Are You Getting Shafted?

Players taking golf lessons sometimes ask me about shafts. They wonder if using different shafts really matters. It’s a good question. My answer: it probably matters more for professional golfers, like Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els, than it does for recreational golfers, like you and me. Matters, but it does matter for recreational golfers, which is why I cover them in my golf tips.

Most major manufacturers think so, too. That’s why they work with top companies to produce shafts designed specifically for their clubs, especially when it comes to metal drivers. Manufacturers want to make sure golfers get the most out of their clubs, so they invest the time, effort, and money to find a good shaft. Rest assured, you’re getting something decent with the club, something that can help lower your golf handicap.

Unfortunately, stock shafts are designed to accommodate groups of players, not the individual. The question is whether the shaft’s flex profile sufficiently matches your swing. Two players with identical swing speeds might need different shafts that still measure at the same overall stiffness. A golfer with a short swing requires a stiffer tip, while a player with a long swing needs a softer tip with a stiffer butt section. The first thing you need to do, then, is determine if the shaft you’re using is right for you.

Five Telltale Signs
How can you tell if the shafts on you clubs are right for you? Here are five telltale signs that you’re using the wrong shaft:

1. Center hits don’t feel solid
2. Ball starts out low; takes off midway in flight
3. You swing easier or harder to make the club feel right
4. Bad shots curve differently compared to other shots
5. Trajectory is either too low or too high

If you’re experiencing these signs, chances are you have the wrong shafts. However, don’t go running to your local sports store to buy new clubs just yet. First, make sure your problems are shaft-related, not swing-related, which you can do by working with a professional teacher. If the shafts are not right for your swing and your serious about golf, then you’ll need new shafts. What are the key considerations when choosing new shafts?

Material of construction is one. Shafts come in either steel or graphite. Steel is a more durable and reliable than graphite. It’s also less expensive and heavier, and has a lower torque rating than graphite. Graphite offers improved club head speed, better shock absorption, and increased flex. Since it has a better torque rating than steel, graphite increases the range of choices for golfers.

Flex is another key consideration with shafts. Flex is a shaft’s ability to bend during the golf swing, as I’ve explained in my golf tips. It may be the most important consideration of all. Of course, you can’t actually see the bend in the shaft with the naked eye. Its bend is subtle and brought about by the force and weight of the club head as it swings. But it’s there. Flex ratings are generally categorized as follows: Ladies (L), Regular (R), Senior (S), and Extra Stiff (XS).

Shaft Frequency
Unfortunately, flex ratings aren’t always consistent. One company’s regular is another company’s stiff. So many people use shaft frequency to measure flex. Shaft frequency is a more precise measurement of flex. Taken by a machine, shaft frequency is the number of times a shaft oscillates, either vertically or horizontally, known as cycles per minute, or CPM. A shaft with a higher frequency (more CPMs) is stiffer than one with a lower frequency (fewer CPMs).

By using frequency, you can tell which shaft is stiffer and by how much. Typically, there are 10 cycles between shaft flexes. Thus, if one shaft registers 250 on a frequency machine and another 270, there’s a two-flex shaft difference between the two clubs, regardless of what the manufacturer says. By assigning a specific frequency number to a shaft, you can get a better gauge on the flexibility between different shafts.

Usually a player with a fast swing requires a shaft with less flex. Those with a slower swing needs a shaft with greater flex. Its important to determine the correct flex for your swing. Shaft flex can affect the accuracy and distance of your shots. So if you have a flex that doesn’t match your swing characteristic, your shots may not hit their desired target.

Cost and Consistencies
Cost is a third consideration when it comes to shafts. By experimenting with expensive composites, layering, and fiber direction shaft makers can tailor things like flex while minimizing deformation. The slightest undesirable can magnify inconsistencies in a swing. However, the cost of chasing these consistencies, which often exceed the players swing consistencies, is often extremely expensive. Other key considerations with shafts are torsional resistance and weight.

Ultimately, the choice of a new shaft will come down to feel. One way to find the right feel is to take your favorite club, one that you hit well and feels right, and copy that shaft for your other clubs. Remember, having the right equipment in golf is important. It can go a long way toward cutting your golf handicap down to a respectable level.

Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Moorehouse