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The Wedge Guy: A discussion of swingweight (Part 1: History)

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For the twenty-five plus years, I’ve been in the equipment business, one of the most commonly-asked-about subjects is that of swingweight. It mostly comes up when a golfer is requesting over-length clubs or is contemplating changing to graphite shafts. So, I’m going to direct a discussion of this topic. Please chime in to let me know your thoughts and input.

The concept of swingweight was developed by custom clubmaker Kenneth Smith about 60 years ago. He was trying to figure out how to “match” clubs, and settled on balance point as a way to do so. His swingweight scale had a “hook” to hold the grip end of the club, and a fulcrum 14 inches from the butt. He created an arbitrary scale of measure that consisted of letters A-F, each letter divided into ten segments, i.e. D1, D2, D3, etc. When he measured the clubs of the day, he found most of them to be in the D2 range, so that became recognized as the “standard” for men’s woods and irons.

The golf club industry quickly adopted this method of “matching” clubs…well, because they had no other way! Because the longer the shaft, the heavier the head feels, clubheads increase in weight as the shaft gets shorter, so that the swingweight will stay the same. The theory then, and now, is that if the swingweight is the same, the clubs will feel essentially the same in the golfer’s hands.

But let’s look at what has happened since Kenneth Smith invented the swingweight scale.

  • Shafts have gotten longer by at least an inch. In the 1940s, a “standard” driver was only 42-43” long – now most are 45” if not more.
  • Shafts have gotten much lighter. Those old steel shafts weighed 150 grams or more, compared to modern graphite driver shafts in the 55-75 gram range.
  • Golfers have gotten stronger while clubs have gotten much lighter overall, but swingweights have always adhered to that D2 “standard.”

You must understand two very important factors about swingweight.

First, a “point” of swingweight–such as D2 to D3–is NOT a unit of measure like an ounce or gram. It takes much less weight to shift a driver one point, for example, than it does a wedge, because the shaft length is such an influence on this measure. Generally, the weight of a single dollar bill is a swingweight point on a driver—not much, huh?

And secondly, the overall weight of the club is at least as important as swingweight. Jack Nicklaus was noted for playing a driver in his prime that was 13.25 oz in overall weight–very heavy even for that time (most are about 10.5 oz now!), while his swingweight was only C9, considered very light. S

Swingweight by itself is a rather worthless piece of information!

So, that should get this discussion going. I’ll give you a few days to toss out your questions and comments on this subject, and then I’ll begin to address my own theories on swingweight for YOUR clubs.

Sound off, readers!

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Bob Pegram

    Jul 13, 2020 at 5:00 am

    The reason Nicklaus’ clubs were heavy, but with a light swing weight is that they were backweighted which simultaneously makes the clubs heavier, but reduces the swing weight.
    My clubs are MOI weighted. The irons are 1-1/2 inches overlength and have graphite X shafts to keep the swing weight down. Also, 2 inches longer length is a whole flex difference. In other words they flex only a little stiffer than S flex. The cheating way to do MOI matching is to make each higher numbered club 0.65 swing weight higher for each 1/2 inch shorter it is (or 1.3 swing weights heaver per 1 inch shorter). They are easier to hit consistently with MOI weighting.

    • Bob Pegram

      Jul 13, 2020 at 5:04 am

      Forgot to mention: All of my wedges (PW, 54, 60) are the same length (37 inches), but each one gets heaver by approximately 0.65 swing weight. The Lob is a little heavier than that. All have the same graphite shafts as the other irons.

  2. Grey

    Jul 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

    I’ve just received my custom built wedges. TM MG2 52, 56, 60 all .5” over standard. The swing weights are coming in at D10, E0, E1. I notice pretty small changes in the feel of equipment. I feel like I’m swinging a garden hoe. Shafts are Nippon Modus 120 S. Is there something about the balance or kickpoint making the swingweight so high? I’ve always thought .5” adds 3 SW points.

    • joro

      Jul 10, 2020 at 11:56 am

      The sad part is that the big club companies do not care. They take a head and shaft and put it together with a grip and call it a custom. I bought a couple of Vokey Wedges and specified what I wanted. The Two Wedges came and they were two different models and not even close to what I had ordered. I had to rebuild them myself to get them right.

  3. BD

    Jul 8, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    I laugh when people are so concerned about swingweight. I can make a telephone pole D2 if I wanted to.

  4. Regardt van Rooyen

    Jul 8, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    100% agree with William Terry. My clubs have been MOI’d for over 10 years now. It’s all about feel weight and not swing weight. Like you’ve explained, you can have a VERY heavy golf club but have a light swingweight.

    A simple way to MOI your irons without a Swing Weight machine is to build your 7i light and go through a specific swing weight test. Keep adding weight until you find your desired feel. Measure that 7i, let’s say it comes out at D2 then follow the next clubs up and down with a half a swing weight, for example:

    3i – D0
    4i – D0.5
    5i – D1
    6i – D1.5
    7i – D2
    8i – D2.5
    9i – D3
    PW – D3.5

    This will get you VERY close to the same MOI (feel kr how much force it takes to move your club) in your irons

    • Regardt van Rooyen

      Jul 8, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      Correction, “to MOI your irons without a MOI Machine”

  5. William Terry

    Jul 8, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    Do you think people would be better off matching MOI instead of swing weight?

    • Hurley

      Jul 8, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      Yes – to a degree – but the important thing is to get a baseline. And that takes trial and error to find that starting point. I’ve noticed for me and many others, there’s definitely a small range where things feel good. Way above or below this, and it’s no good. So you have to MOI a test club then break out the lead tape and get to work.

      Other thing to note is MOI matching really shouldn’t be for an entire bag – same as SW. You should generally break it down to woods, irons, and wedges – and most will prefer woods and wedges higher than irons. Also, here’s another consideration, courtesy of @howard_jones – even though SW isn’t a unit of measure, it can still come in handy. Let’s say there’s a test club built – a 9i – and we get an MOI measurement. Now we take that same 9i and take the SW value on it. Now you have baseline SW and MOI. Think of these as the two “extremes” and the rest of the set may fall somewhere in between. If you SW match a 4i, the MOI will be very different than the MOI matched value. The individual can hit both and see how they each feel, or do the same thing as the test club – break out the lead tape and build it up until it feels right. At the end, you’ll find some people may perform better with MOI match (progressive SW), some with SW match (progressive MOI), and some will fall somewhere in between. It’s crucial to get the measurements of a short and long test club and then draw the slope to find out where the rest of them may fall.

      The advantage of MOI over SW is 1) it’s a measurement and 2) it’s transferable across clubs. SW is not – it’s only valid when the components are all the same (heads, shafts, ferrules, grips, etc). So if you get a new set of irons, you CAN say, “my MOI is 2800” and have them built to that and unless head or shaft weights are WAY different, they’ll feel the same. What you CAN’T do is say “I want them at D3” and expect them to be the same. For this reason alone, MOI is way more valuable.

      All in all, in club building there is no shortcut. I think length and total weight are most important. It’s a combination of art and science to get it right.

      • drkviol801

        Jul 9, 2020 at 8:10 am

        You guys have no idea what you’re talking about. If you don’t play for a living your opinion is meaningless.

        • 51TJesx

          Jul 9, 2020 at 1:50 pm

          Dumbest comment on here in awhile. Newsflash – pros get paid to play and don’t work on their clubs. That’s why they have tour vans and those guys are paid to build clubs, not paid to play.

          Go try to refute a single thing that was stated – you can’t.

          You likely don’t get paid much for anything.

        • joro

          Jul 10, 2020 at 10:45 am

          Let me tell you that the “ones that play for a living” aren’t that aware, and that is why they have a club maker in the Tour Dept. to do it for them. I made a lot of clubs for Tour Pros and most had no clue, it mot have felt right but they did not know how to correct. Leave it to the pro club makers who know what to do.

          Like one poster said, yoo can lighten a telephone pole to the B range or make a Graphite shaft into the F range by where you put the weight, that is simple and also applies to the completed club… There is a danger to all that though, one is length if you cut or extend the shaft, and the other can by overall weight. So I say, if there is a problem look up a competent club maker and not a person who plays for a living. They know their specs and so does the guy that makes their clubs.

      • Ted Noel

        Jul 11, 2020 at 5:11 pm

        I agree that MOI is a great improvement over SW. I build clubs (hobbyist) and if I MOI match clubs, they will work well as a set. Note that MOI integrates weight distribution, elements of flex, and more. It’s a dynamic measurement that approximates how clubs feel in the hand.

        Of key importance, MOI measured from the butt cap is not what you feel MOI measured from 3 1/2- 4 1/2 inches down from the butt cap is much better, and if done properly, works from Drivers through wedges. Unfortunately, the only available MOI machine is set up to measure from the butt cap only, so masking tape kluges come into play.

        Perfect MOI matching is one reason that equal length irons play better for many people. (A single swing is the other, but that’s a different discussion.)

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
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  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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