Driver spin: The science behind the clubface

Driver spin: The science behind the clubface

Equipment

Driver spin: The science behind the clubface

Club manufacturers love to talk about how their newest drivers can out-hit older models, and over the past few years increased forgiveness on mis-hits has become a big selling point.

Add to those points that several equipment brands have built spin-reducing drivers that target improved performance for a wide range of players.

Every shot creates some backspin. Without it, tees shots would fall from the sky too soon at the expense of carry distance. However, excessive spin can create too much lift, which leads to ballooning shots that fly too high and do not travel far enough.

Creating too much spin is the more common challenge at both the PGA Tour and at the recreational level, but spin tends to come from different sources for various players.

“Out here, most of the time extra spin comes from two things: (Pros) are hitting down slightly, and their speed,” said Matt Rollins, director of tournament player relations for PXG.

The path a clubhead takes into the ball is called its attack angle, and with the growing use of TrackMan and other launch monitors, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of that term.

2017 U.S. Open live blog, Round 1

Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade’s vice president of tour operations, helps fit drivers for players like Rory McIlroy. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m not one to tell a guy how to swing,” said Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade’s vice president of tour operations, who helps fit drivers for Tour players Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, among others. “If a guy (hits) down 6 (degrees), I might say to him that the best we can do is 8 degrees (of launch angle) and 2,400 (spin rate), but if you ever level out and get to 12 degrees and 2,200, there are another 15 yards waiting for you.”

Rollins said the more clubhead speed a player generates, the more spin his swing is capable of producing. On the PGA Tour, the average driver clubhead speed is about 113 mph, but big hitters like Koepka, Johnson and Bubba Watson average more than 120 mph. At the club level, driver swing speeds in the 80s and 90s are much more common.

Regardless of how fast the clubhead is traveling, if it is on a downward path as it makes impact with the ball, it will produce more backspin than if the swing was flat or on an upward path at impact. The faster the downward swing, the more backspin it creates.

According to data collected by TrackMan, a golfer with a driver swing speed of 90 mph hitting with an downward attack angle of minus 2.5 degrees will produce a shot that generates about 3,017 rpm of spin and 203 yards of carry distance. At the same speed, if the attack angle is 0 degrees (meaning the club is on a flat path through the ball), the spin rate decreases to 2,786 rpm and carry distance increases to 209 yards. If the attack angle goes to plus 2 degrees, meaning the player is hitting up on the ball, the spin decreases to 2,562 and the carry distance increases to 214.

Most recreational golfers have a negative attack angle, but a major source of their excessive spin comes from swinging over the top with an open face. This means the clubhead approaches the ball on an out-to-in path, which when combined with a face angle that points to the right, produces too much backspin and sidespin. Shots start to the left (along the swing’s path), then slice to the right (in the direction of the sidespin).

Bubba Watson uses Ping drivers. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Manufacturers know this is how many recreational players swing, and they are getting better at making products that are designed to reduce spin.

“One of the big benefits that we have is being able to collect data off of a high volume of our customers out there,” said Marty Jertson, Ping’s senior design engineer. “We have been able to capture hundreds of thousands of swings over multiple years. We can query that database and create different buckets of target customers based on club dynamics or launch conditions.”

In the case of excessive spin, shifting the center of gravity forward can help. To assist golfers who hit with an open face, positioning more weight to the heel side of the head can help rotate the face to a more closed position on the downswing, squaring it to the swing path more effectively.

Golfers who create a lot of spin off the tee should also talk to two people: a PGA of America professional and a good clubfitter. Developing a swing that delivers the clubhead to the ball on an inside-to-out or square path with a positive attack angle (or at least a less negative path) will help reduce spin and increase distance. Different shaft options, including stiffer-tipped shafts and heavier shafts, also can help reduce spin.

Being equipped with an understanding of where excessive spin comes from, and working with a pro and a clubfitter, make it a lot easier to hit better drives.

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