Real genius is the ability to see, think of and create something no one has ever seen, thought of or created before – something that knocks the status quo on its ass and into the scrap heap of history
Genius proclaims this, my friends, is how it’s going to be done from now on.
Every time you swing a golf club, it’s likely your shaft’s DNA can be traced to Kim Braly, who – along with his father – revolutionized the way golf shafts are made, measured and categorized. It’s no stretch to say Kim Braly – the KB in KBS Shafts – changed the way golf is played.
At 62, Kim Braly still brims with energy, and a 60-minute conversation becomes a Kerouac-esque stream of consciousness adventure, during which you’ll learn more about golf shafts than you ever thought possible.
And you’ll have a hell of a good time doing it.
“I’m not just trying to develop product, I’m trying to develop great product,” Braly tells MyGolfSpy. “I’m trying to be a leader – I don’t want to be me too. I want to have the best damn thing out there.”
KBS – Kim Braly Signature, for those scoring at home – launched in 2008 in partnership with FST America. Braly is officially listed as Director of Research and Development and Tour Operations, and his journey from self-described big-headed teenager to golf shaft iconoclast is as unique as it is fascinating.
“I was going to be a golf pro – that was my dream,” says Braly. “I graduated from high school early and actually went to the University of Pennsylvania while still in high school. The summer before college, I played in a PubLinx qualifier and shot a 58. I just lapped everybody.”
Unfortunately – or fortunately, for shaft aficionados – Braly wound up getting disqualified.
“I was disqualified because I was a member of a country club, but I looked around, and I was not nearly the only one. Anyway, not long after that, I got a call from the coach at the University, and he told me they don’t start freshmen.”
“At that point, I had a pretty big head, so I’m like damn, I just played in the last golf tournament of the summer, and now the coach is telling me I can’t play as a freshman? So, I talked to my Dad and decided it might be a good idea to travel for the rest of the summer, instead.”
That rest-of-the-summer journey lasted four years.
A Timely Call
Dr. Joseph Braly – a golf pioneer in his own right – was growing his DynaPhase equipment line at the time. A fortuitous phone call brought his son back home and into the golf business.
“I was living in South America at the time,” says Kim. “He called me and said it was time to stop contemplating my navel, come on home and go to work.”
“He raised me, he needed my help, so I wasn’t about to say no.” – Kim Braly
The elder Braly’s resume is Greatest Generation-level impressive: a fighter pilot in both WWII and Korea, which earned him a free ride at Auburn for veterinary medicine and aeronautical engineering. Dr. Braly was a large animal vet in Pennsylvania and also designed mold-breaking golf clubs, including the Console – an oversized, wide-soled sand wedge – and DynaPhase, the first mass-marketed irons made with titanium. But it was his landmark invention of Frequency Matching for golf shafts that brought Kim back.
“He had just invented Frequency Matching, but hadn’t figured out how to implement it, if you know what I’m saying,” explains Kim. “He designed a method for sorting shafts according to stiffness with a frequency machine, and I had to figure out a way to develop a method to actually utilize it. In those days, it wasn’t something you could just look up. Today you can Google anything you want, but back then you went to the library.”
The Frequency Evolution
One could write a book on Frequency Matching, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: it’s a quantitative measurement of shaft stiffness based on the rate of oscillation within a known unit of time. In plain English, the butt end of a shaft is clamped, and a weight is attached to the head end. The head end is then pulled down and let go, and the shaft oscillates.
The rate of oscillation is measured in cycles per minute (CPM). The stiffer the shaft, the faster the rate of oscillation; the more flexible the shaft, the slower. Today, GolfMechanix can sell you a Frequency Analyzer for under $600, but in the late ’70s, this was virgin territory.
Both the elder Braly and Dunlop Golf – U.K. pioneered Frequency Matching. Dunlop patented a uniform flex progression from club to club within a single set, while Braly patented the method of turning shaft blanks into a matched set (essentially a 4 CPM iron-to-iron progression within a set), which ultimately revolutionized steel shaft design Kim had to get it all on paper and figure out a way to actually use it.
“Hey listen, this has probably happened a thousand times to you,” says Kim. “You start a project and say ‘aww, that’s going to be a piece of cake.’ Well, you start, and all of a sudden you find out everything you assumed is not correct, and how things are planned and how they turn out are very, very different.”
Kim practically lived in the library, searching for anything he could find on golf shafts. “There was quite a bit on hickory, but no steel whatsoever,” he says. With zippo as a starting point, Kim literally wrote the book on measuring frequency and how to match a set.
“I don’t know if you ever saw that circular slide rule,” he says. “That was my very first patent. It’s the type you’d use in aerodynamics – if you had seen the earliest version of it you would’ve have gone crazy. I didn’t extrapolate anything. I measured every single point that’s on that thing, and there must have been a bazillion of them.”
Ultimately, Frequency Matching led to Royal Precision, the Rifle shaft, Project X, and another Braly first: the Tour van.
“When my Dad started traveling the Tour, he needed me to help explain what we can do, what our limits were, those types of things,” says Kim. “He was the type of guy that didn’t like you to not have an answer, and it better be correct.”
Since Frequency Matching was a completely new concept, fitting would often bog down in a swamp of specifics.
“So many variables would determine that frequency number,” recalls Kim. “We needed to know swing weight, hosel length, hosel depth, overall length. I must have heard a thousand times ‘True Temper doesn’t ask all these questions. How do I know what the swing weight is? Blah, blah blah.’”
“We’d have been better off not utilizing everything we knew to just make it easier. But it was important to us that these things be what we said they would be, and it was my job to understand how to do that.” – Kim Braly
In the 70’s you could have any shaft you wanted, as long as it was a True Temper Dynamic. The Braly’s broke new ground by providing an alternative with a quantifiable difference, and it didn’t take long for big names to catch the Frequency Matching wave.
“We had everybody playing our stuff,” he says. “Arnie, Jack, Ray Floyd – it didn’t matter. At that time, they had Dynamic X, S, and R, and that was it.”
In fact, Braly asserts the Dynamic Gold was True Temper’s attempt to combat Frequency Matching.
“By that time, they had their own trailer and were trying to get guys to come back to their brand,” he says. “The Gold is a weight sorted shaft. They took their existing shaft they’d been making for a long time and simply weighted it into three different categories.”
“Weight sorting is a good thing, but they chose to call that Frequency Matching. They came out with a little black and gold label on their shafts that said Frequency Matched. Our Precision labels were also black and gold, so we, of course, sued them.”
According to Braly, the two sides settled, but True Temper wasn’t able to put Frequency Matched on their labels anymore. In retrospect, says Braly, it was the best thing that ever happened to True Temper.
“They actually upcharge for what they consider Frequency Matching. It’s really weight sorting and weight sorting doesn’t cost a lot. You hire someone for 15 bucks an hour and they can weight sort all day. They charge four or 5 bucks more per shaft, so for them it’s brilliant. They were very lucky we came along.” – Kim Braly
Ironically, Braly’s Project X is now owned by True Temper.
“The reason you see a lot of Project X is it gives golfers a choice. That shaft took off like nobody’s business, just like the Rifle took off. Those products were game changers; they really were.”
The Fitting Canvas
Where you and I see a launch and spin chart for shafts, Braly sees a canvas that needs to be filled.
“I use a few formulas I developed myself to ensure I design as efficient of a product as possible,” he says. “Once I get past that, things don’t get easy, but they do get a lot more manageable.”
“I’m so deeply committed to fitting, it’s ridiculous. The stuff I learned doing the Frequency Matching thing put me in the position I’m in today. I had to do the research, I was the guy cutting and measuring the shafts. That’s how I learned so much of what I know. I learned by doing.” – Kim Braly
Early on, KBS developed a reputation for focusing on better players, a rep Braly doesn’t dispute.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to design stuff for bad golfers,” he admits. “I’ve never designed a product for a bad golfer, I’ve never designed a product for an average golfer. I’ve always designed for a Tour player and worked down.”
Over the past two years, Braly has added graphite to his canvas, with the Hybrid Prototype and the TGI and MAX iron shafts.
“The MAX is based on swing speed. I don’t know any other way to do it,” he says. “I work in the best golf shop in the world – we have machinery here that measures stuff that’ll just blow your mind. We have tons of data and records from fittings – I know their swing speed, their tempo, and how they approach hitting the ball.”
Braly broke down fitting data collected over the years from repeat customers (“There are so many people who buy a new set every year, you wouldn’t believe it,” he says), and used that data to determine optimum spin rates for lightweight shafts.
“What’s the optimum spin rate for an 85-gram shaft? That’s not an easy question to answer, but it is fairly easy to research the database. So I was able to determine the optimum stiffness for a person swinging an 85-gram shaft, a 75-gram shaft, or 65, 55 or 45 – what’s the optimum stiffness and what swing speed relates to that?”
KBS Max shafts range from 45- to 85-grams, while the TGI line runs from 50- to 110-grams. Braly says at lighter weights, graphite is the only way to maintain stability.
“With steel, in order to get lower than 90-grams the wall thickness is so thin it isn’t even funny,” he says. “We can obtain stiffness by increasing the O.D. That’s what drives stiffness in anything – golf shafts, street poles, ship masts – O.D. is where it’s at.”
“A sub 90-gram shaft with a very large O.D. would be stable and stiff, but it would feel like crap, so there’s no reason to go there. With steel, we can’t make it as stable as we can with graphite, so that’s all there is to it.” – Kim Braly
Braly has long preached a golfer should play as stiff a shaft as he or she can load and unload. In our conversation, he added some clarification.
“That’s provided you have clubhead speed. If you don’t, it’s better to do the opposite – be a little bit softer. But as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t get fit, you’re crazy.”
“Soft shafts generally feel good to people,” he adds. “But take a soft shaft that feels great on the practice tee with good Trackman numbers out on the golf course under what you’d call game conditions? All of a sudden, they find dispersion is all over the place because they chose a shaft that feels good but is way too soft. Dispersion goes to hell in a handbasket.”
“For the stronger player – not necessarily better, just stronger – we recommend if anything be on the stiffer side. What worked on the practice tee isn’t going to work on the course because it’s not stiff enough. For weaker players, I recommend erring on the soft side.”
The canvas thing is working for KBS: Braly says KBS is the number one iron shaft at most major custom club fitting shops.
“They’re not fitting people into our shafts because they like me,” he says. “They’re fitting into our shafts because they outperform the others.”
“It’s amazing how KBS touches every handicap,” says Jon Pannone, owner of Spargo Golf – a Top 100 club fitter from Rhode Island. “The range touches all ball flights and goes from lightweight to really heavy in the C-Taper.”
Pannone recently fit a longtime friend into a set of C-Tapers to help mitigate an over-the-top high spinning pull-fade.
“We settled on the C-Taper in stiff based on ball speed and dispersion versus other shafts in that category,” he says. “It helped with his left-right considerably, bringing it down from 23-degrees left to right to 12-degrees left to right. He can play his game but with way more control.”
Phil and the Tour V
Braly says he can tell his shafts by merely looking at dispersion charts.
“Not 100% of the time,” he says, “but you gotta understand, I’ve been doing this a long time. Listen, man, when you see something a thousand times, it becomes pretty obvious what you’re looking at.”
Braly designed the KBS Tour-V shaft specifically for Phil Mickelson, with dispersion in mind.
“He had been playing Project X, and then had great success with the KBS Tour,” says Braly. “He shot his best round ever at Whisper Rock and told me something catastrophic would have to happen to get him out of that shaft. Well, he missed the cut at Torrey Pines.”
“The Tour-V is basically the same as the Tour, but with a much stiffer profile. It gets really stiff quickly from the tip and stays stiff a lot longer from the butt – it’s a lower spinning Tour. I never told Phil the Tour was right for him because it’s not. He overpowers the Tour.
“I said ‘listen Phil, I’ve never recommended anything to you that you didn’t end up doing, and I certainly didn’t recommend you going into the Tour because it wasn’t designed for you.’ So what does Phil do? He’s not a tinkerer – he’d played Project X for 16 years – but when he saw the results of his 9-iron and wedge with the Tour-V, he ended up doing the whole set.” – Kim Braly
“He said the dispersion with Project X was like hitting balls onto a blanket. But the dispersion with Tour V – you could put into a bucket.”
The Gospel According to Kim
It’s no secret one company’s Stiff is another’s X or R flex, which is why Braly repeatedly said during our talk: if you’re not getting fit, you’re crazy.
“I’m not real fond of flex, but that’s the way the market is,” he explains. “X-Flex in a lightweight category is not quite as stiff as S-Flex in another category.”
Braly adds that while he loves launch monitors (“They’ve sold a shitload of golf shafts for us.”), he’s not necessarily in love with them.
“There’s a time to put them away. In terms of making decisions, if you’re trying to make sure you’re hitting a particular spot where you’re comfortable, it’s a fantastic machine. But I don’t think it’s something people should bring out and look at every damn shot they hit, like so many guys do today.”
When it comes to equipment technology, Braly – like many others – doesn’t see a whole lot of room for growth.
“In terms of quantum leaps, we’re done, buddy,” he says. “I know people were saying this long ago, but the clubs are only allowed to be so long, the ball is only allowed to go so fast. The only thing I know of that we can do to improve the game is to increase the tech in the fitting area.”
“I hope I’m wrong, but in terms of quantum leaps, I don’t know. I can see something we’re going to do in terms of materials, but as primarily being a steel shaft company, all we can do is try to make a product that does what it’s supposed to do.” – Kim Braly
Just last month KBS did something truly unique for a shaft company by opening up its own open-to-the-public fitting studio in Carlsbad. The KBS Golf Shaft Experience is a full-featured fitting center with a lounge, a retail area, simulators, and media center.
Braly has been at this for over 40 years now, but at age 62 doesn’t see himself slowing down any time soon.
“My Dad told me a long time ago if you’re not doing something you love you better do something else,” he says. “It’s amazing we’re able to do something that people are so passionate about. People are inquisitive, and I love it. The more people know, the better.”
As much as Braly loves golf, he’s developed another passion over the years.
“I think I love fishing a little better,” he laughs. “I got a state record in Alabama a few weeks ago. And I have six dogs, so between family, my pets, playing golf and finding time to fish, I’m pretty full.”
As for retirement, well, to paraphrase Kerouac: there’s nowhere to go but everywhere, so keep rolling under the stars.
“I certainly don’t know what I’d do if I did retire,” he says. “I love my life. I can travel when I want to, and I love to build golf shafts.”