Equipment Q & A
A game improvement Q & A
Jeff Jackson, for Publication PGA Tour Partners Online
Early in the season is often when players obtain new clubs. Are you still using the same set of clubs for the past ten years? Today’s models are longer, lighter and have larger heads than those of a decade ago. Many more options are available when it comes to choosing your 14-club set.
Whether you are thinking about woods, irons or a putter, if you answer “yes” to a few of these questions, it’s time to go club – or club repair – shopping.
#1. Are you always hitting first from the fairway?
If that’s the case, take a look at your driver. Today’s models are longer and lighter than those of the past. The longer the club, the more potential for distance – longer clubs offer the possibility of longer shots. Lighter shafts allow the clubs to be made longer – so longer and lighter is a “good” thing when it comes time to search for distance. Plus, driver heads are larger today. Larger clubheads effectively increase the “missing area” for most players. In other words, a player can now hit the ball slightly off center and the ball will still go relatively straight. Bigger heads twist less on off-center hits – this is known as having a higher moment of inertia – less twisting means straighter shots.
You may have heard of “COR”, or Coefficient or Restitution as a way toward longer drives. The higher the COR, the faster the ball comes off the club face and the longer the drive. There is a USGA-established maximum of 0.830 or less for a club to conform to the rules. A new test will be implemented in 2004 that will determine conformity of drivers and may change the terminology used from “COR’ to “CT”. “Characteristic Time” measures the flexibility of the face in a similar manner to COR. The USGA uses a Pendulum Tester to measure the flexibility or spring-like effect of a driver head by striking the club face at low impact speeds with a defined metal mass suspended on a pendulum. The metal mass is instrumented to measure a time of contact between it and the club face. This time of contact is directly related to the amount of spring-like effect of the clubhead. The greater the time of contact, the greater the spring-like effect. The time measured is called the Characteristic Time (CT) of the clubhead.
The pendulum device measures Characteristic Time in micro seconds. The results of the test correlate very closely with a high degree of reliability to the currently used USGA COR test. The USGA proposes to limit spring-like effect to a CT value of 250 micro seconds, which includes a test tolerance. This correlates directly with a COR reading of 0.830. The USGA proposes that clubs that previously have been ruled conforming or non-conforming on the COR tester will remain in the same conformance status as determined by the COR measurement. It is also proposed that all clubs tested after the January 2004 implementation date of the Pendulum Tester will be measured for conformance in CT.
Adding a high COR/CT driver with a lightweight graphite shaft at longer length will offer you the potential to be hitting last from the fairway instead of first. Take a trip to your pro shop or clubmaker for a test of the latest in today’s long distance drivers.
#2. You have a good swing, but you still have control problems…
Next time you are on the range, take a look at where most of your shots travel. Look at your irons and woods separately. Looking at your iron shots, is there a trend toward either missing shots to the left or right? If so, lie angle again could be the culprit. If an iron’s lie angle is too upright for your swing, especially in shorter irons, you will tend to pull a lot of your shots. If the lie is too flat, often pushes result. In effect, if you think your alignment is correct and you feel like you have made a “good” swing, but the ball either consistently goes left or right of target, have the lie of your clubs checked. Through no fault of your swing, you could be missing a couple of greens per round, adding costly strokes to your score.
While you’re visiting the range, hit some woods as well. Concentrate on the driver. If you hit most of your drives straight – especially with your new, larger-headed model, no problem. But, if you tend to slice or hook a majority of your shots, the face angle of your club may not match your swing. If you slice most of the time – as nearly all golfers do, your club face could be open. A more closed club face should help improve accuracy. The converse is also true; for a player who hooks the ball too often, a more open face may be helpful.
#3. Does your address position feel awkward?
It could be your clubs and not you… If your answer to this question is “yes”, the lie or length of your clubs may be incorrect for you. A club’s length is a key element in how a player stands at address. Any unnatural posture at address will most likely lead to inconsistent impacts. A club that is too long may lead hitting behind the ball; a club too short may cause topping of shots. In any event, consistency will suffer. If the lie of the club is too upright, the face plane of the club will be angled left at impact, resulting in “pulled” shots. If the club is too flat, the face plane will be angled right, resulting in pushed shots. If these problems sound like yours, have the lengths and lies of your clubs checked by a repair specialist.
#4. What’s your launch angle?
Watch the height of your tee shots the next time you play. Compare the trajectory to that of your playing companions. If there is a big difference, either high or low, the launch angle of your driver may be suspect. The wrong loft for you or a ball that spins too little or too much prevents you achieving your maximum distance potential. Find a club fitter who has a launch monitor. By comparing the loft and ball spin rates for a number of clubs, you can find the one that is best for you. With the variety of club lofts and golf balls available today, it is wise to utilize launch technology when choosing a driver. The launch monitor will determine the optimum angle of launch for your swing. In doing this, club design and loft will be considered, as will ball type. Fitting is no longer just about the club; the ball plays a key role as well.
#5. Are your clubs too heavy, too light or just right?
If a club feels too heavy, the player often perceives that he will have to “heft” the club in order to swing it. This leads to jerky moves, ruining any chance for a smooth swing. If a club is too light, there is almost an absence of feel. With no balanced feel to a club, it will be difficult to swing consistently, leading to errant shots. If the weight or balance of your clubs does not feel good to you, it will almost certainly lead to a reduction in accuracy; when checking out your current clubs, swing each one to see how it feels – not only be itself, but in relation to the other clubs in the set.
The question session is half over; next month we will complete your equipment Q & A. In the meantime, if you have more questions than answers to these five questions, a trip to your golf professional of repair specialist is probably time well spent. Remember, to play your best golf, you need not only proper technique, but equipment that matches your swing. There’s no time like early in the year to check out your equipment – so, what are you waiting for?
#6. Get rid of the clubs you can’t hit. Do it now!
All of us are faced with the decision of how to fill our bag with 14 clubs. Which should we carry and which should stay at home? In the case of amateur golfers, there is not one club that should stay home, but probably two or three… By far the most difficult clubs to hit for most players are long irons. The lower loft makes it difficult to get the ball airborne for most players – especially those with slower swing speeds. Plus, the less loft a club has, the less backspin on a shot. Backspin can help to reduce hooks and slices. Think about it – you certainly don’t slice a wedge as much a #4 iron do you? Backspin from loft is one reason. Add in the fact that longer irons are just that – longer in length – making it more difficult for most amateurs to return them to impact consistently and it’s easy to see why most players need not carry the #2, 3 & 4 irons!
So what do you replace them with? Look to any number of utility woods on the market. These clubs have larger, more forgiving heads, are often shorter in length and have centers of gravity designed to help get the ball airborne. Look for clubs of specific lofts rather than just looking for a #7 or #9 wood. Keep in mind that different manufacturers use different loft standards. So not all clubs stamped with a #7, for example, have the same loft or playing characteristics. Your pro or repair specialist can help in your decision-making. More and more touring professionals are going to utility clubs. If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for you!
#7. Are too many of your shots painful?
It might not be your fault! ‘Your hands hurt? No feedback? No flex? Are any of these common after a number of your shots? If so, you may be hampered by shafts that are too stiff for you. They could also be too heavy. Shafts that are too stiff will not provide much positive feedback to a player, often causing the player to say the club feels “dead” or that it has no feel. Typically the softer the shaft, the more feel it provides to a player. Heavy shafts are often said to be less responsive, especially among slower swinging players. The kick point of a shaft plays a role too – on a lesser scale. A shaft with a higher kick point may feel too stiff to many players. Lower kick shafts often provide more feel to a player. Kick point does not play a large role in how high or low a shot goes as once thought, but does have a definite effect on feel.
What about graphite shafts? Most drivers today have graphite shafts, as do a high percentage of fairway woods. Irons are increasingly available with graphite. When looking at graphite shafts, torque becomes a factor. Torque is how much a shaft resists twisting during the swing. A lower torque shaft (with 2 degrees, for example) will twist less than a higher torque 5-degree model. Shafts with low torque often feel “boardy” to many players, while higher torque shafts feel more responsive during the swing. If your clubs feel “dead”, a shaft change may be in order.
Look as well to the ball for a change in feel. There are literally 1000’s of choices today when it comes to balls. Don’t play a ball just because Tiger plays it. Cover type and construction materials and layering play a role in ball feel and performance. If your shots lack feel, maybe a softer cover ball will help. Your golf professional can recommend a number of ball options for you to try.
#8. Do your hands slip when you swing?
Players come in different sizes…so do grips. The vast majority of players are playing with grips that are either not sized for them correctly or that are worn and in need of replacing. Replacing grips is easy and inexpensive; it is the most cost-effective way to improve your play and confidence. Grip one of your clubs and look at the top hand on the grip. If your middle two fingers touch the heel pad of your hand, the grip is probably very close to the proper size. If there is a gap or if the fingers dig into your hand, the grip may be too large or too small. A grip that is either too small or too large will create the tendency for a player to re-grip the club during the swing. Any re-gripping will re-position the clubface, leading to errant shots. Properly sized grips eliminate this potential for re-gripping during the swing.
#9. Are my clubs really in good shape?
OK, you don’t have the cash to buy new clubs right now. What can you do to ensure your clubs are as good as they can be? Initially, look at the clubs to see if there are any dented steel shafts or frayed graphite shafts. These need attention right away. Dented or frayed shafts will break eventually, leading to potential injury. Don’t take chances with such shafts. Next look for rust spots or mineral deposits on the clubs. A lubricant such as WD-40, will remove the marks and will help to prevent their reoccurring. Examine the grips. If they are dirty, clean them with soap and water. If they show obvious wear, replace them. As mentioned, new grips offer an inexpensive way to possibly improve club performance. Loft and lie alterations may help improve your accuracy – again such alterations are fairly inexpensive. Length and weight changes are more expensive, so if saving a buck is a necessity, save these for later. If you have to do a lot of maintenance on your current set, it may be time to start a “golf club fund” for later this season…
#10. Do you look like all of the other golfers you play with?
If not, your equipment shouldn’t either. The simple answer to this one is that you are unique and your equipment should be unique as well. Each of us swings in a certain way, regardless of whether we are a 20-handicapper or a touring pro. Having clubs matched to your individual swing can only help to improve play. While we might all want to be like Tiger or Ernie, playing with their equipment probably would actually hurt our games. Tall players or short players may require length or lie adjustments, fast or slow swingers require different shafts, players of different abilities will opt for different head designs, and so on. Having clubs that are matched to you – either with brand new ones or with updates on your current ones – can only help your game. Head to a qualified fitting or repair professional for answers to your equipment needs; your game will thank you as a result.
In any event, having clubs that are matched to your swing can only help you to play better golf. In many instances, minor repair improvements such as a loft and lie change can yield noticeable improvement until it comes time to buy a new set. Equipment plays a key role in performance; don’t let having the wrong equipment hurt your game any longer.