Hitting the Ball on the Screws

One of the phrases you may have heard from a TV announcer or veteran golfer who has played for a long time is “It looks like he hit the ball on the screws”.  If you are scratching your head trying to figure out its’ meaning, that is simply a way of expressing the fact the player hit the ball extremely well.

The origins go back to the days when woods were made out of, well…wood.  To protect the wood against repeated impacts with the ball, wooden woods were equipped with face inserts made from many different materials.  To keep the insert in place, some were were fastened with “screws” which were located in a small area in the center of the face (as pictured). In some cases, a 5th screw could be found right in the center of them all.

The screw holes were counter-bored and once the screws were fully tightened the screw heads were sanded so they would fit flush with the face prior to any urethane finish in order not to unduly influence the ball flight. As you can tell, there was a lot of work that went into the creation of a wooden wood.

Golfers who are new to the game in the past 10 or so years have probably never had the experience of hitting a wooden driver or fairway club, just like they haven’t used a steel shaft in a wood or felt the tackiness of a leather-wrapped grip.

It used to be if you miss-hit a wooden driver ½” toward the heel or toe you would lose 7% of your potential distance.  Miss-hit 1” toward the heel or toe and you lose a whopping 14% of your potential distance.  For example, if you normally hit your driver 230 yards on average, a 14% loss would amount to over 30 yards!

Modern titanium drivers have superior weight distribution and a much higher moment of inertia.  To illustrate that, the same 1” off-center shot may end up only penalizing the golfer 5% (11 yards) off of the potential distance. As a result, golf has become less penalizing as you don’t always have to hit the ball “on the screws” or directly behind the sweet spot to get the best results like back in the wooden club days.

Hitting the ball on the screws (or between the screws) is partially based on putting in the quality practice time. The other part comes down to custom fitting your equipment and making sure you have the proper length, grip size, shaft weight and flex to make the most repeatable impact.

5 comments

  1. Anthony says:

    I’m fairly new to golf, but I’ve recently acquired a number of older, smaller-head, steel fairway “woods” (old, plain silver colored TaylorMade, Hogan, Spalding, etc.) and while it takes a bit more focus to make sure the ball is hit “on the screws” (even though there are none), I find these clubs seem to fly the ball just as well if not better than newer, larger head fairways. I like using them because when I connect with the ball well, I know my swing is right on target.

  2. I have an old Wilson Staff wooden driver with an aluminum insert that I use as a practice club. Whenever my lighter and longer modern driver gets out of sync, I tee up the Wilson and use it to regain my tempo. That click off the face tells me I’m hitting it “in the screws”.

  3. Ed Nelson says:

    I used to work in the golf industry, for a company that made persimmon woods among other things. I still have some classic samples that are beautiful to look at. Sigh…

  4. terry cunningham says:

    what year are you talking? My dad was batboy for cincinnati reds in 1928. back then players had only one game bat. now they have many. when a player broke his bat on the plane of the bat, it was repairable (and against the rules) by drilling 3 or more holes and countersinking screws to mend the players “gammer” bat. it was disguised by tarring the handle and then taking a file to notch the handle so to hide the screws, after that mend when a batter hit the ball and it seemed to travel even farther, it was said “he hit it on the screws” i believe that is the original use of the term.
    can you shed light on this?

  5. Jeff Summitt says:

    Terry,

    You are most likely looking at the decade of the 1930 when screws holding inserts in place were becoming popular in golf. Although I have seen some pictures dating back into the 1900’s. Anywhere I have read usually gives golf the credit for coining the term, but that is an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing and Go Reds!

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