Heavier can be better.
This is the message of veteran teacher Drew Pierson, who says too many golfers are using clubs that are too light.
I admire Pierson, a PGA master professional who lives and teaches in Wilmington, N.C. A knowledgeable instructor, he regularly does something that more teachers should do – he advises his students on their choice of golf equipment.
When graphite shafts came along, many of us initially bemoaned the fact that we had grown up in the age of steel. A steel driver shaft weighs roughly 125 grams, whereas a graphite shaft can weigh only half as much.
The arguments were tantalizing: Less weight in the shaft, more weight in the head. This, we were told, would translate into more power and more distance.
But did it?
Well, yes and no. For decades, the standard length of a steel-shafted driver was 43 inches. As graphite-shafted drivers grew to 45 and 46 inches, golfers picked up clubhead speed and distance simply because of the extra length.
But it came with a price: Accuracy went down. In some cases, way down.
It didn’t take long for graphite to invade the fairway wood realm. Irons followed. But did golfers hit the ball farther with graphite shafts in all their clubs?
Not necessarily. And if they did, Pierson points out, “they couldn’t hit the ball the same distance from one shot to the next.”
The lesson here is that clubs need to be balanced. The steel shaft has offered superb balance for more than 70 years. Heavy, yes. Balanced, yes.
The experiment of lightweight graphite shafts in fairway woods and irons was revealing.
These light shafts proved to be wonderful for many senior golfers and women – players who lack the strength to handle heavier clubs.
However, lightweight graphite didn’t work well for many men. So the graphite shaft manufacturers got smart and began to offer a large variety of weights. For example, in Aldila’s popular NV shaft, as well as the new softer-tip NVS shaft, weights from 55 to 105 grams, in 10-gram increments.
For many golfers, heavier can be better.
I’m not trying to knock graphite. Far from it. Graphite has wonderful shock-absorption qualities. It offers great feel. It can be customized in thousands of different ways.
But steel is still with us, and reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. Once again, it gets down to balance.
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Pierson observes, “that you were considered a wimp if you didn’t swing (clubs with swingweights of) D5, D6 or D7.
“And you know what? It wasn’t a bad thing. Look back to Boros, Palmer, Snead. All of them tended to use much heavier irons. I think somewhere there is a tradeoff between the speed of the swing and being able to hit the ball a given distance. How can you possibly expect to lower your handicap if you can’t control your swing speed?”
Pierson also is a staunch opponent of clubs that are too long.
“I see a lot of people who can’t handle the length,” he says. “The clubs are long, and they are light. Because of the lack of weight, a player loses the rhythm.”
The heavyweight champion of golf tries to debunk the supercharged theory behind some modern clubs.
“Everybody just accepts the mantra of lighter clubs with stronger lofts,” Pierson says. “This is crazy. People are destroying their golf games. Why do I need a car that goes 160 miles an hour to go to the grocery store?”
Using a specific example, he talks about the extremely lightweight Goldwin woods and irons that are no longer manufactured.
“In theory, it sounded good,” he says, “but you had a lot of people trying to hit a ball with a soda straw. It was too light.”
As for length, he sees 44 inches “as the point of diminishing returns. I think golf really lost something for most people whose drivers went beyond 44 inches. I feel the same way about golf clubs that went to a weight less than 12 ounces. They really lost something.”
Looking at wedges, Pierson says they generally are “too long and way, way too light. Wedges used to be 4 to 6 swingweight points heavier. Everything seems to be about swinging faster and hitting it farther. Whatever happened to swinging better and hitting it in the middle of the face?”
Pierson is evangelical about his beliefs, but he admits, “You start talking like this, and they look at you like you’re crazy, like you should be locked up.”
Well, lock me up, too. Somewhere there is a middle ground in golf equipment, and most golfers would be better off if they found it. That middle ground includes more steel and more heavy graphite.
It’s all about balance. Heavier can be better