Distance and consistency are the most common requests when a player is interviewed about his or her game. Whether we’re talking about club fitting, coaching or fitness, one of these two aspects enters the conversation. Let’s explore how equipment, coaching and fitness all tie together to achieve faster, more sustainable results…and how to maintain these gains for the long haul.
At Integrity Golf Performance we see the best players in the world carefully selecting a team to track endless variables and try to formulate optimal routines and patterns for peak performance. For most folks, the challenge is that you have an instructor, a trainer and a club fitter all fragmented without a clear line of communication.
Let’s explore how you can gain distance and achieve faster, long lasting results. The first of which is golf equipment and how custom club fitting can lead to massive gains in distance and aid in the ultimate goal of lower scores and more fun on the course.
We use a brand agnostic approach which means we let the performance guide us in our selections. It’s common to have multiple brands end up in one bag once the fitting process is complete. This is a trend we’re seeing on the PGA Tour as major champions have turned down endorsement deals to have the freedom to play the best equipment through the bag, as opposed to just one brand.
The fitting process is essentially a controlled experiment focused on specific details that contribute to overall performance. We begin the process by gathering equipment specifications of our athlete’s current set. In particular, we look at the loft, lie, length, shaft frequency (flex), and swing weight.
A proper fitting can increase distance by improving a number of key components, the most important of which is speed. Increasing clubhead speed and translating that increase to higher ball speed is the foundation of hitting longer shots. We can achieve this with equipment by optimizing the head and shaft combination. During the shaft testing portion of our fittings we’ve observed substantial clubhead speed increases by identifying the proper shaft profile, shaft weight and flex. One of the most interesting aspects of fitting is testing for the profile of a golf shaft to identify where the shaft will bend once the player applies force during transition and throughout the swing. We partner with Cool Clubs in Scottsdale to test shafts and other technology.
Cool Clubs proprietary shaft testing machine, S3 (Shaft Simulation System) gives us more information about golf shafts than anyone has ever had. This allows all shafts to be analyzed for conformance with over 100,000 measurements. Only those that pass make it into our builds. The fully automated system operates as five machines in one, collecting more than 2,500 data points for each shaft it tests. It accomplishes this task in just under two and a half minutes and is the most accurate shaft measuring machine in the world.
The five significant measurements are explained below:
Aren’t all golf shafts straight enough? In short, no. S3 uses a high-resolution optic system which captures images of the shaft by rotating it in 15-degree increments to create a complete profile of the shaft straightness.
S3 technology uses a load test to create a consistency factor (CF) for the shaft by rotating the shaft with the load in five-degree increments. A perfectly straight, consistent shaft would always read the same load, but the reading can change due to a few factors. Material and manufacturing processes like wall thickness and material consistency affect the results of the test, and eventually performance on the course. The more consistent the load test all the way around the shaft, the better (or higher) the score and consistency. S3 then takes the straightness test and combines it with the consistency test to arrive at a corrected consistency score – a better measurement of a shaft’s planar stiffness and how it will perform during the golf swing.
“Torque” is a property of golf shafts that describes how much the shaft is prone to twisting during the golf swing. Too much torque and shots will typically start leaking right. Not enough torque usually produces undesirable ball flight with decrease in ball speed and land angle.
EI Deflection Profile
S3 measures the shaft’s resistance to bending at each location along the shaft (more than 3,000 positions) against the shaft’s deflection profile obtained from the straightness camera to determine the difference in EI from the butt to mid/tip of the shaft. Higher EI means a stiffer shaft, but where on the shaft? Stiff tips create lower launch angles with less spin, whereas softer tip and stiffer butt section can produce higher launch angles and increased spin.
Look at any off-the-shelf golf club at your local sporting goods store and there’s a good chance it has a sticker with a letter on it (such as R, S, X, A, L) corresponding to the swing speed of the player. What the sporting goods store doesn’t tell you is there is no manufacturing standard for “stiffness” in the industry, making this measurement largely unusable. Instead, we use the “frequency” of the shaft to get an infinitely more accurate reading of the shaft flexibility and how it will perform.
Now that we know more about how to identify the proper shaft, we can move on to the clubhead. When testing the club head, we’ve observed substantial performance benefits including increases in ball speed, lower spin rates, tighter dispersion, and can lead to significant distance gains. The most common aspects of the clubhead that are used during a fitting to improve ball flight and performance are loft, hosel settings and moveable weight settings. CG or center of gravity location is an aspect of clubhead design that plays a massive role in identifying the best performing head for your game. Using drivers as an example, you can put CG in two categories; forward and back. Forward CG typically produces low launch and low spin while rearward or back CG typically produces higher launch and higher spin. Before you go out and buy the most forward CG driver available to try and increase distance let me provide a word of caution. The more forward you go with CG the less forgiveness (MOI) you can expect. There is a trade off in driver design when moving CG to be in line with the products desired performance. The holy grail for designers is to have a forgiving yet still low spinning design in their products. For this reason, we see most manufacturers trying to save weight from one place in the head to be able to place it where it is needed to move the CG to the desired location. You see this with the amount of carbon fiber in woods as carbon fiber is lighter than metal yet still strong enough to be used in the construction. If you look at any manufacturer website and read about their latest driver, you will most likely find a description of some type of weight saving process or material that allowed the designers to move CG to the desired location. Testing these products with a fitter that is knowledgeable about the design philosophies manufacturers are using can make your fitting results more accurate and more impactful as well as educational for all the tech geeks out there.
The manner in which an object flies through the air is another important factor in gaining distance. There are certain combinations of launch angle and spin rate that simply go farther than others. For example, if two golf balls are traveling at the same ball speed and launched at eight degrees and spins at 3500 rpms vs launched at 14 and spinning at 2500 rpms, the distance difference is 15 yards with both the carry yardage and the total yardage. We didn’t make the ball go faster (which is the easiest way to gain distance) we simply made the ball fly through the air more efficiently.
Achieving a more efficient ball flight by launching the ball higher with a lower spin rate can make a significant increase in distance. A good example of this from a few years ago was TaylorMade’s “loft up” campaign they used to promote the SLDR line of drivers. They identified the ideal combination of a 17-degree launch angle and 1700 rpms of backspin during testing. The SLDR was an extremely forward CG (center of gravity) which gave it very low launch and spin characteristics so most players that used it needed more loft than competing drivers. Getting to the “17 and 17” numbers with human players isn’t easy as I found during testing. It requires a combination of attack angle, dynamic loft and equipment that can launch the ball high enough while maintaining the proper spin rate. The required attack angle would need to be significantly more positive (up) than the tour average of level to 1 degree negative (down) paired with a dynamic loft (loft that is delivered at impact vs the static loft of the clubhead) that is in the proper range.
An example of using equipment to aid in distance is Bryson DeChambeau’s quest for 200 mph ball speed and taking advantage of this on the course during tournament play. There is plenty of statistical evidence that suggests hitting the ball as far as possible can lead to closer proximity to the hole on average, which can lead to shorter putts and lower scores. Lowering the loft of his driver and raising his attack angle are just the beginning of how he has arguably changed how we think of golf at the professional level. Long drive competitors have taken advantage of equipment in much the same way by using drivers with lofts in the 4-6 degree range to maximize ball speed while keeping the spin rate in the optimal range that will allow maximum carry distance without sacrificing roll.
If you’re wondering what impact hitting it farther will make on your game, just take a quick look at his season statistics. For the 2020 season he is 1st in strokes gained off the tee and 1st in driving distance while still hitting almost 58% of his fairways and at the time of this article he is one of 13 players under par at the US Open and T10 early in the second round. His putting statistics are impressive as well and is 10th for the season in strokes gained putting. His thoughts on increasing distance may seem somewhat strange to some but once you dive deeper into the science, you can see the logic behind each decision. Bryson’s approach includes much of what we do every day and can change the game for the professional golfer as well as the weekend warrior. Having opportunities with scoring clubs rather than hitting mid or long irons into the greens is the driving force behind pursuing more distance. While the equipment we decide to put in play can be hugely important and make the game more fun, we need to take a look at our bodies as well. It’s frustrating when we can’t get out on the course due to an injury or a range of motion limitation that keeps us from performing to our full potential. As I myself can attest to; dealing with both of these issues over the course of a season without the proper approach and guidance would make playing my best and playing as often as I would like almost impossible.
We will explore more ways to gain distance in your game with our next article which will focus on the body. We’ll look at things like MAT (muscle activation techniques), ground force interactions and Weck method training such as coiling core, limit force elastics and pro pulsers, among a host of others. All of which can aid in more distance and better scores while improving your quality of life by moving and feeling better.
Ben Smock earned an MBA in Marketing as a Grad Assistant to the men’s and women’s golf teams at the University of North Texas. He is the owner of Integrity Golf Performance. IGP offers a unique approach to golf performance as we specialize in coaching, club-citting and fitness. His certifications include Trackman Level 2, GolfPsych Instructor, Swing Catalyst Level 1, TPI Level 1 and WeckMethod qualification.