The more I look into the Korean golf manufacturing market, the less I find. It is unfortunate and perhaps strange, given that Korea is the 3rd largest golf market in the world trailing only the USA and Japan.
According to the European Golf Statistics 2017, Europe has an estimated 4.15M registered golfers and nearly 7,000 golf courses. The numbers largely outpace the 3.3M Korean golfers and the meager 450 golf courses available here. How is it that we can be the 3rd largest consumer group for golf goods in the world, and yet, produce so little equipment of our own?
Some of you may recall my recent article on Korea’s unique single length iron manufacturer, Diawings Golf, and my wish for more Korean manufacturers to rise among the most recognized golf brands in the industry. I am not saying that Diawings is by any means ready to take over the world, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, it could be well on its way to earning a look from serious golfers as it begins exporting to the US and Vietnam in the Spring of 2019.
The same can be said for South Korea’s sole shaft manufacturer, DUMINA Inc, and its trademark pink AUTOpower shafts.
AUTOPOWER BY DUMINA
You may be familiar with the hot pink Grafalloy driver shaft used by Bubba Watson. Even on the PGA Tour, the shaft and its unusual color definitely screams “look at me!” Now imagine a shaft equally as audacious as Bubba’s magic wand, but in a country so conservative that most country clubs and golf courses still forbid wearing shorts during the summer.
Enter Korea’s very own AUTOpower shaft.
AUTOpower. Yes, I know it sounds like a name fit for an intelligent race of alien robots or at the very least the name of your local car tuning shop. I could give you a dozen examples where product names and claims get lost in translation between Asia and the American market, but this one isn’t so bad when you better understand what this shaft claims to offer. (Hint: Think Kung-Fu Panda).
AUTOpower golf shafts are fully manufactured in Korea by a small company that remains largely unknown in the golf industry, even in Korea. That changed a bit in 2016 when AUTOpower shafts started collecting wins on the LPGA tour. The bold color is an attention grabber, but it’s the even bolder guarantee of more power and better distance and accuracy off the tee that distinguishes AUTOpower.
When AUTOpower says guaranteed, it means it.
Like me, this is where you probably start thinking, “Gee, we haven’t heard THAT before. Besides, the best shafts are made in Japan and the US.” First, that would be wrong. Many golf shafts, including some of the most recognized brands in the industry, are now also made in China and other parts of Asia and are assembled with the club heads around the world.
As MyGolfSpy has written many times in the past, the shaft industry lacks any form of standardization when it comes to shaft flex, torque, and performance descriptors. For example, an S-flex in one brand may translate to an R-flex in another brand and could be labeled an SR-flex in another. Often golfers settle on a trusted brand name and whether the color/paint scheme is to our liking. Frequency and torque? Swing weight? Shaft pure-ing? These days, trying to navigate through a maze of buzzwords to find a shaft that can unlock your full distance potential is harder than understanding organic chemistry was in high school. That’s tricky even when your expectations are realistic. No amount of money and fitting will make your drive 50 yards longer overnight.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Over the past year, I had seen the pink shafts pop up from time to time at Korean golf shows and in TV commercials with the tagline “What IS that shaft?” But it was only recently that my curiosity was piqued for two reasons. Firstly, I learned that it was manufactured in Korea by a local company using proprietary tech; and secondly, I was looking for more driver distance without straining my already aching back. After years of trying dozens of the more famous aftermarket brands and still convinced I was fit to continue playing a 6S shaft, an acquaintance confided that he had recently seen his driver distance increase by over 20 yards after switching to AUTOpower (the name still makes me shudder). I was on the phone that day to reserve a time slot for a full fitting session at the company headquarters in the outskirts of Seoul.
DUMINA Inc., the maker of the shaft, is located in a modest business complex with their office and factory next to each other. The space is clean and well organized, and a large sign adorned with Korean flags at the entrance let visitors know that this is a domestic manufacturer of world-class golf shafts. I have to admit I rolled my eyes at first. The walls are lined with pictures of well-known tour pros from the KPGA, KLPGA, LPGA, and JLPGA posing with the shafts. The wall of fame also includes local top amateurs and celebrities. It looks perfectly nice, but if that is the standard of measure, I can name many shaft brands that have won majors and countless tournaments all over the world.
My interest was in what drove the company to state it can compete and even beat some of the best shaft makers in the world. I wasn’t saying it was absolutely impossible, but it seemed improbable, especially given the lack of quantifiable evidence and data.
And most importantly, can could an AUTOpower shaft increase my distance and accuracy to help me beat my regular foursome?
Once inside DUMINA, I was greeted by Ms. Doona Jung CEO and Mr. Gumyul Park, Chairman. Both in their mid-fifties, the pair looks less the part of golf shaft developers, and more like the kind elderly neighbors next door. They too seemed a little wary of a handsome(?) younger man claiming to be interested in knowing more about their wonder product. I explained that I was not there to solicit them for marketing purposes or free sample, but that I was merely curious about the sole Korean shaft manufacturer. After some pleasantries, I dove right into the big questions:
What differentiates AUTOpower shafts from the more famous brands, and are your claims backed by facts?
For close to an hour, I politely sat through their stories of how so many well-known professionals came through their doors and left with improved results. I heard their tales of who dramatically increased their driving distance, who won where, and who used it to do what. I listened because they were passionate about their work and I wanted to show that I respected that. But when they finally wound down, I simply said, “There are many brands that can claim many more tour wins and achievements. What I would like to know is WHY and HOW your product increases distance and accuracy.”
Maybe it was the unimpressed look on my face or the bluntness of my statement that stunned both of them to a moment of silence. But after a brief pause, they slowly began to divulge what I really came to hear. And what I heard made me think that perhaps AUTOpower shaft can indeed be a game changer, not just in Korea, but everywhere.
THE SECRET IS IN THE RECIPE
Too many times I fell victim to lines like, “my friend is using it, and so is his friend. And that tour pro just won last week with it, so it must be good.” But I am not the same as my friend, and I’m certainly not a tour pro.
As I mentioned earlier, everyone’s potential for performance (in this case, driving distance) is different, and my capability is probably much lower than when I was in my 20s and 30s. So it would be wrong for me to assume I can still drive a ball 280 yards using a 7X shaft. Realistically, I would be thrilled to hit past 250 yards with my stiff back, and getting properly fitted is perhaps one the best ways to help maximize my current potential.
Over the years, I was fitted with numerous brand club heads and shafts by various fitting experts. I was quite satisfied with my gamer (the 2018 Overall Most Wanted Winner, PING G400 LST) fitted with OZIK Red Tie 6S. I averaged 240 yards total with a ball speed of ~140 MPH and a swing speed average of 94MPH. I’m not a hitter, and I typically swing using about 90% strength and prefer to stay in the fairway.
Mr. Park declared on the spot that he could increase my distance by 7-15 yards while swinging even more softly to increase consistency and accuracy. With mixed emotions of hope and disbelief, I fetched my current gamer and began to warm up hitting some ball with a Flightscope launch monitor keeping track of the data. And yes, I was caught staring as Mr. Park donned goggles and work gloves to begin crafting a new shaft for on the spot. Talk about multi-tasking.
While Chairman Park was working on unlocking what he called my “hidden distance,” CEO Jung explained that using a shaft that is not perfectly fit to one’s ideal combination of weight and frequency (CPM – cycles per minute) decreases yards and accuracy. Also, the right shaft also leads to better swing tempo and balance so that the body doesn’t have to exert unnecessary power that can cause mistakes.
In essence, the name AUTOpower was referring to the power that results naturally from a balanced shaft weight and frequency. And when these factors are matched as closely as possible to a specific individual’s swing characteristics, it will naturally create the most effective club speed for more distance and accuracy for that particular individual.
It all sounded very Zen.
DOES IT PERFORM?
To fit golfers with their most ideal matching shaft, DUMINA currently offers over 40 models, and the list is still growing. And that’s just for drivers. The company claims that its driver shaft range is one of the largest among all shaft manufacturers in the world. Offerings range from the 3R (39g, 180 CPM, 5.5 TQ) to the 7XX (76g, 285 CPM, 2.2 TQ). The range is designed to fit golfers with swing speeds from 65 MPH to 115MPH and higher.
As mentioned above, there is no single standard in the shaft industry that clearly defines a “Regular shaft.” Does a 50R shaft mean 50g or 59g? And what is the CPM range of the R shaft compared to RS and S?
An important differentiator for AUTOpower is that the frequency range between flexes is always 5-10 CPMs apart (I’ll call it CPM gapping). After checking thoroughly with the launch monitor to see what frequency range was providing the best results, I was shown to produce the best launch conditions with a frequency of 235 CPM. I was then given a variety of shafts that very closely matched my frequency needs, but with differing weights, balance points, profiles, and torque. All I was looking, for now, was to see which shaft felt the best for me in terms of weight and feel so that I could swing confidently without exerting all my strength for more distance.
AUTOPOWER SHAFT LINE UP
I’ve done some searching on the bigger shaft brands specs information page, but most don’t post specific CPM ranges. But let’s assume most lineups cover roughly the same CPM range of 180-285 (maybe even broader), and then categorize them into the five common shaft flexes we know R, SR, S, X, L. That works out to about 21 CPM gaps between flexes.
For me, this answered the part of the question about why AUTOpower shaft believes it can unlock longer distance and accuracy. By matching the frequency and weight of the shaft much more closely to my unique swing style and needs, I was able to better able to tap into my distance potential without having to exert more energy.
Mr. Park returned to the table and offered me a Patriot Tt 5S shaft with a tip for my PING G400 LST. He says confidently that while the last shaft was producing adequate results, with a frequency of 265 CPM, it was a bit too stout for my speed and would cause me to make mistakes on the back nine – especially when I start to tire or lose focus. I agreed, as I’ve noticed I tend to get a little wild with the driver toward the end of a round. He explained the frequency of the new shaft is 30 CPMs less than my Red Tie and would allow me to swing much more easily while producing longer carry and greater accuracy. I couldn’t verify his claims right then as I had to wait for the new grip to set, so I kept my mouth shut. When I was testing the various shafts, the recommended shaft felt very whippy compared to my current shaft. I was concerned about how well I’d be able to control the ball, but more on that later.
CARBON+ NEW MATERIAL AND NANOTECH
Park noted that their shaft had incorporated various innovative carbon patterns and weaves that promote increased accuracy. The carbon is not produced in Korea, but rather is imported. In order differentiate their product, DUMINA had been relentless about testing various new materials to incorporate with their unique carbon patterns which date back to 2013. After re-investing every penny made and a lot more, in early 2016 AUTOPower developed what they believed was a game changer in shaft manufacturing technology.
They discovered that when carbon was mixed with certain proprietary materials in a certain weave pattern and ratio, it produced unique and consistent qualities for each shaft. And by controlling these variables, they were able to systematically control the CPM gapping to tighter tolerances for extremely consistent and durable shafts across a wide range of weights.
"It was an emotional moment for all of us. To get here, we had endured ridicule from the golf industry and consumers alike, faced two near bankruptcies and hundreds of failures in research. But that day was one of redemption, finally proving that the result of our ideas and endeavors could compete with the best names in the business. All of our team, everyone here, had tears in our eyes mixed with gratitude for the kind words and support from those who believed in us. Our company name DUMINA in Korean literally means “let the two of us forge ahead regardless.”
“People who are told the meaning chuckle at the corny idea behind it, but our beliefs and resolve were all that was pushing us forward. We had faith that we could make this work and compete with the best shafts in the world, and we set out to prove that it could be done right here in Korea with our own hands and technology.”
– Doona Jung, CEO, DUMINA INC.
Success, or at least the beginnings of it, started knocking on DUMINA’s doors soon after. That year, LPGA professional Ji Eun-Hee was struggling with a lack of driver distance compared to the long-hitters and was considering retirement. Having heard about the new “miracle” distance shafts, Ji and her father decided to visit DUMINA in Korea. Ji told Jung that if the new shaft can add 10 more yards to her driving stats, she wouldn’t struggle as much on the LPGA tour.
To make a long story short, with the new shaft in her driver, Ji went from averaging 238 yards (near the bottom of the tour driving distance) to averaging over 250 yards in next year. The 2009 US Women’s Open champion promptly ended her 7-year winless streak in October at the LPGA Swinging Skirts Championship in Taiwan followed by another victory at the KIA Classic championship in March 2018.
Jenny Shin, Ji’s friend, and fellow LPGA member, visited DUMINA with Ji in early 2016 to change her driver shaft. She too went onto to win her very first LPGA event in May 2016 at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout.
Unsurprisingly, both are now firm believers in AUTOpower.
The unknown shaft with little or no past accreditations went onto accrue more victories in the JLPGA (Ji-yai Shin, former No.1 in the world) and the KPGA. The validation DUMINA so desperately sought after was achieved in less than a year, and at some of the world’s highest levels of professional golf.
I could go on with many other notable Korean amateur champions, along with official KSPO (Korea Sports Promotion Foundation) test reports showing results favoring AUTOpower over two other industry leading brands. But hey, I’m not a pro, and those guys (or swing robots) could probably hit a 30-year old persimmon driver better than me and my high-tech driver any day.
ME AND MY AUTOPOWER
The next day, I took the newly fitted driver to a hitting bay with a trackman and a professional fitter. After warming up with a few swings, I was ready to be surprised. The new Patriot Tt 5S pink shaft still felt whippier than my previous one, but the impact with the ball felt solid. It took several swings to get used to the lighter, smoother shaft, but the results were a definite improvement.
The data showed that my average launch angle increased to 13 degrees (up from 8 degrees), and ball speed rose to average between 145-150 MPH (swing speed up +3MPH to 97MPH average). I found that I was swinging smoother and easier than before, but the peak height was slightly higher and my average distance increased by a little more than 6 yards to 247 yards. By any measure, my driving statistics improved as the shaft allowed me to swing easier while conserving strength for the back-nine stretch.
I was officially impressed. And a few rounds on some tough tracks on some very windy days convinced me further that it was the real deal. So far, I haven't been able to find too many faults with it. I have recommended the shaft to many colleagues and most are sticking with it, so they must be happy with it so far as well.
One thing most people mention though, was that the shaft felt whippy when they first waggle it. It promotes a sense of weak or insufficient stiffness to keep the ball in the fairway. But that is what's weird and wonderful about Autopower shafts. The shaft was still able to withstand my swings despite my hardest and fastest efforts. The same was heard from my friends who have used the shaft. Now that to me is proof that something is working right.
By James Chang
Orginally Published on MyGolfSpy.com
December 19th, 2018