The “New” SuperLite Shaft Trend – Who’s it For?

Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 in Shaft Fitting | 10 comments

One of the advantages to getting “longer in the tooth” in any area of interest is it gives you the opportunity to separate the “been there done that” from the things that truly are new and different.  One of the latest “rages” in the golf equipment industry is the current trend among some of the companies to offer “superlite” drivers – drivers made with a graphite shaft that weighs less than 50 grams to allow the total weight of the driver to be less than 300 grams (@10.5 oz).

The marketing concept behind these very light weight drivers is simple – the lighter weight driver can be swung with the same effort to achieve a higher swing speed, from which comes more distance.   This concept of go lighter to swing faster is definitely not a new direction in club design.  Veteran clubmakers may remember the short lived fad started by the Dave Pelz Featherlite clubs of the 1980s with their B-8 to C-O swingweights, as well as the mid-90s era of superlight weight drivers whose sub-300 gram total weight was made possible through the design of light graphite shafts with a huge butt diameter that required a very light weight grip.

Today’s trip down superlite memory lane is fueled by the design of graphite shafts which weigh less than 50 grams yet can still be made with a flex and bend profile to meet the needs of the most powerful swingers in the game.

To give credit where credit is due, it is a remarkable step forward in graphite shaft design to be able to make a 45 gram shaft with a flex and bend profile design that could fit a golfer with a 110mph clubhead speed and aggressive swing characteristics.   Shaft makers have achieved this by using expensive high modulus composite materials in a thin wall shaft construction.   Up until a few years ago, a 50 gram graphite shaft was chiefly for easy swinging golfers with swing speeds under 90mph.

But now that we do have access to superlight weight shafts in any variety of stiffness design, the question that has to be answered is “who are these shafts and resulting super light weight drivers for?”  if you buy into the big companies’ marketing, they’re for EVERY golfer.  But if you buy into the concept of professional clubfitting, determining what golfers are best matched into such a light weight design is a matter of probing the golfers’ strength, the force they apply when starting the downswing (transition force), and their downswing aggressiveness.

Typically, the stronger the golfer, the shorter the backswing and more forceful the transition, and the more aggressive the downswing, the heavier the shaft and total weight of the club should be to ensure the golfer can maintain a consistent, repeating swing tempo that allows the highest percentage of on center hits.

However, there is one “fudge factor” in this which will allow some golfers with stronger, more aggressive move at the ball to potentially use a very light weight shaft to gain clubhead speed while retaining their proper sense of swing tempo and timing – and that is by partnering the very light shaft with a higher than normal swingweight or more pronounced headweight feel in the club.   What you don’t want to do is give an aggressive swinging golfer a very light shaft with a low swingweight.

By cranking the swingweight higher than normal, this can offset the strong aggressive swinging golfer’s tendency to get too quick with their tempo when using a club with a very light weight shaft.

On the other hand, the biggest population that can gain from a sub-300 gram driver total weight are golfers of average to lower strength who swing more smoothly with a less aggressive downswing move at the ball.  But even with these golfers, you still have to experiment with the headweight to get to a point that each golfer can feel the presence of the head enough during the swing so as to maintain a consistent swing tempo.

Until next time, best wishes in this great game,

TOM

10 Comments

  1. Tom : Very good technical article ,yet easy to understand . I’m getting used to my Cleve.SL290-9′. I’m 64,low hdcp.,100 mph swing at best. The Miyasaki S shaft weighs 51g , and it works well for me – I think it was designed for guys like me. My only gripe is that it feels like the shaft recovers in a flash , and along with my delayed release , makes it impossible for me to draw the ball. I recently tested the SL 310 and I much prefer the SL 290 . Does my amateur analysis make sense ? Thanks…JWW

    • JWW:

      If a shaft or a club makes you feel that you have to “slow down”, “swing a little different way”, or do anything different than what is your most normal and most comfortable swing motion at the ball, then the shaft or the club is not right for you and your swing. When it comes to late release players, the sign of a really good shaft fit is that you don’t have to change one thing in your swing, you can swing with a full free release, and you can still get good shot results when you need to “lean on the shot” a little bit.

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom, I am still trying to understand the effects of swing weight and club weight and hope you can help me understand. After reading your “search for the perfect club” book and also seeing a club fitter last month. I’ve decided to try 2 things, have my driver length reduced to 43″ but also to replace the shaft with one of the new lightweight steel shafts. Jim Von, my fitter thought that should work fine for me. My best club currently is my 9w with a steel shaft and I thought the extra weight in my driver might help me with a consistant swing speed. I mentioned this on a golf forum and someone replied with this advice.

    “a 43 inch steel shafted driver will most likely improve accuracy in the short term but in all probability you wont be hitting it very far. The added weight will reduce swing speed and as above will likely steepen the angle of attack. Taken to extreme the steepness will invoke an out to in swing and any existent fade or slice will soon negate any short term benefits experienced.”

    I carry my 9w on average 170 and my current driver, (when I hit it in the fairway) 225ish. My tendency with the driver when I get tired or anxious, is to swing too fast and slice.

    So I guess I’m asking for your take on my plan and if what that forum member said has any basis for me to be concerned.

    Thank you Larry

    • Larry:
      Please understand that each golfer is different in terms of their swing characteristics AND in terms of what driver specifications they were playing before and what were the average shot results with that driver. So by email, without seeing you swing and without measuring your current driver specs, I can only tell you the average results from what you are thinking about. In a real face to face fitting, Jim Von Lossow, who by the way is a long time friend and an experienced fitter, might see things that prompt other recommendations to help you the most.

      43″ might be a little too short – but here again, that all depends on the length of your current driver. if your driver now is 46″, a move down to 44″ can certainly be enough to bring about more control, more on center hits, and not reduce your clubhead speed all that much. Going with steel just because you hit your 9w well with a steel shaft is not quite enough of a reason to think steel in the driver. Yes, the heavier total weight of the 9w with its steel shaft can definitely be a reason you hit this club well. But going steel in a driver that would be probably at least 2″ or more longer than the 9w might push the moment of inertia of the longer driver much higher than the MOI of the 9w so it all might be too heavy feeling. Heavier shaft weight with short length is not as cumbersome to swing as heavier shaft weight with a longer length.

      There are graphite shafts up in the 80 to 90 gram weight range that still can increase the total weight of the driver higher than what you have now, but still keep it from being too heavy as if you used a 110-120 gram steel shaft. If you bought your current driver off the rack, its graphite shaft is more than likely in the 65-70g range. So an increase to 80-90g in the shaft would not push the total weight up as high as with a 110-120g steel shaft, so you should still get the potential benefit of control from the heavier total weight than you now have, but not as high as with steel to potentially not decrease your swing speed as much.

      In the end, let Jim do his fitting analysis and let him make the initial recommendations fromwhich you can then talk with him to finalize what you might best need to improve your driving game.

      TOM

  3. how about adressing the problems of the shorter golfers @5’2 to 5’4 have been waiting for this to be adressed for 3yrs.

    • Larry:
      Happy to help. The two main areas that typically need to be addressed for golfers of this height are LENGTH and LIE ANGLE. Do realize though that LENGTH is not 100% dictated by the golfer’s height. It is eminently possible for a golfer of shorter height to be properly fit into clubs that may be more “standard length” if that golfer has a smooth tempo, gradual build up of their downswing acceleration, an inside out to square swing path, and a good level of golf athletic ability. Granted, most people don;t fall into that swing skill category so it is more typical for the lengths to need to be shorter to better match the height + average swing characteristics of the shorter golfer.

      Lie angle wise, it is generally true that pretty much every shorter golfer will need to have their clubs adjusted flatter to fit. This is never done on a chart or assumption basis but must always be done by a dynamic lie fit test – so that each golfer’s swing characteristics are taken into account to determine the proper lies.

      No question whatsoever that any golfer who is shorter than average should definitely find a good clubmaker to work with to get their proper fit. Good clubmakers know how to look at each golfer on the basis of their swing characteristics first and not to make automatic assumptions simply based on a person’s height. People who work in the golf stores and pro shops tend to not know as much about matching swing characteristics to the clubs’ fitting specs as do the independent custom clubmakers WHO HAVE GOOD EXPERIENCE.

      Hope this helps a little,
      TOM

  4. Tom; Can you give some insight on the argument that the $300 and up shafts are a lot better for you than the shaft that costs under $100.
    I have a $14 graphite design “red ice” shaft in my driver and it is the best feeling and longest distance shaft I have ever had. It was pured and trimmed by a fitter.
    My friend insists that I would pick up 15 to 20 yards having the fitter pure and trim an expensive shaft.
    Thanks …..Doug

    • DOUG

      Your friend isn’t going to like it, and he’s still going to go on believing that price means quality, but he is very wrong in thinking that the higher the price of the shaft, the better it plays. This matter of the $100, $200, $300 and even higher priced shafts is a very sad commentary on how companies have learned that marketing is king when it comes to generating demand for a product. And within that comes one of the oldest marketing “strategies” around, which is “if it costs more it has to be better.”

      There are 5 elements that determine everything about the performance and the feel of a shaft. 1) Weight, 2) overall stiffness design, aka the “flex”, 3) the bend profile, aka the distribution of the stiffness over the full length of the shaft, 4) torque, 5) weight distribution, aka the balance point of a shaft.

      That’s it. That is 100% of what determines how any shaft will play, perform, feel to a golfer. As such there are many shafts priced at $50, $40, even $30 or less which have the same exact 5 performance elements as many of the high dollar shafts. If it were possible to post a screen image from our Bend Profile Software program on this comments section, I would show you. heck for that matter, let’s do this since I am sure your friend will want to believe what he wants to believe and needs to see some proof. Send me an email to contact@wishongolf.com and I will send you back some graphs and actual stiffness measurement data charts showing a few of the expensive shafts in the industry along with others that are far less pricey with the actual measurements to show they are the same.

      TOM

  5. Tom,

    I am one of those unusual players in that I am not very tall and do not generate a lot of clubhead speed but I am used to a 46 inch driver. I am also an accurate driver and do not miss many fairways often hitting all 14 in a round. I am always looking for more distance with the driver though and wonder if the 45 gram shaft at 46 inches will work for me as lately a 46 inch shaft with a 65 gram shaft feels heavy to me now?

    • JEFF:

      In all of our work over the years in fitting research, we definitely figured out that there are certain swing characteristics that do match better to a longer driver length than with a shorter one. Thing is that very few golfers possess enough of these swing characteristics to benefit from such longer lengths. You must have many of these specific swing characteristics so good for you! It is true that a drop in shaft weight will reduce the total weight to bring about the POSSIBILITY for a little higher clubhead speed. But again, in our research work we have found that the typical swing speed increase for a golfer from a lighter weight shaft runs in the area of gaining about 1 to not more than 2mph for each 20 grams that the shaft weight and total weight with it, is decreased. A 1mph in clubhead speed represents about a 3 yard increase in carry distance.

      However, a golfer’s personal perception for the weight FEEL of the club most definitely plays a BIG role in all this. So since you are noting that the club feels heavy now with the 65g shaft, it is possible that the drop to a 45g shaft could lower the total weight enough to allow the driver at 46″ to not feel quite as heavy as before. And from getting the club into position of not feeling uncomfortably heavy, this may help your swing timing, rhythm and your release such that you could gain a little more clubhead speed simply because you now are not over working to generate your best swings.

      One other related thing – it is very possible that a part of the heaviness you feel is coming from the fact that at 46″, the Moment of Inertia of the whole driver is quite high compared to the MOI of shorter length drivers. In the science of MOI as it relates to the fully assembled club, LENGTH is the biggest factor affecting the MOI. It’s effect on the MOI of the club is far greater than the weight. So it is possible if you did switch to a 45g shaft, the fact that the driver is still 46″ might still cause you to sense that the club doesn’t feel as light in comparison to what it did before because the same high MOI is causing that heaviness feeling.

      At any rate, those are the facts and yes, dropping the shaft weight by 20g should help a little. But you also have to make sure the stiffness design of the 45g shaft is not totally different than the stiffness design of the shaft you currently play. Many of the super light shafts under 50g are also a little more flexible for their flex letter code on the shaft because it is difficult to make very light shafts to be that stiff.

      TOM

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