Is golf shaft flex important?
Like, life- (or golf-) saving important? Or, are we putting too much stock into these steel and graphite tubes?
Show of hands: who knows what a golf shaft “Bend Profile” is?
That’s what I’m here for: to tell you what they are, why you should care about them, and if flex really matters to your game.
I know, I know… you’re asking yourself: “Is golf shaft flex important? Like, really important?”.
In a word- no, but yes. Before you start pulling your hair out or mother-f*cking me and clicking the “X” in the upper right-hand corner, hear me out.
Some answers aren’t as simple as it seems, and stuff like shaft flex has a lot of myth (read: bullshit) attached to it.
First, an example. I asked just a bit ago if you’ve ever seen a shaft bend profile; if you haven’t, here’s what it looks like:
Here’s one lone shaft, one many of us (especially the older groups) know pretty well: the Aldila NV 65, in “S” flex.
On this graph:
- the Y-axis, the vertical, is the number of cycles per minute (CPM) the shaft exhibits.
- the X-axis, the horizontal, is a section of the shaft that’s held in the clamp while the remainder of the shaft is “twanged”.
This means that there are 7 sections measured on a golf shaft. For reference, “1” is the butt, or grip, end of the shaft, while “7” is the tip end.
The (semi-) Technical Stuff
How is it measured? For the first five sections, the “club fitter standard” 205-gram weight is used to make the shaft flex. For the last two, the tip section, a 454-gram weight is used.
Why the change? It’s so that the graph maintains an upward slope. It looks natural. If a 205-gram weight is used, it wouldn’t make that smaller section flex very well, so there’d be a sharp drop-off.
It’d just look… weird.
But golf shaft companies already give a flex rating…
When you read a shaft’s datasheet flex rating, it’s only measured at the butt end (section 1). For example, you look up the Aldila NV and (hopefully) it says that for an “S” flex shaft, it’s CPM would be something like 250. That means that it CPMs out at 250, but only at the butt end (zone 1).
It’s been that way for many years, and most shaft companies only broadcast that number… if they tell you, that is.
A Shaft Bend Profile, on the other hand, covers the entire length of the shaft. Doing it this way gives you a better idea of what you might feel (more on that later) as you swing it.
Now, let’s see how that same family of shafts behaves among three different flexes:
- Black Line: NV 65 S
- Blue Line: NV 65 R
- Red Line: NV 65 X
Note that they exhibit similar properties (the curvature of the line). The black line is the “base”. If a shaft is weaker, it’s below the baseline. If it’s firmer, it’s above the baseline.
As we can see, the blue “R” flex line is below the black “S” flex line… barely. The red “X” flex line is slightly above the black baseline.
One more example, this time with a different model of the same flex compared to the NV 65 S:
Here’s the NV 65 S compared to the NV RIP’d 65 S. Notice how the majority of the shaft is similar, yet in the middle, there’s a gap- showing the NV Rip’d to be a little stiffer in that area?
OK, one more, but something a little different: we’ll compare the Aldila RIP 60 to the made-for (Callaway) Aldila RIP 60, both in “R” flex (the OG NV from before is still there, as a baseline):
What can you see? Well, the “S”-flexed NV is stiffer than the aftermarket version of the RIP, but not by much. There’s virtually no difference between the NV 65 S and the RIP 60R, apart from a stretch between zones 4 and 5 and again between 6 and 7. But again, there’s not that much of a difference.
The bigger difference is with the proprietary version of the RIP. It is significantly weaker than both the NV and the RIP starting in zone 4 and moving all the way to the tip (section 7).
Now, before you get all “made-for shafts suck” on me, or start listening to someone that says that, keep in mind one thing: proprietary shafts absolutely do not suck. They’re different, that’s all.
It’s a lot like saying the steering wheel you currently have on your car “sucks”, compared to an aftermarket model. Yes, it’d be cool to have a chain steering wheel, like this one:
But who’s to say which is “better”? How many people care if they’re using the proprietary, or “made for”, steering wheel? If it works, that’s all that matters. The same goes for golf shafts- it doesn’t have to be a mystery. If it works, that’s all that matters.
As the above SBP graph shows, made-for shafts are sometimes made weaker than their aftermarket offerings. It’s been said many times, and it’s true. But why?
The answer’s very simple: it’s because of YOU.
Club manufacturers (as well as us fitters) know you fib on your swing speed. They know you don’t really know how far you hit your 7 iron, so you either make it up or use a career-long that you remember vividly… but have only managed once or twice.
They know that many of you’ll buy the “S” flex because it’s got enough machismo without making you seem out of touch with reality. Let’s use one last example:
Can you guess the shafts?
Seriously, do you know?
What we have here is a handful of Project X shafts; one is the “real deal”, made by True Temper, the others are “made for” versions. We also have the NV 65 S, the baseline shaft we’ve been using throughout this whole article.
You’re probably thinking, “how the hell was I supposed to know?”. You weren’t supposed to, and that’s the point. Just like with carbon steel heads, you have no idea what’s what unless you’re told.
Trust me; if they think it’s gonna be a selling point, they’ll make absolutely sure to tell you.
People see the words “made for <brand name>” and automatically write it off. That can be a big mistake! But what if all shafts came in one color?
Obviously, that will never happen, because that’s one way for shaft manufacturer’s to set themselves apart. For many cases, as we’ve seen already, it’s the only way they can set themselves apart!
How does this all relate to you?
Well, for one thing, the shaft’s not some magic wand, able to transform you into Bubba or Tiger.
Matter of fact, it has no bearing on performance at all, according to Mark Crossfield.
I also have a video I’d like to share on the subject:
Virtually the same output with two totally different shafts. One, a popular model, another an almost complete unknown. Are you still asking yourself “is golf shaft flex important”?
Well… this test should come with an asterisk.
When A Shaft Fits a Golfer
What really happens is, when you have a shaft that fits your swing, everything just feels good to you.
- The impact will feel good to you.
- The swing tempo and rhythm will match what you do naturally,
- And the release can happen at a later (read: better) time. Especially when the right swing weight (head heft) also matches your swing characteristics.
It’s almost like a freaking Micheal Bolton song…
go back and reread that subheading… betcha can’t do it without singing that song!
In short, it can provide consistency.
Of course, you can sabotage it by:
- using a loft that’s too low or too high for your swing speed and angle of attack
- with a grip size that doesn’t fit your hands or a grip that doesn’t feel good to you
- by playing a club that’s too long for you
and a number of other build missteps.
What that means is, the shaft, or more specifically, shaft flex, is not the most important spec of the club. They’re ALL important. Shaft flex is just one ingredient to the recipe.
That’s why I have my Ten Pillars of Golf Club Fitting:
I’ll leave you with an analogy, again, using suits:
Just fitting shafts to your swing is a lot like only fitting the sleeves of your jacket. Sure, the arms may be alright, but what if the chest area is too big? What if the collar doesn’t lay correctly across the back of your neck? The whole thing needs to be fitted for you to look your best.
The same thing goes for golf clubs. The shaft should be fitted, but so should the entire club.
On To You!
What’d you think? Happy that you don’t have to spend $300 on a golf shaft if you don’t want to? Pissed because now you’d feel guilty? Indifferent? Do you have a favorite golf shaft? Let me know in the comments!