If you knew what I know, you would never buy clubs off of a wrack at a store. Or online. Or a garage sale. Factory clubs are assembled to fit a “factory model” that is 5’10, weighs 185lbs, and swings a driver either 90 or 105mph, with a standard transition, and releases at the 6:30 position.... And they barely make it to that point, massively failing, due to tolerances. Please read so you can make an informed decision. Besides, the more you understand about what I do, the better feedback I get from you. The better feedback I get from you, the better product you get from me.
Center-of-Gravity, Not Sweet Spot
The Sweet Spot is a myth. IT DOES NOT EXIST. The Center-of-Gravity is the point where the club balances on the clubface from heel to toe, and from top to bottom. This point is so small, so infinitesimal, we have to use a mathematical illustration to define it as the point where the X-axis, the Y-axis, and the Z-axis intersect.
Golfers, even professionals, rarely strike the ball consistently at the center-of-gravity of the golf club. When the centers-of-gravity of the clubhead and ball line up, you get the optimal performance out of the swing.
Instead, the points of impact tend to be near the COG. For better golfers, this is perhaps a quarter inch diameter pattern around the COG. For us Sunday Hackers it may be an inch and a half diameter (or worse). Nothing replaces lessons and practice as far as improving your game, but if your club is out of balance getting your spine aligned will help narrow that impact pattern and bring you closer to that mythical Sweet Spot.
Shafts for factory production are often sorted by raw butt frequency analysis. Any shaft reading between a high and low frequency target (determined by the number of times the tip bounces in a minute), it is considered a regular flex. Below this window range is A Flex, above is S Flex. Raw butt frequency is one method is determining a shaft’s naked flex. A shaft’s true frequency is figured out by taking several measurements along the shaft. But for mass production purposes, butt frequency is usually all that is done. Although manufacturers are getting better with their process all the time. The quality of mass produced clubs has dramatically improved over the last few years.
Once sorted, the shafts are prepared for shipping to their customers by being cut for final length when assembled and tip prepped. The factory only needs to insert the shaft into the iron head with some glue and the shaft logo up.
Clubfitters have often measured finished clubs and found that they rarely, if ever, line up when their frequency points are graphed. Each club, as it gets shorter, is a little stiffer. When measured for frequency analysis, this is usually a four, or five point difference. (For example, a 5-iron may be 305 frequency points, which means the 4-iron should be 301 and the 6-iron should be 309.) However, because of the way shafts for mass production are sorted at the manufacturer, it is statistically improbable that any completed set bought at the golf store will have a perfect point slope when charted.
Every shaft, steel, graphite, fiberglass, or whatever, has a spine. There are many elements that define a shaft’s spine: Straightness, Material Density, Shaft Wall Thickness, Ply Overlay Variation, and Roundness. Shafts are not straight, nor are they round. By using an oscillation frequency measurement machine, the sturdiest, most consistent point of a shaft’s axis can be located. This is similar to a tire balance method. The spine, sometimes called the flow point, placed in the right playing position at the leading edge of the swing plane, gives a golfer the most reliable performance out of a golf club. Like front-wheel drive.
Loft & Lie
At the golf club factory, the 6-iron heads will all weigh roughly 263g., have 30° of loft, and 62° of lie. However, it is rare that a 6-iron has all its measurements at specification. They will all be close, but not exact. Weight has been recorded to vary as much 25g. Lofts or lies have been off as much as 6° in brand new name brand clubs, but are commonly within 2° plus or minus. Hosel bore depths vary. Bounce angles vary.
By the end of the shift, the 6-iron person will have glued all the 6-iron shafts into all the 6-iron heads.
Do yourself a favor, at least have your lofts and lies checked. Your clubs need to have an even spread of loft and lie if your game is to ever improve.
Bounce, plainly put, is the angle at which the bottom of the club trails away from the leading edge of the clubface. Different golfing styles require different bounce angles. Bounce angle got its name because the more of it there is the more likely the club is to “bounce” off the ground. If you take a big divot you need more bounce. Keeping your club from digging in will help with a cleaner striking of the ball. Too much bounce, however, can have an adverse effect, especially if you play the ball tight to the fairway.
There are many myths out there about launch angle. One of the biggest is that the right shaft can change your launch angle. Not true. It is true that there many factors that can influence launch angle— slightly— if not immeasurably. The only real influence on launch angle is club head loft. Almost every golfer needs higher, not lower, launch angle.
The slower your swing speed, the higher loft you need to stay competitive. Most golfers are playing with driver lofts that are too low.
The higher the club head’s loft, the more back spin it will impart on the ball. The more back spin the less side spin. The less side spin the straighter the ball flies. So having the correct launch angle not only helps with longer drives, but also helps with straighter drives.
Loft and angle of attack are the only two factors that cause backspin. The benefits of backspin are obvious: straighter ball flight and stopping power. Although it is true the harder the impact the more backspin, it is unreliable. The average golfer cannot hit the ball harder, even when they are trying.
The best way to increase backspin is to increase loft.
Some manufacturers are trying to subtly change clubface design to increase backspin. Some clubs are milled, stippled, or even ridged (reverse grooved). Be careful. Many of these designs are illegal.
The offset of a club is defined as the lag distance of the leading edge of the clubface from the leading edge of the hosel. The primary benefit to offset heads is a slight delay in impact with the ball, allowing the clubface to square up a bit at the last second.
Steel or Graphite Shafts
There is not a simple answer to this dilemma. However, most clubfitters will agree that graphite shafts are a better option. Tubular Steel Shafts were patented in 1891. This is the 21st Century. Graphite is lighter, stronger, and more flexible than steel. What breaks a steel shaft will not break a graphite shaft. Steel shafts can be bent, or even lose their “spring” over time.
Graphite shaft are less fatiguing. And because they are lighter, generally they strike the ball better (assuming a COG impact). A lighter golf club allows a golfer to swing the club with a little less energy and generate the same swing speeds as steel. In short, golfers gain control. Graphite is literally better than steel in every way, shape, form, and function. However, having said that, their is still a place for steel.
There are hundreds of thousands of different swings out there, and they all require whatever shaft they need.
A clubfitter works for you, and his job is to fit you with the lightest, longest, most flexible club you can control. Clubs can be built that have the same weight as a screwdriver. But the ball won’t go very far.
Conventional wisdom is that 40g must be dropped from the total weight of a club to make any difference in swing speed, and thus distance. Golf is a game of accuracy, and not distance. By dropping the total weight of a golf club, a round of 18 holes is less fatiguing. This allows for more consistent play throughout the round.
Swing Speed and Blunt Force Impact
The most important measurement a clubfitter will take is the your swing speed. Your swing speed directly correlates to many fitting aspects of your set of clubs. It will determine the flex of your shafts, the lofts or your clubfaces, even the length of your shafts.
The transition time in your swing will also influence the final flex of your shafts.
Simply put, the faster a golfer swings, the harder they hit the ball. Two solids cannot occupy the same space. This is a simple law of physics. At impact, both the ball and the club head deform. A slow motion video of Tom Kite showed how a ball flattened to a little less than half an inch thick as Tom’s driver came through.
The club head also deforms. How fast the clubhead returns to its designed shape is called the Coefficient of Restitution . The new measurement to determine how much the club head deforms and how fast it returns to its original shape is called the Pendulum Test Protocol. Using a simple pendulum drop of a simulated ball, the surface contact between the clubface and the measuring device is recorded. The longer the contact time, the greater the deformation of the clubface. The time measured is called the 'Characteristic Time' of the club head. The new test will not change the status of clubs previously ruled conforming or non-conforming. The Characteristic Time limit set for conformance is 239 microseconds, plus a test tolerance of 18 microseconds. The key words in this USGA Rules Quote is “change status.” Old clubs that may have been illegal could possibly be legal now. But be warned, it could also be the other way around.
This is a subject that requires a book to relate all the information. The Rules of Golf seem pretty specific and finite. But designers are always coming up with new and better “mouse traps.” Do square grooves give more spin? Do smooth faces yield straighter ball flights? Yes, and no. Grooves wick away debris that comes between the ball and the clubface. Dew, sand, grass, other grit. The more contact the ball has with the clubface, the more spin the ball will have.
Some people still have their old persimmon drivers around. There are dozens of materials drivers are made of these days. From 20 or 30 different steels to Kevlar to ceramics. Is any one best over all the others: No. But there is one best for you. The cheapest and most common material is steel, in any one of its forms, as far as manufacturing is concerned. Titanium is still the predominant choice. Multiple materials are quickly becoming the most popular choices.
By rule, a club head can only be so big. By rule, a club cannot have a “spring-like” effect. By the laws of physics, a club head has to be of a certain weight. Too light, and it won’t be able to transfer its kinetic energy to the ball. Too heavy, and it will snap off at the toe of the shaft.
With this in mind, designers are constantly reworking their blueprints to move the COG further down and behind the clubface. With the strictness of the USGA Rules of Golf, the use of varying materials is a great aid to this purpose. Plastic is lighter than steel. Carbon fiber is lighter than plastic with stronger tensile strength, almost as strong as steel. The lower the COG on the clubface, the higher the ball flight.
The farther back the COG is off the clubface, the less the tendency of the clubface to twist will be. Twist being defined as the opening or closing of the clubface via rotation on off-center impacts.
There is a very common myth that lower kick points, or soft toes, help increase launch angle. Not true, softer tip and lower kick points do not increase launch angle with any degree of measurability. The distance on the shaft from an extra low kick point to an extra high kick point is maybe ¾ of an inch.
What a kick point does do is markedly change how a golf club feels when it cleanly strikes a ball. A competent clubfitter can meet your frequency needs (i.e., meet your flex based on fitting measurements), yet set the club up to be as soft as raw hot dog or feel like a baseball bat.
As stated above, a clubfitter works for you. You are paying his commission, not a brand-name manufacturer. His or her job is to fit you with the longest, most flexible golf clubs you can consistently hit on the COG. Most golfers are playing clubs that are too long for them. Over the years, manufacturers have been making clubs longer and longer to get increased distance out of the ball flight.
But if you miss the center-of-gravity of the club head, you are suffering from diminishing performance. A shorter club hit on COG will fly the ball farther and straighter than a ¼” miss hit on a longer club.
Hybrids, Cavity Backs, Blades
This a question of your golf club set composition. The farther behind the clubface the COG can be moved, the higher and straighter the ball flight will be on a square strike. This is complex physics. A blade club head design has little, or no, perimeter weighting. In other words, the mass of the club head is located in the center of the club, right on the clubface.
Cavity backs have what the industry calls perimeter weighting. This is a term used to explain that the predominant weight of the club head has been moved to the outer edges of the clubface. Or to put it plainly, there is a cavity in the back of the club. The premise behind this design is that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. By moving the weight of the club head to top and bottom, the heel and the toe, the dispersed weight will want to continue in a forward motion at impact and resist twisting.
In the case of hybrids, a hollow bodied club head is designed, like a driver or fairway wood, which distributes the club head’s weight even farther towards the edge of the clubface and pulls that weight further behind the clubface. In the near future of golf, you may not be able to find a club head that is not a hollow body design.
Perhaps the least understood, and the most misused aspect, of clubfitting is Swing Weight. Magazine editors still publish articles about Swing Weight without bothering to discover anything about it.
Swing Weight is the relationship of the sole of the club to the top of the shaft. It is more for feel than anything else. A clubfitter can ensure that all the clubs will feel the same when they are swung in the play of a round with this measurement. A set of clubs that is not properly swing weighted cannot be properly frequency matched.
Frankly, it’s a delicate balance. Certainly most people can swing an axe harder than a sledge hammer. But few would argue that you can hit anything harder than you can with a sledge hammer.
A heavy swing weight does not promote a smoother swing plane or a farther shot. Quite often, the opposite is true. But again, there comes a point on the curve where you achieve diminishing returns. The swing weight become too light, and the golfer “loses” the club somewhere in the swing. Meaning they can’t feel where the club is at any given point.
Very rarely does a set of clubs come off the wrack and swing weight out exactly the same.
It is also very common for wedges to swing weight out higher than the field clubs, and putters will swing weight out higher yet.
The putter is arguably the most important stick in the bag. Par golfers use it for half their strokes. How many strokes would you drop if you two putted every time. Sure, that occasional 1-putt is tasty. But how many would you honestly drop? Most people select their putter by dinking an old scuffed up ball around on the fake carpet mat at the golf store. A few taps, and then plunk down a few hundred dollars.
Surprisingly, putters have some of the lowest quality manufacturing tolerances and standards. Particularly when it comes to lie angle.
Where every golfer tries to emulate a standard swing (Tiger’s, say), every Putter stroke is unique. Some stand over the ball. Some hunch over it. Some like to stand away from it. Some take short backswings and long follow-throughs. Some stab or poke at the ball like they are playing billiards. Some stand to side a sweep it. Some stand up erect as possible and stare down at the ball like a sniper over a rifle barrel. This is a distinctive fitting challenge. No one should be playing with a putter that was not made specifically for them.
There are enough designs out there that almost every golfer could be playing their own model. A clubfitter will likely spend most of their time on this club alone, fitting you up with what you are most comfortable with. After all, this is most often where a game is won or lost.
The most critical aspect of clubfitting is SPINE ALIGNMENT and FREQUENCY MATCHING.
Shafts are not straight. Nor are they round. These are the two most influential factors regarding the spine. Other factors are wall thickness deviation, material density consistency, and in the case of steel shafts, the seam.
The spine is defined as the most consistent point of the shaft (measured in 360°), placed in the 9 o’clock position for right handed or the 3 o’clock position for left handers. Think of it as front wheel drive.
There are two ways to detect and locate the spine: Statically and Dynamically. The static method is to flex the shaft and rotate it in some bearings until it “snaps” into position. The dynamic method requires the shaft to be in motion the entire duration. This is the preferred method for accuracy.
"There is so much to know about golf clubs, that to think you know because you read an article or listened to a salesman, is like thinking you can do brain surgery from watching a TV show." Ralph Maltby
Custom Golf Clubs Made by Hand and Fit to You
ON SWING WEIGHT
There has been recent research into changing the balance point of a golf club to ensure a smaller, more consistent, impact pattern on the club face. Balance point and swing weight are jointly connected.
Changing the balance point, however, happens at the grip end of the club, not the head end. The frequency measurement does not change.
This new research is quite promising for those who have consistency problems with their irons. I am excited by it.