Can Swing Weight Affect Performance? – Golf Myths Unplugged

SWING WEIGHT

What Is Swing Weight?

Every player has a favorite club in their bag.  You hit lots of good shots with it, and something about it just feels right.  A big part of that is swing weight.

Have you ever picked up a new club and immediately known that it wouldn’t work?  Again, swing weight.

So, whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a preferred swing weight.  The question we set out to answer is, does swing weight actually impact performance, or is it simply a personal preference like the color of your grips?

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Swing Weight Defined

In simple terms, swing weight is how heavy the club head feels when you swing it.  More technically, it’s how much the club tips towards the club head when you balance the club on a fulcrum.

Swing weight is measured on a swing weight scale and is referenced with an alphanumeric code.  Swing weights range from A0 at the lightest to G10 at the heaviest, with most men’s clubs coming in around D0-D2 and women’s clubs weighing C5-C7.  The difference between two swing weights, D0 and D1 for example, is approximately two grams of weight in the club head.

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The Myths

Myth #1 – Swing weight affects club and ball speed

Myth #2 – Swing weight affects launch and spin

Myth #3 – Swing weight affects distance

Myth #4 – Swing weight affects accuracy

Myth #5 – Swing weight affects the way you swing the club

Myth #6 – Golfers can only sense large changes in swing weight

Myth #7 – Stronger players need heavier swing weights

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How We Tested

We brought together six golfers with handicaps ranging from scratch to the low teens for this test.  Using the same six-iron, each player hit five shots at each of four different swing weights – D0, D3, D6, D9.  All the shots were recorded on Trackman.

All testing was done at and with the help of Club Champion.

The Results

1

In past tests, like our shaft weight study, we’ve shown mixed results for the theory of “lighter is faster.”  In the case of swing weight, however, there is a clearer relationship between weight and speed.  5 of our 6 testers saw their median club speed drop when moving from a swing weight of D0 (light) to D9 (heavy).  The six testers lost an average of 2.75 MPH – a very significant amount of club head speed, especially with an iron.  In the most extreme case, a tester lost nearly 5 MPH.

Interestingly, the relationship between swing weight and ball speed was not as clear.  5 of 6 testers lost ball speed when going from D0 to D9, an average loss of 2.2 MPH, however, two players posted their highest ball speeds at swing weights above D0 – one at D6 and one ad D9.

How is this possible?  Smash factor.  Smash factor measures how efficiently energy is transferred from the club to the ball, and 4 of 6 testers posted their highest smash factor with the heaviest club.  Simply put, heavier heads create more ball speed given the same swing speed which is why you see so many manufacturers making their club heads heavier.

2

While the differences weren’t as dramatic as they were with speed, swing weight did have an impact on each player’s launch and spin conditions.  With one exception, changing swing weight added or subtracted 2 degrees or less from a player’s launch angle, and spin changed within a range of a few hundred RPM.

The correlation between swing weight and higher or lower launch and spin appears to be entirely personal.  Three testers had their highest launch at D0, but the other three launched highest at D6 or D9.  Similarly, four testers had their lowest spin at D9, but the other two produced the most spin at D9.

3

Did you ever think that hitting your irons at least a club longer was just a matter of adding some lead tape?  It’s true.  As they worked through the range of swing weights, our testers saw their median distance change a minimum of 7 yards and a maximum of 39 yards!

Sadly, we’re about to disappoint anyone who was looking for a simple rule to use to gain these yards.  Half of our testers produced their longest shots with the lightest swing weight, but two were longest at D6 and the biggest gainer was longest at D9.  Just as with launch and spin, every player has their own swing weight that will produce maximum distance.

4

At this point, no one should be surprised that swing weight had a large impact on accuracy.  When looking at median accuracy, our testers’ shots moved as much as 18 yards from left to right as they worked through the different swing weights.  We had testers go from painting flag sticks at one swing weight to missing the target by 15 yards at another.

Looking at accuracy produced the most muddled picture of what swing weight is best.  One player was most accurate at D0, two were best at D3, another two were best at D6, and one produced his most accurate shots at D9.

5

Given the huge changes in speed, distance, and accuracy, you would be right to expect that changes in swing weight changed our testers’ club path, face to path relationship, and angle of attack.

4 of 6 testers swung the club more left with higher swing weights, two swung more right.  Most of the changes were significant – approximately two degrees – and one was an amazing eight degrees!

Predictably, face to path changes followed the same pattern: four were more right (fades and slices), two were more left (draws and hooks).  Again, all of the changes were noticeable, and a couple were extreme.

The results for angle of attack were mixed.  You might expect that the heavier head would lead to steeper, more negative angles of attack, but only two players showed that trend.  The other players had somewhat erratic patterns, but three of them registered their shallowest AoA with the D9 club.

Nick Sherburne, Club Champion’s Founder and Master Builder and Fitter, explained this result by saying that the body often responds to the heavier head by pulling up harder, resulting in the shallow AoA.

6

This myth was busted very early in our testing.  Though the change from D0 to D3 only represents six grams of added head weight, each of our testers found it immediately noticeable.  Not only did they comment on the change in feel without prompting, but the data shows that their swings knew the difference, too.

If you look at the data, you can see that any given change, whether it was from D0 to D3 or D6 to D9, can make a huge impact on the way the club performed.

7

Whether you measure strength in terms of club speed or the ability to pick up heavy things, this myth is busted.  Our fastest swinger hit the lightest club the farthest and hit a relatively light club the most accurately.  Similarly, our strongest tester had his swing go to pieces with heavier swing weights.

Just as with every other element that we’ve tested to date, swing weight is a personal thing that can’t be fit with simple rules of thumb.

The Takeaway

So what should you do with all this information?  I’d suggest making the relatively small investment in a swing weight scale and a roll of lead tape.  Find the swing weight of your favorite club and see if you can dial in the rest of your set to match.  You might also consider doing some experimenting: see what happens when you bump up the swing weight of your clubs a few points or drop the swing weight a bit by adding weight to the butt of the club.

This also gives you one more factor to consider when being fit.  Make sure your fitter is aware of, or helps you find, your preferred swing weight so that one club doesn’t outperform another simply based on having the correct swing weight for you.

The Data

Swing Weight Myth Data

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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15 Comments

  1. good

  2. Great article, cleared a lot of things up for me.

  3. Love this article, thank you. I realize this took a lot of work is there any chance of getting a similar report on a driver?

    • Matt Saternus

      Kenny,

      We have so many new ideas that we want to cover that it’s hard to promise a return to this one. That said, we’ll certainly put it on the list.

      Best,

      Matt

  4. Matt,
    Srixon has the Z 355 irons out. They have made the head heavier than most but, counterbalanced the shaft so, you are swinging a sledge hammer but, it feels like a feather. Is this hype or does it really work. I’m waiting to get a chance to try them at the local PGA Superstore but, haven’t gotten there yet.

  5. This is a super interesting article. Awesome job! Quick question: did you happen to record the swingweight of each tester’s current set of clubs? I think some of the variation in results (i.e. lack of clearly pronounced trends) may be due to the variation in each tester’s individual definition of a “normal” swingweight. In particular, lower handicap golfers are going to be very sensitive to changes in swingweight, as they’ve likely clocked a lot more hours at a specific swingweight. Higher handicaps may be less sensitive to minor fluctuations. You could have controlled for this variance to some extent by (1) only including testers with a handicap in a a set range (i.e. all would then have a comparable sensitivity to changes in swingweight) and (2) only including testers that currently play a specific swingweight–say, D1, which is pretty typical off-the-shelf swingweight these days. By not controlling for what “normal” represents to each tester, and how great an impact a deviation from “normal” might represent to each tester, it’s difficult to determine if there’s a common pattern RE: tester performance in terms of +/- swingweight points (relative to “normal” swingweight). Maybe it is totally subjective, but doing a more controlled study would remove all doubt. Anyway, just a few thoughts to consider.

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  7. John Dailey

    I read this article and it made me think. I’m 5 10 and have hit standard or plus length clubs all my golfing career. I recently cut 1 1/4 inches off my standard length iron set as an experiment because I started choking down on the club for a more consistent ball strike. In doing so, the swing weight decreased from the D1 range down to B7. I’ve added lead weight on the shaft and back of some of the irons to bring the weight to C2 but the club feel became “clunky”. After cutting the clubs I noticed a distance or gain although i made all the clubs the same swing weight of C2. My initial theory was that if i had each club at the same swing weight, the yardage gaps should be consistent. However, that was not the case. I’ve since added a little weight to the PW, GW, SW, and LW and decreased the weight on the 5 and 6 irons. The 7, 8, and 9 I haven’t changed. Can you provide a rationale as to 1. why the longer irons at a lighter weight have a longer carry distance than at a heaver weight and vice versa with the short irons and 2. should there not be a single ideal swing weight for all clubs? I would think that if your ideal swing weight was say C2, that if every club weighed C2 it would function at the optimal level.
    Thank you for your insight

    • Matt Saternus

      John,

      Thanks for your questions.

      Swing weights getting heavier in the shorter clubs and longer in the lighter clubs is very typical. With the longer clubs, a heavier head can be hard to swing fast and it can also make the shaft behave differently. That’s why many people drop a point or two in their long irons.

      As to a single ideal swing weight, it will depend. Some players do like the same weight throughout. Others prefer an ascending (or descending) weight as I just described.

      Your experiment sheds some light on why a high level club builder is so important. There are so many factors in how a club feels and performs – not just weight, but the placement thereof. Moving weight changes feel and shaft dynamics. The list goes on and on.

      I hope that helps.

      Best,

      Matt

  8. Larry Pollock

    If you are careful with your swing, I.e. – don’t force it, more weight can create more lag which can easily lead to head speed increase as you approach impact – swing easy, hit hard. Old adage.

  9. Any thought on the correlation of swing weight to the swing tempo of a golfer? I’m much better with a 7 iron at D2 then D0. I can’t feel the D0 club enough with my swing tempo

    • Matt Saternus

      Wes,

      When you say tempo, are you referring to the proportion of time between back swing and down swing or the overall time the swing takes? In either case, it was not something that we measured in this test, so I could only guess. I think the conventional wisdom would be that “quicker” swings would not handle high swing weights as well.

      Best,

      Matt

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