It’s almost a cliché to say that the shaft is the engine of the club. It does transfer the energy from your swing to the clubhead and without the correct shaft for your swing, that energy can go to waste. As a clubfitter friend once said to me, “a well fit shaft can make a bad clubhead work well, but a bad shaft on a good clubhead will kill that clubhead.” I guess that means the shaft is important.
Effective transfer of energy involves the right shaft firmness to maximize your swing speed and still return the head to the correct position as it contacts the ball. Much like a baseball pitchers arm bends and then straightens as it releases the ball, so too must a good shaft release that stored energy from the back swing onto the ball.
Although everyone agrees that the correct shaft is critical for optimal distance and accuracy, the process of finding the absolute best shaft for you may not be so easy. The pros with their endorsement dollars and manufacturer gurus can try out hundreds of shafts and analyze electronically how each shaft effects their performance. Average golfers often have to accept off-the-shelf clubs or recommendations from store personnel.
Finding the Correct Shaft
So how do we go about finding the correct shaft and how much does it really matter to the average golfer? Much of the decision depends once again on how well we know Your swing. Your swing speed is very important to understand. Ball flight is also important. If your typical shot flies low than perhaps your shaft is too firm. Or perhaps the bend point is too high.
Swing tempo is also important. If you have a fast, quick swing you probably need a different shaft than someone who has a long, smooth swing. The shaft will respond differently under different conditions. So you need to understand how your swing effects the shaft.
The good news is it doesn’t take too much to get you in the right ball park. A basic understanding of your swing will get you into a pretty useable shaft. In a static club fitting the most common question is…how far do you hit your 5 iron in the air? Or…how far can you carry the ball with your driver? If you can answer those questions honestly, you can be fitted pretty well for your swing.
But does being in the ball park get you that extra 10 or 15 yards that we all want to see in our drives? Maybe not. To sqeeze every last yard out of our swings, and our $400 titanium driver, we need a little more precision in our fitting. Either you or a quality clubfitter will need to analyze your swing in a bit more detail. This is where a dynamic fitting may be required. We’ll get into the details in our club fitting section. But first a bit more about shafts.
Graphite Versus Steel
So why should you spring for the more expensive graphite shaft? Maybe you shouldn’t. The main benefit of graphite is lightness which translates into faster club speed and more distance. Steel is still considered better for accuracy. But new steel shafts are getting almost as light as graphite. And new graphite shafts are getting almost as accurate as steel. What to do?
Generally today’s standard solution is to use steel shafts for your irons, the accuracy clubs, and graphite for the distance clubs. The hyrbrids and long irons may fall into that gray area where personal preference rules. If you plan on hitting that 2 hybrid off the tee than maybe graphite is right. If it is going to be your main approach club from 170-200 yards than maybe steel is better. The distance difference will only be about 3-5 yards for the average golfer…more for slower swing speeds like women and seniors.
Another factor might be feel. Graphite shafts are generally thought to have a softer feel at impact and less vibrations. Folks with arthritis or carpel tunnel syndrome may feel better with graphite shafts on all clubs. Just remember if you’ve got hand problems keep those grips clean and tacky. Holding on too tightly to a worn grip can sure negate the softness of a graphite shaft and add to existing injuries—not to mention spoil the tempo of your swing.
Graphite quality is much better
Graphite shafts used to have a repulation for inconsistency. Some golfers complained of balls flying in all directions. Today modern manufacturing methods have eliminated that inconsistency and they are much better than even a couple of years ago. Graphite is clearly here to stay and who knows, as they become more consistent and less expensive, they may replace steel althogether.
What Are The Hot shafts?
With new shaft technology coming all the time picking the latest greatest shaft is difficult. Ten years ago the Grafalloy Pro-Lite was the favorite of the pros. Then the UST Pro-Force came into favor. Now the Fujikura Speeder, Graphite Design YS, and the Aldila NV are the darlings of the professionals and available on many of the high end drivers. Does that mean the Pro-Lite and the Pro-Force (which are still available) are not any good. No…those are still fine shafts just not the most popular flavor at the moment.
So what does it all mean to you. No less than Tom Wishon, in his great book, In Search for the Perfect Club says, that if you rip the labels off the shafts and put them in a pile it would take a shaft design expert to tell them apart. Not to imply that the shaft is not important, but to the average golfer the differences for the most part will be minor. Tom’s final point about how important the shaft is to the execution of each shot is… “a lot, but not as much as the clubhead.”
An important aspect of the shaft that is not often understood is that it is the main determiner of the total weight of the club. This is a big factor in how the club feels as well as how quickly it can be swung. Did you know that when you buy a club with a graphite shaft, that club is made a little bit longer (1/4″-1/2″) than the steel shaft for the same club? This is to compensate for the overall weight of the graphite shaft being lighter. Otherwise the swing weight of the club will be compromised.
All graphite shafts are light but one of the features of the really good shafts is lightness. To make a shaft strong and light requires a bit more technology. The shafts under 70 grams are usually made by the top shaft manufacturers. The Graffaloy ProLite 35 weighs only 62 grams. That is half the weight of the True Temper Dynamic Gold steel shaft which weighs twice as much. For ladies and seniors, shaft weight can make a major difference in swing speed.
The TrueTemper Dynamic Gold Shaft
Shaft Flex Point
A shaft also have different points along the shaft where it flexes. This is called bend point (also flex or kick point). A low bend point (closer to the clubhead) will tend to make the ball go higher. A mid bend point will keep the ball lower. Generally the slower your swing speed the lower your kick point should be— yet another reason to understand your own ball flight tendencies.
Ulitmately the most important personal judgement of wether a shaft is right for you is how it feels. Sometimes we just know when everything is right. We can feel the clubhead and sense when the ball hits the sweet spot and we just go …yaaaaaa! That’t it.
So what makes us feel that way? It’s a combination of all the factors of a shaft being perfect. The weight, the flex, the kick point all combine to give us that feedback in our hands that says rightness. We sense a balance between all the components that ends up as optimum clubhead speed. Of course it doesn’t hurt to look up and see the ball sailing long and straight.