Clubmaker’s Classroom: Shaft Flex & Bend

Shaft Droop (Image: Michael Neff)

by Don Irving, Artisan Golf

In this article, I would like to talk about two important aspects of the shaft: Shaft bend and Shaft Flex.

Shaft Bend

To begin, I would like to talk about how a shaft bends. During the swing the shaft bends on two planes, the vertical and the horizontal plane. The vertical plane is the droop plane and the horizontal plan is the swing plane. As the club is going through the impact zone the shaft is bending on both of these planes. At the beginning of the swing the club head is behind the shaft until the golfer releases the club. At that point the hands have slowed down dramatically, and the club head now catches up to the shaft and actually goes beyond the shaft. So now at impact the shaft has bent forward (creating more loft) and also droops down. (This is why a clubhead, especially an iron that looks to be sitting perfect at address can actually be hitting the lie board toward the toe during a dynamic lie test and needs to be bent upright.

When looking at shaft specs you will often see that the shaft is listed as having a high, medium or low kick point. You may hear people talking about flex point, bend point or kick point. These three terms are synonymous, and I choose to use bend point. If you were to put each end of a shaft into a very long clamp and tighten it, you would see the shaft begin to bend. The highest point of deflection is the bend point. As many of you have heard, bend point effects ball flight. The higher the bend point the lower the ball flight and conversely the lower the bend point the higher the ball flight. But how much influence does a bend point have on ball flight. Well, first we have to look at where bend points are measured. In every shaft I have ever used the bend point is located somewhere in a zone that is located 18-24 inches from the tip of the shaft. A low bend point is not located way down close to the head nor is a high bend point located up near the hands. Given that all bend points are located within a few inches of each other it is not hard to conclude that bend point does not have a major impact on ball flight. It has a minor impact.

I have never seen any numbers released by shaft manufacturers, but I can tell you that having worked with TRACKMAN over the last number of years, the difference between a shaft with a low bend point and one with a high bend point is minimal. If you are trying to lower or raise your ball flight a shaft is not the complete answer. It will help but it will not be the cure. One thing that I think is important when it comes to bend points is that shafts with varying bend points will feel different. In a nutshell, low bend point results in more head feel, and high bend point results in less head feel.

Shaft Flex/Stiffness

If we are talking about shafts, we have to talk about shaft flex (not flex point, but actual flex). Typically shaft flex is indicated by letters ranging from Ladies (L Flex) to Extra Stiff (X Flex). This really is useless information. The main problem with these designations is that they have no meaning. There is no industry standard. For instance, many times I have seen one company lists a shaft as an S-Flex but compared to another company it is an R-Flex at best. I have even seen two shafts from the same company with an R-Flex designation, when in fact one was an R and the other was an A-Flex (Senior flex). Without an industry standard, it is up to the clubfitter to create one.

Over the year’s charts have been developed for varying swing speeds by the use of a frequency analyser which gives each shaft a specific frequency of cycles per minute and this becomes the actual flex. It is a much easier way to compare one shaft to another and get a pretty good idea of how one shaft will feel compared to another. Charts have also been developed giving an appropriate shaft frequency (Flex) for a golfer with any given swing speed. When doing a shaft fitting, this chart is a very useful starting point, but certainly is not the final word in shaft flex.

There are other factors that are to be considered. Not only do we need to know how fast the golfer is swinging a club but also, how does the golfer generate that clubhead speed. What tempo does the golfers have? Is he quick at transition or does he have a more deliberate tempo. Transition from backswing has a big impact on fitting. A golfer with a quick transition may need a stiffer shaft and/or a more butt firm shaft than a speed chart would suggest. We also have to look at when a golfer releases the club. A golfer with an early release will generally require a softer shaft than what his clubhead speed would indicate. For the early releaser the shaft loading is lost before impact, so a softer shaft will generally help him or her maintain the clubhead speed a little longer during the down swing. Basically, there are three factors that affect the shaft selection in a fitting: transition tempo, release and swing speed. There is a fourth that a clubfitter cannot determine and that is “feel”. Sometimes all the specs are there but the golfer does not like the feel, so it is necessary to work out the specs but also work out the feel. In conclusion, there can be two golfers with the same swing speed but have very different needs in a shaft.

There are other factors to be considered when fitting for a shaft. One of the most important is shaft weight, but we will leave that for another article. There are scores of different shafts to choose from and getting properly fitted is a must for a golfer who wants to play his/her best. So, get fitted, stay healthy and have fun!

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