Deciphering Tiger Woods' lesson in 'club speak'

Tiger Woods Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Deciphering Tiger Woods' lesson in 'club speak'

Equipment

Deciphering Tiger Woods' lesson in 'club speak'

Tiger Woods was not happy with the way that he drove the ball at Torrey Pines in January in the Farmers Insurance Open. On a course he used to dominate, he hit 30 percent of the fairways (17 of 56) and his strokes gained: off-the-tee average was 0.19. The chart below contains data collected by the PGA Tour on three tee shots Tiger hit on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Round 1 Round 3 Round 4
Clubhead Speed (rpm) 118 118.4 118.8
Ball Speed (mph) 178.1 178.3 179.4
Smash Factor 1.509 1.505 1.51
Launch Angle (degrees) 11.32 10.87 11.42
Spin Rate (rpm) 1,901 2,283 (not recorded)
Apex Height (feet) 105.6 107.4 108.9
Distance (yards) 318.4 323.2 337.6

Before last week’s Genesis Open at Riviera, Tiger made a change to his TaylorMade M3 driver. He took the Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 70 TX shaft out, and in its place went a shaft he used a few years ago in his Nike driver, a Matrix Ozik TP6HDe shaft. He also added three-quarters of a degree in loft, giving his club 10.25 degrees.

“The shaft is one that I can let go,” he said after his opening round of 1-over 72 at Riviera Country Club. “I didn’t do that on a couple of tee shots and tried to hit a couple of little smoothies out there, and that shaft is a little more stout, so I can go ahead and hit it. When I did, I piped it. The more I get used to it, the more aggressive I can be.”

Exceptional club fitters tend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of gear, a deep understanding of how to make swings more efficient and a knack for translating a golfer’s words like “stout” and “whippy” and “boardy” into something measurable. That last part – listening to golfers describe what they feel or what they think they feel – can separate a fitter who helps you find a good club and someone who finds the proverbial needle in a haystack, the perfect club for you.

So when Tiger Woods describes a driver shaft as being “stout,” someone like Nick Sherburne, a co-founder of Club Champion and a master club builder, has a good idea of what he means.

“When people use the word stout with me, I start thinking about things like bend profile, torque, stiffness and butt diameter,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things that I’ll look at when people start using that term.”

Sherburne notes that the Matrix shaft has a wider diameter on the handle end than the Mitsubishi shaft, but he also said the Tensei shaft has a lower torque, which means it requires more weight to bend it.

“A lower torque always feels stouter than a higher-torque,” Sherburne said. “If it were me and I had to bet my money on which one he would have said was more stout, I would have bet on the Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White was stouter.”

Sherburne said there is not a monumental difference between the two shafts Tiger Woods has most recently played, but the table below, which contains the same data for two of Woods’s measured drives at last week’s Genesis Open, shows Woods’ driver performed differently.

Round 1 Round 2
Clubhead Speed (rpm) 118.8 120.2
Ball Speed (mph) 180 181
Smash Factor 1.514 1.506
Launch Angle (degrees) 16.46 12.55
Spin Rate (rpm) 2,996 2,418
Apex Height (feet) 175.2 137.5
Distance (yards) 320 320.2

The sample size is tiny, but as you can see, Tiger’s ball speed went up slightly and he saw a sharp increase in launch angle, spin rate and his shot’s apex height. His tee shots may have traveled about the same distance, but at Riviera his shot shape was different.

Woods said in his pre-tournament press conference that his driver is now spinning the way he likes, so it appears the Mitsubishi shaft was not providing the 14-time major winner with enough spin.

“To be fair, we don’t know if one of these shafts has been trimmed or tipped differently, and that can alter the stiffness and performance,” Sherburne said. He also said that when golfers use a driver shaft that is too stiff, it is common for a player to want to swing harder, so the shaft does not lag as much, which presents more loft at impact and adds spin. If Tiger thought the Matrix shaft was “more stout” then it may have encouraged him to swing faster, and coupled with the added loft, it may have resulted in more ball speed as well as more spin and height.

The only way to know if the driver, shaft and ball combination you play is ideally suited for your swing is to work with a good custom fitter. Leave your preconceptions at the door, ask questions and be open to trying anything. Confidence can be a powerful thing and it can come from a variety of places.

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