You have just invested in a brand new set of clubs, woods, and irons, carefully selected to match the equipment used by your favorite pro. You have been shooting in the mid-eighties, and today with this new kit, you hope to break 80 for the first time.
Fast forward five and a half hours, and you are sitting in the change room wondering WHY? What went wrong? To show 91 on the scorecard is not what the plan was. Your playing partner asks an interesting question, “What happened to your drives today? You only hit four fairways, the rest were short and right.”
Back to the pro shop and the pro puts you on the mat. You hit a few balls into the net and the simulator shows the result on the screen, there they go again, off to the right. The pro hands you a different club, but hang on it looks identical to the one you just used.
Swing at a few more balls and suddenly there you go, straight down the middle. So what was the difference? The difference was a softer, or less stiff, shaft.
Stiffness or Flex
The golf shaft is known as the ENGINE of the golf club. On the downswing, as the hips rotate, the weight transfer takes place and the body uncoils, the shaft of the club bends. This bend is also known as flex, and as this flex straightens out, power is transferred from the shaft to the club head and through to the ball.
Rick Shiels offers some interesting insights into the importance of shaft flex in this video.
The stiffness or flex of the shaft is a much-neglected aspect of your golfing equipment as most golfers are more interested in the brand, or technical features, or looks of their clubs. What most golfers fail to appreciate is the effect that ‘swing speed’ has on selecting the correct amount of flex of the shaft.
Pros are top athletes and would have a swing speed of 110 mph on average, while amateurs would be swinging between 80 to 95 mph. There are various ways to determine your swing speed, from clip-on devices, iPhone Apps, range monitors, and at the pro shop.
There are a few telltale signs that might give you an indication that your club shafts are too stiff. If you have a good swing, but your distance is lacking it may be the shaft is too stiff. It may also be that you tend to either slice the ball or fade towards the rough on the right of the fairway, for the same reason.
If the shaft is too stiff and your swing is around 90 mph the club head will not be square on at impact resulting in loss of loft and control. The feel is another indicator, if the club feels dead like a steel rod chances are the shaft is too stiff. You want to feel the weight of the club head loading the shaft.
The opposite is equally a problem, if your club shaft is too flexible the trajectory will be higher also costing distance and a draw or hook shot may result. In this case, the club head is unloading too soon causing the club face to close slightly at impact.
Determine what your natural swing shape is and what your priority need is. Golf is not a game of perfection but of misses, so there is always going to be a tradeoff between accuracy and distance.
The stiffness of a golf shaft is sorted into five basic classifications, Extra stiff, Stiff, Regular, Seniors, and Ladies. The degree of flex will also vary from one brand to another and without getting too technical you can use a simple test to indicate your ideal flex.
If your drives are 200 yards or less you should be looking at Senior or Ladies flex on your shafts. If on the other hand you consistently hit 250 to 275 yards you would want to go Stiff or Extra Stiff. Another easy test is to see what club you need to hit 150 yards.
If you can hit 150 yards with a wedge, 9, or 8 iron you probably need stiff shafts. Using a 6 or 7 iron on 150 yards, go for a Regular flex, and 5 iron or more than Senior or Ladies shaft flex would be the way to go.
Beware, Don’t Over-Compensate
If you were to make too drastic a change and choose a shaft that is too flexible you will find that you have reversed the problem. Now you will find the club face will close before impact resulting in a right to left fade if not a slice. The trajectory will also be increased as will the spin and should this be combined with a windy day your golf round will become a grind.
Graphite or Steel?
The introduction of graphite shafts has opened up a whole new dimension to golf club technology and performance. Graphite shafts offer the following benefits:
- They are lighter than steel shafts.
- Increase swing speeds and distance.
- Better dispersion from the tee.
- Assist golfers with slower swing tempos.
- They are usually more expensive.
Graphite being a much lighter material than steel makes it easier to swing faster and see an increase in distance off the tee. For this reason, they were considered the correct shafts for beginners and intermediate golfers.
This lighter material also affects the ‘feel’ of the club, it is much softer and the vibrations are dampened. Most professionals prefer to get more solid feedback from the steel frames as it gives them a greater sense of control, but even in their ranks, graphite shafts can be found.
Graphite shafts are of greater benefit on the distance clubs where you may be prepared to sacrifice a bit of accuracy. On the shorter, irons accuracy and control are more important thus the extra flexibility of the graphite shaft may be a disadvantage.
Graphite shafts are also graded Ladies, Senior, Regular, Stiff, and Extra Stiff, but remember the actual flex will vary from one manufacturer to another.
Mix and Match
There is nothing wrong with the idea of mix and match and is becoming more common. Using graphite shafts on your driver, woods and long irons will help reduce the fade off the tee, increase the distance and soften the feel if you are to slightly miss-hit.
With the shorter irons, approaching the green, around the green, or from the bunkers control is critical. Here you would be looking for a stiffer shaft with less flex as the swing speed is not as great a factor in the short game.
As a right-handed player, do you tend to come off the tee with a left to right fade or even an occasional slice? Do you also have the feeling that you are striking the ball solidly, but it should be traveling further? Chances are your club shaft is too stiff for your swing speed.
We all want to get the most enjoyment from our game as well as the best possible results. Before getting hung up on which brand of club to buy or what brand your favorite pro is using, first, admit that you are human and unique. Your clubs have to suit you, not your hero.
Determine what your swing speed is and how much flex or stiffness your clubs are going to need to provide you with control and distance.
Decide your priorities and if the cost is not a problem, consider graphite. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be shy about mixing it up in your bag. Some manufacturers won’t do short irons with graphite shaft anyway.
Lastly, relax enjoy your game.
- Stiff vs Regular Flex: Which Golf Shaft Should You Choose?
- How To Pick The Right Shaft For Your Driver?
- Golf Shafts – The Ultimate Guide – All You Need To Know To Choose The Right Shaft
Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.