the dead sexy ZO Blades and Tour Evolution series. That said, as I worked my way through the bevy of options I noted that all of the forged irons are soft and responsive, with the ZO Blades being the best of the line and Tour Evolution a small step behind.
The first task from Brad was to work through my current bag, hitting five or so good shots with several different clubs. Once we had a baseline, we mixed and matched three shafts and five heads until some patterns started to emerge. Again, my goal wasn’t as much to eek a couple more yards out of my 7-iron as much as it was to find a combination that limited my miss (high right block), gave me consistent carry numbers, and substantial feedback on mishits.
Presumptions are dangerous and I thought going with a heavier, stiffer shaft was going to get me where I needed to be. I was wrong.
I’m not a huge fan of fitting indoors typically, because I do better when I can see ball flight, but the setup at the KZG Performance Center is quite pleasant. The lofted ceilings, picturesque backdrop and wall-mounted monitors give the illusion of space, and the AC sure beats baking outside in the 112 F* desert heat.
Like clockwork, my 7-iron swing speed was 88-89 MPH and my carry numbers were 170-172 with my top three choices (ZO, ME-I and Tour Evo). So again, we went back and forth with the final three and eventually narrowed it down to two.
While we ultimately decided to go with the ZO Blades with Aerotech Steelfiber 95S shafts, I could have easily gone with the ME-I or Tour Evolution offerings. But in the end, I actually hit the blades straighter and I was shocked at how smooth, yet stiff, the Steelfiber shafts felt and played.
WOODS AND WEDGES
We started with wedges, and what was absent is what I first noticed - grinds. KZG offers five different wedges (four of which are conforming), but most have a single loft/bounce option and there’s a noticeable lack of available grinds.
In talking with Brad, his professional opinion was having “all these different bounce and grind options isn’t really necessary.” On one hand I agree with him. The vast majority of players are most successful when they get fit for a wedge that matches their typical playing conditions and swing type. Once they have that, they’re far better off learning how to use the club to manipulate trajectory and spin rather than thinking this is something the club is supposed to do on its own.
Even pros don’t change nearly as often as some of us think.
On the other hand, sometimes the appearance of multiple options is nice; again, for a smaller company this is cost-aversive.
I started with 20-30 yard pitch shots with each of the four conforming wedges at 60*, paying specific attention to how the club interacted with the turf. If I can get the exact feel, spin and trajectory I want on this shot, we’re good to go.
For me, I want the bounce of the club to enter and exit in a predictable manner which is smooth, but not too grabby. Basically, I want to feel turf impact without the turf negatively impacting the spin, direction or distance control on my shot. “Heavy at the bottom” are the words I put to this feeling. Because this was an indoor fitting, you're a bit limited in gauging exactly how a wedge will operate on actual turf, but whatever mats KZG uses, they're quite realistic.
My current wedges (Edel) give me exactly the performance I want and I was able to match up a similar feel, trajectory and performance with the KZG XRS wedges. The XRS is the only wedge in the KZG line up with multiple bounce options in the 58* and 60*, and the stock “C grind” is quite versatile. I went with the black finish because I want my wedges to look raw and worn. I also like dirty white hats with a bunch of sweat stains, so I guess it makes sense.
I struggle with hybrids. Always have. I love the additional forgiveness and versatility from all sorts of lies, but I don’t need help hitting the ball higher and my “left going more left” miss is generally better suited to a driving iron. I really didn’t think KZG had anything to tickle my fancy, but the H370 Tour is just as advertised. It’s hot, workable and a bit toe-heavy. Because they carry so many different models, it's easy for someone to get a bit lost. Let me help. If you need a hybrid without a left-turn blinker and don't mind a club that's a bit hot off the face, this one is a must try.
Not one of the six fairway woods in their lineup was better than what was already in my bag. So, we let that dog lie. That said, I got great ball speed numbers from the VC-F and GF X (avg. 155 MPH), but I hit my S-Yard XV with Accra i72 M4 (tipped 1”) a bit straighter.
This just reconfirms how easy it is to buy something new because it’s well, new - even if the performance isn’t appreciably better. Easier said than done, I know. While we may have gone 0-6 with the KZG fairway wood lineup, I have to applaud Brad for convincing me to stick with my current gamer.
We finished with the big dog. My Callaway Sub Zero with Aldila Rogue I/0 60X vs. whatever Brad thought was best.
Although I have a positive angle of attack (+ 3 degrees), I generally benefit from lower spin heads around 9* of loft. My Sub Zero (stamped 9.5) measured closer to 11.5, which explained some things I’d been seeing on the course.
Once we had 20 or so quality strikes with the Callaway, it was time to see if KZG had anything that could stack up. I had a hunch we’d be looking at the GF Deep or VC 420 - of the eight available models, these two are the lowest spinning, and in my opinion, the best looking. That said, I was hopeful KZG would have a driver that leveraged more available technology to help maintain ball speeds on off center strikes, but no such luck.
As verified by Trackman, “best for best” the Sub Zero was a couple steps longer, but because the shaft was too light, my swing struggled to stay on plane and thus I’d get the sporadic, yet impressively wild, miss.
It’s easy to rationalize the occasional miss during a fitting, but like Ben Hogan said, “The guy who misses the best is going to win.” And in my case, that means taking the 1-2 drives per round that miss right and keeping them 15 yards off line rather than 40. I know it’s not all the rage with the millennials, but for me, straighter off the tee = lower scores.
After about 30 minutes of trial and error, Brad put me in an 8.5* GF Deep head with Novatech i7500 X shaft. At 81 grams, this shaft is hefty, but Trackman doesn't lie and I hit 13/14 fairways with this set up the next day on a course I’d never seen, playing 7100 yards from the tips.
In my case, a heavier shaft helped me keep me on plane which resulted in more accurate tee shots. The bend profile and stiffness of the shaft kept my spin numbers right around 2500, and at 45” I could find the center of the clubface consistently. My only criticism is this head isn’t as forgiving if you wander off the sweet spot too far, but if that’s the case, the “Q” is maybe the better fit.
Anyone can buy groceries, but who’s cooking the meal??
A quality fit is only as good as the one building the clubs.
In this case, master builder Erik, who's been at this gig for 17 years and is the only builder on site at the KZG Performance Center. The most important attribute about Erik is the sincere rush and joy he gets out of doing a job exactly right. He calls it heart. I call it rare.
For the iron build, we hand selected each head, weighed them and then drilled out several tenths of a gram to make sure we had exactly a 7 gram difference between heads. From there, Erik spined, flo’d, and tip-trimmed each head/shaft combination while getting the frequency to +/- 1 CPM. It was impressive to watch, but this is what Erik does for every build, every time. The man takes a lot of pride in what he does and it shows. We used the same process for the wedges, hybrid, and driver and they all spec’d out +/- 1 CPM from the build sheet.
The KZG Way
KZG golf will never be the loudest voice in the room or have the latest, flashiest product line. As a result, some of you will be frustrated that the designs (metalwoods specifically) do not take complete advantage of all available technologies out there. If sex sells and water is wet, then having metalwoods which incorporate slot technologies, multiple materials, and anything else to improve performance on off-center hits is a must.
Because of how they do business, KZG doesn’t supply product for annual tests, so it’s difficult for anyone to quantify on a macro scale how good their clubs are or aren’t. That’s the critical reality, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
They will, however, be forever committed to providing every golfer with a blend of equipment, fitting, and building which is precise and rivaled only by tour vans and other high-end operations. That’s who they are and who they’re going to be moving forward.
Unless your set is fit to your personal specs and built within precise and stringent tolerances by people like Brad and Erik, your set isn’t truly custom and it’s not going to perform as consistently for you as an off the rack set.
To learn more about KZG and its fitting process, visit KZGPerfomrnaceCenter.com.