with Don Irving, Artisan Golf
In the last edition of Clubmaker’s Classroom, I discussed shaft flex and how the shaft bends during the swing. In this article, I would like to talk about some of the other shaft characteristics. I want to discuss shaft weight, shaft spining, shaft torque and shaft counter balancing. They are very interesting and very important to the performance of the shaft when in the hands of various golfers.
First, I want to touch on shaft weight. Shaft weight is one of the most important characteristics of a shaft when a golfer is getting fitted for a club. The general rule of thumb for this parameter is to play the lightest shaft you can control. There are several advantages to playing lighter weight shafts. The most obvious is the fact that the total weight of each club will be lower using a lighter shaft. Having clubs that are less heavy means that the golfer will be less fatigued over the course of 18 holes of golf. Less fatigue usually means that you will be more consistent and will swing the club more freely as you finish the last few holes of your round of golf. Another benefit of lighter shafts is that it is quite likely you will pick up some clubhead speed because you are swinging a lighter club. And more clubhead speed almost always means more distance. But I have seen the odd golfer who does not notice any increase in clubhead speed but does see an increase in ball speed. An increase in ball speed always results in an increase in distance. In this case, even though the golfer does not have an increase in clubhead speed he/she is making better contract with the ball, hitting more on the sweet spot, and this is generating more ball speed.
Weight transfer can also be favourably impacted by a lighter shaft. I have seen many, many golfers who have a much better weight transfer because of a lighter club. The lighter weight allows them to get through the impact zone more effectively and end up with a much better finish to their swing.
If a golfer went from a 90-gram shaft to a 60-gram shaft, it would not seem that a reduction of 30 grams or approximately one ounce of shaft weight would make much difference. But, in fact, it is a huge difference. When removing this amount of weight from the total weight you will notice a big improvement on how easily you are able to swing the club. Golf is more about consistency rather than distance. I think that consistency will lower your score more than hitting longer shots.
One thing I do when building a club or a set of clubs is to locate the spine of the golf shaft and orient each shaft in the same position in the droop plane of the golfer’s swing. So, what is a spine? The spine of a golf shaft is the axis of the shaft that is most resistant to bending. This axis runs from the butt end of the shaft to the tip of the shaft. It is not a straight line but more of a gentle helix. Why do shafts have spines? It is because during manufacturing the process creates this spine. In some shafts it is more pronounced than in others. The spine can affect how a shaft will bend through the swing. There has been research done that suggests that if the location of the spine of the shaft is consistently in the same location the consistency in striking the ball will be improved. When I locate the spines of all the shafts in a set of clubs, then I orient those spines in the droop plane at the 12 o’clock position (the top of the shaft as you are looking at the shaft at the address position). It could be located in the swing plane of the shaft, I do not think it matters. Either orientation will result in more consistent ball striking.
Another shaft characteristic that deserves some clarification is torque. When we speak of torque in a golf shaft we are referring to the tip of the shaft’s ability to resist twisting of the clubhead. Torque is mostly a factor in driver or fairway wood shafts. A shaft that has a low torque tip is generally thought of as being able to keep the clubhead more stable at impact (i.e., less twisting of the clubhead.) Low torque shafts are generally thought of as being for strong players. For slower swingers a high torque is considered to be fine. However, this is a bit of a myth. The fact of the matter is that on impact, the ball is on the face of the club for such a short period of time that the low torque on a shaft is having very little influence on the quality of the impact. What low torque or high torque does is affect the feel of the shaft. A shaft with low torque will feel much firmer or “boardy” than a shaft with high torque. So, fitting for torque becomes very golfer specific and is in the realm of “feel” not performance.
Another aspect of shafts is that of counter balancing. When a shaft engineer designs a counter balanced shaft, he will design the shaft with more weight toward the butt end of the shaft than would typically be done. There are some definite advantages to this. First, by putting more weight in the butt end, the balance point moves higher toward the butt. This will result in a lower overall swing weight. A lower swing weight means that more weight can be added to the head without the swing weight getting too heavy. This applies mostly to driver shafts. So, the golfer is able to swing the club as easily as a non-counter balanced club but with more mass in the head the MOI improves and there may be an increase in distance. Even if weight is not added to the head, some golfers just find it easier to swing a club that is counter balanced.
As you can see the shaft is very complex and really is the transmission of the club. Whether you need a low launch or a high launch shaft, a butt firm shaft, a high torque tip and so and so on, a professional fitter can help you navigate the many complexities of the golf shaft.