How Important is the Shaft in the Performance of Golf Clubs?

Posted by on Sep 13, 2011 in Shaft Fitting | 11 comments

Ever heard this phrase?

“The Shaft is the Engine of the Golf Club”

Actually, those who believe this have their auto parts mixed up.  In reality, the shaft is more like the TRANSMISSION of the golf club because it connects the golfer’s hands to the clubhead and allows the golfer to transfer his or her power to the clubhead, and in turn, to the golf ball.

Those who like to say the shaft is the engine of the golf club are in essence trying to say the shaft is the most important part of the club or at the least, equal in importance to the clubhead.  I’ve found in my career that most who believe the shaft is the engine of the golf club have come to this conclusion because of success in shot improvement that they have achieved upon making a change to a different shaft.  Upon experiencing this improvement after making a shaft change, these people tend to think “if it made this much of a difference for me, it has to be important for every golfer.”

Wrong.

Back in the early 2000s, with some very capable assistance, we had the chance from a true engineering standpoint to analyze what the shaft actually contributes to the shot and from that, what movements in the golf swing cause the shaft to do what it does to the shot.  While all this could fill a book, here’s a few of the key basics of what we learned about the importance of the shaft to the performance of golf clubs for different golfers.

1.  The WEIGHT of the shaft is important to ALL golfers who have the ability to hit the ball in the air 90% of the time or more.  As all experienced clubmakers know, the weight of the shaft is the NUMBER ONE factor that controls what the TOTAL WEIGHT of the clubs will be.  The weight of the shaft also has a strong influence on how much headweight is required to achieve any particular feeling of the clubhead during the swing.

It is true that most golfers can increase their clubhead speed when using clubs with a lighter total weight, but in no way does this mean that all golfers who use a lighter total weight will experience an increase in shot distance.  To do that requires that the lighter total weight be well matched to the golfer’s sense of swing timing and tempo so that they can still hit the ball ON CENTER the highest percentage of time.  Hit the ball off center with a faster clubhead speed and you lose distance over what you can achieve with a slightly slower clubhead speed that comes with a high percentage of on center hits.

The weight of the shaft is more important for matching the total weight of the clubs to our sense of swing timing and swing tempo.  How much our clubs weigh when we hold them off the ground is an important clubfitting factor for helping us to achieve a more consistent, repeating swing tempo and swing timing.  Too light of a total weight and we can fight swinging the club too quick and experience problems in staying steady over the ball during the swing.  Too heavy of a total weight and the extra effort required to swing the club also can mess up our swing tempo and balance during the swing.  Get the total weight right for the golfer’s strength and natural sense of swing timing and tempo and we can experience as high of a level of swing consistency as our natural ability and golf athletic ability will allow.

2.  The FLEX and the BEND PROFILE of the shaft can contribute to the launch angle and spin rate of the shot.  But it does this only for a certain segment of golfers who possess a later to very late release of their wrist-cock angle on the downswing.  For the majority of golfers who unhinge their wrist-cock angle early or in the first half of the downswing the shaft won’t display any real difference in the launch angle or spin rate of the shot.

The reason has to do with how a later release causes the shaft to bend as the clubhead impacts the ball.  When the golfer unhinges the wrist-cock angle, the golfer’s arms slow down while the club speeds up.  In this action the clubhead pushes the shaft to bend forward.  As the shaft bends forward, the clubhead starts to tilt more upward, which increases its loft angle.  If the golfer does not unhinge the wrist cock angle until later to very late in the downswing, the shaft is bent forward when the clubhead meets the ball and the increase in loft on the face of the clubhead causes the shot to take off higher with a little more backspin.  But if the golfer releases the club in the first half of the downswing, the shaft then has the time to bend back to straight by the time the clubhead reaches the ball, so the shaft cannot then elicit any change to the dynamic loft of the clubhead at impact, and the shaft won’t contribute anything more to the launch angle or spin rate of the shot.

3.  The FLEX and the BEND PROFILE of the shaft can have a measurable effect on clubhead speed and on center hit consistency for golfers who have a very refined and specific sense of FEEL for the bending action of the shaft during the swing.  Interestingly, this can happen both for very skilled golfers with a late release as well as some golfers who may have an early to midway release.

Call it a blessing or a curse, some golfers more than others have the ability to feel when the shaft bends during the swing and how much it bends.  This may happen because of an inherent heightened sense of feel the golfer may either be born with or acquires from hitting lots and lots of shots with different clubs.  For such golfers, when they hit shots with a club that has a shaft installed which delivers exactly their preferred amount of shaft bending feel at exactly their preferred time in the downswing to feel this bending action, the golfer tends to react by swinging with absolutely no restrictions and with a completely free release which results in a higher swing speed.

On the other hand, give this type of golfer a club in which the shaft does not display their preferred bending feel and the results can be a disaster because the golfer is simply unable to achieve a full, free, unrestricted swing through the ball.  For FEEL golfers, when they sense the shaft is too stiff, they tend to swing harder as if to make the shaft feel as they prefer – and when the shaft is too flexible, they tend to try to ease up to get the shaft to again feel as they prefer it to feel.  Either way, the shot making results are typically not very good.

Until next time, best wishes in this great game,

TOM

11 Comments

  1. I have a friend that asked me to change out the shaft on his driver to match the shafts in his irons. He thinks that may give him a bit more distance. I have measured his drives to have about 230 yards carry distance and the trajectory looks OK. He is fairly strong. athletic and has a reasonably late release. I am hesitant to simply try to match his driver shaft to the rest of his clubs, since I believe the driver swing is somewhat different from swings with any fairway shot. The bottom of arc is different when the ball is teed. Also the clubhead center of gravity is much farther back in the driver head. I suggested he visit Golf Galaxy and use their launch monitor to try and zero in on a shaft that works for him and then I should be able to match that with a similar shaft, if necessary.

    Caveat: I am not a professional clubfitter, I have only assembled my own and friends clubs, mostly using your components, along with club weight and swing weight analysis.

    I would appreciate any of your comments about my ideas. My friend and I are quite budget conscious.

    Thanks,
    Jim
    Boulder, CO

    • JIM:

      Driver and wood shaft fitting very much can be different than the iron shaft for many golfers. All the good fitters approach the two as separate fitting projects in golfers. So you need to evaluate his swing speed, transition force, downswing tempo aggressiveness, point of release, and any preferences he may have for the bending feel of the shaft for the driver on its own, and from that can come a reasonable driver shaft recommendation. One suggestion is to look at our S2S Shaft Fitting Program found on the right side of any page of our website. ALSO – may I also suggest you sign up for our TWGT CLUBMAKERS FORUM – Many VERY GOOD clubmakers frequent the Forum and it is a great place to post exact golfer fitting questions like you did here in the comments section of the Blog.

      TOM

    • Thanks for your helpful reply. I will sign up for the clubmakers forum as you suggest.

  2. Can’t find my original post so I apologize if this is duplicated elsewhere. My primary question is what are your thoughts on Single Frequency Matching? I see that you now support MOI matching which seems to have a similar goal of providing that same swing feel throughout the set.

    • Michael:
      Since single freq matching of shafts has been around for some time, there is some feedback and tendencies we have seen from metering the clubmakers’ experience with it. Basically, it tends to be OK for golfers with an earlier to midway release and less downswing aggressiveness. But it tends to be something that the more aggressive downswing golfers with a later to very late release do not like. Reason being that single freq matching tends to make the shafts feel progressively more flexible down through the set into the short irons and wedges – golfers with a more aggressive downswing tempo and later release tend to notice the bending feel of the shaft much more than do early release players and as such, don’t like what most versions of a single freq shaft set up does to the bending feel of the shafts down through the set.

  3. Does a lighter grip influence overall speed a great deal? It feels that the swing is making the most difference in the bottom half of the club, if that makes any sense. Another question I have is whether or not a shaft 45 inches is a big difference over one a half inch shorter?
    Thank you for access to your expertise and sharing with duffers like myself!

    • RC:
      The only real way a move to a much lighter grip can increase swing speed is if the resulting change in the swingweight and balance point of the club were to just happen to match much better to a golfer’s swing tempo and swing timing. When you change to a significantly lighter grip, meaning a grip that is at least 20grams or more lighter, the balance point of the club shifts closer to the head, and the swingweight goes up by 1 point for each 4g the grip is lighter. If the golfer happened to sense that the headweight feel of his club with the heavier grip was too head light or perhaps by accident in changing to a lighter grip he noted that the new more pronounced headweight feel was preferable, this can SOMETIMES allow the golfer to improve the timing of his wrist cock release, which in turn could increase the clubhead speed. Since this is an area of what we call FEEL, things like this are very difficult to predict success for in advance so they fall more into the realm of “try it and see what happens.” But I can say that unless the grip weight reduction is in the area of at least 20 grams, the likelihood for increasing swing speed is limited for sure.

      As to your question about a 1/2″ change in driver length, typically for MOST GOLFERS to see an improvement in on center hit percentage and accuracy, the change has to be more like 1″ or more. However, there are some golfers, typically lower handicappers or very experienced ball strikers, for whom a 1/2″ change in length can be noticeable – just not very many though.
      TOM

  4. Hi Tom,

    I am half way thru your book “The search for the perfect golf club”. What a read! I really enjoy it!

    One of the things you talked about in the book is that most stock driver shafts are too long for us average golfers to control and we really should be fitted for a shorter shaft.

    My current driver is 45″. I referenced the floor to wrist table in the book and it turns out 43″ may be better for me.

    My question is what would be the difference between gripping down 2 inches vs. reshafting to a same shaft that is 2 inches shorter?

    • Matthew:
      First off, the length indicated by the W to F chart is a STARTING POINT ONLY for length determination. Whether that becomes the actual final length depends on several swing factors for each golfer. In general, the smoother the swing tempo, the better the golfer’s overall ability, the later the wrist cock release and the more square to inside out the swing path, the longer the length COULD BE over what the initial measurement to the chart says. Vice versa, the more quick the swing tempo, the less skilled the golfer, the earlier the release and the more outside in the swing path, this means the length should not be increased over what the W to F chart says.

      You very definitely can grip down to gain more control with the driver if you are not of a mind to physically cut your driver shorter.

      TOM

  5. can you please suggest the proper shaft for my IMAX driver head from Callaway
    9.5 degree loft…i usually never play stiff shafts.
    7 handicap!

    • MARIO
      I am sorry but to help you I need to first explain something very important about fitting and fitting advice such as you ask for. It is not possible to recommend the right shaft for ANY golfer without knowing the golfer’s clubhead speed, and an evaluation of the golfer’s downswing force/tempo, when they unhinge their wrist cock release, and what is their strength in relation to other people of the same gender and age. This is the role of the custom clubfitter to use their knowledge and experience in fitting analysis to do this for golfers. For any of your fitting needs, we STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you go back to our website at http://www.wishongolf.com, and there in the very center of the home page, click on the FIND A CLUBFITTER locator. Input your town/city in which you live and the search tool will tell you if there is a screened, experienced clubfitter in your area.

      Thank you very much for your interest,
      TOM

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