During the second week of every November — the early signing period for prospective NCAA golfers — high schoolers can announce to the world where they intend to go to college. Golf Channel wasn’t knocking on my door or anything, but in November 2007 I announced that I was going to Rutgers University to play college golf. I had an awesome experience there, and if I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing. But if we’re being honest, I got lucky with the decision I made, because I had no idea what I was doing as a 17-year-old kid making such an important decision in my life.
Unfortunately, some college golfers don’t get as lucky as I did with their decision, and are left unhappy and dissatisfied, and they seek to make a change.
“By January of my freshman year, I was already looking at where I could transfer,” said one of our survey participants (learn more about the survey below).
As the second week in November approaches each year, I think about all of the high-school golfers who may or may not be making the wrong decision for themselves and their future. This year when the thought crossed my mind, I decided to do something to help. I asked my former teammates, competitors, friends and fellow employees (and their friends) who played college golf to rank the importance of five key factors in choosing a college golf program:
- Academics and Job Prospects
- Campus Life
- Financial Burden
- Strength of Team and Schedule
- Team Dynamics
In total, 17 former college golfers responded, representing Division I, Division II and Division III universities, and along with their rankings they each also answered four short-answer questions that provided further insight on their decisions. Click here to see the survey they took.
Use these results as a guideline (not the be-all and end-all) to help you and your family in your quest to make the right choice. In the breakdown below, I include quotes taken from the survey, as well as some of my own opinions.
Note: Factors below are in order of importance as decided by voters, starting with the least important (5) and moving to the most important (1).
5) Campus Life
College is most likely the first time that a young man or woman will be living on their own away from parents. As such, high schoolers may be interested in things that aren’t related to school or golf.
As a common rule, there are three main “S” words for college athletes: school, sports and social life. Most student-athletes can be stars in one or two, but almost none can lead the way in all three. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. According to former college golfers, “social” proved to be the least important S-word, as “Campus Life” was ranked the least important factor of the five in this survey.
Therefore, if you’re a prospective college golfer and you’re choosing a school based on how pretty the campus is, how good the parties are, how attractive the people are, the weather, or whether they have the frat/sorority you want to pledge or not, you may want to reevaluate your priorities.
“You’re going to [play] golf, not play ultimate frisbee,” a survey participant said.
Other comments on “campus life” from survey participants:
- “Every university has good people and plenty to do. I really focused on school and athletics. There will always be parties and fun activities, regardless of which uni you choose.”
- “All colleges will have athletics, extracurriculars, partying, etc. If you are looking to be an athlete at the collegiate level, anything that comes with campus life is just a bonus.”
- “You are there to compete.”
- Colleges with the “best student life”
- 50 colleges and university with the happiest freshman
- Top party schools in America
- The 100 most beautiful campuses
4) Academics and Job Prospects
Attending a “good” school is important to starting the career you want and to simply gain knowledge; that’s the point of college after all. But maybe a college’s academic programs and prestige aren’t as important as they’re made out to be. That’s at least the conclusion that can be drawn from this particular survey, as “Academics and Job Prospects” of a university ranked fourth in our five key factors.
“Academics and Job prospects [are least important],” a survey participant said. “In my opinion, most schools offer 75 percent of the same courses. The person who takes those courses and makes connections will be a factor in getting hired or not.”
Views on this subject varied greatly in the survey. Some ranked this category as the most important factor, and were vocally supportive of attending a good academic school, while others deemed academics and their degree as relatively less important to their future.
Deciding whether academic prestige of a university is important to you or not will take self reflection. But remember, no matter what school you choose, it’s crucial to expand your knowledge and garner skills that will later be employable. And if you don’t choose a university that will challenge you academically, you may be stunting your intellectual growth.
More thoughts on Academics and Job Prospects from survey participants:
- “Academics [were most important]. Pro golf was on my radar, but I knew it was a long shot so golf was my ticket to a great degree.”
- “Academics [were most important]. Cash flow from a great job trumps everything.”
- “You’re probably going to have to continue to rely on your own swing coach, fitness trainer or mental-game expert if you truly want to be [an elite golfer]. What you can’t provide for yourself, however, is the atmosphere of a great academic school and the exposure to ideas and people you never would have encountered at home. That’s why it’s so important to attend as excellent of a university as you can, whatever that means for you.”
- Top Men’s College Division 1 golf schools (academics and golf combined)
- Top degrees for getting hired in 2016
- U.S. News: Best Colleges
3) Financial Burden
Don’t forget this word: reality. Money will impact your life in one way or another, and debt up to your eye balls is not a myth.
“College golf lasts four years, but student loans can last 10 times that if the scholarship doesn’t cover enough of your tuition,” a survey participant said.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options to help relieve that burden.
“The listed cost of tuition and board is generally much less than what you read in the magazines,” a survey participant said. “There are so many academic scholarships and financial aid packages available that can bring down the cost. And if you choose the right school and major, your education should more than pay for itself.”
Again, no one can make this decision for you. Figure out what you can afford right now, and what you can afford after college, too. And then decide whether it matters for you. When it doubt, work hard in the classroom and in your sport to score as many scholarships as possible. Then once you’ve uncovered all the scholarships you think you can get, start your research again. There’s more out there.
Other thoughts from survey participants about Financial Burden:
- “Financial burden [is the least important factor]. Take loans. Enjoy college. You can’t do it twice.”
- “Cost of school determined where I went.”
- “Financial (Burden was least important) because that should not influence your decision, although it is a reality.”
- Best undergraduate finance programs
- Colleges with The College Board’s Net Price Calculator
- What’s the price tag for a college education?
2) Strength of Team and Schedule
For this factor, you’ll have to take a hard look at your golf game, and then look equally as hard at a college’s golf team.
By doing some research online*, you’ll be able to find results and tournament schedules for just about any college in America. This will give you a good idea of the strength of the team, what scores its players are shooting and how the team placed in recent tournaments. By doing your research, you’ll be able to estimate if you can play right away and if you’ll be playing in the caliber of tournaments that you desire.
*Don’t forget to look at course yardage and weather to gauge the playing conditions and accurately measure your game. Generally, college tournaments are played on difficult courses, so you can expect your scoring average to rise compared to high school tournaments.
Remember, just as there are prospective college golfers who want to play for a national championship, there are also students who just want to play golf and don’t care how prestigious the tournaments are. Maybe you’re happy with low-pressure college tournaments and aren’t striving to play against stiff competition. Think about what you really want, because it will ultimately have a major impact on your success and happiness in college.
“The strength of the schedule to me is the least important,” a survey participant said. “Whether you are in Division 1 or Division 3, it does not affect the outcome of what you can be. It is up to you as the player to push yourself and see how high the level of your talent can be.”
With avenues like qualifying school, local professional tours and national USGA events, don’t feel pressured if you end up at a less-competitive school than you desired. You can still “make it.”
A club golf program is also be a great alternative for a competitive golfer. Find out more about the NCCGA (National Collegiate Club Golf Association) here.
Other thoughts from survey participants on Strength of Team and Schedule:
- “Strength of golf team and schedule (are most important) to play against the best competition.”
- “Strength of team (was most important). Regardless of other factors, winning takes top priority.”
- “Most important: Can I play right away? Least important: Location. It is important to play and get the experience of college golf. Where you have to go to do that shouldn’t particularly matter.”
- Division I Men’s Golf Rankings
- Division II Men’s Golf Rankings
- NCAA Men’s Golf Division III
- Golfweek Division I rankings with strength of schedule
1) Team Dynamics
There are a lot of factors that are involved in golf team dynamics, and all are equally important to not only your personal success and happiness, but the success of the team as whole. You spend a whole lot of time with the people on your team, and the atmosphere and attitude can certainly have an affect on you.
“Team dynamics [are most important],” a survey participant said. “For the next four years you are going to spend so much time with these people. If you can’t get along it will leak into other aspects of college. It’s more or less a family because you eat together, workout together, play together. It’s a necessity to like the people.”
And this is especially true from a competitive standpoint. How competitive are the people around you, and how competitive do you really want to be?
“I played both D3 and D1, and the difference in competition was DRAMATIC,” a survey participant said. “D3 nobody cared. D1 people wanted to win.”
If you’re not looking to put 100 percent into golf and the team, that’s OK. Just make sure your goals aren’t drastically different than your teammates and coaches. High-level college golf requires a serious time commitment including workouts, range time, qualifying rounds, practice rounds, tournaments, study hall, classes — and then finding time to rest and have a semblance of a social life. College golf, or any college sport, is NOT for everyone.
“How do you know the team dynamics before you even get there?” you may be asking. My advice: take full advantage of official and unofficial visits, paying close attention the attitudes, habits and priorities of the players.
Other thoughts from survey participants on Team Dynamics:
- “A good group of guys and coach can bring the best of your game and talents out.”
- “I ranked the team chemistry the most important because it is what keeps you pushing to better yourself. You need a great connection with your coaches and teammates in order to continue the want to push yourself. In my experience, the lack of connection between coach and player caused a loss of interest in the sport and the will of the team.”
Beyond limits: Carbon bending and the future of shaft manufacturing
My name is James, and I am an equipment junkie. Like many of you, I am also a (mediocre) golfer struggling to take my golf game to the next level. But since I’m not so keen on hitting the range or the gym, I’m always searching for the next big breakthrough to help me avoid excessive practice and golf lessons.
TLDR: I am back to report that I may have found the ultimate breakthrough involving how golf shafts are manufactured. It will sound mind-boggling and counter-intuitive, but the new technology involves controlling a shaft’s variables of weight, flex (CPM), and torsional strength (torque) all independently of one another. As if this alone doesn’t sound far-fetched enough, it also purports to control the subjective aspect of how stiff the shaft feels without affecting the other variables.
To the best of my knowledge, I never knew any of these were possible, but seeing (and feeling) is believing, though I’m still reeling from my recent experience. Moreover, I dare predict that the sheer novelty of this discovery has the potential to redefine the golf shaft industry as we know it.
Also, the article is long. You’ve been warned.
In A League Of Their Own
Over the years, I have reported on several golf innovations and technologies that made golfers sit up and take notice. Of those finds, let me briefly recap two products that especially stood out before I unveil my most recent discovery further below.
Starting at number three, I present the now-famous Autoflex shaft by Dumina. Introduced in early 2020 during the COVID epidemic, the small Korean company claimed that their shafts didn’t use any flex designations and are to be selected solely based on a golfer’s swing speed. Against conventional wisdom, the company claimed that a super flexible, ultralight shaft can improve distance and accuracy for golfers of all swing speeds. The AF shaft, with its mysterious Korea Hidden Technology (KHT), sounded too good to be true, but more often than not, golfers who braved the steep price and the hot pink color agreed that the shaft seemed legitimate. Many also credit it with creating a whole new category of soft and hyper-flexible performance shafts.
Next in the number two spot is the groundbreaking FreeFlex shaft from SJ Golf Lab, also out of Korea. When the FF shafts surfaced in early 2023, I first thought they were a slightly improved version of the Autoflex. At weights and flex even softer than the AF, the shafts also improved distance and accuracy at a lower price point than their counterparts.
Upon delving further, FreeFlex Technology (FFT) was far more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Against the norm, the inventor of FFT claimed that a shaft’s weight, flex (CPM), and torque are NOT relative to each other and that each variable can be controlled separately. According to SJ Lab, a lightweight, flexible shaft with a strong torque was possible, and vice-versa. The incredulous claim went largely unnoticed at the time, but the folks at SJ Lab recently decided to prove their technology by introducing the ultimate unicorn of a shaft.
Aptly named ‘Hammer Throw’ the rubber-like shaft featured a conventional shaft’s weight of 62g yet measured only 140 CPM to be incredibly soft and flexible. To top it off, it also featured a strong 3.5 torque similar to an S-flex shaft, all unlikely numbers that have never been combined in a single shaft before. The Hammer Throw proved to be a wonder shaft for slower swingers, helping to increase club head speed, distance, and even accuracy.
Ultimately, SJ Lab redefined the concept of ‘shaft customization’ by proving that a shaft’s WT, CPM, and TQ can be controlled independently to any degree.
The AF and FF shafts are indeed quite amazing, but what I’m about to share with you may be an even bigger discovery than both of them combined.
It was a Thursday afternoon in October when I arrived at SJ Golf Lab. I had just finished a round of golf that morning and felt flush after having bested my buddies on a tough track. I was to cover the story of a new line of putter shafts (based on the Chaos Theory in physics, no less) and was looking forward to seeing if it could help my putting.
I was making small talk with Dr. Choi, the inventor & CEO of SJ Golf Lab, when a courier arrived to hand him a sealed envelope. Inside was a patent certificate for a new golf shaft manufacturing process, which was to be featured in SJ Lab’s latest MetaFlex series of shafts.
“Oh, that sounds interesting” I said politely. “Is it like FreeFlex technology?”
What came next was a barrage of information so contradictory and yet so transformative in its revelation that I forgot all about the putter shafts.
Entering The Realm Of The Senses
Carbon Bending Technology (CBT) is the latest brainchild of Dr. Choi, the inventor of FreeFlex shafts. As incredulous as his FFT may seem, his new CBT technology takes it even further by stating that a fourth variable, the shaft’s level of firmness, can also be controlled independently of the other variables.
“CBT technology involves bending or wrapping carbon in a certain way to control how stiff a shaft feels, independently of weight, flex, and torque.” – Dr. Seung-jin Choi, inventor of CBT Technology
Take a moment to let that sink in. Not only is he saying that the objective values of WT, CPM, and TQ can be controlled in any manner desired, but he can also control the subjective aspect of how firm a
If CBT technology is legitimately possible, the implications of his discovery are immense and may well change the way golf shafts are made. Needless to say, such a spectacular assertion begs the question, “How can such an improbable idea be possible?”
As I struggled to comprehend what I just heard, Dr. Choi handed me a shaft and asked me to try and bend it. Grabbing it at both ends, the shaft felt light and soft, and I was able to bend and flex it easily. I was then given another shaft and asked to do the same. The new shaft felt much firmer from the get-go, similar to what I’d expect from a typical S-flex shaft. When I said that the second shaft felt much stronger than the first, I was in for a rude awakening.
“They’re the same shafts” Dr. Choi said. “The only difference is that the second one was treated with the CBT process. Other than that, both are practically the same in CPM and torque.”
“What do you mean these are the same shafts? This one is definitely stiffer.” My eyebrow arched in puzzlement at such a blatant contradiction.
After all, I was holding both shafts in my hands, and no one in the world was going to convince me that these two had the same CPM and TQ measurements.
The skepticism in my voice must’ve been obvious as I was led to a measuring device. I wish I could’ve seen the look on my face at that exact moment when my eyes confirmed both shafts to have the same CPM and torque.
Goosebumps broke out on my arms, and my brain felt numb. Stunned, I took turns grabbing each shaft by the ends and bent them over and over again. There was absolutely no doubt that one was stiffer than the other. It wasn’t even close. Yet, if the numbers don’t lie, how was I to reconcile the two empirical facts at odds with each other before my very eyes?
Seeing Is Believing… Or Is It?
After repeated measurements to ensure I wasn’t dyslexic, I regained enough sense to sit down with Dr. Choi to hear more about the sorcery of carbon bending.
ME: How does CBT differ from your earlier FFT technology?
CHOI: CBT came as a result of golfers loving our FreeFlex shafts with the FFT technology but wanting even more. The FFT allows us to control the weight, flex, and torque independently. We used this discovery to design a new breed of shafts that help all levels of golfers increase club head speed and distance. But some of the stronger, faster-speed golfers were eventually turned off from it, as they couldn’t get accustomed to the soft feel and flex. The fear of spraying the ball all over the course was just too much.
To solve this issue, I looked at many factors that led golfers to describe whether a shaft is soft or stiff. Similar to FFT, I soon discovered that a shaft’s stiffness is not relative to its CPM value. By reinforcing a shaft through a special process I call carbon-bending, it can be made to feel as stiff as I wish without changing the original CPM or torque.
ME: (blank stare)
CHOI: Did that answer the question?
ME: Uhh… no? What do you mean the CPM doesn’t change? If the shaft became stiffer, it means the CPM value must have increased, doesn’t it? How we perceive stiffness is subjective, so we measure the CPM value objectively with a machine. That way, we can compare the CPM values of different shafts to see which one is stiffer with the higher number.
CHOI: Normally yes, but like I said, how stiff the shaft feels does not have to correlate with the CPM. They are independently controllable. As I just showed you with the two shafts earlier, both measured at the same CPM and torque. It was only when I applied the CBT method to one of them that it became stiffer than before, as you have seen for yourself.
ME: Yeah, I’m still not sure how that is, feeling firm in my hands but the machine reading it as soft. Is this like the cat in Schrodinger’s box, where the cat is both alive and dead at the same time? This shaft is also both soft and firm simultaneously?
CHOI: Not quite. But how about this? What if the CPM measurement we currently use to gauge and compare stiffness between shafts is not the only method? What if there were other ways that we haven’t considered to control the feeling of firmness?
ME: So you’re saying you discovered a new way to objectively measure how we feel or perceive stiffness?
CHOI: I think it’s better to say that I realized that a shaft’s CPM and stiffness can be independent of each other, whereas before, we thought they were directly relative. It led to look for other ways to make the shaft firmer, which is what I did. In the process, it also made me think, what else are we missing? Maybe we’ve been limiting ourselves in believing there’s nothing new left to discover.
Shaft Manufacturing 101
According to Dr. Choi, the method of manufacturing carbon shafts has remained largely unchanged since 1979, when Taylormade first introduced the first graphite shaft that offered many advantages over conventional steel shafts. Since then, various new materials and technologies have made the shafts lighter and stronger, but the basic shaft-making process remains the same.
The making of a modern golf shaft consists of wrapping layers of prepreg (treated carbon fiber) sheets around a steel shaft (mandrel). As more layers are applied, the shaft becomes progressively thicker and heavier (WT), which makes the flex (CPM) stiffer and increases the torsional (TQ)
The current method and its proportional relationship between WT, CPM, and TQ is widely accepted. However, it also presents a big challenge for shaft-makers, whose main goal is to make shafts that improve distance with more accuracy. This is because generating more club speed for more distance necessitates a light and flexible shaft; while improving shot accuracy requires the shaft to be firm in both flex and torsional strength.
To balance the trade-off as best they could, OEMs have continually researched new materials and higher-quality carbon, along with their own, often secret, ways of weaving and arranging the carbon prepreg. A good example to illustrate shaft improvement in this manner is the lighter 50-gram range of X-flex shafts, which were a rarity only a few years ago.
At least for now, 5X shafts seem to be the pinnacle of conventional shafts that can be made with the existing process.
Shaft Manufacturing 2.0
In physics, Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration (F=MA). The same can be applied to golf at impact, but since a golf club is designed to be in motion, its dynamic energy is calculated as Impulse=MAT, where T is the time the ball stays in contact with the club face.
Dr. Choi explained that increasing any of the three factors would transfer more energy to the ball (I).
In other words, by making the club head heavier (M), faster (A), and getting the ball to remain in contact with the clubface longer (T), the distance will increase as a result.
Now that we can get faster club head speed (FF shafts), how can the shaft be made to feel stiff while retaining a longer distance? The solution was surprisingly simple, as most discoveries tend to be at first.
“Imagine wearing a pair of skin-tight nylon stockings,” Dr. Choi said. “It’s tight, but you can still move and bend your knees easily.” Truth be told, I’d never worn stockings before, but I nodded to see where it would lead.
“If you were to put on one more, your legs will feel stiff, and with yet another, it’ll now be very difficult to even bend your knees,” he was building up towards a big reveal. “But no matter how stiff your legs now feel with the layers of stockings, you can still rotate them.” Come again?
“When you try to sit down, the legs will stick straight out like they’re in a cast, right? But you’d still be able to twist or rotate your leg [left and right] because the stockings are not exerting force in that direction.”
Dazed at the anticlimactic turn, I tried to recall the last time I had a cast but he plowed on. “The original characteristics of your legs don’t change because of the stockings. They’re still your legs, which are bendy and flexible.”
I may have missed a whole lot there, but loosely translated, CBT technology is like adding tight pairs of stockings to make a shaft feel firmer, but won’t change what the original shaft was in terms of
torque or CPM.
Helical Carbon Armour
Carbon bending involves a new step in the shaft manufacturing process, where a thin strip of carbon is helically wrapped tightly around the shaft to increase stiffness. This new sheath of armor will firm up the feel of the shaft but will not affect the CPM or torque. In addition, Dr. Choi’s in-depth research further showed that the width of the strip band and the spacing between the helical spirals all played a part in changing the characteristics of the shaft in minute ways.
The truly mind-blowing prospect of CBT, however, is its ability to create an endless number of unique shafts with specific performance characteristics. For example, the number of new shaft possibilities can reach tens or even hundreds of thousands, depending on various factors, including but not limited to the width and thickness of the band, the spacing and orientation of the helical spiral, the weave pattern of the band fabric, and each of the different materials that all of these factors can be applied to.
“Can you imagine a PGA tour pro being able to dial in a golf shaft to squeeze 99.9% of the performance potential from their favorite shaft, without giving up anything they prefer in WT, CPM, TQ, and now FEEL?” – SJ Golf Lab 2023
If It Looks And Barks Like A Dog?
Several days later, I returned to SJ Lab to test the new MetaFlex CBT shafts. The lineup consisted of three driver shafts of 5H, 6H, 6.5M, and iron ix90 shafts (H for high kick, M for mid-kick). Again, the MF series is designed for faster-speed golfers who swing at least 100mph to well over 120mph. I purposely asked not to see the shaft specs beforehand, as I wanted to remain neutral in determining how the new shafts felt and performed.
Waggling the 5H shaft first, it felt similar in weight and flex to a typical R-shaft. I usually average a smooth swing of about 95 mph with my FF38, but the 5H shaft instinctively made me try to swing harder to compensate for the firmer feel. The good drives launched high and carried as far, with spin between 1900~2000 rpm. As I warmed up, I was hitting it quite well, despite swinging a bit harder than usual.
I had grown accustomed to swinging smoothly and in tempo with FF shafts, so it felt good to swing hard again and not worry about the head catching up. The overall distance was comparable with my own driver at 240~250 yards, so I guessed the 5H specs to be about 220 CPM and close to 4.0 torque. On the downswing, the shaft reminded me of the many 5S shafts I had been using before being turned onto softer shafts. I imagined I could play it well, but struggle to keep it straight on the back nine when I gradually get tired.
Next, the 6H shaft felt like a conventional 5S on the waggle, but much stiffer like a 5X shaft on the actual downswing. I guessed it to be about 230~240 CPM and 3.5 in torque, as I was only able to turn the club head over about one-third of the time. I got a couple out to 240 yards but the rest of the shots varied from a fade bordering on a slice interspersed with low pulls. I felt the shaft demanded more speed for it to show its potential, and my slower speed wasn’t making it sing as it should.
Lastly, the MetaFlex 6.5M told me right away that it was out of my league. The waggle reminded me of a Ventus or a Tensei shaft, and the actual swing was even stiffer and closer to a 6X shaft. As expected, my shots were mostly pushed dead right, as I couldn’t effectively load the shaft with speed.
When I tried to force the head to turn over, I’d overcompensate to flip the wrist and pull it low left. The few that managed to land on the fairway barely traveled 210 yards with a noticeable decrease in ball speed. I can usually muster enough muscle to make a typical stiff shaft work over nine holes at least, but the 6.5M felt like an iron rod.
Overall, MF shafts’ waggles felt similar to conventional aftermarket shafts and felt even firmer during the actual swing.
I was now ready to see the actual spec measurements of the three shafts.
“There’s no way these numbers are the actual specs,” I protested. “These are softer than my FF38, so how…?” Hearing my voice hit a high pitch, I quickly closed my mouth. I already knew to expect something different, but this? Trying to reconcile the stiffness with such low numbers was just as difficult as it was the first time I encountered this phenomenon.
For lack of a better comparison, imagine picking up a cute kitten to hear it purr, only to be shocked at hearing it bark like a big angry pitbull with its tail stepped on. Does this mean I can no longer use phrases like “seeing is believing,” What will happen to “if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog?”
More importantly, what does this mean for the future of golf shafts?
Implications For The Future
Deep down, I believe every golfer wants to increase their driver distance. It doesn’t matter if you average 150 yards or 300 yards. As golfers, the need to hit it farther is in our DNA.
Since discovering that longer, easier distance (and accuracy to boot) is possible with the advent of AF shafts, I’ve never looked back. When FreeFlex shafts debuted earlier this year, I switched all my shafts throughout the bag and couldn’t be happier. I’ve received dozens of similar emails from golfers who read about my experiences and took the plunge, mostly to their pleasant surprise.
As amazing as the shafts are, some scoffed at the absence of such shafts on professional tours. If they’re so good, why aren’t they used more? After all, a distance gain of 10 yards on drives can mean as much as 5-10 percent closer to the pin on approach shots for shorter putts, which can translate to millions of dollars in winnings. In fact, dozens of pros from all major tours have tried them, some openly and some in secret.
As a recreational golfer, I can live with an occasional OB if it means consistently out-driving my friends. But an elite tour pro for whom a single stroke may be worth millions? Not a chance. Even the best can become a psychological wreck if the shaft flexed more than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Especially on the back nine of a major on Sunday afternoon.
But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose there exists a shaft that truly offers longer distance and accuracy of the soft FF shaft with the reassuring feel and playability of a stiff shaft. Better yet, what if your favorite shaft can be readjusted to fit all of your needs for maximum performance output and feel preferences? I’d bet my last Pro V1s that elite professional golfers will stop at nothing to have them tested and optimized to benefit each of their own swing metrics and performance. It’s in their DNA.
Dr. Choi also mentioned that he is nearing completion of his state-of-the-art swing and shaft diagnostic system, which can prescribe precisely the type of shaft (weight, flex, torque, feel, kick, kitchen sink?) needed for a player. And he builds it to that specification. Customization to the fullest.
As the company’s name implies, that is the ultimate goal of SJ Golf Lab and Dr. Choi, who hopes his shafts will come as a “Special Joy” for each and every golfer.
All in all, CBT certainly felt to me like the next evolutionary step in golf shaft technology.
So, what do you think? Can we trust the accuracy of the statements made by SJ Golf Lab? I would love to hear from other golfers and knowledgeable shaftoids in the industry, and what it can mean going forward.
The Wedge Guy: The science of spin
Over my 30-plus years writing about equipment and designing wedges, I must have been asked thousands of times: “How do I get more spin with my wedge shots?” That seems like such a simple question, but the answer is as far from simple as you can get. So, today I’m going to try to break down the science of spin into its separate components.
The amount of spin imparted to the golf ball in any wedge shot will be affected by three basic things:
- The ball you play
- Your personal swing skills
- The specific wedges you play.
Let’s look at each of them.
One very simple way to improve the spin you get with your wedge shots is to play a premium ball with a soft cover. The harder and usually less expensive balls typically have a firmer core and a cover that is more durable but doesn’t allow as much spin. You should experiment with various balls to see which gives you the optimum combination of distance and spin.
We all know those golfers who seem to spin the ball better than others. That’s because they have honed their skills to make an accelerating, pure strike to the ball most of the time, and to make contact very low on the clubhead – elite players wear out a dime-sized spot on their wedges that is center-face and between the 2nd and 5th grooves. My bet is your wear pattern is more the size of a quarter or even half dollar and centered several grooves higher. You’ll see later why that is so important.
Anyone can learn to be a better wedge player by engaging a golf professional and spending lots more time practicing your wedge shots. I highly recommend both, but also realize that spin is greatly affected by swing speed as well. A strong player who can hit a gap wedge 120 yards is likely to generate much more spin than an equally skilled player who hits gap wedge only 90 yards.
Now we get to the fun part – how the specific wedges you are playing will affect the amount of spin you can impart to any given shot.
Very simply, if you are playing a wedge that you’ve had for years, the grooves are likely well past worn out and are costing you valuable RPMs on every wedge shot. That said, no wedge brand has any measurable competitive advantage over another when it comes to groove technology. The USGA has not changed the rules on grooves in over a decade, and every premium brand of wedges is utilizing the best CNC-milling techniques to push those regulations to the limit. There’s just no story here. And my robotic testing indicates the total absence of grooves only reduces spin by 15-17 percent on a dry ball.
Yes, wedge shafts are that important. You should have shafts in your wedges that closely match the shafts in your irons in weight, material, and flex. This is particularly important if you have evolved to lighter and softer iron shafts. The exception to that is if you play X-flex shafts in your irons, take a tip from almost all tour professionals and opt for a slightly softer flex in your wedges.
What is much more important to make a wedge “spin-ier” is the design of the clubhead itself. While wedges really didn’t change much for decades, over the past few years, every major wedge brand has begun to position a bit more mass in the top section of the wedge clubhead. This repositioning of mass raises the CG a bit and improves the “gear effect,” which enhances spin on every wedge shot.
While they all are doing so to a different degree, most are held back by their reliance on their tour professionals’ input. Those elite players already spin the ball as much as necessary, and they don’t need or want more spin in their wedge shots. But that isn’t in your best interest.
This subject simply cannot be addressed without referencing my own work in wedge design for over thirty years. My wedges for Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, Ben Hogan and now Edison Golf have put increasingly more mass in the top half of the clubhead to help recreational golfers get more spin on all their wedge shots. I’m flattered that all major brands are finally starting to follow my pioneering of this design concept, because it works. (Caliper measurement reveals that none of today’s wedges even have as much mass above center-face as my original Reid Lockhart wedges did in the mid-1990s)
Regarding my reference to tour players’ skills and their dime-sized wear pattern earlier, by striking their wedge shots so low in the face, they are optimizing spin on their traditional “tour design” wedges, because it maximizes the amount of clubhead mass above the point of impact. We all know that “thinned” wedge shot that flies low but has sizzling spin – same concept.
To help explain how this CG placement affects spin, look at what has happened in drivers, fairways, hybrids, and now irons.
As the “launch monitor wars” have come to dominate club-fitting (and selling!), the “holy grail” of distance is high launch and low spin. The engineers are achieving this by continuously finding ways to put maximum mass low in the clubhead with carbon crowns, tungsten inserts and thin faces. But good wedge play is all about penetrating trajectories and optimum spin — and all that mass in the bottom of the wedge head is exactly the opposite of what is needed to deliver that ball flight.
I’ll also leave you with this thought on getting maximum spin on your intermediate-range wedge shots. You are quite likely to discover you actually get more spin with your 52- to 54-degree wedge than with your higher-lofted 56 to 60. That’s because the ball is less likely to slide up the clubface, which causes loss of spin and higher ball flight. Give it a try to see for yourself.
This has been one of my longer posts, but the topic is worthy of a full explanation. I hope the “science of spin” is much less mysterious now.
Vincenzi’s RSM Classic betting preview: Experienced heads likely to contend at Sea Island
The final full-field event of the 2023 fall season has arrived. The PGA TOUR heads just south of Augusta for the RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside and Plantation courses) in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
Each golfer will play three rounds on the Seaside course and one round on the Plantation course.
The Seaside course is a par-70 layout measuring 7,005 yards, and the Plantation course is a par-72 setup coming in at 7,062 yards. The Seaside course, which was redesigned by Tom Fazio, plays more like a coastal links, while the Plantation course is similar to a tree-lined parkland course. Both feature Bermudagrass greens and will be very scorable. The past five winners of the event have all finished between -19 and -22.
Some notable players in the field include Brian Harman, Ludvig Aberg, Si Woo Kim, Akshay Bhatia, Cameron Young, Billy Horschel, Matt Kuchar, Russell Henley, Taylor Pendrith and Corey Conners.
Past Winners at The RSM Classic
- 2022: Adam Svensson (-19)
- 2021: Talor Gooch (-22)
- 2020: Robert Streb (-19)
- 2019: Tyler Duncan (-19)
- 2018: Charles Howell III (-19)
- 2017: Austin Cook (-21)
- 2016: Mackenzie Hughes (-17)
- 2015: Kevin Kisner (-22)
Let’s take a look at several metrics for Sea Island Golf Club to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds:
Strokes Gained: Approach
The greens at Seaside are big, so it will be important to stick approach shots close to avoid having to make difficult two-putt par saves. In what should be a birdie-fest, golfers will need to stick their approach shots to contend.
Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:
- Sam Ryder (+24.8)
- Russell Knox (+22.4)
- J.T. Poston (+20.3)
- Eric Cole (+18.8)
- Alex Smalley (+18.4)
Good Drives Gained
Length really isn’t a factor at either course. Looking at the past winners at Sea Island, they’re all accurate golfers off of the tee who know how to find the fairway. However, over the past few years, “Good Drives Gained” has been a much more predictive statistic at this event than “Fairways Gained.”
Total Good Drives Gained in past 24 rounds:
- Russell Henley (+22.7)
- Brendon Todd (+21.8)
- Tyler Duncan (+21.7)
- Martin Laird (+20.6)
- J.J. Spaun (+20.5)
Strokes Gained Putting: Bermudagrass
This tournament could become a putting contest if the winds aren’t strong this week. Historically, the winners of the RSM Classic are great Bermudagrass putters (Simpson, Kisner and Hughes).
Total Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda in past 24 rounds:
- Maverick McNealy (+27.7)
- Chad Ramey (+25.3)
- Martin Trainer (+23.0)
- Justin Suh (+22.7)
- Taylor Montgomery (+22.5)
Birdie or Better Gained
With birdies (and potentially some eagles) likely to come in abundance, pars aren’t going to cut it at Sea Island. I anticipate the winning score to be close to -20, so targeting golfers who go low is the right strategy here.
Total strokes gained in Birdie or Better Gained in past 24 rounds
- Eric Cole (+31.4)
- J.T. Poston (+21.3)
- Ludvig Aberg (+20.9)
- Luke List (+20.7)
- Justin Suh (+16.1)
Strokes Gained: Par 4 (400-450)
With eight of the par 4s on the Seaside course measuring 400-450 yards, I’m looking to target golfers who excel on par 4s of this length.
Total strokes gained in category in past 24 rounds:
- Russell Henley (+21.1)
- Denny McCarthy (+13.4)
- Matthias Schmid (+12.8)
- Callum Tarren (+12.6)
- Ryan Moore (+11.4)
Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.
These rankings are comprised of SG: App (25%); Good Drives Gained (21); SG: Putting Bermudagrass (21%); B.O.B (21%); and SG: Par 4 400-450 (12%)
- Russell Henley (+2200)
- Sam Ryder (+9000)
- Chesson Hadley (+6500)
- Brendon Todd (+5000)
- Eric Cole (+3500)
- J.T. Poston (+3500)
- Stephan Jaeger (+4000)
- Matthias Schmid (+6000)
- Brian Harman (+2000)
- Austin Smotherman (+25000)
2023 RSM Classic Picks
Matt Kuchar +4000 (DraftKings)
There are plenty of players at the top of the odds board who have a strong chance to contend this week, but few have had the recent repetitions that Matt Kuchar has had. The veteran is in fantastic form and felt as if his game was in great shape heading into the World Wide Technologies Championship, where he came agonizingly close to victory.
Kuchar has three top-19 finishes in his last four starts worldwide, including the runner-up in his most recent start. At one point, he had a six-shot lead before making a disastrous quadruple bogey on the 15th hole during his third round. Many expected Kuchar to struggle on Sunday after blowing such a big lead, but he performed admirably and would have won if Erik Van Rooyen didn’t shoot a ridiculous -8 on the back nine.
The 45-year-old currently lives in St. Simons, Georgia so will be right at home playing at Sea Island this week. His history at the course isn’t as spectacular as one would think given how well the course fits him on paper, but he does have four top-30 finishes at the event since 2013.
In five of Kuchar’s six wins since 2012, he’s had a top-5 finish in one of his three previous starts leading up to the win. I believe his start at the WWT was a foreshadowing of a looming victory.
Billy Horschel +4000 (DraftKings)
After struggling for much of the 2022-2023 season, Billy Horschel has finished the top 20 in five of his past six worldwide starts including a T14 finish in his most recent start at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October.
Horschel hasn’t played the RSM Classic with regularity but finished in 2nd place at the event back in 2016 where he lost to Mackenzie Hughes in a playoff. The course is a perfect fit for Billy, who’s not overly long off the tee and putts incredibly well on Bermudagrass.
Billy will come into the event as motivated as ever to contend on a course that he should be able to pick apart. With seven career PGA Tour wins, there’s no doubt that Horschel is a closer who will be able to keep his composure down the stretch.
Harris English +6000 (DraftKings)
After a 2021 Ryder Cup appearance, Harris English has had an inconsistent two seasons on the PGA Tour. However, the Sea Island resident finished the season on an encouraging note, finishing 10th at the BMW Championship.
English has a mixed history at Sea Island, but he does have a 6th place finish in 2020. He finished 29th last year, but a final round 65 may be an indication that the 34-year-old figured something out at the course that he grew just a few hours away from.
It’s a bit concerning that English has been off since August, but he’s played well off of layoffs in the past. Last year, he finished 9th at the Fortinet off a 6-week break. In 2021, he won the Sentry Tournament of Champions off of a 5-week break. This break has been a bit longer, but the extra time may not be a major detriment.
Enlgish is a better player than he’s shown over the past 18 months, and I believe he’s in store for a resurgent season that may start this week in Sea Island.
Taylor Pendrith +6500 (DraftKings)
Taylor Pendrith is in fantastic form. In his past three starts, he’s finished 3rd, 15th and 8th. Despite not seeming like a great course fit at Sea Island on paper, he’s had some great history at the course throughout his career.
Last year, Pendrith finished 15th at the event, gaining 5.4 strokes on approach. He also came into the event while playing some below average golf and still managed to hit it great at Sea Island. In 2021, he finished 26th despite missing the cut in two previous starts as well as the following start. I believe now that the Canadian is coming into the event playing some incredibly consistent golf he should be a serious threat to contend deep into the weekend.
Ben Griffin +7500 (DraftKings)
Just a week ago, Ben Griffin was 22-1 and one of the betting favorites at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. Although some top end players such as Ludvig Aberg, Brian Harman and Cameron Young have been added to this field, I still believe the drop all the way down to this price gives Griffin a ton of value this week.
The North Carolina hasn’t built up an extensive course history at Sea Island just yet, but he did finish 29th at the event last season. The 27-year-old fired an opening round 65 to start his week and then shot two more rounds in the 60’s after a second round 71. His experience last season should be helpful in his pursuit of a victory this time around.
Sea Island should suit Griffin perfectly. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 15th in the field in both Strokes Gained: Approach and in Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermudagrass. His sharp iron play and ability to hole putts on Bermuda make him an ideal candidate for to contend at Sea Island.
Alex Smalley +8000 (DraftKings):
The past five events in the PGA Tour’s swing season have given us winners who’ve already won on Tour multiple times. The fa oll is typically a time for first-time Tour winners to shine, and among the top candidates to accomplish that this week is Alex Smalley.
Smalley has contended a few times thus far in his career and one of those times was at last year’s RSM Classic. A consistent effort of 67-66-67-67 resulted in the Greensboro, North Carolina resident finishing in a tie for 5th place for the week. It’s no surprise that Smalley likes Sea Island given the amount of golf he’s played in the area and his knack for playing well on shorter courses.
The Duke graduate is beginning to round into form, finishing 30th last week at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship fueled by a final round 65 (-6). Smalley has done his best work on easier courses and the course should provide plenty of birdie opportunities for the 25-year-old.
Kevin Kisner +25000 (DraftKings):
Kevin Kisner has been playing incredibly poorly by his standards since his win at the Wyndham Championship in August of 2021, however Camilo Villegas’ win last week showed us how quickly things can change.
Kisner has shown some minimal signs of improvement during the fall season, finishing 62nd and 51st in his two starts at the Fortinet Championship and the Sanderson Farms Championship. More importantly, Kisner gained 1.8 strokes on approach at the Country Club of Jackson, which was his best approach performance since November of 2022. Going back to the Villegas example, while he was in the midst of a twelve-start stretch where he didn’t finish better than 54th, the Colombian gained 4.0 strokes on approach in a missed cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship in a missed cut. Clearly, he found something and went on to finish 2nd and 1st in his next two starts.
If there’s a course that Kisner may be able to find “it” on, it’s Sea Island. Kisner is a former Georgia Bulldog who’s won here in 2015, lost in a playoff in 2020 and has two additional top-7 finishes since his win. At long odds, “Kiz” is worth a sprinkle on one of his favorite tracks.
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