Thanks to all the TST members that submitted these questions and thanks to Marty for the great answers. Marty Jertson is a senior design engineer for PING Golf. Jertson is also a PGA professional and has qualified for the 2011 and 2012 PGA Championships. Jertson went undefeated, 4-0 at the 25th PGA Cup in 2011, as the U.S. team defeated Great Britain & Ireland, 17½-8½.
TST: Marty, as a golf club engineer, where do you go from here? The ruling bodies have pretty much legislated future technological advances out of the game and just about everybody is already making equipment that’s right up against the limits. What will the next big thing will be?
Jertson: Great question that I’ll answer in multiple parts. First, I will say that not everybody out there is making equipment right up to the limits. Many of the super-adjustable drivers, for example, have made big sacrifices in head volume (<440cc), moment of inertia (not even close to USGA limit), aerodynamics (slows clubhead speed with big, bulky hosels), face size (smaller faces to save weight), and optimal CG placement (high spin due to excess hosel mass). What we have done on the G25 driver, and will continue to strive for on future products, is to deliver better “gas mileage” and “horsepower” to our customers, which are, generally, better “clubhead MOI” and “CG position”, without having to take any backward steps in sound, aerodynamics, face size, clubhead volume, etc. In fact, on all of our G series drivers, we have been able to deliver improved CG with higher MOI, while improving other attributes at the same time.
Second, where do we go from here? To answer this question, it really comes down to looking at exactly what will make the ball go farther? The answer: trajectory optimization. If we can take the average golfer out there, and give them a driver that allows them to launch it at 18-20 degrees with 1500 RPM spin (Bubba Watson-style), while even just maintaining ball speed, they would hit their driver another 30-40 yards! We may not be all the way there yet, but we’ve been getting closer to this direction with every new driver launch (G2, G5, G10, G15, G20, G25). With the G25 driver, golfers are now fitting into less loft than ever to get their optimal launch conditions, which means we have successfully created more dynamic loft – which is the loft created during the swing from the shaft lead, twisting, and droop. Essentially, we are trying to deliver a more upward Angle of Attack (AoA) through the club design, which is something the avid TST member is also trying to do with their own driver swing from a technique standpoint. The benefit of this, from a club design and instructional standpoint, is that you can play a less lofted driver and get the launch angle from a more positive Angle of Attack. A less lofted driver will then give you higher ball speed, which even further adds to distance. With just trajectory optimization, there is still a lot of room on the table.
TST: How significant is adding weight to the hosel as far as club performance, what are the potential negative effects?
Jertson: With driver design, where we are trying to deliver more dynamic loft and help you, as a golfer, get a relatively more upward Angle of Attack (AoA), placing mass in the high heel of the club is the worst place we can put it. We want to move the CG as far back, and proportionally low, as possible. This is why you see the protruded sole weight low, back, and center on our G series clubs. If we put a lot of mass hosel area, the CG of the club would move closer to the face (reducing launch angle, and lowering MOI), higher (increasing spin and reducing ball speed), and more towards the heel (so the club would turn over too easy) – all of which would make the ball go shorter, with less control and consistency. Further, when you increase hosel diameter and hosel length, it can really hurt the aerodynamics (leading to lower clubhead speed). When we launched our Trajectory Tuning adjustable design, we did not add any extra mass to the hosel area, and did not increase the hosel size either. We use a strong, thin-walled aluminum sleeve and lightweight titanium screw. This unlocks the fitting benefits of getting exactly the right loft and shaft of your driver, without having to give up any other performance in doing so.
TST: Does PING take satisfaction in knowing that the “new” golf technology of custom fitting is something PING brought to the market years ago?
Jertson: Indeed we do take satisfaction in this, because it helps make the game easier in general. Our founder, Karsten Solheim, was a great innovator because he was not only great at bringing science to club design, but because he also knew that part of the challenge with golf equipment was custom fitting. Did some of our fitting technologies come ahead of their time? Probably, but that is bound to happen as a technology company. We are still working to bring custom fitting innovations to the market today. Take iPING for example… with your iPhone, five putts, and about two minutes, you can get fit for Stroke Type (proper toe-down for you), Loft (dynamic loft that the golf ball sees at impact!), Lie (dynamic lie angle at impact!), Model, and Length (based on height, wrist-to-floor, and posture type) with better accuracy than almost any high end putter fitting studio. Is this ahead of its time?
TST: Marty, if you were going to receive a new set of irons, but had to choose between having the ability to pick the clubhead or shaft, which way would you choose and why?
Jertson: Wow, interesting question… and I’m glad I don’t have to do this in reality! The holy grail of club-fitting is getting the optimal overall combination of head model, shaft, grip/grip size, length, lie, loft gaps, total weight, swingweight, etc. To answer the question, for me personally, being a relatively proficient high swing speed player, and knowing how good and playable all of our current iron models are, I’d have to go with choosing shaft. As a faster swinger, if I had too light or too soft of a shaft, I would lose the predictability of the ball flight and spatial awareness of the club. This would create inconsistencies in attack angle, spin, distance control, and ground impact. If I were a player that swung it slower, or hit the center of the face less often than I do, I would probably have a different answer.
TST: Marty, how, as an engineer, did you get your start in the golf club design business?
Jertson: After I graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a Mechanical Engineering degree – I decided to give it a go full time playing golf and make a few stabs at Tour School. I played pretty decent on the mini-tours, but fizzled out at Tour school and decided to “retire” from the mini-tour deal at 23. Through a close golf friend of mine, I had met Brad Schweigert (now PING’s Director of Engineering) who was influential in the design of the very successful G2 driver and G2 irons around 2003-2004. Brad helped me get a part time manufacturing engineering job at PING while I was still playing, and when I decided to hang up the clubs, I started to work full-time under his tutelage in club design. I never thought of ending up in engineering golf clubs when I was in school, but it has turned out to be a great fit.
TST: Does PING have plans to release true blades?
Jertson: This is a great question. To answer this, I’ll pretend that I’m a true blade user. What are the attributes of “true blades” that I really care about? Some of the main attributes are: workability, small blade length/size, ball flight control, soft feel, thin soles for versatility, easy to drag through the rough, great distance control, pure look from the address position, thin top rail, good for chipping, chrome finish, confidence inspiration. As a true blade user, do I want my clubs to be super low in forgiveness? Probably not, I actually want forgiveness, but not at the sacrifice of all of those other things.
It is within these answers, and attributes, that we have devised our design strategy for our S-series irons, and we have developed some really cool patented technologies and trade secret techniques to deliver Workability and Forgiveness at exactly the same time. Usually, these two attributes are stereotyped in the industry as not capable of being separated. Most people think… if it’s forgiving, it’s not workable. Or, if it’s workable, it’s not forgiving. At PING, we have figured out how to separate these two attributes in the design – and that’s huge when it comes to iron design – especially players irons. Our latest S-series iron, the S56, has the workability of a “true blade,” but a forgiveness factor that trumps the Eye 2.
Feel free to re-read this last sentence if you don’t believe it. The science behind how we’ve accomplished this goes into separating the “Pre-impact” design influences from the “During impact” design influences. Workability comes from design attributes that influence the “Pre-impact” ability of the player to precisely control the clubface orientation and path going into impact. As we know, it is through the impact alignments (3-dimensional path and face/loft orientation) that a player gets workability. Forgiveness, on the other hands, comes from a separate attribute that controls the “During impact” face stability.
Let’s take a small case study example. Let’s say, as a pretty good player, you are trying to hit a high fade – one shot with an S56 and one with a “true blade.” As a player, you need to create added loft and a face orientation that is open to your path. Both of these things will increase total spin and increase initial launch, resulting in a high fade. As a proficient player, you make your swing using whatever feels and technique necessary to do this. Because the “Pre-impact”/Workability properties of both the S56 and the “true blade” are similar, you are able to succeed in delivering the right impact alignments (face/path combination) to hit this shot. But, you are human, so let’s say you mishit this shot on the heel a little bit. With the “true blade,” because the forgiveness is lower (more mass in the middle of the club/lower MOI), you get some “During impact” twisting and energy loss that yields less spin axis than you desired and lower ball speed, so the ball fades less and come up 10 yards short. The same swing and impact location with the S56, because the high “During impact” forgiveness, results in less face twisting during the impact, so you get close to the same ball velocity, similar spin axis, and the ball still fades and only comes up a few paces short due to the mishit. Which club is more workable? I’d argue the S56, and that is why it has been so incredibly successful on the PGA Tour.
We feel that we have a strong competitive advantage in our players irons, S56, i20, and Anser, because we can deliver the unique combination of forgiveness and workability. If we did launch a “true blade,” this would not be possible.
TST: There have been numerous stories about PING’s sponsorship of the wounded warrior project and how it is using golf to help disabled people (veterans and otherwise) to find golf and use the game as a rehabilitation. Can you tell us about some of the engineering that ping has done and obstacles they have to consider regarding that as well as the efforts that PING is doing to help people learn/relearn the game.
Jertson: Our engineering group and WRX department did put together a great adaptive fitting program. It has been a great fit, because, as you said, we can support a variety of people who want to start, or keeping playing golf, but have physical limitations and unique conditions to work with. They need to be custom fit just like the rest of us, but we obviously do some more radical things. We do drastic lie angles, Velcro grips, and make all kinds of other special attachments to accommodate the various needs. We even have a special “adaptive fitting” cart that quite a few of our accounts have so we can extend the reach of this program. For more info, 4 unique case studies, and a list of adaptive fitting locations, check out our website for adaptive fitting: http://www.ping.com/fitting/adaptive.aspx
TST: Ping, seems to be losing the marketing battle to TM especially with younger players (demographic for Ping gamer is 46 years old). Where does Ping see the market going and how will it evolve as a company to attract younger players?
Jertson: Much like the strongest brands in other industries (auto industry, home appliances, computers), and to stay true to our core expertise and culture, we want our focus and priority to remain on performance. Does this mean that you won’t see a cool matte black crown paint, or trendy colors on our bags and softgoods? Absolutely not. In fact, the matte black paint not only looks cool, but it was designed for glare reduction performance enhancement. At PING, we strive to deliver real performance innovation. What does this mean? It means that we don’t simply pick features that may be cool and plug them into our designs. Instead, we study our customers and put them first, and design clubs with properties that make the ball go farther and straighter – with good sound and feel. This is the true desire of golfers. It was true when golf was first invented, and it will be true 100 years from now. If we stay true to this mission, we will have the loyal, satisfied customers regardless of what the competition or advertising influences are doing. Does this mean that we are against adjustability or other perceived innovations? Not really, because if we can design these features to help deliver better fitting resolution to our customers directly (such as Trajectory Tuning, or adjustable length putters), without sacrificing our gas mileage and horsepower, they can help the ball go farther and straighter – and that will lead to satisfied customers.
TST: Regarding the PING i20 irons, the set appears to me to be user friendly to a broad spectrum of players with more forgiving long irons and more conventionally designed short irons. Is it correct that these clubs are suitable for players in the low to mid teen handicap range?
Jertson: The i20 is indeed a very broad reaching set. The size and progressive set design, supplemented with the beautiful foggy chrome finish, really land right in the sweet spot that appeals to some of our best Tour players, all the way up through mid-teen + handicappers. Part of the reason they work so well is that the forgiveness is very high, but they are still workable (see answer above for details on this). They go far and feel great, and they also go through the turf fantastically, for players with various attack angles and on all type of conditions. Turf interaction is an underrated attribute when it comes to feel and shot-making, and the lead designer of the i20 irons, 1983 Bay Hill Invitational Champion Mike Nicolette, did an amazing job optimizing the sole contouring through the set to ensure proper turf interaction. They have plenty of bounce to protect the steeper players (often a mid-teen handicapper), but with the camber and lead edge profile to enhance shot making for the better players.
TST: With the success of the iPing cradle – and the iPhone app for putter fitting which provides the user real-time feedback and data on their putting stroke. Does Ping intend to come out with any next generation accessories or devices that can help user with the fitting or measurement of the fullswing (driver, fairways, hybrids, or irons)?
Jertson: iPING has indeed a great tool for us, and it was fun to be part of the development of this tool and all of the fitting logic that runs the App. We did countless hours of putter testing and data analysis, as well as studying the putting strokes and putter toe-down angles of some of the best putters of all time, to ensure that our Fit for Stoke logic was valid, accurate, and would help golfers putter better. Part of the challenge when developing a tool like this is not only accurately collecting and analyzing the data, but also developing scientifically sound fitting logic – or the engine which drives the recommendations. Both pieces of the puzzle are crucial.
When it comes to full swing, PING has one of the 2 ENSO high speed motion capture systems. Born out of the motion picture animation industry, ENSO is by far the most accurate tool available for measuring the 3-dimensional movement of the club during the golf swing – and it would be nice to someday bring this level of accuracy directly to our customers. While there are some full-swing tools on the market right now, we don’t feel comfortable with the accuracy of them yet to make scientifically sound recommendations, but the technology is certainly heading that direction.
TST: What are the advantage/disadvantage with PING’s proprietary shafts? What is the process involved in creating the JZ or the Z-Z65 iron shafts?
Jertson: We have been proud to engineer a lot of our shaft designs, while working closely with our steel and graphite shaft suppliers, because we feel we have a very strong knowledge of shaft properties that are good for the everyday golfer. We have a lot of testing firepower to create our knowledge base – so we can control the weight and balance of the finished club, and the stiffness profile that best suites the target customer at various swingspeeds. We can also control the tolerances to meet our quality standards also. With our iron shafts, nearly all of our designs work well with various models. You’d be surprised at how many of our Tour players use the CFS and ZZ-65 shafts. With metalwoods, because the shaft bending dynamics are exaggerated compared to irons, we usually will design shafts around specific clubheads. For example, our high balance point technology, like the TFC189D, creates a lot of the extra mass in the clubhead of the G25 driver that we use to improve launch conditions and forgiveness (longer + straighter). The balance point of the TFC189D is so high, that most aftermarket shafts at the same length would go up 4-5 swingweights – which would be detrimental. This is a good example of the advantage of engineering the entire club holistically.
TST: What does PING/you think about everyone copying the Anser putter?
Jertson: Well, it is flattering to know that the Anser is the winning-est putter of all time – regardless of whether or not we made it! I’ve even heard of a few golf pros out there that keep an original Anser in their pro shops, so that they can show the kids and young members at their course where the Anser really originated from. But, we certainly have not stopped there. Our newest putter technology, Variable Depth Grooves, doubles-down on the same thing that Karsten first brought to the market with perimeter weighting – and putters like the Anser. The Variable Depth Grooves work in much the same way as perimeter weighting. It allows golfers with less skill than Tour players get close to the same performance as them – that’s what the Anser (and perimeter weighting) first did.
TST: Do you think the USGA has done a good job regulating the rules, and if not, what would you change?
Jertson: I do think the USGA has done a pretty good job at the rules that govern play on the course, but I do have a different opinion of the equipment rules and handicapping. As golfers, I think we take for granted how hard it is to create and address various playing rules, and I think they’ve done a good job at creating a useful rulebook, decisions book, and education opportunities about the playing rules. Obviously, they could simplify a few things like using one club length on every drop instead of sometimes one and sometimes two, and other scenarios like that. And, some of the scorecard signing rules could be a little more lenient. But, I’ve always had the opinion that knowing the playing rules can only help you, and never hurt you (and always carry a rules book with you in tournaments). I think having some intellect with respect to the rules is advantageous as a player – and can help you give you an edge over those less informed – reducing your likelihood to ever run into a mishap. With respect to equipment, my personal opinion is that the evolution of equipment is a key part of the history of the game. I think it is easy for the influential older golfing greats to say that the rules should not allow some of the newer and better equipment, but I doubt they ever had an issue in their prime using a balata ball instead of a gutta percha. Or, switching to steel shafts instead of persimmon, much less graphite instead of steel.
The fact is that equipment innovations are a big part of the game – and golf is still really hard! In almost every generation since the history of golf, equipment has progressed at a rate with which you can hit the ball as far as in your 50’s-60’s as you did in your 30’s-40’s. This is a really big deal – because it motivates people to keep playing golf as they age, and as they retire. This keeps the game fun and promotes the health of the sport that we all love. With some of the current limits, and now proposed limits that are being discussed, this may not be the case for my generation. One could argue that slowing the technology trend is actually messing with the history of the game. It will certainly have an impact on the health of the sport. As a PGA member also, I fully support the PGA’s mission to promote the health of the game – equipment, teaching, playing, etc. I do think the rules of the sport should be developed with more democracy – and considering the holistic impact of the rules. My opinion is similar on anchoring. Like it or not, anchoring has been around so long, that banning it is actually tampering with the game’s history.
With respect to handicapping, that system could use an overhaul to make it more soundly based on probabilities and statistics. The current system has some key flaws, such as only taking half of your recent scores! What is that all about? It would great to have a handicap system that basically gives you a number for your median score, and a second number representing your variation, or probability to shoot your lowest score. Having a background in statistics and distributions, I know that this type of system could work much better.
TST: What is your favorite historical advance in golf?
Jertson: That is a tough question… but for me personally, I’d have to go with thin wall Titanium casting. As a player, I have been golfing for 25 years now, and I was able to grow up using a wooden driver, then steel, and then Titanium. It was fun to experience this evolution. Now, as a designer, Titanium is generally still the material of choice as we continue to optimize driver designs. I was fortunate to help PING bring a new, unique Ti-811 alloy to the market place that is even lighter than traditional Titanium alloys – with a better strength/weight ratio. We have used it on the G20, i20, Anser, and G25 drivers. Plus, we are still pushing the envelope with respect to thickness design using Titanium.
TST: If you could defy the laws of physics (but not the Rules of Golf) in one way, what would you do with club design?
Jertson: This is an easy one. Conservation of Momentum. It is within this physics principal that COR lives – which, as golfers, we practically translate to smash factor. If we could defy this one, we could get a smash factor above 2.0 – that would be sweet!
TST: Every golfer, no matter how technical they may appear, is a “feel player.” How “mechanical” of a player are you for being an engineer?
Jertson: One of the reason I love to play tournament golf is because it gives me time to be exactly the opposite of how I have to be during my day job. I try to be very technical in my problem solving at work (you’d be surprised how much math and physics we still do day-to-day), but when I play golf, I try to be more of an artist. Good tournament golf, in my opinion, requires feel, instinct, patience, rhythm, artistry, and malleability. When I play, I am very technical in my shot preparation, but when I start into my routine to hit the shot, there is not one technical thought going on – it’s all feel and trust at that point.
When I’m not playing tournaments, I certainly do like to work on technical components of my golf game – I love studying swing technique, working on my own swing, and using TrackMAN, ENSO, and iPING numbers. I like to own my ball flight numbers and distance gapping. The biggest thing I’ve learned playing in Tour events that’s helped my game is the importance of distance control and knowing your yardages. I work hard on this, and get very technical on my yardages when I play. I never just go by that old saying of… “it’s a two club wind”. That’s much to general. I factor in temperature, humidity, wind, ball flight slope, stance slope, etc on every iron shot, and then calculate every single yardage back to my “90-degree Phoenix/1100 ft’ elevation” carry numbers. I also like to study how different lies affect ball flight and ball flight variance, such as how to read different types of fliers, moisture impacts, mud-balls, etc – and how these may vary with loft. It’s a never ending process, just like club design. The best club designers know how to blend the science (for it to perform good and fly right) and the art (for it to feel and look good). I try to bring some of that mix to my own golf game.
TST: How do adjustable hosels affect/benefit the average golfer.
Jertson: To answer this, we must look at the largest fitting levers that we can use. The first is head model. The model of driver that you use will have the largest influence on ball speed, launch, and spin. After head model, the next biggest lever is loft, followed by shaft. So, adjustable hosels can be certainly be beneficial for helping deliver a finer fitting resolution for getting your loft and shaft dialed in. But, if it is done with a big sacrifice to fitting lever #1 (head model), then the benefits of the loft or shaft fitting may be washed out, or you could end up with worse total performance. At PING, we have found the greatest value in loft fitting within a reasonable range. What I mean by reasonable range is, if the adjustable hosel changes the loft by too much, the entire head will shift its orientation to the golf ball too much, and begin to have a negative impact on performance. For example, if you take a 11d head, and use an adjustable hosel to deloft it to 8.5d, the CG of the head is much higher, relative to how the golf ball sees it (which is what you care about). A higher CG leads to a spin increase. So, now you’ve lower launch, but, in doing so, you may harmfully increase spin. It is for this reason that we have still produced 4 unique lofts on the G25 (8.5, 9.5, 10.5, and 12), and use our adjustable hosel as a loft fitting lever, within a reasonable range.
Thanks to Marty Jertson for taking the time to answer our questions.