The Terrible Twos Syndrome of Golf Club Fitting: Part Twenty-Five

Although the terminology used is generally different for irons (a “bounce” sole on an iron equating to a “closed” face angle on a wood and a “dig” sole on an iron equating to an “open” face angle on a wood), face angle effects can also be evident on irons based upon the particular design of the clubhead.  Clubhead soles that are wider from front to back (including on putters) can be more prone to exhibiting face angle effects when placed on the ground and/or played, but there are other club design and/or construction elements that can come into play also.  Sources that recommend removing a club from the vise immediately after the grip is slid on and aligning the grip with the clubhead placed on the ground in its playing position are commonly rather vague or even completely ignore the issue of face angle regarding irons.  That is a clear sign that something is not adequately understood and leaves lingering questions unanswered regarding what constitutes proper grip alignment procedure.  But that discrepancy is not encountered when Waggle Weight Wisdom™ is applied because the elements involved are well understood.

Now the two elements of golf club face angle and golf grip alignment can certainly be combined with each other in ways that can either add to each other or negate each other in terms of their cumulative effect (when each is comprehended properly).  But just like separating golf swing performance from golf ball travel performance, golf club face angle and golf grip alignment are two elements that can operate completely independently of each other and they are and should be treated as such by anyone that has a competent understanding of both specifications.  (Golf grip alignment, particularly where non-round golf grips are concerned, can genuinely be considered a legitimate golf club specification and a very critical one at that, in the same manner that golf club face angle is).

At the most basic level of proper grip installation, a club should be placed securely in a vise with the plane of its clubface aligned squarely or perpendicularly to the centerline of the club’s shaft, regardless of any clubhead face angle the clubhead may have when it is otherwise placed on the ground.  (Some will specify aligning grips according to the very front or leading edge of the club head/face rather than the actual plane of the hitting surface of the clubface, which can be different from each other whether by design or accident.  This can be easier, is often quite accurate, and specialized gripping apparatus made to help gripping go faster will often mechanically align clubfaces according to their leading edges when placed inside the apparatus.  But there are times, many times, when the leading edge of a clubhead can notably misrepresent the position of the actual hitting surface of the clubface.  The best gripping technique does not go by the simpler and faster clubface leading edge as a reference for aligning golf grips upon installation).  If desired, and influenced by the fact that any given golfer may not be used to looking at a perfectly square clubface at address and thus might encounter difficulty in aligning golf clubs squarely in the vise for gripping, a mechanism of some sort might be devised and placed in the background behind the clubhead to reference against as an aid in getting clubfaces square when in the vise.

Such a mechanism may be nothing more than a small weight hanging on the end of a visible thread.  Even here, however, attention must be paid to details in that the front of the clubface that is commonly sighted down and the alignment aid must be in a line that parallels the shaft centerline or alignment references will be distorted.  As an extreme example of this effect, if moving way off to the left to place oneself at about a forty-five degree angle to the shaft centerline as it is in the vise, if placing a background alignment aid directly in line with the front of the clubhead from that angle and aligning the clubface squarely to the alignment aid from that angle, and if then moving back to a position with a sightline that parallels the shaft centerline, one will find that the clubface alignment (for a right-handed golf club) is aligned considerably open with respect to the shaft centerline.  (That is a tough one to describe in pure text, so illustrations will be added for sure regarding this when a planned version that includes this information and that is not restricted to a text-only format is formulated in case this specific description is deficient).  There can potentially be any number of ways in which a clubface-alignment-aid mechanism can be devised if desired.

Once a club is well aligned and secured in the vise, a grip can be installed, with any patterns or alignment marks on the grip aligned in a straight up twelve o’clock position right in the vise, and the grip is on the club as efficiently as it can be done, to then just be set aside to dry.  A drying position with the grip resting at least slightly downward is best to prevent any solvent and/or adhesive from possibly migrating down the shaft, making it more difficult to clean up when subsequently regripping.  Using the same rationale and assuming that clubs secured in a standard vise will horizontally never be set perfectly level, the butt end of the club being slightly lower than the clubhead end is generally preferable over the opposite condition.

Expanding on the common recommendation by other sources that clubs be removed from the vise immediately after grips are put on for grip alignment purposes, grips can be just plain hard to align well under such circumstances.  Wide-soled clubs such as woods will at least often remain pretty stable as to their face positions when placed on the ground due to their general design features.  But if a face angle is open or closed and one wants to get the grip aligned squarely to the face (the most basic grip alignment that everyone should fundamentally start with), then that stability can actually be a negative, making it very difficult to hold the clubface more open (if closed when resting on the ground) or vice versa while trying to align the golf grip squarely to the clubface.  Irons, on the other hand, generally tend to be more unstable when their clubheads are placed on the ground with their typically much narrower soles (from front to back, not heel to toe) in that their face angles relative to the centerlines of their shafts can more easily change without even noticing it.

Furthermore, any bounce or dig built into the sole of an iron head often has far less of an impact on its resting position than for that of a wood.  As an example, due to the overall clubhead design of high-lofted wedges, the clubfaces of these clubs can tend to fan open naturally when placed on the ground even though most wedges have the wood equivalent of a closed face angle built into their soles.  (The type of ground surface the clubhead is placed on also becomes a more influential factor when dealing with irons).  These issues only come into play when aligning grips based upon clubs’ so-called playing positions on the ground.  Both theoretical and practical concerns evolve when such issues arise via the use of such a gripping technique with respect to how to really properly align golf grips (for all golf clubs, not just woods).  And these are among the very issues that substantiate exactly why the golf club elements of face angle and grip alignment should be treated as completely independent specifications that are not exclusively tied to each other as the “removed (from reality)” gripping technique would suggest.

If, after reading through the details of the technique, you conclude that it is ridiculous from both club making and fitting perspectives to remove the club from the vise right after getting the grip on, set the clubhead on the ground in its playing position however that should be rightly defined, have to constantly check clubface position on the ground to make sure it is in the position desired, and at the same time try to align the golf grip to a desired position relative to that clubface under such circumstances, that is because it is ridiculous.

Such issues are not encountered when the desired clubface position is firmly secured in a vise and not released until the grip is both put on and formally aligned as part of the grip installation process.  Thus, the recommendation of many sources of using a vise for golf club gripping and yet not utilizing that vise to its fullest advantage for one of the most important aspects of proficient gripping (that of properly aligning golf grips) should be dismissed as being unqualified clubmaking advice.  One should not be persuaded by such unfit advice with respect to whether or not it is important to regularly use a vise (or its equivalent) in the golf club gripping process (as well as other clubmaking tasks that have been discussed).  It is extremely important, and not gripping clubs well with respect to the factors discussed can easily result in fallible and/or inconsistent testing results.

Again, this is not to say that golf club grips cannot be intentionally aligned differently if one prefers this for whatever reason(s).  What I do strongly reiterate here is that such grip alignment can and should be treated as a totally independent element from that of golf club face angle and/or the direction that any given clubface might naturally point relative to its shaft centerline when the club is placed on the ground in a desired playing position.  Failing to distinctly separate the two specifications proves an insufficient comprehension of either or both.  This will be better understood when I discuss these club specifications in more detail later after some of the basics are gone over first.  Any golf grip alignment away from standard square, which can be applied to any golf club from the driver to the putter and everything in between, needs to be considered, any amount figured, and any amount achieved through grip installation right when the club is securely in the vise and before it is removed, once again independently of any face angle considerations regarding the golf club when placed on the ground in a desired playing position.  Non-standard grip alignments can be accomplished by either setting a clubface a determined amount open or closed in the vise and then aligning the grip straight up top or by setting a clubface square in the vise and modifying the grip’s alignment a determined amount from standard.

To supplement this area now that I am discussing golf grip installation more directly, a route that some club makers/fitters have taken somewhat recently is the blowing on and off of golf grips using an air compressor, a process that feasibly can be done much more quickly and conveniently than traditional golf club gripping.  And perhaps one might be thinking that one might be able to get away with using just a single golf club specimen for testing and rather quickly changing golf grips to different core sizes.  This is not an advisable course to attempt for a couple of very crucial reasons and I will briefly address them here.  First, no matter how quickly this can be done, it will likely still not be nearly as quick as if a golfer finished swinging with a club having one core size grip on it and had a different one right by his/her side to switch to for immediate comparison.  And time is of the essence during critical aspects of this testing, while the experience of what just took place with the latest club is as fresh as possible.

But believably even more important is that for decisive aspects of this testing it is not really reasonable to expect certain decisions or selections to be made from the swinging of two different golf clubs that do not vary all that much from each other only one time each.  One will commonly (and advisedly) switch between two different core size grips multiple times in order to confirm results and before a confident decision can be made.  Thus, if attempting to use a single club for testing, blowing the same two different grips on and off that club several times each will normally need to be done.  And if it is not done exactly the same way (and I mean exactly the same in terms of each grip’s size via stretching and alignment every time as examples), then one can and should fully expect inconsistent and/or invalid results on a regular basis.  This would surely be a case where one could expect to pay a very high price indeed in other ways for choosing such convenience over more detailed work and a higher financial cost of components.

On a somewhat related note, the “convenience” of blowing golf grips on and off might often be accompanied by the independent “convenience” of just leaving old, previously-used grip tape on a golf shaft, referring to what could be underlying build-up tape and/or even old double-coated tape that has lost its adhesive due to previous use.  In light of what has already been discussed regarding golf club gripping, hopefully you are well aware by now that completely removing all existing tape from a golf shaft and thoroughly cleaning down to the bare shaft before beginning to install a golf grip will understandably result in the best overall gripping quality.

And if wanting yet more information as to why I recommend against it, consider this.  Certain looser-fitting combinations of shafts and grip core sizes often encountered when producing undersized grips for instance and that will be tested here (and should be tested for most golfers) may be a little scary to think about with respect to the quality and safety of grip installation even when using the highest quality double-coated adhesive tape for installation.  Any such concern will be augmented at the thought of blowing grips on and off in such combinations, where blown-on grips are often done so over plain masking tape and not adhesive tape.  And if such a grip installation method should be avoided even for just that one scenario, then it should reasonably be avoided entirely for the type of testing that is specifically called for here.  As any one of these factors is reason enough to nullify any perceived advantages of blowing golf grips on and off a single test club and may even result in real disadvantages, hopefully the Waggle Weight Wisdom™ of using multiple golf club specimens for testing can be more appreciated through this analysis.

So in getting back to golf club gripping in a more traditional and long-proven manner, I highly recommend the use of three-quarter inch width double-coated adhesive tape to wrap golf clubs with (spiral wrapped around the shaft) over the much more commonly used two inch width that is applied lengthwise along the shaft.  Two inch tape may not quite make it all the way around the butt end of some shafts (depending upon the exact shaft butt diameter), yet the same tape may overlap further on down the shaft (depending on the exact tapering characteristic of the shaft).  For other shaft butt sizes, two inch tape may already be overlapping some at the butt end and then overlap even more as the shaft tapers down further.  Is using a narrower-width tape that is spiraled down the shaft more tedious and does it take more time than applying a wider-width tape lengthwise down the shaft?  Yes.  Is it a higher-quality method?  Yes.  And this testing is far too critical to not use a higher-quality method of applying the double-coated adhesive tape for reasons that should become more apparent as I continue if they are not already.

One more note here about the application of double-coated tape is that for most such tapes it may not make much of a difference whether the tape’s removable liner is removed before or after the tape is actually applied to the shaft.  For certain tape models, however, there can be quite a difference.  One particular double-coated tape model commonly used in the past had a crepe-paper-type liner and the tape looked and performed considerably different depending on whether its liner was removed before or after the tape was applied to the golf shaft.  Whenever encountering such tape products, I have usually found that I obtain better overall gripping results when the liner is removed before the tape is applied to the shaft.  But based on this, whether one would then choose to do this for all tape models encountered for the sake of consistency (even for tapes where there may be little difference in performance one way or the other), that is something every individual would have to decide for oneself and something that might kind of fall more within an “art” rather than a “science” aspect of clubmaking, for which there may be more than one satisfactory technique.

Regarding the application of solvent or solution to a grip and taped shaft once the double-coated tape is wrapped and the club secured in the vise (I find spiral wrapping to be more efficiently accomplished when done before the club is secured the vise), in the broadest scope both the inside of the grip and the taped surface of the shaft should be thoroughly wetted before attempting to push the grip on the club.  The traditional method is more or less to hold one of one’s fingers over the vent hole in the end of the grip cap of a slip-on grip, point the other end of the grip (its mouth) essentially upward, and sufficiently fill the grip with solvent or other determined solution.  After thoroughly wetting the inside of the grip, the solvent is poured from the grip over the tape (with its liner removed) to then thoroughly wet the tape surface, the mouth of the grip is manipulated through experience and practice to get it completely over the shaft’s butt end first, and then the grip is pushed fully onto the club and aligned properly.  (There are devices available to help with starting grips over shafts if desired, and in cases of certain shaft and/or grip designs such a device might be necessary for everybody).  It is hard to argue against this customary method that has developed for installing golf grips through the years, but let me add just a few more details that may be helpful.

It is generally most efficient to fill up a golf grip with solvent or solution at least half way.  Thus, one can then place a finger of one’s other hand over the mouth of the grip so that both ends of the grip are covered, and the grip only need be reversed the other way (mouth side down) once in order to completely wet the inside of the grip (although this can certainly be done multiple times if desired).  Now from that point, many sources that try to provide efficient golf grip installation procedure will promote positioning the grip, mouth end up, over the grip tape, removing one’s finger from covering the vent hole, and allowing the solvent in the grip to flow through the vent hole and wet the tape in that manner (make sure the other finger is also removed from covering the mouth of the grip or the flow of solvent may be restricted or even stopped).  But even if this procedure is executed well, it is generally a rather poor way to wet the tape from the solvent in the grip and I do not advise it.  First, one can many times find vent holes that are essentially blocked on the inside apparently due to one or more grip manufacturing processes.  But even if totally clear, solvent flow may often be slower than desired depending on the exact grip design, and if using a quicker-drying solvent like naphtha, the mouth end of the grip (a critical area) may dry considerably by the time all of the solvent escapes through the vent hole.

With sufficient solvent in it, it is best to turn a grip over, mouth side down, and wet the tape from that created condition.  Even here, however, the opposite can happen and one can inadvertently start the pouring of solvent out of the grip to a degree such that the grip will empty before the tape has been completely wet.  Such experiences usually prompt one to behave very gingerly when starting to pour solvent out of the grip to wet the tape.  This is no good either and a more structured way must be found to proceed.  Two more feasible ways to proceed are to either place a finger partially over the mouth end of the grip or temporarily pinch the mouth end closed before turning it downward toward the taped shaft (make sure the finger covering the vent hole comes off when the mouth end of the grip is turned downward so as to assist solvent flow) and then lessen that pinch as desired in order to better control the flow of solvent out of the grip and onto the taped area.  Either of these procedures will help assure that the mouth end of the grip is quite wet when starting the grip over the shaft, as noted above a very important consideration toward getting golf grips on clubs in a consistently efficient manner.