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Technical Tips

April, 2007

Tech Tip - A Realistic Look at Lead Tape
By Jeff Jackson

A look in to the bags of many tour pros and top amateurs will find the back of their clubs covered with lead tape. The tape may be in thick layers or thin, on the heel or toe, or even on the top or the bottom of the clubs. There is a good chance these players will tell you that the lead tape helped them to draw or fade their shots or allowed them to hit the ball higher or lower or in some other manner changed the performance of the club for the better. If the player believes this, that’s fine – after all golf is a highly mental game. But, in reality, the addition of the amount of lead tape that is usually put on a golf club has little, if any, noticeable effect on ball trajectory or direction.

Tour professionals are using lead tape to weight their clubs to obtain a specific feel. Any addition of weight (or reduction in weight) will change feel somewhat. Every 2-gram weight addition or reduction equates to an approximate 1 swingweight change. Most players cannot feel a single swingweight, but most can feel a change in 3 points. If you looked carefully in the pro's bags, you might have noticed also that some will drill holes in the backs or soles of their clubs, particularly the wedges, to reduce weight. Depending upon how much weight is either added or removed, there may be some minor effect on playability. But in most instances, this is not the case.

Golf club heads are designed to function at a certain weight. Each is cast or forged to that specific weight, give or take a few grams. To alter the function of the head, a comparatively large weight change must occur. Lead tape generally is available in 1/2" wide strips. It takes 4 1/2" of this tape to add approximately 1 swingweight to the head. The location of this lead tape, while it may have an effect on feel, does little to effect playability. From a feel perspective, a difference between 2 swingweight points can be detected by only the best players, swingweight differences of 1 point are virtually imperceptible to any player. To test your own feel, tape a dime on the back of one of your clubs and compare it to another club. Are you honestly and consistently able to tell which one is heavier? The dime weighs approximately 2 grams; in effect you have increased the swingweight of the club a single point. Now try the same experiment with a quarter taped to the back of the club. The quarter weighs in at close to six grams (3 swingweight points). You will probably be able to tell which club is heavier now. What effect will this have on the playability of the club? Probably not much…but if the club feels better, the player may be more comfortable with it and, as a result, make more consistent swings – and this can only help the player on his way to lower scores.

Many players will claim that adding lead tape to the heel of the club might make it close faster at impact creating straighter shots and curing slices. The converse would be true by adding lead to the toe of the club for players who hook the ball. Even this positioning has been disputed for some time, but the sure thing is that adding a strip or two of lead tape will have virtually no effect on shot direction. Similarly, the idea of adding lead tape lower on the club to produce higher shots by lowering the club's center of gravity and adding it high on the club head to produce lower shots has been prevalent for years. If a large amount of weight, say 10 grams or more could be redistributed somewhere on the club head, then, perhaps some playability differences could be found. But if adding this much weight via lead tape, the swingweight of the club would become prohibitively heavy. (Remember 2 grams is equal to approximately 1 swingweight.) If some weight were removed by grinding or drilling somewhere on the head and then large amounts of tape added, some playability differences could certainly be noticed, but such changes actually alter the club's design and are not simply a result of applying lead tape to the club head.

While it will be uniformly agreed that the application of lead tape will cause a feel difference, there will be virtually no playability difference. The 10 grams of lead mentioned in the preceding paragraph, moves the club’s center of gravity less than a millimeter and a half. This is a minute amount for even the best players in the world; for the average golfer (19 handicap male & 26 handicap female according to 2004 statistics) the difference would be completely inconsequential. So is lead useless on golf clubs? Not necessarily. If a player is looking for a heavier club, lead tape application may permit the club to feel better to the player, thus producing seemingly better shots. As far as the tape actually moving the center of gravity, sweet spot, center of percussion, etc., any discernible difference just does not happen. The difference is feel is a direct function of the additional weight and not any playability effects.

The pro's use of lead tape related to actual playability is to add weight to their clubs – nothing else. Some will tell you they can maneuver the ball better or hit it straighter as a result of the tape. If that is what they want to believe, then who is to argue with them. After all, what's wrong with a little psychological boost to a player’s game? Should one of your customers want to try to fine tune his or her clubs with lead tape, be sure to explain how much tape adds what amount of weight. Let the golfer experiment with the tape - very seldom will he add so much as to harm the club's playability. (It will feel way too heavy long before this happens.) If after tape application the player claims the club performs better than before, just smile and nod, for who are you to argue with perception?

The simple fact is – despite what players or certain magazine articles may tell you – lead tape, used in reasonable quantity, adds weight only and has little effect on playability. Try it yourself. Add some tape to the toe of your club; you will find that you do not all of a sudden fade the ball; if you add a strip of tape to the heel, it will not magically induce the draw you have been seeking. What it will do is change the feel of the club, making it heavier. This may be a good thing, especially if you prefer a heavier club – the added weight may also help to slow down a fast swing ever so slightly. Lead tape – experiment with it, see if it changes the feel of your clubs – but don’t look for it to have a noticeable effect on ball flight no matter where on the club it is placed.

 


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