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The Wedge Guy: Ball flight and spin rate, Part 2

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This past week, I was out at our club doing some research on launch angles and spin rates. My “Iron Byron” was our first assistant golf professional Joe Mitchell, who is one of the most consistent ball strikers I’ve seen. Joe has a reputation for being laser straight with every club, from driver to wedges, and is one of the best putters I’ve watched. The only “flaw” in Joe’s game, which he admits, is that he is not nearly as long as the young guns.

After we had finished up the round of research on various makes and models of short irons and wedges, Joe had a couple of drivers he wanted to test to see if he could eke a few extra yards out of his tee shots. Watching him hit golf balls is kind of boring actually, because they all look alike. As we went from driver to driver, there really wasn’t much visual difference in the ball flight pattern, but then the Foresight Sports GC2 launch monitor came into play.

It’s generally accepted that optimum distance with a driver is going to be at a launch angle of 13-16 degrees with spin rates in the 2,000-2,200 range. Very few golfers outside the tour elite can match these numbers, so most golfers do not get the maximum distance out of their clubhead speed.

Joe hit a number of drives with both drivers, and then a few with mine, and all were about perfect in launch angle – 13-15 degrees. But we kept seeing spin rates of 3,500-3,900 RPMs, which is way more than you’d like for a driver. He tweaked his takeaway and worked to keep the head moving flatter through the impact zone, but we really didn’t see much change in the numbers. Then I suggested that he back off about 10 in his applied swing speed and see what happened…

His spin number dropped from 35-3900 to 26-2800 rpms, launch angles did not change, ball speed off the clubhead did not change more than one mph or so, but distance improved by almost ten yards! So, the mere act of backing off a bit from “full power” actually improved his driving distance, and there’s no question that even Joe is going to hit the driver straighter if he’d not trying to “max out” on every swing.

We duplicated the test a number of times, Joe hitting drives at full power then backing off a bit. And the results were the same every time–the “controlled” swing produced about 1,000 RPMs less spin and greater distance than did the full out swings.

So, while you may not have a GC2 launch monitor available, you can do your own version of this test. Take a dozen or so balls that you play, mark half of them, and go out on the course when it’s not busy. Hit six drives with your “full power” swing, and then six more with a swing that feels like 85-90 percent of that. Then walk or drive down and see what the two patterns look like.

And then chime back in here with your results. Let’s see if we can’t build a body of real golfer test material right here, OK?

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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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Oscar

    Jul 3, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    Would interesting to know what golf ball was used…and if was matched to his swing speed. Maybe the golf ball performed best at a lower swing speed?

  2. NH Trackmanfan

    Jul 3, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Sounds like it is a shaft issue. Joe swinging at 100% would be someone stronger swinging at 80%. I have never seen any stats that show guys with the faster swing speeds all expect spin rates of 3,500-3,900. It can also be a loft issue. I had a young man on my Trackman swinging an 11.5 degree driver at 105 mph and that thing spun like a top. Needed a different shaft and different loft.

  3. Stephen Pearcy

    Jul 3, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Sounds like the CG needs to be changed. Not so easy.

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