By Mark Harman USGTF Course Director Ridgeland, South Carolina
We’ve all heard teaching pros and regular golfers alike expound on and repeat beliefs regarding golf equipment: “Regular shafts go longer than stiff shafts, but stiff shafts are straighter”…“Tour balls are shorter than ‘distance’ balls,” etc.
There are a number of equipment beliefs and sayings that are taken as gospel. Some are grounded in sound science, while others may be more anecdotal. Being naturally curious about this, I decided to test some of them out. Keeping in mind that I am not a robot, I tried to introduce some sort of consistency in each of the tests I did so that they, while not being perfectly scientifically precise, will allow some real-world insight into how equipment differences affect a real person.
Belief: Tour balls spin more than distance balls
Tour golf balls are made with softer urethane covers, while distance balls have firmer ionomer covers, usually consisting of Surlyn®. (As a side note, golf balls back in the day were often marketed as having Surlyn covers, but the material became associated with hardness, so the term “ionomer” is used today.) They may also differ in core construction and material. I tested the belief that tour balls spin more than distance balls. For this test, I hit balls with a 56° wedge and all balls landed between 51-55 yards, using a GC Quad launch monitor. Only solid strikes were recorded, three shots each.
Conclusion: The two tour balls, the Callaway Chrome Soft and Bridgestone BX, had the highest spins rates, which was to be expected. The Bridgestone e6 Speed and Callaway Superhot, the distance balls, had lower spin rates, but surprisingly, the Superhot had a spin rate very comparable to the premium tour balls. I hit the Superhot three more times to see if this was some sort of aberration, but came up with similar results. There are likely other balls considered “distance” balls that also offer good spin on wedges.
Belief: Clubs with regular shafts go farther than clubs with stiff shafts
For this test, I used a Titleist AP2 7-iron and a Ping G400 Max driver to test both iron and driver shafts. I used the stock True Temper AMT White shaft for the iron test and a Ping G400 Max 10.5° with the stock Alta shaft. Three solid shots with each shaft were recorded. Results of the iron test:
For the driver test, I made sure my clubhead speed was between 94-95 mph each time, again using three solid strikes for each shaft.
Conclusion: There were virtually no differences in performance between the iron shafts. The peak height of the balls for both shafts was identical, 31 yards. There was also no difference in dispersion, either. As for the driver test, my swing speed averaged 94.9 mph with the stiff shaft and 94.5 with the regular. The stiff shaft’s ability to lessen backspin was the main factor in increased distance. Why there was a difference here and not in the iron shafts is something on which I can only speculate.
Belief: Lower-kickpoint shafts launch the ball higher than higher-kickpoint shafts
Here, I used the same Titleist AP2 7-iron with an AMT Red shaft, which is the lowest kickpoint shaft in the AMT family, while the White (used in the previous test) is the highest.
Conclusion: Surprising! The shaft with the lower kickpoint actually launched lower and with less spin than the higher kickpoint shaft. But again, I am not a robot, although I felt like I made similar swings with each shaft. The shaft did produce a higher ball speed and lower backspin, and thus more distance.
Belief: Choking down on the grip reduces distance
Choking down on the grip lessens the swing radius and theoretically should result in lower clubhead speed and distance. Using the Ping driver with the stiff shaft, I choked down 1 ̋.
Conclusion: Choking down does indeed result in a loss of clubhead and ball speed, but if control is gained, this may be a good tactic in given situations.
Belief: Distance balls go farther than tour balls
The driver tests already mentioned were conducted using a Callaway Chrome Soft ball. Because the Bridgestone e6 Speed spun noticeably lower in the wedge test, I used that ball for this test. I used the stiff shaft, and I made sure the three swings I used had a similar clubhead speed as with the above test to make sure I was testing the ball and not the club. (Please refer to the driver shaft test for tour ball data.)
Conclusion: Given similar ball speed and launch angle, the lower backspin literally carried the day for the distance ball, producing four more yards of carry distance.
Belief: Iron lie angles influence left-right ball dispersion
Iron lie angles that are too upright will result in a clubface that is aimed more closed, while iron lie angles that are too flat will result in a clubface angle that is more open. I used three different lie angles in this test with that being the only variable. I was drawing the ball this particular day, but I did manage to record three good shots with each lie angle.
Conclusion: Iron lie angles definitely affect the direction the ball takes because this is a geometric fact. Although it is theoretically ideal to have a lie angle that produces a flat clubhead to the ground at impact, some players may need to deviate from this to produce the desired ball flight.
These tests produced some results that conformed to long-held beliefs and some that did not. It is always good to question these beliefs and better yet, test them in a real-world setting. As we are all individuals with different reactions to the equipment in our hands, these results will not necessarily apply to every golfer we come across. It is quite possible – indeed likely – that another golfer will obtain different results than I did. This experiment shows that our students must test equipment before they buy…and we should, too.