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GOLF CONDITIONING
Wednesday
May132015

Caring for Your Clubs

We've learned a few things about caring for the condition of your clubs that we would like to share with you.

The first suggestion is related to practice swings. We see many players bang their clubs against the turf or practice mat when they are taking a practice swing. I can't think of a benefit from doing it -- if anything, only harm to your clubs or your wrists and elbows will result from hitting the turf or matt with a practice swing. There is no feedback benefit from removing a thick piece of turf in a practice swing.

A related action is banging the club against the turf or practice mat when a player has just had a swing they didn't like. It's usually the result of frustration or impatience. Nothing good comes out of this move either.

These types of heavy impacts can weaken the structure of the shaft and may even weaken the epoxy bond between shaft and clubhead. A few of those heavy impacts can break the shaft off at the hosel. There is generally no warranty from shaft manufacturers for this type of damage. The tip is the strongest part of the shaft -- good luck with trying to convince anyone that the tip was defective.

Cleaning your clubs after each round is a good way to extend the life of the finish and grooves on the clubface. A damp rag will usually be sufficient, but if neccessary get into the grooves with a fiber -- not metal -- brush and dig out the dirt. Removing dirt allows the grooves to function properly and minimizes formation of rust.

Don't lean on your clubs with the full weight of your body. That new premium shaft, and even those not so premium stock shafts, are not designed to provide that type of support. Sometimes we see players "testing" the flex of a shaft by pressing it into the ground. I've never understood this move, but when the shaft breaks warranties don't cover it -- that type of break can easily be distinguished from a possible shaft wall defect, and the manufacturers are wise to those claims as well.

Leaning on your putter to pick up the ball is also a bad idea unless you are trying to alter the shape of the club. Most putters have steel shafts, and they can bend given sufficient applied strain. Putting is challenging enough without introducing a change in the shape of the shaft -- or possibly a change in the lie angle or face angle of the club head. 

Our last comment is about caring for the course you play. When we see golfers routinely taking a divot the size and depth of their shoe we wonder why anyone does it. A swing that steep and that forceful has no benefit to ball flight. If the irons and wedges can slide under the roots of the turf, then the golfer is swinging a scythe not a golf club. A golf lesson or two and clubheads with more sole bounce angle will solve the problem and result in lower scores.

Saturday
May092015

How to Compare Clubs

In more than ten years of fitting clubs, we find the best way to compare clubs when the choices narrow down to a couple of shaft/clubhead combinations is to hit the golf balls you play using a launch monitor to measure the results. As the old cliche goes, test don't guess. Your eyes will tell you what your bias wants to tell you, but the launch monitor gives you the truth and doesn't care about opinions and brands.

You want to know the details of ball spin, launch angle, clubhead speed, club path, face angle calculation, impact pattern on the club face, ball dispersion, consistency, and plenty of extra information that will indicate what is really happening. Even top pros who have a refined sense of feel want to have launch monitor data to help them understand what they feel.

Watching the flight of the ball on a range is fun but you must use a launch monitor to get accurate data. Hitting typical range balls is not recommended if you are making a serious choice unless you want to believe the spin numbers of the usual range rocks. And when it comes to feel, range balls are not my first choice. And we don't like distractions coming from the hitting bays next to one we are using to refine our selection. 

Players who grab a couple of demo clubs and head to the range are mainly just getting exercise unless they are using a premium quality launch monitor. Hitting a large bucket or two of range balls will not refine your choice between two similar clubs if you are changing your swing technique because you don't like the flight of the ball. Yet, it's the most common mistake made in buying clubs when you have the range demo option.

Bottom line, hitting the premium balls you play into a net using a launch monitor to measure the results and without nearby distractions and under the watchful eye of an expert clubfitter just can't be surpassed by any other experience when you want to make a club selection.

 

Tuesday
Apr072015

The Best Wedge Shaft

The best wedge shaft is one that will respond to your swing motion when feel matters most. Wrist action will be transferred to the club head at all points in the downswing and through impact with the ball. You will feel the response of the club head to those micro movements of the wrist and arms. It translates into distance control.

The best shaft will not be found in most off-the-rack wedges with heavily promoted nonsense that passes for design features. What you find in those clubs is mostly rebar-like steel shafts that did not meet the weight specifications for stock iron shafts. Those off-spec shafts get used by promoting them as wedge shafts -- it's a great way to recover production costs.

We have no arguments against golfers who play rebar shafts. After devoting enough practice time to groove a repeatable movement pattern, many players adjusted to the weight, convinced themselves the harsh feel was good, and developed swing compensations. But nearly everyone lost track of what might work better. There are better performing alternatives for every golfer.

Lighter weight steel and some graphite designs promote feel and responsiveness in ways that heavy steel rebar can only dream about. It's what will allow most golfers to gain greater control of their short game and lower scores. 

But what about the pros, you ask, aren't they all playing heavy steel? Well, not all of them. Look carefully and you will find light weight graphite shafts in a few wedges. It's because these players don't let the factory OEM fitters tell them what's best. They explore and test and look for what helps them fewll the club head and score low in the short game.

The best shaft is all about feel and responsiveness, not rebar. Our advice to all golfers is to fit shafts for wedges with an analytical approach just like we recommend for irons and woods. The wedge is a specialized club that deserves full attention. And like every other club in the bag, fit the shaft with same care you fit for the head. You want a shaft that works with your swing mechanics.

We fully expect to take some heat for these recommendations. After all, why don't all those OEMs and golf magazines promote wedge shaft fitting? Well, it will happen when they take a close look at how the shaft can play an important role in improving your short game. If you believe shaft technology can affect iron performance, why does anyone think that rebar is the best shaft for a wedge?

Thursday
Apr022015

The High Bounce Wedge

Bounce angle is a measure of how much the lowest point of the sole extends below the leading edge of the club face. The lowest point of the sole is where maximum curvature occurs in the sole radius. Bounce, or sole angle, is an essential design feature that affects the performance of wedges and irons as these club heads interact with the turf. 

The function of bounce is to prevent excessive digging of the club head into sand and turf through impact with the ground. It means that a high bounce angle will allow the club to glide more easily through sand and turf when the downswing is steep. When do you need a steep downswing with a sand wedge or lob wedge? We think the better question is when don't you need a steep downswing with these wedges?

Less bounce in a wedge increases the tendency to take a deep divot, slide the clubhead too low under the ball, or hitting the ball with the leading edge of the wedge head. None of these results benefits your game. Taking a divot the size of your shoe might look impressive, but the negative effects on wrist and elbow and gouged-out turf are not worth it.

The optimum bounce angle for your swing style is an essential fitting parameter to maximize wedge performance. A high bounce angle facilitates an aggressive downswing attack on the ball to lift it out of the sand from medium to deep bunkers. A high bounce also benefits shots made from the light rough near the green where you want to avoid having the clubhead slide excessively under the ball for any swing style.

The key question is how much bounce do you need and what design should you buy? Understanding something about your downswing tendencies is a good place to start, followed by detailed fitting for length, weight, balance, shaft, and other critical features in club head design. Since nearly 20 % of the shots made in a typical round are made by wedges, it's worth devoting some time to getting it right.

A high bounce angle in a lob wedge benefits shotmaking with this club. By high bounce we mean greater than 12º. We recommend 14º - 16º or greater (depending on downswing technique) for just about any turf condition. We know this view is contrary to popular designs and opinions about how to hit a lob wedge, but we've never seen anyone with a properly fit high bounce lob wedge go back to anything else. 

There are many misconceptions about the effectiveness of low bounce angles. Consider the lob wedge. The typical loft for a lob wedge ranges from 58º - 60º, and we use those wedges for short distance shots to generate a high trajectory for the ball to land in a "tight" landing area with minimum roll. It's a skill shot made substantially more difficult with a low bounce wedge and easier with a high bounce wedge. 

If you are tired of chunking the lob wedge into the turf or blading the ball across the green into that deep bunker close to the hole location, put a high-bounce lob wedge into your bag. If someone tells you that you can't play a high bounce wedge off firm turf, then you have found the ideal opponent for your next match. 

Unfortunately, there are not many high-bounce wedge choices in current golf offerings: some OEMs have none while others might have only one or two options. Top quality boutique brands like Miura are where discerning golfers need to look for high performance wedges. If improved performance around the green matter to your game, we suggest getting professionally fit with a high-bounce lob wedge.

Wednesday
Mar252015

The Shot Cluster Test

The shot cluster test shows the dispersion of golf balls on a landing area from multiple swings on a hitting area. It indicates the accuracy that can be expected from the club being tested with a repeatable swing. A launch monitor measures enough fundamental parameters to allow calculation of the predicted landing site.

A radar launch monitor that tracks ball flight in the hitting cage or on the range is probably the most effective way to do the shot cluster test. You get numbers and measurements and graphs and statistics to achieve the desired level of significance. Launch monitors are better than eyes for detecting small differences in a landing area 180 yards away. 

Here's a recent example of how the shot cluster test can help a golfer determine the shaft and clubhead combination that yields the best results for their swing. Each ellipse indicates the calculated landing area for every club and the colored dots show individual shots. Any ball position can be highlighted (in white), and corresponding launch monitor data can be accessed in other data files.

We recommend doing the shot cluster test with the golf balls you play or equivalent premium golf balls that haven't been beaten out of round by the usual driving range activity. Hit enough balls to give meaningful data with each shaft/club combo and move on to the next one. You can repeat the combos that work best for you. But the main concept is to test, not guess.

We use a FlightScope radar launch monitor with premium golf balls hitting into a reasonably large custom built cage with a soft grass-like mat. Golfers looking for a serious test will bring a dozen of their "gamer" balls and any other model they want to compare. An hour or two of shot cluster testing and ball testing identifies what works best, and generates plenty of other data to help refine your skills.

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