The Trend Towards Superlite Shafts: Who’s it For?
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. Experience counts, in other words.
A number of years ago the shaft industry developed the ability to make graphite shafts that weight less than 60 grams with some even weighing less than 50 grams. Since the weight of the shaft controls the total weight of the club more than any other component, the key to creating superlite golf clubs is in the use of a very light shaft. With such very light graphite shafts it is possible to make a driver with a total weight below 300 grams (10.5 oz) – and believe me, that is light. When Jack Nicklaus was coming on the scene in the pre-graphite shaft days, the total weight of his preferred driver was over 14 oz ! (@400 grams)
The marketing concept behind a very light weight driver 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 very short lived fad started by the Dave Pelz Featherlite golf clubs of the 1980s with their B-8 to C-O swingweights, as well as the mid-90s era of superlite 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 extremely light grip of less than 30 grams.
To give credit where credit is due, it is a remarkable step forward in graphite shaft design to be able to make a 45 to 50 gram shaft with a flex and bend profile design that could fit a golfer with a >100mph clubhead speed and aggressive swing tempo. Shaft makers have achieved this by using high modulus (high stiffness) composite materials in a thin wall shaft construction to keep the weight down. Up until a few years ago, a 50 gram graphite shaft could only be made for easy swinging golfers with swing speeds under 90mph.
But now that we have access to superlight weight shafts in a wide 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 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 analyzing the golfers’ strength, the force they apply when starting the downswing (transition force), and their downswing aggressiveness as they accelerate the clubhead to the ball.
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 a “fudge factor” in this which will allow some golfers with a 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. The way that is done 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 or you’ll see the golfer experience problems controlling his tempo and timing.
Setting the swingweight higher than normal 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 because the heavier head weight feel creates a sense of “lag” on the downswing that the golfer can use to control his tempo and timing.
On the other hand, the greatest population of golfers that can gain from a 50 gram or lighter shaft (sub-300 gram driver total weight) are golfers of average to below average strength who swing more smoothly with a less aggressive downswing move at the ball. But even with these golfers, it is critical to experiment with the headweight/swingweight 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.