Are You Looking to “Upgrade” Your Golf Shaft?
What do you really need in a golf shaft?
Needless to say, when it comes to golf shafts, I’ve been around the block, so to speak.
Not that way- get your mind out of the gutter!
I’ve spent a lot of money- too much if you ask my wife!- believing I was chasing some holy grail golf shaft. The truth is, it was a fool’s errand.
How do you find the right golf shaft? You have to ask yourself: what do you really need from it?
Sure, you can buy a shaft for $400 and it’ll perform very well, as well as (maybe) make you the envy of your friends… but that isn’t always the case.
From all my experiences, not just in golf but life as well, you don’t always “get what you pay for” when you drop a lot of cash on a commodity.
Yes, you read that right: a golf shaft is a commodity.
It has a job in the overall design of a golf club: present the clubface squarely to the ball.
You control most of that, though; the golf shaft just helps.
Believe me, buying a golf shaft can be confusing. And frustrating.
Everyone wants to play better golf, but there are too many people out there claiming the shaft is the most important part of the golf club… the “engine” of the club if you will.
Well, club fitting guru Tom Wishon believes otherwise.
He states that the shaft is the “transmission”. You are the engine, the shaft transmits the power/energy you create to the club head.
Makes a ton of sense, right? Ever see a golf club swing itself? I thought not…
Take a moment to reflect on this little nugget: price isn’t the only factor when choosing a golf shaft.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just like every other aspect of life- be it cars, peas, suits, shoes, or whatever- you always have options. If you have a budget, stick to it. You don’t need to break the bank to play a high level of golf.
By the way, I made a video. I call it “Epic Shaft Battle”. It’s the first in a series of “battles” between two shafts. If you’re interested, you can check it out here if you like.
When you’re ready to buy a new golf shaft, are you really ready?
Do you know how to buy one?
Before you go giggity looking online, there are some things you should know before dropping three bills on one.
Do you see this? It’s called a Shaft Bend Profile. Specifically, this is a profile of a pretty popular golf shaft model, in “S” flex.
Now’s probably the time you’re asking “what the hell”? Well.
A shaft profile is a frequency measurement taken at seven different points along a golf shaft.
Yes, believe it or not, there are shafts that can and do play the same.
There is no such thing as “standards” in golf shaft manufacturing.
- Different sized clamps.
- Arm length and weight of the torque tester.
- The heft of the tip weight used for frequency testing.
This is why, if you ever do any digging, you might find that what the shaft OEM states in their tech specs might differ from what a Wishon Fitter or Hireko Golf states in their findings.
Whether you spend $4 or $400 on a golf shaft, no one should have that feeling of “why the hell did I buy this?”.
But why is it so mysterious?
- Transmit the energy you create with your swing to the club head
- Present the clubface to the ball squarely and consistently
Shaft flex is still important because of feel.
If splurging on a $400 shaft makes you happy, I’ll be happy for you. If you come to me with the intent of wanting a $400 shaft, I’ll gladly find one for you.
I do offer some that aren’t $400, but they’re pretty damn good shafts in the $175-$250 range.
What does make a golf shaft “feel” different?
People get this preconceived notion of “feel” when it comes to all aspects of the golf club. Shafts, grips, even club heads!
No, I’m not talking about the head design, or what metal is somehow “better” than the other. Click that link to see what I’m talking about (it’ll open in a new tab).
When I’m talking about the different kind of feels in a golf shaft, I’m talking about things like swing weight (head heft) and shaft flex.
I had originally thought that shaft flex having an effect on playability was kind of bullshit, but after an email exchange with renowned club fitter (and just an awesome guy) Tom Wishon, I realized I had been wrong… from a certain point of view.
Here’s a portion of what he had to say about the effect of what the golfer “feels” with a shaft that’s properly fit for flex:
“(T)he ability to detect one shot as solid feeling and another as more dead or boardy or unsolid is something that some mid and high handicappers can sense…
If the shaft is too stiff for the golfer’s speed and downswing force, it will transmit more of a dead or boardy impact feel to a golfer who does have the ability to sense such differences in the feel of impact.
And conversely, if the shaft is matched well in stiffness design to the golfer’s speed and downswing force… that shaft will transmit a more solid impact feel, or less boardy feel.
While stiffness feel has nothing directly to do with shot performance it most certainly can have a lot to do with a golfer’s swing consistency. (emphasis mine)
Few golfers who get an unsolid feel of impact tend to achieve very good swing tempo or swing timing consistency because it is very common when feeling an unsolid impact to try to swing harder or swing differently as a way to try to make the shot feel more solid.
But when impact feels very solid, this very often results in the golfer being able to achieve a little better swing to swing consistency in their tempo and timing. Of course having the right total weight and swingweight is as much and even more of a contributor to tempo and timing consistency too”.
So while multiple shafts with the same bend profile would suggest they’ll “feel” the same, those with varying degrees of stiffness will provide different “feels”.
The price of the shaft has no bearing on it- unless you want it to.
What does that mean for you? It depends on what you’re looking for. Looking at this picture again:
- Need a lower, more penetrating ball flight? The light green shaft would likely be your best bet
- If you need a higher ball flight, the light blue shaft would be your best bet.
- Do you prefer a more firm feeling shaft? Those lower on the graph would be a good place to start.
- Conversely, if you want a more flexible feeling, you should be looking for shafts higher on the graph
Keep in mind that for #’s 1 and 2, this is only if you make a very specific move in the golf swing.
Also keep in mind that the effects of the shaft will be minimal, at best, especially if you’re someone that gets fitted for their gear currently.
If you’re a “caster”, meaning, you let go of the release too soon, none of this information will help you.
When you cast the club, you’re throwing away all the energy you’ve built up in the backswing.
When it comes to buying a new golf shaft, it’s a lot more than just “Oh, I think this is a good shaft, <insert tour pro’s name here> uses it… I’m gonna buy it!”.
If you want to play your best, you should seriously consider getting fitted. Click here to read my How-To Guide on surviving your first fitting experience!
I can help you; just contact me to get started.
Or you can see someone local.
There are some things you need to know before making a golf shaft change, though.
I know some people that change their golf shafts as often as they change their pants. With the coming of the adjustable hosel, it makes swapping shafts even easier.
But just because you can change the shaft, does that mean you should? Are there any reasons to actually make the switch?
There is a nice video by Mark Crossfield (that you can see here) that details the information. For those that suffer from “tl;dr” syndrome, the short answer is, the shaft only accounts for “about 1%” (his words) of the club’s overall performance.
Yes, it’s that unimportant.
Well, it’s not that it’s completely useless, so don’t get too upset. We’ve established that, remember? Anyway, there are only a handful of specs we need to look at:
One: The Weight
The weight of the shaft is important. If a shaft’s too heavy, it’ll be too hard for you to swing fast enough to get good launch numbers. Conversely, if it’s too light, you’ll risk over-swinging. Somewhere between too light and too heavy is “Just Right”- the weight that creates the perfect blend of speed and balance.
Two: The Flex
No, it’s not what you think. Shaft flex alone plays no part in how the club performs. But we already discussed that having a flex match your swing speed and transition will help you create a solid feel at impact, which can also help with your tempo and timing.
I’m going to stop right here and bust a long-standing myth: clubhead material plays no part in what you “feel” at impact.
Sorry, but it’s not your fault.
Things come up, myths, that get perpetuated to the point they become “truths”… it doesn’t do anyone any good.
Think about it for a second. Titanium is the hardest metal used in a golf club. But if you flush a well-fit driver, the feel is just smooth. You can “feel it in your toes (or soul, for the more spiritual)” when you do.
The same can be said for both stainless and carbon steel irons. It’s not the metal, it’s the fit.
So why do those “players” irons (the carbon steel versions) cost more? To put it simply- they take longer to make, with more hand operations.
An investment cast club head costs less to make. That was the whole point of Karsten Solheim (founder of Ping) fine-tuning the method for golf clubs; he wanted to make clubs that didn’t just perform well, but were affordable, too.
The process, in a nutshell: a mold is made, molten metal (usually stainless steels like 303, 304, 431 and 17-4) is poured into the mold. The metal cools, and voila!- a club head is born.
When it comes to forging a club, a billet of carbon steel (examples: 1025, 1018, 8620) is set in a machine. The machine has a die made to resemble the shape of a club head. The machine then pounds the living crap out of the billet, until the shape is made.
There is excess material that is produced when the billet is hammered in the die; that’s called “flash”, and it has to be ground off. That’s one of the extra steps needed, which adds to the cost. There’s more grinding, polishing, and drilling. Some models have the hosel made separately, which needs to be welded on later.
There’s also the chrome-plating process that adds to the cost. I worked in an automotive factory at one point in my life that had a chrome plating department. They ended up ditching it because the cost to run it was high and the environmental laws were cumbersome. Golf OEMs suffer from those same trials and tribulations with their plating processes.
Anyway, for the company I worked for it wasn’t worth having it, even to make higher-priced service parts for outdated models. It was just easier and less costly for the company to move away from doing any of that kind of work.
According to Dave Tutelman:
The “softness” of feel is a combination of the softness of the clubhead and that of the ball. More precisely, the softness of feel is the inverse of the total stiffness of the collision between ball and clubhead. Stiffness is measured as a force divided by the deflection (in this case, the compression) produced by the force, designated “force/deflection”. The lower this ratio (either due to reduced force or a longer compression), the softer the collision feels.
He has an equation to find this:
Force/Deflection Overall = 1/(1/Kb) + (1/Kh)
Kb= Force Deflection of the ball
Kh= Force Deflection of the clubhead
So what’s that leave us? In short, there’s only “a 0.2% reduction in overall stiffness of the collision”. Put another way, a forged model iron head has only a 0.2% softer-feeling impact feel than a cast iron head.
Keep reading to find out how that applies to the golf shaft!
What does this mean for the golf shaft?
Well, do you know about swing speed ratings? That’s where the OEM decides what swing speed range is best suited for a particular shaft flex. A generic example would be a swing speed range of 85-95mph would be good for the “S” flex.
Why are we worrying about this? It should be noted that this also doesn’t take into account your “transition”, the point in the swing where you transition from the backswing to the downswing.
Another generic example: let’s say you have a swing speed of 90mph, with an aggressive transition. You’d think that the shaft from the previous example would be the right shaft… but you might be wrong. The general rule of thumb is:
- With a “normal” transition, stick to the flex rating of your swing speed
- For a “smooth/passive” transition, go a flex softer (“R” instead of “S”)
- If you have an “aggressive” transition, go a flex stiffer (“X” instead of “S”)
But what does that do? Does it mean you’ll be bombing it 300+ yards right down the fairway every time?
Sorry, but if you aren’t swinging it 105+ mph already, you won’t be getting 300 yards. Physics has more to say on that than the shaft flex. What it does do, however, is create a pleasant “feel” during the swing and at impact.
A shaft that has a flex that matches up to your swing speed and transition will “feel” good. It’ll help create that “pure” feeling- especially if you make contact with the “sweet spot”!
It also helps you create and maintain a solid swing rhythm, which means you’ll get a more repeatable swing and more consistent results. Not as “sexy” as a 300-yard drive, but lower golf scores never goes out of style!
Now you might be wondering “so when is a good time to switch shafts”?
I wrote about this in an earlier post, but the basics are:
- You’re hitting the “sweet spot”, but feel as if you’re not getting the distance you should
- Your impacts are all over the club face (this could be a swing weight and/or, most likely, a length issue, though)
- If you can’t keep your balance throughout the swing
- Impact feels harsh (shaft too light or the flex is too stiff) or dead (shaft too heavy or the flex is too soft)
- You get tired on the range (shaft too heavy)
Among other things. If we’re talking about drivers, it’s more important to get the loft of the club to match your swing speed and angle of attack and the length of the club to match your swing. Yes, get the shaft fitted, but put it lower on the priority list.
When you’re looking to upgrade something, it’s always a good idea to make sure that it truly is an upgrade. Changing for change’s sake, or for whatever reason other than enhancing your play, is never a good idea.