Get wired: I’m using the latest technology to upgrade my game. Here’s how you can, too – Instruction
WHEN I’M HITTING SHOTS AND managing my way around the course, the game is more an art than a science. But when it comes to my equipment, the game is more science than art. The number of technical innovations in clubs, shafts and balls during the past five years is amazing. Even more impressive is the ability to customize and tweak every piece of equipment so it fits my swing exactly. I’ve taken full advantage of that. My irons are largely my own design. The grind and lofts of my wedges are mine alone. My driver specs, from the grip through the shaft to the clubhead, match the Titleist Pro V1x ball I play to give me maximum carry and roll. My equipment enables me to hit the shots I see in my mind–to supplement the “art” with the best science available.
A good example is my driver. The key to distance is a high launch angle with low spin. My Titleist 983K driver has 8.5 degrees of loft, which doesn’t sound like much. But because a good portion of the weighting is at the rear of the clubhead, that boosts my launch angle to between 12 and 13 degrees. The hottest spot on my driver is fairly high up on the clubface, and making contact there lowers my spin rate by 500 revolutions per minute. The result: I’m getting 15 more yards of carry than I had with my previous driver.
What follows are examples of how science has helped various parts of my game. Because my game is different from yours, read the accompanying advice from Frank Thomas, Golf Digest’s Chief Technical Advisor. Virtually all of the technology to make you the best player you can be is within your reach.
WHAT FRANK SAYS
Phil has optimized his launch conditions, but if you swing at a more average speed between 80 and 90 mph (versus Phil’s 120), you need a launch angle more like 14 degrees to optimize distance. The solution is more loft. Of course, more loft means more spin, and extra spin can hurt trajectory. Phil has the benefit of speed to produce a higher launch angle. But at your speed more loft in your driver helps your launch angle (maximizes distance) more than the higher spin hurts.
A CONSISTENT, PREDICTABLE TRAJECTORY from club to club is extremely important. When I plan a shot, I see in my mind’s eye a “window” I want the ball to pass through at the apex of its flight. Every iron passes through the same window. A shot with my 3-iron should peak at the same height as my 9-iron. It reaches its apex much farther down the line of flight, of course. But it peaks out at the same altitude.
A few years ago, when I played a wound ball, I couldn’t help but spin the ball a great deal. All that backspin made the ball upshoot dramatically when hitting into the wind. That isn’t the case any longer. The multilayer Pro V1x ball I play now doesn’t upshoot because it simply doesn’t spin as much.
I was actively involved in the design of my irons, which go from full perimeter weighting in the 3-iron to a traditional muscle-back in the 9-iron (inset). With the longer irons, I want a straighter ball flight and a forgiving clubhead that will get me within a reasonable distance of the flagstick. The perimeter weighting does that. As the irons get shorter and my ability to stuff the ball close to the hole increases, I want to work the ball a little more. Because the Pro V1x ball spins less and therefore tends to fly straighter–and muscle-back designs make it easier to draw and fade the ball at will–the irons evolve to a more traditional design. And the short irons are more compact. That enables them to penetrate rough without the toe getting caught and opening the clubface.
WHAT FRANK SAYS
How can you achieve a more efficient trajectory with your long irons? Follow Phil’s lead and use more forgiving clubs instead. Replace your long irons with hybrid clubs or lofted fairway woods. These clubs move the center of gravity away from the face, giving you more dynamic loft and a higher trajectory.
MY FOUR WEDGES HAVE LOFTS OF
60, 55, 50 and 47 degrees. They have gaps of 5 degrees except for my pitching wedge (3 degrees). Why? The first three wedges have square grooves. The face of my pitching wedge, however, has V-shaped grooves. Square grooves spin the ball more than V-shaped grooves, and that means less carry distance. To compensate, I made sure the loft of the pitching wedge was a little weaker.
I also like my wedges to glide through impact without the heel or toe catching in the turf. Therefore, all of my wedges are designed so the leading edge of the clubhead is closest to the ground at the midway point between heel and toe.
Finally, the face angle of my 60-degree wedge (below) is slightly closed. When I open the face of the wedge, I get extra loft while ensuring that the face aims at the target. That results in a truer backspin and a straighter flight.
WHAT FRANK SAYS
You need only three wedges, starting with a 46- or 47-degree pitching wedge. Add a gap wedge (50 to 52 degrees) and then a good sand wedge (56 to 58 degrees). You want more bounce in your sand wedge than in your gap wedge (approximately 10 degrees versus 6 to 8), because it’s crucial to good bunker play, but not too much. That way it will be less likely to skid through your shots when you open the face to get it to perform like a 60-degree wedge.
THERE ARE MORE DESIGN variations in putters than in any other club in the bag. For most of my career I’ve preferred a heel-shafted, blade-type putter (left). Because the clubface tends to rotate around the point where the shaft joins the clubhead, the blade behaves like a swinging door. It is very easy to square the clubface with this simple design.
Just prior to 2003, I found myself rotating the face of my heel-shafted putter too much. I was pulling way too many putts. So I switched to the center-shafted Futura putter (below), which had no tendency to twist closed. I putted remarkably well with the Futura, but then I started pushing putts. So in late 2003 I switched back to my heel-shafted model, also designed by Scotty Cameron. If I start pulling putts, I’ll go back to a center-shafted design. Because I rely primarily on feel, my method of releasing the putter changes periodically. I want the characteristics of the putter to suit my style at a given moment. You should have the same flexibility.
WHAT FRANK SAYS
For any putter to work correctly, its shaft length needs to fit its user. Check with your clubfitter (some even have putting launch monitors) to be sure the length and lie angle optimize your ability to hit your putter’s sweet spot. The trend these days is for shorter putters (34 or 33 inches and sometimes less) that allow for better arm extension. Most putters come with 3 to 4 degrees loft as standard. Generally, you can get away with slightly more loft if you typically play slower greens and slightly less loft on faster greens.
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