Swing Speed and Launch Monitors

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Frankly GolfEditor's Note: This is the latest in a new weekly feature from Golf Channel Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email letsbefrank@thegolfchannel.com
 
Frank,
For a senior golfer (age 65) with slow swing speed (75-80 mph) do you recommend working with a launch monitor to determine the loft and shaft and anything else it would indicate? I really appreciate your answers, as they really are helpful to us senior hackers that love this great game. Keep it up. -- Rod White, Bloomington, Illinois


Rod,
Generally you should be able to tell by looking at your launch conditions what loft of driver you need. By the way, launch monitors will only help confirm what you probably know anyway, based on observation of the distance you hit the ball and the height of the trajectory. The fact that you know your swing speed is 75-80 mph, you must have used some device to determine this or just estimated it from the distance you hit the ball. Try to get the ball launched as high as possible with your driver i.e. 14 degrees or so and you may need to get more loft on your driver to do this. Most of us are using drivers with lofts lower than we should have. Even the tour players are increasing the loft angles of their drivers with an average of a little over 9 degrees.
 
The other thing is that you dont need to use a premium ball, which allows the super stars to exhibit their talent, so go for a softer core ball. These will not only be much more efficient but give you more distance at your swing speed and cost about half that of the premium ball made by the same manufacturer.
 
Frank,
It seems that everything you read about is 'swing speed', especially in your decision on what clubs to buy. Most golfers like myself can't afford to go to a golf pro to buy clubs and instead buy from other sources. Is there any other way (other than a swing monitor) to get an idea how fast you are swinging a club? -- Hank Hoffman, Albany, NY


Hank,
If you hit the ball with your driver about 200 yards (make sure this is the case, not how far you think you hit the ball) and it is generally straight with a good trajectory then you will have a swing speed of about 85 mph. This would be about an average swing speed. If this is the case then you dont need a launch monitor to determine what clubs you need. Your first choice is a regular flex shaft and a driver with 11 or more degrees of loft. I like to see a 44 inch driver as this will keep you in the fairway more often and the average drive will then be longer than trying to get any roll out of the rough.
 
Next get a set of irons with R flex shafts and a forgiving cavity back head design. These clubs will be less expensive if they are last years models and almost as good as this years model. This is a very general guideline but what is most important, is that you feel comfortable swinging your clubs rather than trying to chase distance. The bottom line is that the longer you hit the ball the faster is your swing speed using the 200 yard distance as a bench mark. This assumes that your drives are straight with a reasonable trajectory.
 
Frank,
I have no idea what my swing speed is (not really fast), I am 65 years old and now I have slowed down some due to age and flexibility (decreased backswing). My driver is 400cc 10 degree and my drives go rather high. Would it increase my distance if I used a driver with say an 8.5 or 9-degree pitch? -- Bob David, Rome, NY

 
Bob,
If you have a slow swing speed the general rule of thumb is to launch the ball as high as possible. this means at about 14 degrees. At the same time, and to increase distance even more, you need to lower the spin rate to about 3,000 rpm. If your launch angle is higher than the 14 degrees then you can try a lower lofted driver. I would very much like to recommend that you speak to your doctor and see if you are in a position to do some strength and flexibility exercises. If you can improve your range of motion by becoming more flexible you will increase your driving distance more than changing your club. So check your launch conditions and stretch every morning after getting permission from your doctor.

Frank,
I've been looking for someone to ask. In the past, I understand that the driving averages of players were based on 1-2 fairways that were measured and marked for that purpose on the PGA and the LPGA. Are current averages figured the same way? I know that they measure most, if not all, of the shots now. I've seen so many differing driving stats on players, for example at the Sony Open, where Bubba Watson startled the golfing world. If they only measure 1 or 2 holes, do they factor in whether the player is using a driver or a 3 wood, etc.? -- Vernon Wong, Honolulu, Hawaii

 
Vernon,
The PGA Tour driving distance averages are still based on two holes which are opposite each other, to take into account any wind conditions which exist. These holes are selected for their relative flatness and where the players will most likely use a driver. The measurement is made whether or not the drive is in the fairway. In the long term this is not a bad method as eventually if the golfer plays all four rounds he will develop eight data points per tournament. After ten tournaments or so with between forty and eighty data points the information becomes fairly reliable as an indicator of the golfers driving distance. There is no distinction made between whether the golfer uses a driver or a three wood or any other club. As mentioned before the holes are selected where the likelihood of using a driver is most probable. To check out some PGA Tour statistics that I have been tracking since 1968, follow this link: http://www.franklygolf.com/tgc/statistics.html
 
Frank,
I'm looking to shorten my putter from 35 to 34. I have heard rumors that when you shorten your putter it throws off the dynamics and the weighting of the putter. Is there any truth to this, and if there is, is there a way to shorten my putter without throwing the weight or dynamics off? -- Curtis Lahey

 
Curtis,
Because your putter is not used in the same way as the rest of your clubs (i.e. a full swing) you dont have to try to match or balance it for swing-weight or frequency etc. Putters are very personal and when you find a good one stick with it. What you need is a well balanced putter which is forgiving in both the vertical and horizontal directions on the face. This would require a mallet style for maximum forgiveness. The head weight should be about 350 grams for a standard length, which is 34 to 35 inches for men and 32 to 33 for ladies. If you decrease the length by one inch from 35 to 34 the dynamics which are not that important, will not change significantly and you dont have to worry. If your putter is well balanced and sits right then this is all you need to worry about.
 
Some of the greatest golfers who putt well use a variety of different weights and putter styles but will generally have very similar weights for their drivers and the rest of their clubs. Try to grip down on your putter an inch or so to get a feeling for what it will be like to change from a 35 to a 34.
 
Frank 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@thegolfchannel.com