Forty years ago, Kim Braly and his father Dr. Braly went down to West Palm Beach to visit Wilson Golf, and that trip forever changed the way the golf industry thinks about the shafts in golf clubs.
“My father and I invented frequency matching,” Kim told me.
“And what’s that?” I asked.
“It’s the process of matching the stiffness of the shafts in your clubs to the heads so you can hit a golf ball rather than snap the shaft or hit the ball all over the place,” Kim said.
OK, that got my attention. So I ask how he stumbled upon the idea.
“My dad was an engineer and got into golf,” Kim said. “Eventually, I got interested in golf as well. In the early 1980s, we went to see the original ‘Iron Byron.’”
Iron Byron was the first club-testing machine, and it was modeled after smooth-swinging legend Byron Nelson. It’s basically an early robot — a motor in a box with an arm — built to use a regular golf club to hit a golf ball.
Kim and Dr. Braly watched the engineer operating Iron Byron put a club into the mechanical arm, place a ball in front of the club face and then press a button to swing the club. The result: perfection. It produced a high, piercing ball flight that was hit on a rope, not far removed from the storied ball flight of Nelson himself. This was followed by another and another. Kim and his father were ecstatic.
With great anticipation, they watched the engineer load the next club. The results were much different. Balls flew all over the place. The dispersion was awful. The Wilson engineer operating Iron Byron slowed down the machine. Balls flew shorter distances, but they landed closer together. The dispersion had been reduced. This was the inception of their game-changing idea; dispersion was a result of certain shaft characteristics matched with a club head and swing speeds. This “AH HA” moment changed how we fit and purchase golf clubs today.
Based on this observation, Kim and Dr. Braly designed a method to measure the performance of a golf shaft. Later, this led to the concept of frequency: very simply, stiffness is not the letter on the shaft, but a measurement based on characteristics like weight of shaft, weight of the head, length of the shaft and several other characteristics. The year was 1977 and they submitted a patent on this idea called “Frequency Matching.”
Armed with the power of measurement, Kim was ready to change golf shafts forever. He and his father started traveling the PGA Tour, and in doing so became the first “PGA Tour Van.” Over the last 40 years, Kim has worked as a researcher and designer, mastering the golf shaft. He’s worked at True Temper, Royal Precision and is currently as the head designer of research and development at KBS Golf Shafts.
In 2008, Kim launched a shaft company called KBS, which became the fastest growing shaft company in golf. Since that time, the company has gotten some of the best golfers in the world to use its shafts products, including Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson.
The next time you’re struggling with shots that fly sideways, think about Kim and Dr. Braly. You might want to try try being fit for shafts if you haven’t already, because they may just be the most important part of your golf club.