golf-shafts-101

The Ultimate Golf Shaft 101 Guide

Golf shafts are likely one of the most misunderstood, often overlooked and poorly governed aspects of a golf club.  A golf shaft can turn your slice into a hook, turn your worm burner into a boring drive, even help give you extra yards.  We are often providing shaft advice on this site to a variety of players, swing speeds and swing characteristics, but ultimately we are really only offering best guesses as to possible shafts based on a variety of factors. Selecting shafts for players is really a science and requires a custom fitting professional to be done properly.  Selecting a shaft involves a complex combination of shaft weight, flex characteristics, torque, bend point and most importantly, swing characteristics (which is tough to measure through a comment or question). We’re going to take a closer look at how each of these characteristics affect shaft performance.

In this post we will cover some of these little known shaft facts:

More expensive shafts don’t necessarily mean better performance.

Shaft flex is not universal, so all the “R” and “S” lettering standards are misleading.

Shaft kick points can change best on your swing tempo and release point.

Lighter shafts are not for everyone, and don’t automatically equal higher swing speeds.

A shaft’s bend profile is rarely advertised, but has huge role to play in different swing styles.

A shaft has literally no effect on spin rate for slower swing speeds.

Cost

One thing we want to get out in the open right away is that price really has no correlation with performance.  A $300 shaft could perform identically to a $40 one, so don’t be so quick to assume that you can buy performance.  Aside from brand name and marketing dollars, when it comes to price, it really comes down to how difficult the shaft is to make and with what materials it’s made from.  For example, a light weight shaft with low torque is going to be very difficult to build, and likely will require higher-end materials – thus the added price. On the other hand, a 65-gram shaft with 5.0 flex can be made rather cheaply, and you are quite common, so don’t be fooled into thinking your buying quality just because of the pricetag.

Shaft Flex

Which golf shaft flex should I use, and how do I find out?

First and foremost, golfers need to understand that there is no industry standard when it comes to shaft flex.  A regular for one brand can perform like a stiff for another, and vice versa, also, two identical stiff shafts from the same brand can also perform quite differently as tolerances for flexes range quite a bit. Most golfers have become accustom to a specific shaft flex and just gravitate towards that flex for their new driver, but it’s always best to test a variety of shafts and flexes when buying a new driver.

With that said there’s quite a variety of flexes of shafts available – L for ladies, A for seniors, Regular, Stiff, X-Stiff and even some XX-Stiff and beyond.  These shaft flexes are ultimately determined by “twanging” them in a vice with set weight amounts and creating a shaft profile by analyzing their frequency at 7 distinct locations. Each shafts frequency is determined in cycles per minute (CPM), and in a nutshell the higher the frequency, the stiffer the shaft will have at that particular point.

Below is an image of a shaft test that was done on a variety of regular shafts, and it also shows the 7 distinct locations where frequencies are tested.  This test was using a 454 gram weight at the tip, and the frequency was measured.  We would expect to see no more than a 7 CPM difference among all these regular shafts at both the 41” and 36” points to consider them the same flex.  We actually see a difference of 28 CPM, equating to nearly four different shaft flexes (if you go by some other studies). This simple test proves not all same-flex shafts are created equally.

Shaft Flex Chart

How does a player determine what shaft flex they need? Swing speed is often cited as the surest way – but this is inaccurate. You will even likely find this on a majority of shaft company websites, indicating swing speeds of 90MPH to are regular shafts, and 100-105MPH are stiff and so on, but this is misleading.  Shaft flexes vary greatly between companies, and your swing type plays a large factor if what shaft flex is right for your game. We can’t emphasize enough how important fitting is when it comes to shafts, or at a minimum trying a variety of shafts when possible before buying.

Common shaft related “flex issues”:

  • Too little flex and you’ll have a hard time squaring the face, leaving it open at impact and causing a slice.
  • Too much flex and the clubhead can often come into impact closed causing low hooks.

Shaft Characteristics

How do shaft characteristics impact my golf swing?

When shaft companies talk about a shaft being “tip stiff” or “butt stiff” ultimately they are talking about the ‘bend profile’ or ‘shaft profile’. We discussed this a bit earlier with the frequency testing image chart above.  Looking closer at the stats, you’ll notice that the Fujikura Fit-On shaft had the highest tip frequency, and ultimately would have the stiffest tip of the bunch.  Graphite design’s shaft would have the softest butt.

later-release

Where a shaft kicks plays a particular role is ball flight trajectory. In general, when a shaft has a high kick point you get a lower trajectory, and alternatively, low kick points equal a higher trajectory.  But what few golfers realize is that how you swing the club also plays a particular role in where a shaft will load – more specifically both a player’s tempo and release point.

A player’s swing tempo can cause shafts to flex and load in different ways.  A player whose swing tempo is quicker often causes a shaft to load higher than those with a smoother transition.  Furthermore, a player whose release point is later in the swing will likely need a shaft with a stiffer tip than those who release earlier.

In the illustration to the right you’ll see the classic “lag” position with a clock overlay.  In this image, this golfer’s wrists are fully cocked, and have yet to release.  But at he gets closer to the ball, his hands begin dropping down from 9 o’clock to 8 o’clock, and the later he releases them, the faster the club speed will increase before he reaches impact (6 o’clock).  The shaft reacts to this dramatic boost in speed and how it responds can ultimately affect everything from spin, accuracy and distance.

Common shaft characteristic related issues:

  • Player’s with quick transitions cause the shaft to load higher than those with smoother transitions, this could lead to lower ball flights, if not fixed by a stiffer mid-section.
  • Player’s with a late release may suffer from inconsistency at impact (slices and hooks) if their tip is not stiff enough to support the acceleration of their club into the ball.
  • Smooth tempo swings may run into issues with a really stiff tipped shaft in terms of feel and feedback.

Shaft Weight

What effect does shaft weight have on your golf swing/the golf ball?

Shaft weight and torque often come hand in hand.  For the longest time most driver shafts we between 55-65 grams, and there was very little variations.  Lately with new advances in shaft technology, there has been a movement towards very light shafts, as low as 39 grams, and shafts upwards of 100+ grams.  Shaft weight has a big effect on feel as it effects the overall swing weight of a club quite dramatically.  It used to be assumed that a lighter shaft meant a lighter flex, but with new technology this simply isn’t true anymore.  Lighter shafts also don’t necessarily mean faster swing speeds as some major OEM would have you believe – as a shafts bend profile and your swing type has a much larger effect on swing speed. Players with a smooth swing tempo may indeed gain a few yards from a lighter shaft, but those who have a quicker swing may just see an increase in shot dispersion.

With all this said, in general, heavier shafts are reserved for faster swings and transitions, and for players looking for added stability, lower torque and often a lower trajectory.  The downside is that these shafts can often lack the feel of their lighter counterparts.

Common shaft weight related issues:

  • Lightweight shafts often have higher torque and thus more feel, but may cause consistency issues with players whose tempo is quicker or release is later.
  • Lightweight shafts can cause ballooned shots for faster swinging players, and often are accompanied by draw spin.
  • Heavier shafts are reserved for players with faster swings and transitions, smoother swinging players or slower swinging players will feel like they are swinging and iron rod and will suffer from a low trajectory and often an open clubface at impact.
  • Switching shafts of vastly different weights will change your clubs swingweight, making it feel very different throughout the swing.

Torque

What role does torque play in golf shafts?

Torque is a measurement of how much a shaft resists twisting during the swing.  This is measured by applying a weight perpendicular to the tip of the shaft at a set distance and measuring the number of degrees the shaft twists.  The lower the number, the higher the shaft resists twisting and vice versa. The problem though with these numbers, is that again, there is no universal standard for judging torque.  Depending on how the shaft is tested, how much weight is applied and where on the shaft, manufacturers can basically make their torque numbers read whatever they like.  So comparing shafts one to one, is a challenge.

Shafts can range in torque from 1-9 degrees these days, while 15+ years ago you’d find shafts well over 10 degrees.  Shaft torque plays a very large role in helping square the clubface at impact, and thus correlates directly to accuracy.  Also torque plays a very large role in the feel of your shaft.  Shafts with very little torque can feel ‘boardy’ and ‘rigid’ while shafts with high torque can feel “whippy” and ‘loose’ throughout the swing.

Common shaft torque related issues:

  • Low torque shafts are reserved for faster swing speeds, and without sufficient speed can feel boardy, rigid, cause slices and a lower trajectory.
  • High torque shafts are reserved for slower or smoother swing speeds, and when swung too quickly can feel loose and whippy, often causing higher than expected trajectories with draw spin.
  • Torque plays a big role in feel, and your swing style plays a big role in torque, therefore, don’t simply rule out a low torque shaft if your swing is not “fast enough” and same goes for higher torque shafts for faster swings.

Spin

Shaft manufacturers have often touted “low spinning” shafts, but this is really a misleading myth of shafts.  Yes, some golfers, with specific swing characteristics can notice a difference in ball spin from shaft to shaft but for the majority of golfers, this plays little to no role whatsoever.  Golfers with swing speeds less than 100 MPH wouldn’t see much effect on spin when moving from shaft to shaft. With that said, if you’re in the upper echelon of swing speeds however (100MPH+), and you have a late release, your shaft can actually bow forward as you approach impact, effectively de-lofting the club.  This shaft characteristic occurs in most shafts right after the club goes through the dramatic speed change as your wrists release. But, this only can effect spin rates if the shaft is bowed at the point of impact.  This will lower your trajectory and is one of the few ways a shaft can influence spin rate.

For the rest of us however, the amount of spin imparted on the ball at impact is mostly caused by dynamic loft (which takes into account angle of attack and club loft), your swing speed, where you release your wrists in your swing and where on the clubface you impact the ball.

Shaft Diameter

This is one of the final factors in shaft characteristics to consider.  Most driver shafts for amateurs are pretty standard in at around 0.335” in the tip, but some shafts carry a 0.350” tip.  The butt end of the shaft is pretty standard at 0.6″.  Fairway woods, hybrid and iron shafts tend to be all be even thicker in the tip.  Ultimately, the wider the tip of the shaft the more stable it will be at impact (anyone remember the Wilson Fat Shafts and their stability claims? They carried a 0.5” shaft tip diameter – for irons mind you).  Professionals often use 0.350” tipped shafts for their added stability.  For the majority of players however anything “stock” diamater will be all you ever need.

Shaft Length

Shaft length is the final factor playing a role in performance.  Most shafts are around the same length (44-46 inches) but these past few years we’ve seen shafts range up to 48 (Cobra Long Tom).  Generally the longer the shaft, the faster the tip will be traveling, but again as we’ve said before swing tempo and release play a bigger role here in determining if increased length actually leads to more yards on the course or not.

Shafts can be tipped.  You’ll often find tipping charts on a variety of golf shaft websites, and generally a tipped shaft will become slightly stiffer and torque slightly less.  Mostly reserved for players who would know the difference in minute shaft changes, this should only really be done if you are trying to tweak a shaft to create that perfect “shaft profile”.

Shafts can also be extended, although this is not recommended.  You can add up to 2″ on the butt end of the club, but this often messes with your clubs swing weight and feel throughout the swing.  Furthermore it can often make your clubs butt end feel unresponsive.

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That about covers it.  As you can see, golf shafts are incredibly complex, and unfortunately there are no standards to govern them universally.  This basically allows manufacturers to claim whatever they want to get you to buy them. So the next time you’re in the market for a new shaft, consider this before forking out the dough to buy the next best thing, and more importantly if your game warrants it, it may be time to go to a shaft fitting professional to find a shaft that truly meets your swing’s needs.

Good luck!

 

The Golf Drill GuruThe Ultimate Golf Shaft 101 Guide

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