w/ Don Irving, Artisan Golf
I have had customers frequently ask me, “Does the shaft make a difference”? The answer is a resounding yes. And as technology leads to improvements and variations, the affirmative becomes even stronger. The shaft manufacturers are developing shafts with very specific specifications to accommodate the range of golfers and golf swings. For example, graphite shafts now come in weights that range from 40 grams to 125 grams. We can look at golf clubs as tools and the shaft as one component. A carpenter, for example, is only going to perform at his highest level if he has the correct tools to do the job. So, it is, as well, with golfers. If a golfer has the right tools for his playing ability, then he or she will have a greater chance of success. When you think of a golf club, it really is quite a simple tool. It has only three components, a head, a shaft and a grip. However, when you consider the number of different heads, shafts and grips that are available and the design and engineering that goes into these components, it can get confusing, to say the least. The shaft is a crucial part of any club. In this article, I would like to discuss some of the characteristics associated with shafts. I want to touch on such things as shaft flex, shaft weight, shaft materials, and shaft design.
First and foremost, in any discussion on shafts is the simple fact that the shaft is what engages the club head and the golfer is what engages the shaft. If we think about this in automotive terms, the golfer is the engine which supplies the power and the shaft is the transmission, which engages that power. So, depending on how much power is being transferred to the shaft and how that power is delivered to the shaft, the correct flexibility is extremely important. Flex or shaft stiffness is designated in the golf industry by a letter such as L, A, R, S, X. Because there is no standard in the industry these relative flexes can vary greatly from one manufacturer to another, so, in my opinion, these letter designations have limited value. A better way to determine flex is by measuring it. For example, if I get a reading of 250 cpm, I know that for a golfer with a 90-mph driver speed this flex value will be in the right ball park. When I factor in where the golfer releases the club and how the golfer transitions from backswing to downswing, it is quite likely that I will have to adjust the frequency from 250 cpm to 245 cpm or 255 cpm. Given that 10 cpm’s represent a full flex, as designated by the letter system, you can see that flex I very much golfer specific. Two people with the same clubhead speed can be fitted with very different shaft flexes. Therefore, from a clubfitting point of view, it is important to use shafts that can be adjusted to accommodate the correct flex for any given golfer.
There are a lot of good shafts available in the market place. I mainly use Accra and True Temper shafts because they are designed for clubfitters, so they can control shaft flex as well as such factors as weight, launch characteristics and spin rates. Having the correct shafts for your clubheads can make a significant difference in the performance of your clubs. For example, it is not uncommon to see a difference of 4-6 mph in ball speed from one shaft to another, which represents a 10-15-yard difference in distance. Having the correct flex in the shaft for the way each individual golfer loads the shaft can have an impact on both distance as well as shot dispersion. If the shaft is too stiff the dispersion may be okay, but distance could be sacrificed. Conversely, if the shaft is too flexible, distance may be okay but controlling dispersion would be a problem.
Any discussion on shaft flex must lead into a shaft design discussion. Shafts are designed around three areas of the shaft, the tip section, the mid-section and the butt section. Shaft design could be an article unto itself, so let me just mention that depending on the performance characteristics a shaft engineer is trying to produce, these three sections are manipulated and engineered to achieve the desired results, whether it be a shaft with a low launch or a high launch, a firm butt or a softer mid- section. Whatever the desired profile, shafts are getting better and better, especially when it comes to graphite shafts.
One other parameter I would like to touch on is the issue of shaft weight. I think shaft weight is one of the most important factors when it comes to fitting for the correct shaft. This is where graphite shafts can be a very real advantage for a golfer. For golfers with a slower swing speed and for golfers who are not as young as they used to be, there is a need for a very light weight shaft, which also gives them a lower total weight for the club. A lighter total weight allows them to swing the club more easily, often gaining more clubhead speed. The overall lighter weight of the club is also much less fatiguing over the course of a round of golf. The evolution of the graphite shaft has reached a point where shaft stability has become a non-issue and, as noted above, we are now seeing shaft weights in the 40-gram range for both woods and irons. On the other end of the scale for those stronger players who prefer a heavier shaft there are graphite shafts available that are heavier and every bit as stable as a steel shaft. From a fitting perspective, whether the shaft is graphite or steel, there is a weight that each golfer will find comfortable when paired with the optimal flex. The weight of the shaft can have a very strong influence on a golfer’s sense of tempo and timing.
There is much more to be said about shafts. In my next article, I will cover more on design and materials as well as shaft length.
To determine which shaft is best for you get fitted by a professional clubfitter and enjoy the difference fitted clubs can make.