Do You Really Understand Swingweight?
As a custom club builder, we get numerous orders for over-length golf clubs with a request to keep swingweight to a “conventional” D2-3 measure. Too many golfers have this notion that swingweight has to be there for the golf club to be “right”, regardless of their other specifications. In my opinion, this represents bad club building practice. Let me explain.
The swingweight scale measures the relative balance point of a golf club – nothing more, nothing less. There is no finite measure of “1 point of swingweight”. It is not a unit of measure like an ounce or gram. It takes less weight to change a 45” driver by one point, than it does to change a 35.5” wedge by the same amount. The scale uses a completely arbitrary range of measures, from B-zero to G-zero to compare the relative balance point of one club to another, and to an equally arbitrary “standard”.
When the swingweight scale and process was developed in the 1940s by Kenneth Smith – the first mass custom club builder -- he found that most good players’ clubs yielded a D0-D2 measure on his scale device. So this became the “gold standard” for what clubs should feel like. Bear in mind that during this era, clubs were much shorter, shafts were much heavier and heads much lighter than they are today.
As technology lightened and lengthened shafts over the decades, and made heads heavier, the swingweight scale remained a standard measuring device, and this adherence to the “gold standard” of D0-D2 remained as well. IT MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.
During the 1980s, Dave Pelz and a few others opined that this was too heavy and the “featherlite” craze was thrust upon us, with the new target swingweight in the ‘B’ range. History has proven that this was not good club design as these heads were just too light to do the job. The marketplace ruled that as fact.
So, that brings us to my philosophy of “swing weight equivalents”. No one else talks this way that I’ve ever heard. Here it is in a nutshell:
To hit this arbitrary D0-D2 weight on clubs that are over or under length, you would have to remove or add as much as 5-7% of the head mass. And that would seriously compromise the playability and performance of the golf club.
This one is probably going to strike a nerve, but I can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say on the topic. Let’s roll.
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I've always been of the 'just hit the darn thing' mindset. If a club just feels right and you can hit it consistently well, put it in the bag and move on.
Terry, thanks for tackling this issue. I'm not sure if I fully understand it. What I do know is that my driver has a D2 swingweight. It feels so effortless when I swing it. I am not sure about the rest of my clubs, including my EIDOLON wedges, but I'm guessing they are between D0-D2. They don't seem as effortless but I can sense when I am on plane and I have a good idea where the clubhead is throughout my swing. Proper fitting is very important and knowing one's swingweight narrows the selection for right club (model, loft, lie, shaft, etc.) for one's golf game.
I have never truly wanted to understand all the technical details of clubmaking, including swing weights. If I were going to have a set of custom clubs made, I would depend upon the clubmaker to understand my swing & game and build an appropriate set that feels good and performs well. If the clubmaker started to ask ME whether I wanted a D2 or D3 swingweight, I would find someone else.
I've found, pretty consistently, that 1/2 half inch of lenth=3 sw points (in graphite shafted woods & hybrids). Additionally, 2gr of head weight or 5gr of grip weight=1 sw point. Lie angle can also affect sw with 4*=1 sw point (more upright=<, flatter=>). That being said, the average golfer probably cannot tell a difference within a range of 2-3 sw. My thinking is that swingweight is a balance between clubhead feel and clubhead control. Its an important variable, but one that is easy to "overthink".
Matt McGee says:
Knowing the swing weight of my clubs is like knowing the angular measurements of the wheel alignment on my car. As long as it works correctly and feels right, I couldn't care less what the numbers are. From reading your article, it sounds like the swing weight scale was made from testing clubs that felt right to good golfers. I'll leave the rest to the club builders.
I think i might be a club geek. I spent a couple hours with my club builder and we went through my entire set. I used his chart and wrote all the info down for each club, from L/L/L to freq. and swing weight. My irons and wedges are D4 from top to bottom, and i have heard numerous times how that is WAY to heavy. Its what feels good to me and i like the performance so ive learned to not listen to opinions. I spent almost 2 yrs testing different weights, shafts, grips etc and found what i liked and feel very comfortable sticking with it. Its actually kind of funny when someone asks to hit my driver and says holy cow it feels like a telephone poll.....how do you hit that thing they ask?? Answer: Lets play 18 and find out :)
I guess it all boils down to finding a good club maker in your area. And yes, after all that is being said and done, we need to take it out for a test drive. I played 3 rounds so far with my 48* Eidolon wedge, love it!
I recently reread Tom Wishon's "The search for the perfect club" and I would like to learn enough to start building clubs for myself and perhaps for others. I still don't have a good grasp on swing weight. One thing I have noticed is that I tend to have my best shots from my iron shafted clubs, 4H and 9W, as well as my regular irons. I know that steel will make the overall club weight higher but I don't understand how it affects swing weight. My club fitter thought that I should be able to play just fine with a 43" steel shafted driver. I'm going to try it and see how that affects my drives.
so how exactly does adding lead tape to your clubs affect it's performance. i've ready that it won't affect trajectory but i know that it can help a slicer keep the ball straight.
like theghost25 said, i like the feel of a heavier club, but i'm too afraid to mess too much with my set because it just might ingrain bad swing habits i mess around too much with it. maybe this should be your next article? enquiring minds want to know!
The quickest way to know how misunderstood swingweight is is how often people change or weight their clubs. When I was a kid,it was EXTREMELY common to see everyday joes put lead tape on a club here and there, as well as pros. I rarely see everyday folks do it anymore, and even pros do it less commonly.
The difference with pros, is very few of them tweak anything themselves any more. Back in the day, guys like Johnny Miller and Arnie used to have workshops at home where they'd adjust their own clubs. Nowadays it's all done int her trailers.
Personally, when i get new clubs, I try to swing as many kinds as possible in my price range and pick the ones that feel right. My last four sets of irons have all been different manufacturers (Nicklaus, Wilson, Nike, TaylorMade).
As far as wedges, I like them heavy and choke up/down to change my swing weight accordingly.
Tim Horan says:
When I was fitted it became clear that I was not flex sensitive but could tell swingweight changes quite well. MOI matching of my set relied on me selecting a "money club" fom my existing set. The club that I would rely on and was most consistant with. This club was then analysed, measured and all the other clubs built to mimick that feel. Far from all the clubs being of a single swingweight (D1.5 in this case)the clubs ranged from D0.33 to D2.99 through the range. The rationale is that each club would feel the same at impact when swung full out. This took into consideration head weight, shaft length, grip weight, my swing speed, and swing plane. Having recently built a set of blades to a D2 swingweight adjusting shaft lengths to maintain the D2 as close as possible I can appreciate why the MOI matched set built for me feels so much better.
Tim Horan says:
@badcaddy - Heavy clubs D4 and above over a period of time may steepen your swing plane. I got in some very bad habits over a six year period with badly fitted clubs high swingweights, upright swingplane and mismatched lie angles held my handicap static for several years.
Tim Horan says:
@larrynjr - a 43 inch steel shafted driver will most likely improve accuracy in the short term but in all probability you wont be hitting it very far. The added weight will reduce swing speed and as above will likely steepen the angle of attack. Taken to extreme the steepness will invoke an out to in swing and any existent fade or slice will soon negate any short term benefits experienced.
...and then there's MOI matching. If you have a set of irons that are MOI matched, NONE will have the same swingweight! As an approximation, for an iron set that varies 0.5" club-to-club, the swingweight will vary 0.5 points club-to-club. For example, the 4-iron might be D2.0 and the 5-iron D2.5 and the 6-iron D3.0, etc. Personally, I prefer a set matched in this way. They all 'feel' the same (whatever that is) to me when I swing them.
...as an addendum to my previous post, one might try this: As Tom Wishon says, go to the range with a roll of lead tape and an iron (6 or 7 will do) that has a fairly "light" swingweight, such as C9 or D0. Hit shots to get an idea of how that club performs. Add enough tape to increase the SW 2 points. Two points is about where one can tell a difference. See how that performs. Continue that procedure until the shots are noticeably not as good. Now you have an idea of which SW is best FOR THAT CLUB. Now vary the SW as described above and you have a set of irons that is approximately MOI-matched. Try it---you'll like it.
Tim Horan says:
@nswynnerton - depends wher you place the lead tape, swing weight can adjusted by weight and position of the weight. Lead tape can be applied at the head or at or around the balance point with differing results. I have found the best way to adjust MOI (or rather the approximation of MOI as I am not a physicist) is to add the same amount of lead tape say 6g to the shaft at 1" increments between the balance point of the club (without any tape)and the hosel. That way the heft changes without adding any more physical mass.
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