Bomb & Gouge

October 04, 2007

Tour pros at impact (black) vs. average players (blue).

BOMB Try hitting the ball on the center of the clubface a few times and maybe you'll close the gap a little. Actually, though some players get that kind of distance out of their 6–irons, most tour pros don't. David Toms, for example, says his 6–iron goes 180. So does Jim Furyk. Both have won major championships. But I get your point. Tiger once hit a 6–iron 218 yards from a bunker over water to win the Canadian Open.

GOUGE Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada showed us during our recent visit that elite golfers' muscles fire in a precise sequence that maximizes speed at the bottom of the swing. (Players don't really know they do that, and they don't really know how they do it, either.) Hackers' muscles fire out of sequence and often too early, requiring all sorts of adjustments that slow clubhead speed.

BOMB Say what you really mean: Most choppers move into the ball with so many parts shifting that they look like the largemouth bass my 10–year–old reeled out of the water last week. But when you look at tour stats, the 6–iron distances aren't entirely overwhelming. Our friends at the U.S. Golf Association recently showed us data from the PGA Tour's ShotLink system that had the average 6–iron distance of a tour player at 175 yards for a shot from the fairway on a par 4 and 186 yards for a shot off the tee.

GOUGE That's still farther than any normal human. Why? Two other reasons: First, elite golfers deloft their irons (a 6–iron becomes a 5–iron at impact). I've seen data from a TrackMan launch monitor that shows an elite player launching the 6–iron at a 14– or 15–degree angle with 90–plus miles per hour clubhead speed. Even a competent average player might swing his 6–iron at only 80 miles per hour and launch it a degree or two higher. That's 20 yards right there—minimum. A real chop, meanwhile, is turning that 6–iron into a 7–iron loft at impact—a slow 7–iron, at that.

BOMB Feel and control are factors. It can be more difficult to produce consistency in graphite shafts as opposed to steel, albeit the difference is minimal. Scott Verplank, who had not used steel in his irons in 15 years, changed at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship and won the event. "They're just more consistent," he said. "I've noticed it with the flight of the ball and the way it hits."

GOUGE In professional golf, perception is nine–tenths of the law, regardless of its basis in reality. Technologically, graphite's primary benefit is its lighter weight. It can help you increase clubhead speed, and it can dampen vibration. However, for graphite to have the consistency of steel, generally speaking, you will have to pay more than $30 a shaft, plus installation.