Tom Corke, has recently completed his PhD in Sports Science. In this article, he explains the nature of his studies during his tenure at The R&A.
The Equipment Standards department has three main roles: verifying that equipment satisfies the Rules, ensuring that the Rules are pertinent to the game as it is currently played and conducting research into the fundamental physics of golf. These three aspects of the department’s work are not always necessarily distinct. The R&A has conducted many PhD and Masters projects over the past 15 years in collaboration with a range of Universities and I have spent the duration of my studies based in St Andrews, utilising The R&A facilities as well as those at Ulster University.
My PhD substantially developed our understanding of club-ball interactions for iron shots, focusing mainly on the 5-iron. The tests utilised the highly predictable golf robot, housed with the Equipment Test Centre in St Andrews, as well as a group of human participants that ranged in ability from touring professionals to high-handicapped amateurs. The overriding theme of the research was to consider the difference between archetypal blade and cavity back irons and their impact on shot outcome. The clubs were closely matched in terms of total mass, loft, lie and length, and following careful analysis of each club’s results, I was able to detect differences in shots performed with blades and cavity backs that could be related to club properties such as moment of inertia (MOI) and centre of gravity (CG) location.
In a subsequent test, a smaller group of Category 1 handicapped golfers were asked to repeat the same 5-iron test three times, on different days, over a ten day period. This was very revealing and indicated that multiple visits for golfers would be useful. Although low handicapped golfers appeared to perform consistently within a test, measurable differences were evident when comparing players’ results across different days.
As part of a previous study on drivers, which analysed 4,200 shots hit by 286 golfers, we developed an innovative system for tracking the clubhead at impact. This gave us access to precise clubhead delivery parameters like impact location, face angle, path angle and clubhead speed. I developed this system to include categorisation of irons shots into either ‘thin’, ‘good’ or ‘heavy’ strikes.
A somewhat unexpected discovery was that the conventional wisdom of the need to strike the ball before the turf was not as critical as it is perhaps perceived to be. I was able to demonstrate that it was possible for players to make a small amount of contact with the ground prior to impact and still achieve ball speeds comparable with shots whereby the ball was struck cleanly.
My work forms part of The R&A’s development of measurement techniques and technology but has also helped to move forward the understanding of the dynamics of iron shots. The results of the work are soon to be submitted for peer review with the intention of publishing them within the scientific literature.
The R&A is now looking forward to welcoming Kristian Jones to the Equipment Standards department in October. It is planned that Kristian’s PhD will follow on from my work concerning the consistency of golfers’ performance over time.