One of the most elusive qualities of a golf club is what we call “feel”. That’s because everyone has a different idea of just what “feel” is, and what feels best to them and it can’t be measured or quantified. In my discussions with golfers, I find that most relate “feel” to the sensation of impact, and that typically leads to the old forged vs. cast discussion.
But when we talk about the sensation of impact, there are many variables involved, not to mention the individual differences between golfers. So let’s dissect this first part of the feel equation down to its basics, and focus on irons and wedges only for this discussion:
Clubhead material: This ranges from very hard stainless steels to soft carbon steels primarily. Generally speaking, the carbon steels offer an improved feel of impact, all other variables being equal. That said, however, there are some stainless steels used in putters that are so soft they are not functional in irons or wedges, as you couldn’t hold loft and lie angles through impact force.
Fabrication method: This is where we get to the cast vs. forged discussion, of which I’ve written about many times. Yes, it is agreed that the process has an effect on the sensation, but this is likely one of the least important factors, in my opinion. Remember, Jell-O is always cast!
Head design: Very simple. The amount of mass directly behind the impact point, where the ball was struck, has a huge influence on the sensation that is delivered through the shaft and to your hands. Thicker mass, as typically found in blades, delivers a more “solid” sensation than thinner mass. For a simple example of this, drive a large nail into a board with a hammer, hitting the nail alternatively with the end of the hammer and the side of the hammer. You will notice a different sensation of impact based on the distribution of mass in relation to the impact point.
Shaft material and flex: This is a very important element of the sensation of impact you will experience. Graphite deadens vibration better than steel, and standard weight steel will deaden more than light steel. Softer flexes generally provide a “softer” feel than firmer flexes in any given shaft.
The grip: There are hundreds of variables in this piece of the puzzle alone, and changing grips can make a significant impact on what you feel from impact.
Tricks and techniques: Clubbuilders have many little “secrets” they can use to alter the sensation of impact and mitigate vibration. Wood dowels or corks have been inserted into the shaft tip for decades. We’ve seen inserts into the shaft below or under the grip. Many clubhead designs use plastic or other material appliqués on the back of the face to deaden vibration at the source. Remove those and you’ll see dramatic changes in your feedback.
The whole enchilada: That’s a South Texas saying, but the final “feel” sensation that you experience from any golf club is the way all these elements come together. A hard stainless head with a thick face, graphite shaft and soft grip might well deliver a softer sensation of impact than a forged head with stiff light steel shaft and hard grip material. As always, the key is to hit clubs until you find the ones that deliver the feel you are seeking.
Next Tuesday: The “other” feel that no one is talking about.