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Smashing Smash Factor

Bringing you insights from the PING Proving Grounds, where our talented team of engineers, researchers, fitting experts and data scientists design and develop the newest product and fitting technologies to help you play better. Using the most advanced tools available, we’ll explain and explore the science behind golf-equipment performance. We’ll separate fact from fiction with the goal of helping you make informed decisions when choosing the PING equipment best suited for maximizing your performance.

Smashing Smash Factor

By Marty Jertson

Both radar-and camera-based launch monitors are quite amazing.  They’ve come a long way in the last decade, and probably will keep advancing in the future.  Radar-based systems, such as TrackMan, can virtually “see” around and over objects and fuse radar signals with cameras together, like Tesla’s self-driving technology, provide precise ball and club-tracking measurements.

As good as contemporary measurement systems are, some metrics must be used with caution.  And, even though it has a cool name and is easy to use, "Smash Factor" is one metric that can distract you from what's really important during a club fitting or club comparison.  

This article is a cautionary tale about Smash Factor, and why you should look beyond this metric in your next club fitting.

Many fitters use Smash Factor to assess the “efficiency” of an iron or driver, and use this to determine whether one club is better than another.  Smash Factor is calculated by dividing the ball speed by the clubhead speed.

For example, if you swing a driver with a clubhead speed of 100 mph and generate a ball speed of 150 mph, the Smash Factor is 1.50. So, the higher the Smash Factor, the more ball speed you are getting for a given clubhead speed. Launch monitors give values that typically range from 1.3 to 1.4 with a 7-iron, and 1.44 to 1.52 for drivers, depending on the model, head weight and launch monitor in use.

The idea of Smash Factor has its place and sounds like a fun value to maximize, but the most valuable parameters during a driver fitting are ball speed, launch angle, spin, and dispersion – and how well you match these with your attack angle.

the most valuable parameters during a driver fitting are ball speed, launch angle, spin, and dispersion – and how well you match These with your attack angle.

Likewise, when evaluating irons, Smash Factor can be misleading due to loft or head weight differences between clubs.  You do not want to mistakenly choose an iron based on a higher Smash Factor instead of the one that provides higher peak trajectory, more distance, better turf interaction and tighter dispersion--the real metrics that can help you Play Your Best on the course.

To get a precise Smash Factor value, you need a precise clubhead-speed value. This sounds simple. But what is simple is not always easy. Why? It turns out that clubhead speed is a very tricky thing to measure.

At the PING Proving Grounds, we don’t look at Smash Factor during fittings, and you shouldn't either.

For one, we must ask, which part of the clubhead’s speed are we measuring?  Because the club is rotating and closing rapidly as it approaches the impact zone, the toe of the club is typically travelling about 10 mph faster than the heel.  This makes determining the exact speed at the center of the face very hard to determine, regardless of which technology your fitter is using.

Why Is Clubhead Speed So Tricky?
Why Is Clubhead Speed So Tricky? illustration depicting how the driver's toe travels through the impact area faster than the driver's heel. arrow depicting the heel of a driver measured traveling 100 mph arrow depicting the center of a driver measured traveling 105 mph arrow depicting the toe of a driver measured traveling 110 mph 110 mph 105 mph 100 mph
The driver's toe travels through the impact area faster than the heel

Some launch monitors today, however magical they seem, make measurement errors for any number of reasons (unique head shape or features, clubhead mass, face closure, etc.).  Small errors in the clubhead-speed reading can cause you to be misled if you are Smash Factor focused.

Smash Factor Comparison
Smash Factor Comparison table showing the difference between two drivers in terms of clubhead speed, ball speed, total distance, and smash factor. As the numbers indicate, a driver with a higher smash factor doesn't always provide the greatest distance. CLUBHEAD SPEED BALL SPEED TOTAL YARDS SMASH FACTOR Driver A 102.5 mph 153.3 mph 291.4 1.50 Driver B 110.8 mph 159.6 mph 301.1 1.44

Which is better? At 1.50 Smash Factor, you or your fitter may be initially inclined to say Driver A is “more efficient”. But, at 6 mph faster ball speed, Driver B will assuredly go 8 to 10 yards farther, all other things being equal, even though the Smash Factor ‘appears’ lower. So, don’t be fooled by Smash Factor.

Here is what you can do: Tell your fitter that you don’t want to look at Smash Factor. Remember, ball speed is king.  For drivers, focus on increasing ball speed, optimizing launch conditions (launch efficiency) – then try to minimize your shot bend and dispersion within reason for your swing.  For irons, look at the peak height, landing angle, carry distance and dispersion, while being mindful of turf interaction and gapping.

Our driver technology can help you with all these ingredients to driving distance.  The aerodynamics will give you clubhead speed, the T9S forged face technology will give you ball speed, the CG shifter will give you less shot curve, and the high moment of inertia (MOI) will give you tight dispersion. All of these together will help you #PlayYourBest and start truly Smashing it by your buddies. #FittingMatters

Marty Jertson
Vice President of Fitting & Performance

Marty has worked in golf R&D since 2004, including roles as Chief Engineer and Senior Designer, and is a named inventor on more than 125 patents. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. Marty is also a Class A PGA member and has played in six major championships. He made the cut at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, and competed in the 2020 U.S. Open.

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