On The Numbers With Doctor Grip

Doctor Grip, David Butler, putting the numbers to a True Temper shaft.

For the past month the crew at Gear­Ef­fect­Golf has weighed in on a Forum ques­tion posed by Jan­ina Jacobs: “Do you really want to know all the launch mon­i­tor reveals?”  She won­dered whether golfers were get­ting too caught up in tech­nol­ogy, at the expense of ath­letic “feel.”  Some folks responded that the num­bers acquired from a mon­i­tor were use­ful, so long as you under­stood what to do with them.  Oth­ers believe that an aver­age player’s swing on a range is rarely dupli­cated on a golf course, which ren­ders the data meaningless.In any event, pro­fes­sional golfers increas­ingly use launch mon­i­tors for feed­back on their swings, while pros and ama­teurs alike rely on the num­bers to iden­tify what irons and dri­vers per­form best for the indi­vid­ual.  But accord­ing to a study spon­sored by Golf mag­a­zine, 70 per­cent of core and avid golfers who bought clubs in the past year did so with­out even the most cur­sory fit­ting.  It’s a fact about golfers and the equip­ment indus­try that mys­ti­fies and dis­mays David But­ler, a California-based mas­ter Miura club­fit­ter.  Rec­og­nized by Golf Digest as one the nation’s best fit­ters, the man widely known as Doc­tor Grip was also recently pro­filed on The A Posi­tion.

“I real­ize not every golfer is inter­ested in cus­tom clubs,” allows But­ler, who has made clubs as a hobby and a pro­fes­sion for some 50 years. “I rec­og­nize that many employ­ees in golf shops that clear only $50 to $75 on a set either aren’t trained or have incen­tives to do fit­tings.  So the aver­age guy who buys clubs does so because he sees them on some magazine’s ‘hot list,’ the new design looks attrac­tive, and the staff tells him that lots of other golfers are buy­ing the same thing.  And when his game doesn’t improve, he buys a dif­fer­ent set in a year or two.”

The turnover is good for the indus­try, not so much for player pocketbooks.

Still, club man­u­fac­tur­ers are rightly proud of their brands and pop­u­lar new designs.  But as But­ler points out, most of the prod­ucts are assem­bled in China, where qual­ity tol­er­ances might not be as con­sis­tent as, say, at a Bavar­ian auto fac­tory.  What’s more, since few of the shafts in a set have iden­ti­cal flexes and kick points, one club will per­form dif­fer­ently than the next.

But­ler nat­u­rally rec­om­mends cus­tom fit­ting.  But in an exclu­sive GEG inter­view, he reveals how a club-buyer with access to the launch mon­i­tors and a strike boards found in many golf shops can glean a basic analy­sis of what dri­ver or set of irons is best for that indi­vid­ual swing.  But first, a few words about the launch monitor:

These won­drous machines use Doppler radar to reveal swing speed, the veloc­ity at which the ball departs when hit, how much reverse spin the club is impart­ing on the ball, its launch angle and the tra­jec­tory on which the ball comes down.  A sys­tem like the Track­Man also shows carry, roll, total dis­tance and how much the shot strays from cen­ter.  It can also reveal the all-important “smash fac­tor,” which is a mea­sure of the effec­tive­ness of the head and espe­cially the shaft, which But­ler calls “the engine of the golf club.”

Balls actu­ally depart at a veloc­ity that exceeds club­head speed.  Divide ball speed by club­head speed and you get a smash fac­tor ratio.  A 1.1 or 1.2 rep­re­sents a poor trans­fer of energy, while a 1.5 is close to per­fec­tion. As GEG read­ers will recall from a Dave Gould inter­view with pre­ci­sion club­fit­ter Brian Ander­son, the increased ball speed rep­re­sented by a good smash fac­tor is more impor­tant than increased club­head speed. While a one-mile-per-hour increase in club­head speed will get you a yard of extra dis­tance, a one MPH increase in ball speed at impact pro­duces nearly three addi­tional yards.

But­ler and Ander­son agree that the trend to longer-shafted dri­vers for more club­head speed is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, espe­cially when the nine-out-of-ten that aren’t hit flush cost dis­tance and accu­racy.  A shorter dri­ver hit on sweet spot more often, with a high smash fac­tor, gets length and more often stays on the fair­way.  For­get those nearly 46-inch long dri­vers, sug­gests But­ler.  For men, 44 inches is plenty and for women 43.

Fol­low­ing are additional  A Position ques­tions and Doc­tor Grip answers:

TAP:  So you’re in a golf shop com­par­ing dri­vers on a launch mon­i­tor, what do you look for?

But­ler: If you can find a club that con­sis­tently gives you a launch angle of 14 to 15 degrees, a reverse ball spin rate of under 3000 rev­o­lu­tions per minute, and a descent angle of under 30 degrees, you’re close to hav­ing the right club.  That should give you the most carry and total dis­tance for your nat­ural swing speed.

TAP:  What about flex and kick points?

But­ler:  Once you get those three num­bers you already have the right flex and kick point, whether it’s high, medium or low.  And there, I’ve given away my secret formula.

TAP:  We’ve been through one of your fit­tings and know it’s more com­pli­cated, but do appre­ci­ate the help for off-the-shelf club-buyers.  What about irons?

But­ler:  OK, take sev­eral six irons to work with and try to find one that gives you a launch angle of 20 degrees and reverse ball spin of about 5000 rpm’s.  That should give your shot a 45-degree angle of descent, which means the ball will land and roll out about ten yards.  You could go with a 14– degree launch angle and 3500 rpm’s, which gives a descent angle of 35 degrees.  That ball comes in low, hot and rolls out 25 yards or more.  But if you want score, it’s bet­ter to sac­ri­fice dis­tance with a pre­dictable club that keeps the ball on the green.

TAP:  How about lie angle with off-the-shelf clubs?

But­ler:  Many golf shops have a strike board and either tape or spray that shows where you’re get­ting the impact on the bot­tom of the club.  If it’s right in the mid­dle of the bot­tom, you’re good.  You can also look at the club­face.  Fig­ure a ball-sized cir­cle at the cen­ter of the bot­tom half of the face is your sweet spot.  Many ama­teurs hit it about a half-inch out toward the toe.  Every one-eighth of an inch is a degree of lie angle.  So, if you’re a half-inch out on the toe, the club needs to be bent upright four degrees.  If you’re a half-inch toward the heel, it needs to go four degrees flatter.

TAP:  So you can get an off-the-shelf club’s lie angle adjusted?

But­ler:  Well, yes if it’s forged.  Cast clubs break if you bend them too far. But at the least, take them to a club-fitter for the adjustment.

TAP:  And the Track­Man and its information?

But­ler: Before I could afford the mon­i­tor I stood at the side of a golfer and watched his ball and judged the angle of its flight com­pared to marks on a board on the wall of the hit­ting area.  In ret­ro­spect I did a crappy job.  The num­bers are incred­i­bly use­ful when inter­preted right.

TAP:  Watch for a future piece on the Total Quality Management approach David Butler applies to club-fitting and club-making.

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