The Shaft is the Engine of the Golf Club
Actually, you the golfer are the engine, the shaft acts more like the transmission. The weight of the shaft is a key element in the fitting and performance of golf clubs for ALL golfers. The overall stiffness design (aka the flex and bend profile) is an element of golf clubs that becomes progressively more and more important to performance as golfer clubhead speed increases and point of release gets later and later in the downswing.
So for golfers with progressively slower swing speeds and progressively less late releases, the weight of the shaft is the only key part of the shaft for performance. But for golfers with progressively faster clubhead speeds and progressively later releases, the shaft becomes more and more important to performance, but not more important than the other key fitting parameters.
The Longer the Length of the Club, the Farther You Will Hit the Ball
Longer length only means more clubhead speed for golfers who have a later and later-to-very-late releases. For golfers with early-to-midway releases, using a longer club length does not increase clubhead speed and in many cases can actually deliver a slower clubhead speed at the moment of impact.
The reason is because for ALL golfers, the maximum clubhead speed is achieved right when they fully release the club. Hence, if you have a late release, you’ll reach your maximum clubhead speed right at impact. But if you have an early-to-midway release, the highest clubhead speed is reached before the clubhead meets the ball, leaving time for the club to begin to slow down before impact.
But for all golfers other than those with the smoothest, most rhythmic swing tempo and timing, longer length more typically brings with it a higher percentage of off-center hits. So even if you do have a late release and get more speed from a longer length, you may not actually hit the ball farther due to the increase in off-center hits from the longer length.
Adjustable Hosel Drivers Change the Loft Just Like any Driver with the Shaft Epoxied Directly into the Hosel
Adjustable hosel drivers only change the loft if the golfer always holds the clubface square to the target line in the address position. If the golfer addresses the ball with the head sitting flat on its sole, then the adjustable hosel devices do not change loft, they change the face angle and lie angle. In the world of adjustable hosel drivers, the practice of “forcing” the golfer to always hold the face square to the target to get the loft change eliminates face angle as a possible game improvement spec in a driver for golfers.
That’s totally fine if the golfer consistently delivers the face square to the target line and as such always wants to set up to the ball with a square face, but for the estimated 16.8 million golfers who slice the ball or 3 million who hook the ball, being able to have face angle as a fitting specification separate from the loft is quite important for the full benefits of game improvement.
Tour Grind Type Sole Designs on Irons and Wedges are only for Better Players
If we define a “tour grind sole” as a pronounced sole radius in the direction from face to back across the surface of the sole combined with rounding the leading edge at the bottom of the face, such a sole shape is good for ALL players, whether from nationally ranked all the way to a beginner. It actually can be said that such a “tour grind” sole shape is actually more important for a less skilled player to have than a very good player.
The reason is because the more radius on the sole from face to back, the less area of the sole comes in contact with the ground when the clubhead actually enters the ground during the shot. While no amount of sole radius can prevent “fat” shots, a pronounced face to back sole radius can turn a shot that would have been “slightly fat” into a credible miss. In addition, greater face-to-back sole radius along with a “killed/blunted/radiused” leading edge can also help get just a little more of the clubface on the ball from shots hit from the rough, again due to the reduction in sole contact with the ground from the increased face to back radius on the sole.
Modern Designed Shafts are Better than Older Designed Shafts
It all depends on what your definition for “better” in the context of shafts happens to be. If “better” means producing shafts more consistently to their design specs for stiffness and weight, then it is true that there are more graphite shaft companies whose shafts run in a tighter tolerance than there were 15-to-25 years ago. On the other hand, there are some shaft companies that do not deliver any better shaft-to-shaft consistency than in the past.
If “better” means better performance because of new shaft stiffness design breakthroughs, well… I hate to tell you this but a whole lot of the better player shaft designs of today are different from the better player shafts of yesterday only in the cosmetics on the outside of the shaft. Below is a bend profile graph showing the full length stiffness comparison of the 1988 Grafalloy ProLite 35 S to several modern shafts of today. Back in its day, the ProLite 35 was the “hot shaft” on the world’s professional tours for several seasons. In fact, I believe the ProLite 35 still holds the record for most wins on tour by one shaft model. From this bend profile analysis, it appears the overall stiffness design that made the Pro Lite 35S a big winner among many tour pros is still out there available today, but under different names.
If “better” means better materials, better wrapping techniques, better “hoop” strength or other such modern marketing points claimed for shafts, I am here to tell you after 23 years of serious shaft fitting research and shaft design research that there are still five and only five different things that make up a shaft’s performance for any golfer: weight, overall stiffness/flex, bend profile/stiffness distribution, torsional stiffness (aka torque) and the weight distribution (aka balance point).
In the end, when it comes to the performance of shafts, there is no such thing as a better or a worse shaft. There are only golfers who end up being fit or finding the right shaft for their swing characteristics and golfers who don’t. What is a “better” performing shaft for one player can be a poorly performing shaft for other players, and vice versa, simply because shaft performance is totally about matching the weight, full length stiffness, torque and weight distribution to the swing characteristics and preference for feel of each individual golfer.
Blade Style Iron Designs Offer Tighter Shot Dispersion Than Cavity Back Iron Designs
Yes, I am aware of that report as well from a company that claimed muscleback blades hit the ball more accurately than cavity back irons. As someone who has done more than his share of painstakingly careful robot testing with clubhead designs, I can assure you it is incredibly difficult to set up and run a robot hit test that completely eliminates every possible variable from entering into the results.
Serious robot testing doesn’t even hit the same ball more than twice so as to eliminate any possible changes in the balls from impact entering into the results. And let’s talk about wind and climate condition changes from shot to shot in the same test. While serious hit testing requires weather station equipment to monitor temperature, humidity, wind and barometric pressure, such gauges are not set up every 25 yards downrange at the altitude the ball flies during its entire flight. If a test claims dispersion improvement in feet, wind somewhere downrange over the 150-plus yards of flight can easily account for that.
I’ve designed 19 different blade designs and over 150 cavity back iron designs in my career. While I have seen distance, trajectory and spin differences between a blade and muscleback, I can tell you when EVERYTHING in the two clubs is identical — when the path and the face angle are both 0 and impact is dead center — I’ve never seen anything close to a result that could possibly come to the conclusion that a blade hits the ball more accurately than a cavity back.
I guess if this were really true, would you see even one set of cavity back irons on the world’s professional tours where approach shot proximity to the hole is of critical importance to scoring?
You Have to be a Good Golfer to Benefit from Custom Clubfitting
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this comment, I could be retired and lounging on the back patio with a cold one after my daily round of golf. But if I also had a dollar for every time a clubmaker told me in the last 30 years that he fit an average-to-less-skilled player who experienced immediate improvement the first day he played with his custom fit clubs, I could actually be flying via NetJets to a nice resort for that round of golf. NetJets cost about $4000 an hour and the resort I want to play is about a 6-hour round trip flight. And yes, that more than adds up based on fitting successes of which I’ve personally been told.
Yes, no question, average-to-less-skilled golfers make definite swing errors and do demonstrate a higher level of inconsistency in their swings. But they get the ball airborne more than 98 percent of the time and their misses tend to be more in one direction than the other. In other words, they are inconsistently consistent.
However, the SEVERITY and the FREQUENCY of an average golfer’s bad shots most definitely can be reduced (not eliminated), but reduced when every single one of the key fitting specifications for every one of his clubs is correctly fit by an expert for the average golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and most of all for their specific swing characteristics.
When this is done correctly by someone who is a professional in the clubfitting, what happens is this: the average player’s bad shots happen a little bit less often and the range of how bad they are is lessened, too. Joe Golfer will still hit poor shots with the same swing mistakes, but they won’t be as frequent and they won’t be as bad as often. He’ll have more shots in play, which means more chances to get closer to the greens, which means more chance to turn a double into a single or a single into a par.
Expert fitting is rarely ever going to turn a 26-handicap into a 12 handicap. That big of an improvement typically has to come from swing improvement via instruction and practice. But expert fitting can turn a 26-handicap into an 18 or a 16-handicap into an 11 simply by reducing the frequency and severity of the bad shots. The goal of proper fitting is to achieve visible, measurable game improvement, and the vast majority of golfers who shoot in the mid-80s to high-90s walk away with that when properly fit.
I Was Custom Fit for my Golf Clubs at my Local Big Box Golf Store or Pro Shop
Here, again, we need to establish a definition for “being fit” for your golf clubs. For fitting to deliver the utmost in game improvement, every one of the 12 key fitting specifications for every one of the clubs needs to be correctly fit by an experienced, knowledgeable clubfitter to each golfer’s combination of size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics. Then the clubs have to be precisely built to have each one of those determined fitting specifications.
Anything that falls short of this will cause the golfer to fall short of the maximum possible amount of game improvement possible.
You Can Change the Trajectory and Spin of a Shot with Hot Melt or Lead Tape
You can change swingweight or headweight feel to get the club(s) better matched to your swing tempo, timing, rhythm and feel to gain shot consistency improvement. But you cannot add enough hot melt or lead tape to come up with a visible, measurable change in launch angle, trajectory or backspin. OK, you could physically add 20-to-25 grams to the head to get to a point of launch angle, trajectory or backspin change, but you’d not likely see that happen because you’d be struggling to swing that now E4 swingweight club in the first place.
Moving weight to one side or the other of a head to elicit a visible change in launch angle, trajectory or backspin can be done, but it takes a lot of weight movement to do that and that weight movement has to be done within the head’s existing manufactured weight. But even then it only can happen for golfers with a later release and/or those with a very consistent on center hit percentage.
Golfers with a Straight Back, Straight-Through Putting Stroke Need to use a Center-Shafted Putter, while Golfers with an Arcing-Type Putting Stroke Need to use a Heel-Shafted Putter
This makes for a nice story, and even I will admit it satisfies that “logic-o-meter” in our brains to think this. But statistics over the decades show that there are players with a straight-back, straight-through stroke who have putted well and putted poorly with a center-shafted putters just as there have been many players with an arcing stroke who have putted well and putted poorly with a heel-shafted putters.
What matters far more to putting success for any player with any type of stroke is having the length, lie, loft, weighting and grip size/feel perfectly fit to their stance, posture, ball position, hand position, stroke angle of attack and preference for feel. They then have to be matched with a putter head shape/style/alignment aid that satisfies the golfer’s preference for looks, alignment and eye dominance.
Japanese Made Forged Irons are Produced from Better Steel
There’s no better proof of the way a myth can so illogically weave itself into the brain of a golfer than in a comment I received from a golfer swearing that a Japanese made forged iron head was superior because “the Japanese know how to make better steel because the steel used to make the Samarai swords in the 19th century was so superior.”
OK, uh, right. If that sort of “logic” is relatable to iron head production, then in reality the best forged iron heads should be coming from Syria since Damascus steel was considered to be a remarkable alloy for its time.
Uniformity of the chemical composition of metal alloys has been in existence around the world for many years. The chemical composition of the 1020 and 1030 carbon steel alloys most typically used in the production of forged carbon steel irons is the same whether produced under the JIS standards in Japan, the AISI standards in the USA, the BS standards in Great Britain and so on around the world.
The Chemical Composition of 1020 Carbon Steel
The Chemical Composition of 1030 Carbon Steel
The ranges in element composition seen in the above tables are insignificant to the performance of the product being made from the steel and simply reflect the acceptable ranges in content approved by the standards within each country that manufactures these carbon steel alloys.
In the end, what makes a “better” forged iron falls into the combined categories of CG position, weight distribution, sole design and how well they with the 12 key fitting specs for the whole club are matched to the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics.
The Higher Your Clubhead Speed, the Stiffer Your Shaft Should Be
While clubhead speed is a starting point in the determination of the correct stiffness design of a shaft for each golfer, the key elements for pinpointing the right flex are the swing characteristics that have a significant effect on exactly how much the golfer actually bends the shaft during his swing. That’s namely the transition force applied at the beginning of the downswing, the downswing acceleration or aggressiveness to impact and the point of release during the downswing. If the player has a definite preference for the bending feel of the shaft during the swing and through impact, add that one to the swing characteristics to be on the road to proper shaft stiffness fitting.
In virtually every case of shaft flex fitting among two golfers with the same clubhead speed, the golfer with the more forceful transition and more aggressive downswing tempo will be better fit into a stiffer flex because these swing moves bring about more bending force on the shaft during the downswing. If the golfer also has a later-to-very-late release, add a stiffer tip design to the recommendation.
If the Flex of Your Shaft is too Soft, You’ll Hook the Ball. If it’s too Stiff, You’ll Slice the Ball
Not without the golfer first having the swing path and face delivery that makes a ball slice or hook, it won’t. And even then, only if the X-flex player were to somehow choose to play an A or L flex would he or she see a marked increase in the hook, or the A or L flex player to end up with an X would he or she experience leaving the ball more noticeably to the right.
Where this myth got blown out of proportion to make the 8, 12, 20-handicapper quake in fear of accuracy disaster from a shaft that is more flexible or more stiff than what their swing dictates is from the feedback of the really good ball striker. Really good ball strikers notice shot shape differences from different shafts or different other specs in their clubs because they have what we like to say is a “very small window” for their shot shape in the first place.
What that means is the really good ball strikers are so consistent in their swing path, face angle delivery, angle of attack and point of impact on the face that their shots could all fly through a very small window when they take off. Most of the rest of us have a window for our shot pattern that would be, well, maybe not quite as large as the picture window in your living room, but a whole lot larger window than a really good ball striker.
When the player has a really small window, he’ll notice little differences of a quarter flex or a 3 mm change in CG position in the head in the shape of his shots because his shot pattern is so consistent from his superior swing repeatability. That, in turn, means that 98 to 99 percent of us won’t notice shot pattern differences until the changes in the shaft or other specs in the head and club are much greater, beyond what would constitute a proper fitting.
The Best Way to Reduce Spin is by Changing the Shafts in Your Clubs
If a golfer is properly fit so his shafts are not too stiff or too flexible for his clubhead speed, transition force, downswing tempo and point of release and he truly does exhibit a higher ballooning ball flight, then the predominant reason is because of a swing error that causes the dynamic loft on the clubhead to be too high for the golfer’s club head speed and angle of attack. The only way a shaft can reduce shot height and spin is to fit the golfer into a substantially stiffer shaft or significantly more tip stiff bend profile. That only can have an effect for golfers with a later-to-very-late release and brings with it the risk of the shaft being much too stiff for the golfer, which in turn can rob the golfer of distance and cause the feeling of impact to be less solid.
In reality, the most effective and sure way to reduce spin is to use a lower lofted club head. If the golfer has a launch angle that is optimal for his clubhead speed and angle of attack, and if the shaft is correctly fit for flex and bend profile to the golfer’s club head speed, transition force, downswing tempo and point of release and the ball flight is of a ballooning shape with a steep angle of descent, the spin problem most definitely is swing related.
Far too many golfers today look at launch monitor numbers and obsess way too much about their spin numbers while completely forgetting the greater importance of the launch angle and ball speed to the optimization of their shots.
Low Handicappers Benefit More from Fitting than Middle and High Handicappers
Actually, if your definition of “benefit” from proper fitting means experiencing visible, measurable differences in shot distance, accuracy or consistency immediately after getting the newly custom fit clubs, middle and high-handicap golfers get this far more dramatically and much more often than do low-handicap players. This is, in fact, a significant reason some lower handicap golfers walk away from a fitting less impressed and from that can develop an anti-fitting attitude about its value and benefits.
The reason low handicap golfers tend to be less “wowed” by a fitting is because as a better player, they have over the years already found clubs that fit their more consistent swing characteristics reasonably well. Better players can and do fit themselves with great success. In addition, better players can adjust to various fitting specs that may not be perfect for their swing far more easily than can middle-to-high-handicap golfers because they possess superior golf athletic ability. As such, it is very common for a good player to walk away from a fitting session with no marked improvement in distance, accuracy or shot consistency.
Middle-to-high-handicap golfers are an orchard with low hanging fruit to clubfitters because their lesser golf athletic ability and swing mistakes are made worse by many of the standard specifications of clubs sold off the rack: drivers and woods that are too long, lofts of low numbered woods and irons that are too low, face angle options not available to offset swing path and face delivery mistakes, totally wrong set makeups, weighting that does not match to their strength and swing tempo and grips that don’t fit and cause too much tension in the hands and arms.
Good player fitting is more difficult to do because it so often involves trial and experimentation to achieve a specific sense of “feel” that the better player has acquired over the years of playing. Good player fitting changes tend to focus on total weight and head weight feel adjustments, shaft bending feel adjustments, ball flight shape adjustments, some set makeup adjustments and smaller things that take time to nail down in a back and forth situation with the clubfitter.
Instant gratification is common with middle-to-higher handicap players. Not as much so with better players.
Putter Fitting Really Doesn’t Matter. All You Have to do is Try Enough Putters to Find the One that Works the Best
With the full swing clubs, there are no less than 12 key fitting specifications that all have to be carefully and often painstakingly analyzed and matched to each golfer’s combination of size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics. With putters, there are six. But those six key putter fitting specs, if not well fit to the golfer, will keep him wandering around amidst the 200+ putters leaning on racks near the faux putting green in the big box store and hunting like a blind squirrel looking for that proverbial acorn.
In addition, not all clubfitters are focused or proficient in professional putter fitting. Can’t blame ‘em really either. There’s more fitting revenue to be had in fitting a driver, set of woods and set of irons than there is in a single putter. But if you can find a fitter who loves to fit putters, getting the length, lie, loft, grip, weighting and putter head model right for the golfer, his stroke action, his eyes and his sense of feel can automatically drop a handicap by 4-to-5 shots.
In fact, as a quick tip, over the past three years it has been amazing for me to hear from as many clubmakers as I have who have instantly improved a golfer’s putting consistency with a conventional putter with the use of a heavy – 60 grams, 80 grams or 100 grams – counterweights installed in the very grip end of the putter. Such large increase in weight in the hands of the golfer has brought about an instant improvement in distance control, pull/push reduction and on center hit results.
The Gear Dive: Discussing the drivers of 2020 with Bryan LaRoche
In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with his good buddy Bryan LaRoche. They chat on life and do a deep dive into the drivers of 2020.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play
I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:
“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”
Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.
First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.
All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.
The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.
The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.
So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”
- Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
- Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
- The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
- On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
- Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).
So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.
As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!
Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target
In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.
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