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.’”

Manchester_Lane_Robot
A modern-day golf robot at Titleist’s Manchester Lane Test Facility.

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.

Kim, working with a player
Kim working with a player on his golf equipment.

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.

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Brendan Ryan is a golf researcher, writer, coach and entrepreneur. Golf has given him so much in his life -- a career, amazing travels, great experiences and an eclectic group of friends -- and he's excited to share his unique experience through his writing on GolfWRX. He hopes you enjoy!

15 COMMENTS

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  1. Further, frequency matching a set doesn’t mean that the clubs all have the SAME shaft flexibility, only that the DIFFERENCE in flexibility is uniform from club to club. As the clubs get shorter, frequency and stiffness increase. Add to this the fact that as the clubs get shorter and heavier, they are swung at a slower speed. In the end, each shaft in a set flexes more and more overall as the clubs get longer. This silly “dispersion” theory suggests that a shaft must flex a specific amount to behave consistently.

  2. So Iron Byron, set at any particular swing speed, only reproduces the same ball flight with one specific shaft flex? This “dispersion” theory would mean that the same shaft can behave quite differently, from swing to swing, for an otherwise same swing input. Nonsense. There is no mention of this in any of the best-regarded scientific studies of shaft flexibility. This is a made-up marketing story designed to sell equipment.

  3. Frequency matching steel shafts is beneficial for golfers who generate a higher clubhead speed like >100mph…. and somewhat useless for those with lower clubhead speeds because the shaft frequency is secondary to shaft flex characteristics. At slower clubhead speeds the shafts are not properly flexed and stay in a state of ‘stiffness’ regardless of the flex rating. Slow swing speed cannot ‘whipsnap’ a golf shaft regardless of the shaft rating.
    Frequency testing is useful for graphite shafts because of their slow flex recovery response particularly in the tip sections.
    When graphite shafts became popular they were just a piece of floppy soggy crap. Pros were urged to use them by the OEMs for the recreational market where they were peddling “lighter is faster” scam.
    The pro graphite shafts were built to higher weights like over 100 grams to get some stiffness and reflex action. Also, early graphite shafts were cheap to build in China where the late Mr. Callaway bragged he could buy them for $2 each to stick into his Bertha drivers which were the rage. Good golfers bought the GBBs pulled the crap shafts and reshafted with exotics. Total stupidity.
    ———————
    To stiffen the tip sections and to get reflex response like steel shafts, they wound the tips with exotic materials from the NASA space program and also with metallic fibers. Still no good.
    OEMs started using driver shafts with increased tip diameter…. from 0.335″ to 0.350″….. which increased tip torque resistance by ~15% (for thin walled tubes the torque resistance increases by the cube of the diameter differences). The bigger shaft tips did not require the extra reinforcement and was cheaper. Still no good.
    If the pros had their druthers I suspect they would go back to steel shafts in their drivers but marketing strategy calls the money shots… and besides, pretty eye-candy graphics can be imprinted on graphite shafts… not steel. Graphite shafts still have floppy soggy shaft tips because they are essentially a plastic… which cannot be compared to steel particularly in irons. Senior graphite shafts are adequate because seniors cannot generate high club speeds.

    • Tour players, unless they have a specific shaft manufacturer deal, are free to play whatever shaft they want. Their decision to play graphite over steel has to do with performance, not money.

      • Okay…. but why are the tour players constantly searching for new graphite shafts in their drivers that will give them a different swing performance? And why are the shaft manufacturers constantly changing their graphite shaft designs? What are they hoping to accomplish? When are they going to get it right and in particular duplicating the performance of steel shaft tip dynamic response…. particularly the transition from toe-up to toe-down in mid-swing and then droop, twisting and impact reactions from the tip section?

  4. There is no doubt that shots can be saved every round by every player with changes from the shaft to the swing weight to the compression of your golf ball,,, hell practicing on the driving range could improve your game. There is a lot to know about this game and if you have the money and the time you may be able to cash in on these findings. Think how much better play got when shafts changed to steel from hickory. A lot to know and even more to learn. How much more can be found and improved, it was a very good article.

    • Yes, if you have a club shaft that is too soft you can slow your swing down to allow the clubhead time to catch up and square, but why would you want to do that? The preference would be to hit a club that matches your top swing speed allowing you to get the most out of your swing.

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