Golf equipment truths: How much damage does a range mat do to your clubs?
We are lucky to have two of the most knowledgable golf gearheads in our office. And they are sharing their golf equipment knowledge with you. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few who know the equipment industry better. Heres some answers to some equipment questions submitted by readers.
I live in Ireland where the winters are long and the air is wet and cold. Do I risk the health of my clubs storing them in the shed? —@rskelley75
I don’t know, do you leave some of your friends out in the shed all winter long as well? Come on my good man, be kind to your golf clubs. They are like your friends. Plus your hands will be cold enough without grabbing a grip that feels like an ice cube. There are also some sound scientific reasons you shouldn’t leave them in a non-controlled environment likely to get pretty chilly and damp. It can lead to damage. The grips can get cold and slick or cracked if the temps get too extreme. Steel shafts also do not react well to the cold temperatures. That's due to what is known as the coefficient of thermal expansion. It would take a college semester to fully understand the subject, but the short version is that materials expand or contract depending on the temperature, thus affecting their properties. Regarding shafts, graphite should be less affected than steel by cold weather. “It’s why you see more aircraft and space shuttles, etc., using composite materials instead of steel or even titanium. It is less affected by changes in temperature,” one shaftmaker told Golf Digest a few years ago. Last year we did an entire post on how best to navigate the cold temperatures including some of what we discussed above. Irish golf is simply too glorious to play in the springtime with clubs that have been mucked up from a winter in your shed. Leave them in a corner inside the house—preferably where they can see the fireplace.
How important is it to match your wedge shafts to your iron shafts? I have been hearing about this more and more recently. —@SteveTVDirector
To Jordan Spieth it’s pretty dang important apparently. And he’s not alone. A number of tour players now have some—if not all—of their wedge shafts match their iron shafts. In Spieth’s case, his 46- and 52-degree Titleist Vokey wedges have Project X 6.5 shafts—the same shafts Spieth employs in his irons. His 56- and 60-degree wedges, however, have a sub-flex shaft, which can add feel. The theory being that lower-lofted wedges are utilized more as full swing clubs that would benefit from the same shafts as in his irons (and provide a continuity in feel) while the sub-flex shafts help on shorter shots around the green. If you think about it logically, your 9-iron and pitching wedge are definitely scoring clubs. So why wouldn’t you want a consistency of feel when transitioning to at least your gap wedge and possibly your sand and lob wedge, too. This goes for length and lie angle as well. It bothers us greatly when we hear a player proudly talk about getting fit for their irons (always a solid move) and then when we ask if their wedges match that spec they say, “Um, no. I got these off the rack.” That sound you just heard was our collective two heads exploding.
I read years ago that hitting a ton of shots off mats can actually change the loft of the club over time due to bending. —@OntarioHardaway
As someone who has hit a ton of shots off mats, I can tell you from experience one thing for sure: Mats are the chopper’s great tease when it comes to the golf swing. Why? Because the mat negates the fat shot, building the kind of fragile confidence that can be immediately destroyed after your first swing on real grass, leading you to the sort of existential ennui that reminds one of the later years of Pasternak, Van Gogh or perhaps Ian Baker Finch in the mid-1990s. Again, maybe that’s just my experience. But you feel me, right? Moving on. Those fat shots can do a number on your clubs, too, even if you don’t hit shots on mats but find yourself playing and hitting a lot of shots off firm turf. (And truthfully, the worse your swing, the more damage you can do to your lie angles.) Our experience is that many forged irons, which generally are made of a softer steel, might feel the effects more. Maybe a degree off if you hit many, many hundreds of balls over the winter. That’s exactly what we found when we conducted a test a couple decades ago, but it’s fair to say that driving range mats have gotten better at cushioning the blow and giving at impact, even all those fat shots. The result might be less altering of your irons’ lie angles. Still, if you haven’t had your lie angles checked (and we know you haven’t, ever), what’s the harm? Knowledge is power, and in this case, also accuracy. The folks at Barton Creek Golf Academy estimate that the wrong lie angle could mean an otherwise perfectly struck wedge shot would be wide of the mark by 26 feet.
What you need to know, of course, is that you’ve got the correct lie angle to begin with. While there are no hard and fast rules for everyone, if your irons are too upright, your misses might tend to draw or pull, while if they’re too flat, they might fade or push. One good thing about mats is you can make swings and see where the sole of the club is scraping against the mat. If that green smudge is perfectly centered between heel and toe, your lie angle might be correct. If it’s not, it might be wrong. We say “might,” because the only correct move is to check those lie angles with an experienced fitter, not only whether they’re still matching the proper standard, but more importantly whether they’re ideal for your swing and build. Remember, fitting shouldn’t always be about getting new clubs. The right fitters want to get your game dialed in, and sometimes that means making sure your current clubs spec out properly.