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The confusing science of golf

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Back in the old days, finding the ‘perfect’ driver was far from easy. As soon as you found one you liked, you kept it until it disintegrated in your hands.

These days, every golfer can find the perfect driver but they might be surprised to learn that if they consulted a study by the innovative and forward-thinking Cork club fitter Padraig Dooley, the value of a ‘tailor made’ golf club, that is shorter in length and slightly heavier than standard, is capable of achieving the best overall results in maximum distance and accuracy.

As you’d expect, an increase in head weight results in a decrease in club head speed but, and this is a big surprise, slightly better outcomes in ball speed and accuracy are achieved if the heavy club is shortened. On the other hand, a lighter driver head contributes more club head and ball speed but accuracy worsens.

Smash Factor (the combination of ball speed/club head speed) is the key: when a series of shots with four different weights of club were dispatched it emerged that 1.445 was the average measured ‘smash’ score with the lightest club, a medium driver measured 1.46 and heavy club measured 1.48. It might not sound like a big difference but every fraction counts when you are looking for those elusive, few, extra yards.

It emerged that momentum increased with head weight so, the slight loss of speed was compensated for by the increase in weight. A 20% difference in the head weight of the lightest club to the heaviest saw a drop of only 4% in speed with a tendency for the lighter head to send balls to the left and the heavier head sending balls to the right because heavier heads are more difficult to release and lighter ones are ‘too easy’ to release.

It could be seen as ‘negative’ that extra weight causes the shaft to flex more and increases spin. Of course, Dooley maintains ‘too much flex’ can easily be toned down by stiffening the tip of the shaft to bring the dynamics and spin back to a more optimal rate that achieves optimum distance.

What does all of this research and trialling mean exactly? When a lighter club is lengthened and 4 grams added to bring it up from a swing weight of C8 to D2 and, when the ‘heavy club’ is shortened to 43.5 inches and 4 grams taken out, as well as stiffening the club and bringing it down to a D6 swing weight, both of these configurations will perform much better than (un-doctored and personally fine-tuned) light and heavy clubs.

Dooley found a 46.5 inch D2 weight driver was really good, nearly 4mph faster at 107 and 10 yards longer, the short and heavy club stayed at 100mph but had a better smash factor, over 1.5 less spin and was ‘only’ 10 yards shorter (and straighter) than the light club despite having nearly 7mph less swing speed. Speed isn’t everything!

Conclusion: the accurate player should consider using a lighter and longer driver and someone with power, speed and less accuracy, should go with a shorter and heavier club.

Nothing could be easier than getting yourself properly fitted. For all of golf’s randomness and hit and miss qualities, science does work. Don’t overlook it!

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The hazard of playing under coronavirus rules

Golf under coronavirus restrictions is a welcomed change of pace from lockdown cabin fever but it's also raising interesting questions that could change the game over time