with Don Irving, Artisan Golf
Previously on Flagstick.com, I talked about the importance of the shaft and some of the characteristics that are designed into the various shafts. In this article, I want to continue that discussion and expand on how shafts are designed and get into a discussion of proper shaft length.
As I mentioned in the previous article, shafts are designed around the butt section, the mid section and the tip section. For example, if a shaft designer is designing a shaft that will produce a higher launch angle he will more than likely concentrate on designing a soft tip section and a somewhat softer mid section. Having a softer mid and tip section will allow the shaft to flex in such a way as to produce a higher initial launch angle. In a steel shaft, this is mainly done by controlling the wall thickness of the shaft. The thinner the wall thickness, the more flex there will be in the shaft and conversely, the thicker the wall thickness, the stiffer and lower launching the shaft will be.
In Graphite shafts, designing shafts is a bit easier because the designer has more to work with. First, the quality of the graphite is a consideration, the higher the quality of the graphite means less resin is needed to build the shaft. With less resin and higher quality graphite, the designer can produce a shaft more easily no matter what the requirements of the shaft might be. Another factor which goes into the design of a graphite shaft is the orientation of the graphite sheets. By placing the graphite sheets at various angles as it is wrapped around the shaft mandrel, different flexes can be obtained. With graphite shafts there is more flexibility of design because of these two qualities, material orientation and the quality of the material.
When you think about shafts being designed with varying characteristics in these three zones of tip, mid and butt, it is easy to see that every shaft is designed with a specific type of golfer in mind. For example, a very strong player may want a shaft that has a stiff profile throughout the entire length of the shaft. Someone who has a very quick transition may need a shaft that has a stiff butt section but a softer mid and tip section. This would give him the feeling of stability because of the firm butt and give him the launch characteristics he is looking for. Fitting each golfer for a shaft does take some time, but finding that combination of weight, shaft profile, feel and shaft flex is well worth the investment of time.
Another aspect for consideration when it comes to the shaft is that of shaft length. What is the proper length of a shaft, whether it is for the irons, hybrids, woods or the driver? The answer may seem quite simple. However, it varies with every golfer, so maybe it is not so simple. Having done thousands of fittings over the years, it has been quite evident that the longer the shaft, the more difficult it is to hit with consistency. It is my firm belief that for the majority of golfers, the shafts in driver, fairway woods and even hybrids are generally too long. Not for everyone but for most golfers. I am not going to get into a discussion about woods and hybrids because of limited space for this article, but I will talk about the driver length, since for most this club can be the most challenging. There is a common belief that the longer the driver, the higher the clubhead speed. In theory this concept is true. Basic physics supports this theory, but practical testing in the real world suggests that this theory is invalid. I have noticed over and over again that when a golfer is put into a shaft that is too long for his ability, his clubhead speed actually goes down. This is mainly because he or she does not have the physical strength or technique to get the longer club through the impact zone and is therefore unable to produce more club head speed. In fact, less clubhead speed is produced. Another thing that I have noted is that when a golfer is put into a longer shaft even though he may produce a higher clubhead speed, his ball speed actually drops. And ball speed is all that is really important. This is a more accurate assessment of distance. So why does ball speed drop? It is simply a matter of contact. When a golfer has a club that is too long, he often cannot make contact on the sweet spot of the club face. Therefore, the ball speed drops and the distance also drops.
Whether it is a driver, a fairway wood or any other club, solid contact is the most important factor in distance and consistency. As mentioned before, fitting for the correct shaft takes some time and determining the correct length is a critical component of the shaft fitting. Sometimes, it is crystal clear as to what the proper length should be, while other times a bit of trial and error is needed. Whatever the situation, it is important to have the length of shaft that gives you the most consistency and also gives you the most confidence.
As mentioned in the previous article I feel that the shaft is to the club the same as the transmission is to a car. You cannot put just any transmission into a car and expect it to work properly. The same goes for a golf club. It is necessary to determine the proper shaft profile, shaft weight, shaft frequency and shaft length to match the golfers’ swing characteristics. My best advice is to get fitted for your shafts by a professional clubfitter
The time invested in the fitting process can only help you play better golf.