Technical Tips

February 2013

Are Too Many Golfers Becoming Obsessed with Driver Spin Rate?

A Discussion of the Relationship of Clubfitting to Driver Spin Rate
By Tom Wishon

One of the areas of fitting analysis that seems to have developed momentum in the past several years is how many golfers see their backspin measurement on a launch monitor and, a) obsess that their driver spin rate is not in the low 2000 rpms, and b) believe that they can achieve a lower driver spin by changing to a shaft that can enable them to get their spin number lower – without ever taking the time to determine if they do in fact have a spin problem and if so, then trying to find out what best can reduce their spin to achieve a better ball flight.

Here are some facts about Driver backspin learned over many hours of research in clubhead design, shaft design and Clubfitting research:

Spin outputs from some launch monitors can be inaccurate and inconsistent.
Accurate backspin measurement of a golf shot is a highly complex operation. The output for spin is in revolutions per MINUTE. Yet a launch monitor has only a fraction of a second in which to measure how much the ball is spinning upon leaving the clubface. This means with every launch monitor, a math calculation has to be incorporated with the amount of spin “seen” in a fraction of a second to come up with the RPM measurement.

During the time a camera based launch monitor actually “sees” the ball spin, the ball does not even complete one full revolution. Therefore, the spin recognition of the launch monitor has to very accurately measure exactly how much the ball actually rotated during the time it was being “seen”. If the device misses the amount of revolution by say, 10 degrees out of a full 360 degree rotation, by the time the math calculation is done to output an RPM measurement, the final spin measurement can be way off.

TrackMan and Flight Scope use phase array, pulsing Doppler Radar to measure spin. Both units shoot the radar beam at the ball from behind the shot and thus are able to pick up data from the ball’s movement for several feet after impact. This is in comparison to a camera based system which only sees the ball over a couple of inches after takeoff and explains why the TrackMan and Flight Scope launch monitors are more accurate in their spin measurement.

Please understand that when we talk about launch monitor inaccuracy, we are ONLY talking about spin measurement. Most all of the other launch monitors are accurate enough for clubhead speed, ball speed and launch angle to allow accurate fitting decisions to be made for specs which relate to these other parameters.

Most golfers hit Range Balls on a Launch Monitor, not “Real Balls”

The majority of launch monitor sessions are conducted with range balls. Most range balls are one piece golf balls which rarely have similar spin characteristics to the premium balls that golfers typically use when they play. Not only that, but range balls suffer wear from getting hit a lot more times than will a premium ball. Add it all up and it is difficult to very difficult to try to make valid conclusions about spin measurements when hitting worn range balls on launch monitors that may not have the ability to accurately measure backspin.

There most definitely is a difference in spin between different models of premium golf balls. To get the most accurate and valid spin measurement for each golfer’s game, it only makes sense to use the ball you typically play and do it with either a TrackMan or Flight Scope launch monitor.

The best way to determine if you have a spin problem is to observe the flight of the ball, not by reading the spin output from a launch monitor.

Just because a tour player’s driver spin is in the low 2000 RPMS does not mean that is the optimum spin for all golfers. The optimum amount of spin for each golfer differs depending on their clubhead speed and angle of attack. The slower the clubhead speed, the more spin is needed to generate enough lift under the ball to help keep it in the air to carry farther. And vice versa, the higher the clubhead speed and ball speed, the less spin is needed to generate enough lift under the ball to help keep it in the air to carry farther.

In addition, the more downward the Angle of Attack, the higher the loft has to be to allow the golfer to achieve his optimum launch angle, which in turn is going to automatically increase spin. And the more upward, the A of A, the lower the loft will be to optimize the launch angle, which means lower spin will come with that.

Following are data charts from TrackMan which show their findings for what are the optimum driver launch parameters are for different combinations of clubhead speed and angle of attack. From TrackMan’s research it is easy to see that spin has to increase as clubhead speed slows and the angle of attack is more downward. Charts are offered for optimum CARRY distance as well as for optimum TOTAL DISTANCE as per the conditions of the fairways and their conduciveness to more or less roll of the ball after landing.

The use of these charts is simple – for each golfer, find whatever driver loft results in a launch angle, ball speed and spin rate that is close to the chart data for the golfer’s clubhead speed and angle of attack. The charts show the optimum driver launch parameters for both maximizing Carry distance or Total distance (Carry + Roll). Use Carry distance optimized parameters when fairways are wet or not conducive to roll after landing. Use Total distance chart parameters when fairways are firm and conductive to more roll after landing.

Whether a golfer has too much backspin for his clubhead speed and angle of attack depends on the ball flight shape as the ball flies through the air.

Higher ball speed golfers need to learn how to visually identify what a shot hit with too much spin looks like rather than to make conclusions based only on a launch monitor measurement.

For shots hit with too much spin, the ball typically curves rapidly upward to a higher apex in flight, after which the ball seems to hang for a little moment at the peak of its apex and then fall more steeply to the ground. From a side view, an exaggerated graphic of the flight shape of the excessive spin shot looks somewhat like the following graphic:

A more preferred driver ball flight shape would look more like this:

There is nothing wrong with hitting the driver high, as long as the angle of descent of the ball to the ground is less than 40*. For example, a ball flight shape such as the below image which still flies very high in the air is fine, but of course it is preferable for the descent of the ball upon landing to be no higher than 40 degrees:

Bottom Line: Learn to watch the flight of the ball and make conclusions about spin results from what you see before you make conclusions from what the launch monitor outputs for a spin number.

The vast majority of excessive spin situations are caused by swing errors far more than from playing the wrong equipment – and are more often cured by changes in swing technique than from changes in equipment.

What causes the excessive spin shot? From our research and fitting observations, the two most predominant swing errors that result in excessive spin are:

  • A downward angle of attack into the ball with the driver which requires the golfer to use more loft to achieve their optimum launch angle, which in turn increases spin.
  • A breakdown of the wrist of the upper hand on the grip coming into impact which allows the clubhead to pass in front of the hands before impact, thus greatly increasing the dynamic loft of the clubhead and increasing spin and launch angle along with it.

The equipment change that can more effectively and more dramatically reduce higher spin caused by either one of these swing errors is a lower the loft on the clubhead. However, in the first case of the downward A of A, lower loft is not really a good solution because that lowers the launch angle with it. Of the two, launch angle and spin, it is FAR better to achieve the right launch angle for the golfer’s clubhead speed and Angle of Attack than it is to lower the spin.

In the second case of the clubhead passing the hands to cause the high flight, high spin shot, lower loft certainly helps reduce the problem. However, it is also true that you can only lower loft so much. Rarely will you find a 6°, 5° or lower loft driver. At the end of the day, the golfer is much better off making the effort to get rid of the higher spin/higher launch inducing swing error by taking lessons to improve his angle of attack or his hand to clubhead position at impact.

What is a Low Launch/Low Spin or High Launch/High Spin Shaft?

Seriously, if we had a dollar for every time we have read, heard or been asked this question, we could almost start running commercials on the Golf Channel to educate more golfers to be custom fit! If you want to know the REAL ANSWER to this question, here it is . . . .

What is a Low Launch/Low Spin or High Launch/High Spin Shaft?

Any shaft that is stiffer overall or more tip stiff than what the golfer currently plays is a lower launch shaft, while any shaft that is more flexible or more tip flexible than what the golfer is playing is a higher launch shaft. In short, because the golf swing controls everything with regard to the performance of a shaft, what is a lower launch/spin shaft to one golfer can be a higher launch/spin to another golfer and vice versa.

As we have written many times, a shaft ONLY acts to change launch angle and spin for golfers who have a later and later and later unhinging of the wrist-c o c k angle during the downswing. So the higher the golfer’s clubhead speed and the later the wrist-cock release, the more the shaft can be flexed forward at impact, which in turn increases the dynamic loft of the clubhead to increase launch angle and spin.

So the stiffer the shaft and/or more tip stiff the shaft in relation to the clubhead speed plus the point of release, the less the shaft bends forward at impact and the more that shaft becomes a lower launch and lower spin shaft. Conversely, the more flexible and/or more tip flexible the shaft in relation to the clubhead speed and point of release, the more the shaft can bend forward at impact to generate a little higher launch/higher spin shot.

And we’re sorry but. . . . the ONLY way you will ever know before you buy if a shaft is going to be a lower or higher launch/spin shaft than what you play is to see and compare the full stiffness measurements of the shafts using something like the TWGT Shaft Bend Profile Software. Many clubmakers do use the TWGT Bend Profile software to more accurately compare the stiffness profile of shafts. Those who do shaft fitting for better players who do not use the TWGT Bend Profile software are having to make a guess as exactly how stiff one shaft is to another.

Below is an example graph and data chart from the TWGT Bend Profile Software. The following chart shows shafts for a golfer with a 100mph driver clubhead speed who has an average transition/tempo force and a late release. The shafts are listed from top to bottom in the chart for highest to lowest launch/lowest spin characteristics so that you can see how the tip stiffness of the shafts becomes the key element for offering this example golfer a progressive lowering of his launch and spin for the same driver head.

In the above bend profile graph, the stiffness of all 7 shafts in the butt to center areas is close enough that all 7 of these shafts could be rated as for a golfer with a 100-105mph driver clubhead speed with an average transition force and average tempo.
The measurements for the 21/16/11 are the tip section stiffness measurements. From top to bottom you see the tip stiffness become progressively stiffer and stiffer. Thus, among these shafts, for a golfer with a 100-105mph driver clubhead speed with an average transition and tempo force, the UST HTD CB85-R will hit the ball the highest with the greatest spin. Then for each shaft that follows, this same example golfer would see a very gradual lowering of the launch angle and spin due to the increase in tip stiffness while the butt to center stiffness remains the same for each shaft.

Now let’s say our 100-105mph golfer with an average transition force and late release was using a Kusala Indigo 61-X, and he complained of hitting the ball with too much spin and wanted a recommendation for a low spin shaft to reduce his spin. Among these shafts in the graph the only one that could even qualify is the Vista Tour 60-X because its tip section is stiffer than the tip section of the Kusala 61-X. However, based on these tip stiffness measurements, the Vista Tour 60-X is only a little more tip stiff than the Kusala Indigo 61-X. So the result would be the golfer using the Kusala Indigo 61-X probably would not see much of a change in launch or spin because the Kusala is already a very tip stiff shaft.

In reality if a golfer using such a tip stiff shaft as the Kusala Indigo 61-X complains of too much spin, you could probably conclude that if he does in fact have a spin problem, it is because of a swing error and not an equipment deficiency.
Hard data like the above graph and measurement chart is how spin characteristics of shafts have to be analyzed. Anything else is a pure guessing game.

Is there such a thing as a high launch/low spin or low launch/high spin shaft?

To make this easy, the answer is without question. . . . NO – it is impossible to make such a shaft due to the way the golf swing causes the shaft to bend. No, nada, nil, cannot be done. Period.

The later the unhinging of the wrist-cock angle and the higher the clubhead speed, the more the shaft can arrive at impact flexed forward. The more the shaft flexes forward at impact, the more the dynamic loft of the clubhead is increased. The more the dynamic loft of the head is increased, the higher the launch angle AND the higher the spin will be for the shot.

Since it is the forward bending of the shaft that influences the dynamic loft at impact, and since dynamic loft at impact controls BOTH launch angle and spin in the same way, it is impossible to create a shaft that is either high launch/low spin or low launch/high spin.

Conclusion and Key Points
1. Golfers should be more concerned about finding the driver and shaft combination that achieves their optimum launch angle and ball speed BEFORE THEY WORRY ABOUT SPIN. Golfers need to stop obsessing about the spin number coming from the launch monitor. Please take the time to carefully analyze the ball flight shape of shots before you make any conclusions about whether the golfer has a “too much spin” problem.
2. You never want to recommend a shaft whose stiffness and/or tip stiffness design either feels too stiff or too flexible for the golfer’s individual preference for the bending feel of the shaft. A golfer who plays with a shaft that is too stiff for his swing ends up making more inconsistent swings.

3. The number one most sure way to change the amount of spin and trajectory on a shot is to change the LOFT of the clubhead. Number two is to change the ball design. Number three is to change the shaft’s stiffness and/or tip stiffness design, but remember, a shaft effect change on spin only works for players with a later and later release.

4. If the golfer truly does have a “too much spin” problem as proven by a valid, accurate observation of the flight of the ball, first check to see if the golfer has a downward angle of attack or if they are allowing the clubhead to pass the hands before impact. If the golfer does either one of these things in their swing, recommend that they TAKE LESSONS and PRACTICE HARD TO CHANGE THESE SWING ERRORS to improve the swing elements which are causing the high spin ball flight.

If the golfer does not have the time, money or commitment to take lessons to overcome the swing error causing their high spin problem with the driver, look for a much lower loft thank what they are using now to at least offer them some help. If the golfer cannot overcome the swing error causing too much spin and the shaft they have fits their swing speed, transition/tempo force, point of release and preference for feel, changing shafts is going to be a waste of time and money.

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