MadSci Network: Physics

Re: How does the metal in golf clubs affect your golf game

Date: Thu Mar 12 16:35:14 1998
Posted By: Tom Cull, MadSci Admin
Area of science: Physics
ID: 889742071.Ph

Interesting question.  I suspect it is going to be extremely difficult
to measure appreciable differences between verious metal clubs.
Typical differences between a steel or titanium iron (the golf club) is
going to be very small compared to the variation in a golfers ability
to reproduce the same swing.  I recommend you look at measure the difference
between a metal wood and a wooden wood :)


Metal has many advantages over wood in both golf and baseball.
The advantage comes down to two principle effects:
1) A bigger sweet spot and better response away from hitting on the sweet
2) less loss of energy at impact.

The sweet spot of a club or bat is the region that gives the "truest"
hit of the ball.  For a wood bat this region is about 2 or 3 inches long
and about 2 to 4 inches from the barrel end of the bat.  For a wood golf club
the sweet is typically about a 1 inch and for a titatium club the sweet spot
can be almost as big as the entire hitting surface.

But the big advantage is what happens on an impact away from the sweet spot.
In Major League Baseball (played with wood bats) it is typical for a
bat to break on contact with an inside pitch.  In college baseball, the
third baseman will get his head taken off by a well struck inside pitch to a
right handed batter.

In golf, the better impact away from the sweet spot allows the golfer to
have slight variance in the striking position along the club face and still
produce decent distance (although direction may suffer greatly).

Perhaps, obviously if less energy is lost at impact with the ball, more
energy is availble for kinetic energy of the ball.  More kinetic energy
typically means more distance.

Finally, some other advantages are possible with metal golf clubs.  The
Golf clubs have grooves in the face to improve impact with the ball by
allow for more spring the clubface and preventing the ball from slipping too
much during impact.
grooves in the club can be made with flat channels which for reasons not
fully understood (at least by me) causes more energy to be transferred to
the ball than the tradtition grooving.

Metal clubs can more easily have the weight changed without adversely
affecting performance.  A lighter club can be swung faster, generating more
kinetic energy.  If all other properties of the club's impact ability stay
the same, more kinetic energy of the club will mean more kinetic energy to
the ball.


Metal woods give the golfer more distance than wooden woods.


Gather a few volunteers of some golf ability and have them hit balls with a
wooden and metal driver.  I would do this first and then go back and try
metal to metal comparisons if the wood to metal comparison gives strong

Try to get the clubs to be as close to the same in "feel" as possible.

Have the golfer take a few whacks with one club and then switch
to the other.  For example, hit 5 balls with club A and then 5 with club B,
and then do it again for say 5 or 6 alternations.  That way you will get 25
or 30 measures of distance with each club.  Then do this with several

After you have done this with a handful of golfers.  You can see if there is
a statistically significant difference in the distances.  For each golfer,
compute the mean distance and the standard deviation for each club and
report the result as mean +/- std. deviation.  You will get a table that
looks something like this ( I will explain the commments below):

              club A            club B          comment
           (distance yds)  (distance yds)
golfer 1      210 +/- 30      220 +/- 10          not different enough
golfer 2      250 +/- 20      210 +/- 25          maybe A is better
golfer N      230 +/- 10      190 +/- 15          club A is better

A simple way to decide if the difference is significant is to
see if the difference of the means is bigger than the sum of the standard
deviations (there are other ways but this is easiest).

           absolute diff         Sum
            of means sum         of std dev.'s        comment
golfer 1  220 - 210 = 10 yds    10 + 30 = 40 yds    diff mean < sum std dev
golfer 2  250 - 210 = 40 yds    20 + 25 = 45 yds    close but diff mean <
golfer N  230 - 190 = 40 yds    10 + 15 = 25 yds    diff mean > sum std dev

Notice that the pretend measured results even have a case where club B
averages a longer distance than club A  and 2 cases where club A averages a
longer distance than club B.  This will likely happen in the experiment.

Real life golf club manufacturing companies try this sort of thing with
machines but still always get professionals and common folks to try it too.


Have fun trying it out.  I hope this helps you create an even better experiment.
It all depends on your patience.  And don't forget to look the statistics with
the same club but different clubs (i.e. if you take all the hits with club A
versus all the hits with club B, what do you get?).


Tom "Golf Hacker" Cull

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