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August 2008 Golfsmith Clubmaker Back to Main
Slipping Up at the Turn
gca insider
Slipping Up at the Turn
The problem may be right in your hands—and we donít mean gloves or grips.
by: John Mathieson
Educational Manager

Not Just in Your Head

Has this ever happened to you, or have you witnessed it among your friends and customers? You just shot the best front nine score of your life. At the turn you have a snack: a hot dog with mustard and relish, a bag of corn chips, and a soda. You are so excited that you wolf down the dog and a handful of chips as you head to the back nine.

You think this may be your best round ever—until you tee off on the 10th hole. You havenít hit a tee shot that bad all day. You follow it up with a few more poor shots, and you finally finish with an eight. As you write down your score, your dreams of a career round vanish as quickly as another handful of corn chips.

Did the thought of your best round make you nervous and cause the poor tee shot, or did something else spoil the drive that in turn ruined your day?

Many of us have the opportunity to purchase snacks and drinks on the course, compliments of the cart girl. (Have you ever seen a guy driving the beverage cart? Neither have I.) So we often have multiple chances to get soda, energy drinks or beer, chips, candy bars, nutrition bars, sometimes fruit and, these days, no telling what other gourmet treats. At the turn, you can pick up a hot dog or a hamburger with fries, or any of a variety of other greasy finger foods. Can the food youíre grabbing contribute to poor shots?

And what about the other factors, usually overlooked, that may reduce your opportunities for success, like sunscreen, topical analgesic rub (if you donít know what this is now, then you will when you become more experienced in life), bug repellent spray or hand lotion?

All these things you come in contact with—no matter how tasty or practical—may contribute to causing additional tension in your hands, wrists and shoulders during your swing, and this may limit the success you have on the course.

The Best Kind of Swing Testing

I love my job! Not many people get paid for eating chips and candy and then going out to hit golf balls. When we decided to test the effects of various on-the-course, on-your-grip variables, first we compiled a list of common items that people eat or use their hands to apply, before or during a round.

Shopping list:

  • Corn chips
  • Potato chips
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Chocolate bars
  • Mixed nuts
  • Salsa/picante sauce
  • Vegetable oil (analagous to hamburger grease)
  • Bug repellent spray
  • Topical analgesic rub
  • Hand cream
  • Sunscreen

In our test, our player was given the opportunity to warm up with a driver prior to hitting shots. Using a Vector launch monitor, we compiled the data for each club he hit. The grips were cleaned with soap and water before the next test began. After five shots he ate a snack or used a skin product, and then continued hitting the same driver. To avoid cross-contamination, the driver grip was thoroughly cleaned with a scrub brush, soap and water after each test.

In other words, the tests were conducted like match play: We paired up clean-grip impacts and, immediately following, ďcontaminatedĒ impacts. By always using a clean grip before each test, we were able to accurately determine if/when the player was fatigued or if they had not been initially warmed up adequately. For the record, hereís the specific protocol:

  1. Player warmed up.
  2. Player's hands and club grip were cleaned.
  3. Player hit five shots with cleaned grip.
  4. Player introduced contaminant as they normally would on the course. Efforts were taken not to be excessive. For example, unwrapping and eating a mini chocolate bar, or applying a dab of sunscreen to the back of the neck.
  5. Player hit five shots with contaminated grip.
  6. Player and grip were cleaned using soap, water, scrub pad and brush, and the test began again with another contaminant.

Clear Results

So what problems does getting a contaminant on your grip create? Our test showed that less distance, poor direction and emotional distress are likely, and therefore so are higher scores. This table clearly shows the negative outcome when the grip is contaminated with any foreign substance—even an amount so small that you might not question how much is on your hands before you grip the club.

Data

Session

Average Clubhead Speed

Average Vertical Launch

Average Ball Speed

Average Back Spin

Average Carry Distance

Average Total Distance

Max of Total Distance

Minimum Total Distance

StdDev of Back Spin

 Clean 1

99.10

15.46

145.26

2727.20

258.70

274.06

280.20

268.30

123.43

Chocolate

93.02

16.90

135.50

3171.60

228.40

241.24

259.30

222.00

349.31

 Clean 2

100.00

15.08

146.73

2607.50

259.30

275.13

282.40

269.50

437.11

 Potato Chips

97.98

15.04

143.80

2613.60

251.06

267.08

273.20

256.00

537.35

 Clean 3

100.50

15.33

146.50

3043.00

257.93

272.03

274.90

268.10

322.56

 Bug Spray Dry

97.62

16.24

143.54

2527.20

253.76

269.48

278.70

257.30

321.07

 Bug Spray Wet

93.65

17.95

137.28

2821.75

235.78

249.68

257.00

232.90

356.90

 Clean 4

100.62

15.08

146.98

2916.60

260.94

275.58

282.20

262.20

249.22

 Mixed Nuts

99.30

16.82

145.02

2967.20

256.44

270.44

277.80

265.10

288.41

Clean 5

101.42

14.12

147.94

2975.60

260.60

275.34

286.30

261.60

259.12

Corn Chips

98.80

14.60

144.20

2988.20

248.70

263.08

272.90

243.00

351.99

 Clean 7

102.14

13.96

149.54

2711.60

262.78

278.54

289.00

267.70

251.72

 Mustard

99.22

15.82

144.50

3132.60

254.52

268.30

273.60

261.00

321.22

 Clean 8

101.56

15.60

147.72

3176.80

259.56

273.10

278.90

264.70

496.48

 Salsa

97.14

17.18

141.04

3336.00

243.40

255.96

266.00

243.20

294.61


The standard deviation is an indication of the consistency of impact, which was significantly better with the clean grip. While we expected these results, we were not anticipating how even the slightest amount of contaminant on the grip causes alteration of swing tempo and timing, leading to poorer shots. The dramatic difference in the Minimum Total Distance between tests clearly shows how much distance can be lost on a single drive once contaminants have been introduced. This test was with one club and not the entire set, yet many players will continue eating for a few holes; thus, they may contaminate multiple clubs.

Observations

  • Club #6 Missing

    Clean #6 was up against ketchup. The grip with ketchup was so slick it went flying out of the playerís hands, over the roof of the nearby home of our swing testing robot Max Headspeed, and snapped in two when it struck a brick retaining wall. Thus the test was stopped and ketchup was abandoned as a subject, as it clearly was exceptionally slick.

  • Launch Angles

    The launch angle increased once contaminants were introduced. This might have been due to the player feeling he could not be as aggressive with his swings, simply because he was holding on so firmly. In some instances, the player had a difficulty with balance on the follow-through. This is an indication that the player's timing was thrown off and he was struggling with control of the club.

  • Contaminant Location

    The location of the contaminant was important. The player was right-handed, and when contaminants were under the left thumb, control was the most difficult. Because the thumb supports the club at the top of the backswing, the inability to control the club during the transition from backswing to downswing contributed to more poor shots than having contaminants under the right hand.

Notes on Specific Contaminants

  • Chocolate

    It is amazing how fast a chocolate bar melts in the Texas heat in August. In less than five minutes, the small little bar had the consistency of mud. It was impossible to eat without getting some on your fingers. Since the chocolate was already on his fingers, the player naturally used them to scrape the chocolate from the wrapper. Surprisingly, the chocolate was sticky on the fingers, but as soon as it touched the rubber grip, it was slick. Because of its consistency, chocolate became embedded into the small grooves on the grip, where it continued to cause slipping. Once the chocolate was embedded, it was impossible to wipe it out of the grooves on the grip, and a scrub brush was required to completely clean the grip.

  • Potato Chips and Corn Chips

    Both of these are common snacks on the course, and we have all experienced the resultant greasy-finger feeling. In our test, that feeling went away pretty quickly, and the grip did not seem to seem to retain the slick feeling as long as with other tested substances.

  • Bug Spray

    This test was conducted twice. In the first test, we allowed the player 10 minutes for the spray to dry. This would simulate application on the putting green or in the pro shop prior to play. In the second test we had the player apply the spray and then proceed to hit shots as if they already on the course. Clearly there was a big difference between how the two performed.

  • Mixed Nuts

    This is the snack I would recommend for players who need to eat during a round. There was only a slight amount of oil in the nuts. There was also a quantity of salt, which possibly contributed to a greater sense of control.

Conclusions and Solutions

As we all know, it is not the one bad shot that significantly increases our score, it is the next three shots we screw up in trying to recover. There are many things we can do to improve our scores, including practicing, getting new clubs, practicing, getting a new putter, practicing, improving our course management, etc. And donít forget to practice! But the easiest and least expensive is simply to replace your grips and keep them and your hands clean. Our test clearly showed that any time the grip or your hands are not clean, the opportunity for a poor shot increases. Wouldnít it be best if we reduced the number of bad shots to begin with?

The consistency of all the clean sessions once again shows the importance of clean, fresh grips. As clubmakers, we are responsible for educating our customers. So if your opponent offers you a snack at the turn, politely turn it down, as it could affect the outcome of your match. If you do have to eat during the round, use one of the small, disposable alcohol pads used in the medical field to thoroughly clean your hands prior to touching a club. Or have plenty of alcohol-based hand cleaner with you when you play. It dries quickly and does a good job of removing contaminants from your hands before you ever have a chance to get them on the grip. And of course, make sure you buy your opponents a chocolate bar at the turn.

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