The introduction of modern launch monitors and the increase in consumer knowledge has driven golf club technology to heights previously unseen in the equipment market. While many industry insiders continue to insinuate that there are really no new ideas, the execution of these so-called, old ideas is truly revolutionary.
With doppler radar technology, like that found in the TrackMan ball flight monitor, we get to see the entire golf ball flight picture, just like the guys on the PGA Tour. By changing the playing characteristics of a club such as loft, length, shaft profile, center of gravity, etc., and comparing the before and after ball flight picture, we can gather empirical data which takes the guesswork out of fitting a golf club. The club manufacturer’s are aware of this as well and utilize this information to design equipment accordingly.
So what does all of this mean for the golf club? We (and the companies) know how to maximize the potential performance of the club based on ballistic and terminal performance of the golf ball. The club companies can also make a single piece equipment fit a much broader spectrum of players based on technology and adjustability.
How do the manufactures create golf clubs that are more playable, ballistically more efficient, and more adaptable? Let’s start by placing our focus on the driver. The 3 major factors in fitting a driver to maximize distance are: ball speed, launch angle, and spin rate. I’m currently neglecting dispersion pattern, accuracy, spin axis (curvature), and personal “feel” because who really cares about these things right? It’s all about pure distance, the longest hitter wins! In all seriousness, these factors would never be neglected in an actual fitting, we’re just going to focus on the big 3 for fun. Speed is by far the most important variable when we talk about distance. But since the speed of the ball off of the face has been limited by the rules of golf, and has been limited for a while, we’ll assume speed to be a constant.
It really boils down to two major advances: center of gravity placement and adjustability. By using a combination of very heavy materials such as tungsten and very lightweight materials such as carbon fiber, the manufactures are getting the ball to launch higher with lower spin. Why is lower spin a good thing? Spin creates lift and drag. Our high school physics class taught us that the perfect ballistic trajectory (neglecting air resistance) is to launch a projectile at a 45* angle as fast as it can possibly be launched. Since we live in a gas that has a density of approximately 1.23kg/m^3, we have to take the rotation of the ball into account as well. As a ball spins, it creates an area of low pressure slightly above and behind the golf ball. The lift created is good, it helps counteract the force of gravity and helps the ball stay in the air longer creating more carry distance. The drag created is bad, it acts as a parachute on the back of the ball slowing the ball down, reducing its horizontal momentum and the ball prematurely falls out of the sky at a steep angle. The result is a loss of carry distance as well as a loss of rollout after the ball has landed. The amount of spin desired varies wildly, depending on ball speed, launch angle and spin, which affects the ball exponentially relative to its speed. The faster the ball is going, the lower spin rate we want. And since spin creates lift and drag, we only want enough spin to keep the ball in the air on its optimum trajectory so we can reduce as much drag on the ball as possible. Therefore, the higher we can launch the ball, the lower spin we need to maintain optimum trajectory. Getting us back to high speed + high launch + low spin = pretty awesome (long distance).
Let’s address the center of gravity. The lower the center of gravity is in the club head, the higher the ball will launch and the less the ball will spin because of, well, physics. The club companies are constantly searching for and finding ways to drive the center of gravity lower and lower. Clubs are launching much higher with much less spin than what we were seeing just 5 years ago. Since the speed is governed, higher launch and lower spin are really the only ways to gain distance now, so that’s what the manufacturers engineers are chasing.
The other major trend in equipment is the adjustability of the club. Adjustable equipment has been around for a while, but now it is truly being perfected. The old method of fitting a driver was hitting 400 (not really that many but it felt like it) drivers until a head/shaft combo clicked for you and then hopefully the one ordered from the manufacturer would produce the same results. Now companies have heads that either only come in one loft, or a couple lofts, but are adjustable so we can change the effective playability of the equipment. Almost all of today’s drivers have the capability of adjusting both the effective loft as well as the lie angle to help with face impact as well as accuracy. Quite a few drivers also offer us the ability to move the horizontal center of gravity from heel to toe. By moving weight toward the heel and closer to the shaft (axis of rotation), we increase the rate of rotation of the clubhead and help close the face a little faster for those who have a tendency to curve the ball to the right (or left for a lefty). As we move the weight out toward the toe, we’re moving the center of gravity farther from the shaft, the rate of rotation will slow helping to keep the face a little more open for those who have a tendency to hook the ball, like me. This allows us to fine tune the rotation of the club head to match each player’s unique swing.
So now that we have the ability to change effective loft, lie angle, center of gravity, and shaft, we should be able to just go in and grab any driver and as long as it’s set up correctly it’ll work right? Nope. Because of all of the head, shaft, face position, and center of gravity options we have, a single driver from a single company may have thousands of setup options. The only way to truly know which setup is proper for you is to get fit by someone who knows what they’re doing. By combining the most advanced ball flight monitor technology with the most technologically advanced, adjustable drivers we have ever seen, it’s more important than ever to get properly fit in an authorized fitting center, like The Cluboratory at Miles of Golf. Call the golf shop at 877.973.9005 (Ann Arbor) or 513.870.9057 (Cincinnati) to schedule a fitting or discuss the wide range of fitting options with one of our certified club fitters.
Written by Shawn Zawodni, Club Fitter