QA Forged vs Cavity

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Editor's Note: This is the latest in a weekly Q&A feature from GOLF CHANNEL's Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com
 
Frank,
Love the column... Thanks!!! My question: With all else equal (swing speed, loft, shaft, hitting the exact sweet spot, etc), do forged blade irons provide more distance than other irons such as cavity backs?
Thanks,
Bill

 
John Bland
John Bland asks Frank about golf ball technology in the next 'Ask Frank,' Monday, July 30 at 11:00 p.m. ET on GC.
Bill,
Thanks for your kind comments. Your question pre-supposes that all else is equal. If this is the case, then the answer is NO. There will be no difference in distance. The fact that a club is forged doesn't make any difference to the ball speed, launch angle or spin. If you hit a blade (usually forged) on the sweet spot and all else is equal, at impact the cavity-back club (usually cast) will not produce any different results. The problem is that all else is not equal, because in most cases the center of gravity (c.g) of the two clubs is in a slightly different location, and so the way the club head is presented to the ball will almost always be a little different.
 
If, however, the design and shape of two clubs, one forged and the other cast, is identical then the answer remains NO. Back in the early 1970s, a manufacturer made up two iron clubs with identical shapes. One was created by a casting method, and the other was forged. Both were chrome plated to avoid any observable differences. Pros were asked to hit each club to determine which was forged and which was cast; the manufacturer concluded from the tests that even these golfers could not tell the difference. So if you believe the test results, not even feel was different.
 
The answer is cast in stone, not forged to blend neatly with some of our beliefs.
 
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Hope this helps.
Frank
 
Frank,
As a new subscriber to GOLF CHANNEL, I just recently started reading your column and enjoy it immensely. My question concerns custom fitted irons and woods. I wonder if getting a set of clubs that has a different length and lie is really that much of an advantage over standard lie and loft sets. I am about 5' 6' and have a clubhead speed of 92 -96 mph with the driver. Would I be better off spending the money on the latest and greatest off the shelf or a less expensive but custom fitted set? I also wonder why only irons seem to be subject to this, as I have yet to see anyone offering custom lie and length on woods. Keep up the great work!
Rob

 
Rob,
I am not a big fan of rigorous custom fitting clubs for the average golfer. Now before the custom fitters get mad, let me say that custom fitting is a good idea if its done by someone who knows exactly what theyre doing, and its being done for a reasonably good golfer. However, an off-the-shelf set with the right flex shaft and possibly a slightly adjusted lie angle (if necessary) is all the fitting most of us need. (The manufacturers know this, so they manufacture their standard sets with specifications that have proven over the years to be very good for most golfers. I sincerely believe that 90% of the standard sets of clubs are better than 90% of the golfers who intend to use them.)
 
Only the better golfers who hit the ball consistently can take advantage of the kind of tweaks that rigorous fitting provides -- i.e., 1/4 inch changes in length, two swing weight points here and there, a flex point change or a 10-gram change in shaft weight, one degree open face bend, etc. Putting aside the question of whether most of this stuff really matters, can you be sure that your swing on the course day after day is the same as the one you demonstrated for the club fitter? Until youve reached that level of consistency, paying for an extensive fitting session doesnt make much sense. Most of us need a good set of lessons more than we need a rigorously fitted set of clubs.
 
There is no doubt that lie angle, shaft flex, and loft (for drivers) are important for all golfers, but this is as much 'fitting' as most of us need. These are properties that will make a difference we can feel in our performance.
 
In selecting a set off the shelf, with a little expert guidance, you can generally find a set with the right shaft flex. Standard length clubs work for most of us, unless we are abnormally different in height from the average (i.e. +/- 5 inches or so). The lie angle will affect performance if its wrong for you by more than a couple of degrees, so you should check this periodically and make adjustments if necessary. The proper lie angle depends on your swing plane, which may be affected by your height, and is most important in the lofted irons.
 
The real concern I have is that many people who tell you that you need to be fitted really just want to sell you a new set of clubs when they could easily adjust your existing set instead. The fact that drivers are not designed to be custom fitted tells me that one size fits all actually works most of the time.
 
For those who can afford it and have the consistency to take advantage of it, going for a detailed custom fitting should result in a set that closely fits your needs. It will do wonders for your psyche and make you feel special, which will help build your confidence. The downside is that you wont be able to blame your equipment for errors in performance.But really, Rob, the performance differences are extremely small between custom-fitted clubs and an off-the-shelf set.
 
Thats my custom answer, and I hope it helps relieves the pain.
Frank
 
Frank,
With the club manufacturers reaching the limits on drivers, how important does the shaft become, and how can a person determine the correct one?
Art

 
Art,
I like your question because it recognizes that there are some limitations that nature controls in golf, not the USGA. We are reaching those limits when it comes to drivers.
 
Even if there were no limitations on clubs and balls in the Rules of Golf, I would estimate that equipment innovation could add only about 8 to 10 yards from where we are today, as long as golfers keep swinging clubs at the same speed. Faster head speed will always give you more distance, even if the gains are diminishing as head speeds increase. Golfers on average may simply be getting better -- although Jack Nicklaus 45 years ago had a clubhead speed comparable to that of Tiger Woods today. He could have driven the ball the same distance as Tiger if he had had today's equipment.
 
The average driving distance on the PGA TOUR (one of the best golf test laboratories in the world) has increased about 25 yards (from 265 yards in 1995 to 289 yards in 2006) over an 11-year span without any measurable increase in skill on the part of the players. This has been the most significant increase in distance over such a short period of time in the history of the game. The reason for this is primarily the spring-like effect in clubs permitted by the USGA, and secondarily the performance of the multi-layered ball that has allowed golfers to launch drives at or close to their optimum conditions. This could not be achieved with a wound ball and persimmon head. To answer your question, the shaft is not any more important now than it has been in the past. This does not mean it isnt important, just that its influence is no greater since the recent leveling off in performance of driver heads.
 
Find a shaft that allows you to feel where the club head is, and that you are in control of it during your swing, and stick with it. By far the most important specification in a shaft is its flex; many golfers use shafts that are too stiff, because they believe thats what better players use. Start with a more flexible shaft and work your way towards the stiffer ones, rather than starting out too stiff and settling for one you can barely control. Comfort is most important in a shaft, so don't get out of your comfort zone chasing a few extra yards. A lighter shaft allows you to increase your head speed while swinging with the same effort, or to attain the same speed with less effort and more control.
 
Hope this helps.
Frank
 
Click to purchase the Frog PutterFrank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf, a company dedicated to Helping Golfers. Frank is Chief Technical Advisor to The Golf Channel and Golf Digest. He served as Technical Director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN System and introduced the Stimpmeter to the world of golf. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com