I will start this article with a question. What do NASCAR and golf have in common? The answer is “transmissions”. Just as a NASCAR has to have the correct transmission to distribute the tremendous horsepower from the engine to the wheels, so does a golf club need a transmission to deliver the power that is built up in the head to the ball at impact. And that transmission is the shaft. Without the proper shaft a golfer is not optimizing his equipment and could be losing yards or accuracy because of it.
In this article, I would like to go over some shaft characteristics that are considered during a fitting. There are several aspects of a shaft that need to be determined. Things such as proper length, flex, weight, shaft profile, shaft material, etc., need to be established during the fitting so that the clubhead is delivered to the ball in the most efficient way possible.
First, let us look at shaft profile and shaft flex. They are not the same thing, but they do have a close relationship. Shaft profile is essentially how the shaft was designed. Think of the shaft as being comprised of three distinct sections, the butt, the mid and the tip section. The relative firmness of each of these sections will define the overall characteristics of the shaft. For example, if a shaft is being designed to launch a ball high then it is very likely that the tip and the mid sections will be more flexible than average. On the flip side of this, if the designer is trying to develop a shaft that is lower launching it is very likely that the tip section will be quite firm as well as the butt and mid sections.
The correct shaft profile must be chosen depending on each golfer’s swing type and loading characteristics. A golfer, for example, with a very quick and aggressive transition may require a shaft with a very firm butt section but need a softer tip section to launch the ball correctly. Shaft selection, and I stress this, is not based solely on clubhead speed. It is based on how that clubhead speed is achieved. Two golfers with exactly the same clubhead speed could easily have very different shaft profile requirements depending on their transition as well as their release point.
So, what is flex? We are used to seeing flex defined as a letter such as L, A, R, S, X. etc., but what does this really mean and how is it measured. The letter designation is a relative representation of the overall stiffness of a shaft. It is a very arbitrary designation and is also not standardized among shaft manufacturers. Flex is more accurately measured by clamping the shaft in a frequency analyzer, placing a weight at the tip and deflecting the shaft so that it oscillates and yields the number of cyclers per minute of the oscillation. The higher the number, the stiffer the shaft. By comparing shafts using cycles per minute (cpm) it is then possible to compare shafts one to another and although it is only telling us how stiff the butt of the shaft is, it is a very useful piece of information to have when building a set of clubs that are frequency matched with a consistent feel throughout. The correct combination of shaft profile and shaft flex is unique to each golfer’s swing and must be determined during the fitting to ensure peak performance as well as a comfortable feel for the golfer.
Now let’s look at shaft length. How long should the shaft be in your irons, hybrids, woods or driver? The answer is quite simple for all concerned. Whatever the club, the length of the shaft should be the length at which you make your best centre contact. Whether it is a driver or a 7 iron, it is extremely important to play the shaft length where you make your best contact. Consider driver shaft lengths. Manufactures sell their drivers with shaft lengths that vary from 45” to 46 ½”. However, the average length on the PGA tour is 44 ½”. There are not many players using 45” or longer shafts and some of the top players have drivers that are 43 ½” long.
Why is this? The simple answer is accuracy and consistency. Whether you are a touring pro or a weekend warrior, you will enjoy the game more if you are hitting the ball on the centre of the face. If we look a little closer at shaft length it is easier to put it into perspective. The theory behind longer driver shafts is the golfer will generate more clubhead speed. Depending on the golfer, this may be true, but it may not be true. I have seen many golfers lose clubhead speed with longer drivers. But let us assume that a golfer can increase his clubhead speed by 4-5 miles per hour with a longer shaft. In theory, that should gain him 10-15 yards. The problem is that clubhead speed does not determine distance. Ball speed and impact location are what determine distance. You can be swinging a club faster, but if you are not making centre contact you will lose distance. Finding the right combination of length vs. impact locations is a very important part of the fitting process. A driver study I carried out for my Trackman Master certification, clearly pointed to the majority of golfers benefitting from a shorter shaft length in their driver.
To complete this article, I will touch briefly on the subject of shaft weight. I believe shaft weight is one of the most important parameters in fitting clubs and it is very much player specific. In general stronger players will find heavier shafts more comfortable and those of us, who are not what would be considered strong swingers, would generally gravitate to lighter shafts. If I am trying to get a bit more clubhead speed from a golfer, generally a lighter weight shaft is the best option. I will go to the lightest shaft possible for a golfer as long as he or she is able to feel the clubhead position throughout the swing or is comfortable overall with the feel. One of the obstacles in fitting for shaft weight has been that, as shafts get heavier, the flex of the shaft increases or with lighter shafts, the flex gets softer. This is not necessarily what is desirable in the fitting. Fortunately, some manufacturers, ACCRA Golf in particular, are designing shafts with the same flex in different weight categories. That means it is possible to fit for weight and flex without compromising either of these two important parameters.
There are hundreds of shafts available to golfers. It can be a mine field trying to figure out what is each golfer’s best choice. To safely navigate this mine field, be sure to have your shafts fitted by a professional club fitter so that you can feel confident that the shaft you are playing is optimized to your swing.
/ Don Irving, Artisan Golf, 2015 ICG Clubmaker of The Year