10 Myths About Shafts - by Tom Wishon

  1. Myth 1 - The shaft is the engine of the golf club[+]

    By Tom Wishon

    If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this statement, I might not be rich, but I definitely would be able to go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a good dinner with a good bottle of wine! It is far more truthful to say that “the golfer is the engine,” while “the shaft is the transmission of the golf club.”

    A shaft does not create energy during the swing. It is simply the component that takes the energy generated by the golfer and transmits it to the clubhead to hit the ball. It is true that if certain elements of the shaft are not properly fit to the golfer’s specific swing characteristics, the golfer can lose distance by experiencing a lower clubhead speed or more off-center hits than he could generate from using a correctly fit shaft. At the same token, if the shaft is accurately fit, the golfer has a much better chance of fully optimizing his/her potential to hit the ball to the best of their ability.

    Performance wise, the shaft, 1) can affect the dynamic loft of the clubhead at impact within a narrow range of 2 to 3 degrees, but only for those golfers with a later to very late release; 2) will chiefly control the total weight of the club, which in turn can have an effect on the golfer’s clubhead speed, 3) can affect some golfers’ (not all) confidence and swing consistency by displaying a “bending feel” during the swing that is either more preferred or less preferred by the golfer. That’s it, that’s the full list of what the shaft can do.

  2. Myth 2 - The shaft is the most important component of the golf club.[+]

    By Tom Wishon

    Sorry, but when you’re talking about ALL golfers, the shaft is not as important to the actual performance of the shot as is the clubhead. I’ll give you an example of when this was actually “tested and proven” in the golf industry by a huge number of golfers. Back in the early 1970s when PING golf company moved to the front of the golf industry through the introduction of their deep cavity back original Ping Eye model irons, the standard shaft installed in every set of Eye irons was a 125 gram X flex steel shaft.

    Ping’s founder Karsten Solheim used these shafts in his irons because he believed a heavier and stiffer shaft would help all golfers hit the ball straighter. Literally millions of sets of PING irons with X flex heavier weight steel shafts were sold throughout the 1970s and you know what? Literally millions of golfers liked their new PING irons more than their previous irons. Why? Because the original PING Eye irons were the very first irons with a deep cavity back design AND lower lofts than what had been the norm for irons – this meant the moment of inertia (MOI) of the Eye irons was FAR higher than any previous iron model yet designed. This in turn gave golfers such a huge improvement in off center hit performance as well as on center hit distance over the irons they previously used that this big leap forward in head performance completely overshadowed the potentially bad effects to golfers using a shaft that was too heavy and too stiff for their swing.

    Of course, we know today that playing with too heavy and too stiff of a shaft can rob the golfer of clubhead speed and shot consistency and make the feeling of impact become “dead and boardy.” But the point shown by the PING example of the 1970s is that if the clubhead’s improvement is great enough for the golfer over what they used to play, the shaft does not have to be accurately fit for the golfer to still realize significant game improvement.

  3. Myth 3 - The letter flex code on the shaft tells me how stiff the shaft is. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    No it doesn’t because there are absolutely no standards in the golf industry for how stiff any of the shaft flex codes are. Every golf company and shaft company is free to determine how stiff their various shaft flex letter codes are to be. As a result it is very common for the R Flex from one company to be similar in stiffness to the S Flex from another company or the A Flex from a third company. Not only that, but it is very common for a flex in one model of shaft to be stiffer or more flexible than the same letter flex in a different shaft model from the same company!

    There is no better proof than to offer a clear illustration. Following is a graph comparison of 7 different R-Flex shafts, from 6 different companies. These shafts were all measured using the same methodology to graph the comparative stiffness at 7 identical points along the length of each different shaft. The numerical measurements represent cycles per minute (CPM) of frequency measured with a 454 gram weight on the tip end of the shaft.

    For comparison of the relative stiffness for all these R Flex shafts, focus on the CPM measurements for the 41 in and 36 in columns in the data chart. At these points on the grip end of the shaft, a difference of 7 CPM in the 41/36 measurements is equivalent to one full flex, based on averages from more than 2000 different shafts. (when the tip weight is reduced to 205g, a 10cpm difference is equivalent to one full flex level) As you can see, among these 7 shafts there is a relative stiffness difference of 28 CPM, which is nearly four full flexes – and yet all of these shafts are labeled by their respective companies as being an R Flex shaft.

    Next let’s look at a graph comparison of a number of the R Flex shafts from different shaft models, all from the same company. Within these 6 different R Flex shafts all from the same company, can be seen a range in basic stiffness of 19.5 CPM, which equates to a difference of nearly 3 full flex levels. Yet all are labeled as R flex shafts.

    It is VERY IMPORTANT to understand that such variations are by intent and DO NOT represent a mistake or lack of quality in any manner by these companies. Remember, each company is free to determine their own standards for the actual stiffness for what each flex of each shaft is to be. It is not wrong – it just is the way it is. What’s wrong is when golfers do not know this and make buying decisions based only on a meaningless letter code imprinted on the shaft. So the next time you head out to buy a new club(s) or a new shaft, please remember that R does not equal R, S does not equal S, and none of the letter codes equal each other. If you want another good reason for why it is worth it to be professionally custom fit by an experienced custom Clubmaker, here is yet another one of many reasons to do so. Many of the experienced clubmakers are well aware of the variations among the flexes of all the shafts and can guide you into the very best shaft selection for YOUR swing characteristics.

  4. Myth 4 - The shaft is a key element for the amount of backspin imparted on a shot. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    That can be true. . . but only if you are a golfer who unhinges your wrist-**** angle late in the downswing and you have a clubhead speed north of 100 mph with the driver. If you are a golfer with a late release and a clubhead speed in the area of 85mph, the shaft is only going to have a small effect on backspin. And if you are a golfer with an early release, no matter what your clubhead speed, the amount of backspin you put on the shot is purely going to be determined by your clubhead speed, your angle of attack into the ball, the loft of your driver and where on the face you made contact with the ball.

    It is very common for companies to market shafts as having spin characteristics – “low, medium or high spin” in their design. The problem is that it takes a very specific type of swing characteristic to even allow the shaft to have any effect whatsoever on the amount of spin imparted on the shot. That swing move is when you unhinge your wrist-**** angle to release the club during the downswing. In short, the later you hold onto the wrist-**** angle on the downswing, and the higher your clubhead speed, the more the shaft could have an effect on the backspin of the shot.

    Here’s why, and here’s how shafts may or may not have a bearing on the amount of spin on a shot. First of all, keep in mind that only three things determine the amount of backspin on a shot – clubhead speed, the dynamic loft on the clubface at the point of impact, and the point of impact in relation to the center of gravity of the clubhead. (Angle of attack is a part of the dynamic loft) The higher the clubhead speed, the higher will be the spin for any given loft angle, the higher the loft on the clubhead at the moment of impact, and the lower the point of impact in relation to the CG, the greater will be the amount of backspin. Vice versa applies to these things for less spin.

    But let’s talk about how the swing gets involved in all of this to be able to potentially interact with the club to have an effect on spin. Let’s say we’ve all made our backswing and we have the club positioned at the top, ready to swing down to the ball. From the moment the club starts down, for as long as we retain and hold our wrist-**** angle between our arms and the shaft, the arms and the club are accelerating at the same rate and the arms and club are both moving at the same velocity.

    The split-second we start to unhinge the wrist-**** angle, the arms begin to slow down while the club begins to accelerate to a higher velocity. Because the arms are slowing down while holding on to the club, the faster moving clubhead starts to push against the shaft that is being held back by the hands and the shaft begins to flex forward. The more flexible the design of the shaft and/or the more tip flexible the design of the shaft, the more the shaft could flex forward at impact and from it, have more of an effect on launch angle, trajectory and spin.

    If the golfer happens to hold the wrist-**** angle until very late in the downswing, the forward flexing of the shaft happens right when the clubhead meets the ball. If the shaft comes to impact flexed forward, this forward curve of the shaft increases the loft on the clubhead at impact – which in turn increases the launch angle AND increases the amount of backspin put on the shot. When shaft companies say this or that shaft is a “low spin design”, what they mean is that the shaft is designed to either be stiffer overall, or, stiffer in the tip section of the shaft. Stiffer shaft means less forward bending before impact, which means less of a loft increase at impact on the clubhead. . . but ONLY for a player with a later to very late unhinging of the wrist-**** angle on the downswing.

    On the other hand, if the golfer unhinges the wrist-**** angle early on the downswing, all this forward flexing of the shaft happens well before impact. Thus for the early release golfer, by the time the clubhead gets to the ball, the shaft will have had time to flex back to a virtual straight position. That’s why for early release golfers, the shaft cannot have any additional effect on the dynamic loft on the clubhead and the amount of spin on the shot.

  5. Myth 5 - How a shaft plays and performs for one golfer or group of golfers is important for other golfers to know to be able to make a proper shaft selection decision. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    Only if the golfers involved all happen to have EXACTLY, and I mean exactly, the same swing characteristics is someone else’s experience with a particular shaft of any importance. And how often do two or more golfers swing exactly the same way?

    I can’t tell you how many times I have scanned posts on golf equipment internet forums from golfers who ask a question such as, “has anyone tried the XYZ shaft and what do you think of it?” Invariably, almost every golfer’s response comes back citing this or that personal opinion or playing result without ever saying one thing about any of their specific swing characteristics.

    In addition, numerous times I have heard a golfer comment about a shaft to say something like, “that XYZ shaft is really a bad shaft. If golfers knew that shaft performance is so tied to specific golf swing characteristics they would say instead, “that shaft is probably a good shaft for some other golfer, but it is a bad shaft FOR ME AND MY SPECIFIC SWING CHARACTERISTICS.”

    There is no such thing as a good shaft or a bad shaft in this game. There are only shafts that fit their owners and shafts that do not fit their owners. More than any other component, the performance of the shaft is completely related to a series of finite, specific swing and playing characteristics – your clubhead speed, your transition move to start the downswing, your downswing aggressiveness/tempo, the point during the downswing when you unhinge your wrist-**** angle to release the club to impact and whether you as a golfer do or do not have a specific, preferred sense for the bending feel of the shaft during the swing.

  6. Myth 6 - The more expensive a shaft, the better it is. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    There are few things in the golf industry that have become as much of a sore spot with me as this matter of shafts that cost $100, $200, $300 and even more. Shoot, I remember when we all thought a $40 shaft was expensive! What’s even worse are the uninformed golfers who see these $100 – $300 shafts and automatically form the opinion that if it costs that much, it has to be a really good shaft.

    You want to know what the definition of a “good shaft” is? A good shaft is any shaft that has been very accurately matched for its weight, overall stiffness, bend profile, weight distribution and torque to a golfer’s clubhead speed, transition force, downswing tempo, wrist-**** release, strength and sense of feel. That’s the definition of a “good shaft” and it has absolutely nothing to do with brand, model or price.

    There are 5 different specifications that determine the performance differences between shafts. 1) mass (weight); 2) overall stiffness (flex); 3) bend profile (distribution of the stiffness over the length of the shaft); 4) weight distribution (balance point); 5) torsional stiffness (torque). Two of these, the weight and the torque, are definitely related to the cost of the shaft. The lightesr the weight and the lower the torque of a shaft, the more expensive the shaft will be to make. In other words, if you want to make a very stiff 45 gram shaft with less than 3? of torque, that shaft is going to cost a lot more money to make than a 65 gram softer flex shaft with 5? of torque. . . but not $100 to $300 by any means.

    The other three shaft design elements, a shaft’s overall stiffness, bend profile and balance point, are not even close to being as price sensitive as the weight and torque. Standard modulus (low cost) graphite raw materials can be used to make any flex, bend profile or balance point from soft L to very stiff X.

    Yes, many of the high dollar shafts are actually made with more expensive raw composite materials. But they don’t need to be made with such expensive materials to achieve their weight, flex, bend profile, balance point and torque. In my career I have measured the specifications of literally thousands of different shafts, and from my experience, I have yet to see a $100 to $300 shaft that could not be duplicated for weight, flex, bend profile, balance point and torque and sold at a normal profit in the industry for an aftermarket price of $25 to $50.

  7. Myth 7 - The flex of the shaft has a very important effect on shot performance for all golfers. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    For some golfers, very definitely this is true. But for many golfers, approaching even the majority of golfers, the flex of the shaft is one of the very least important of all the fitting specifications of a golf club.

    To sum it up, the higher the clubhead speed, the more forceful the transition move, the more aggressive the downswing, the later the unhinging of the wrist-**** angle, and the more the golfer has an specific preference for the bending feel of the shaft, the more important the shaft flex will be to shot performance. For a slower swinging, smooth tempo, early release golfer who does not have a refined sense of feel for the bending action of the shaft, the flex is virtually unimportant and the WEIGHT of the shaft becomes the only important fitting element related to the shaft.

    The one swing characteristic that has the most influence on making the flex become an important part of the performance of the shaft is the point of the wrist-**** release during the downswing. The later the wrist-**** release, the more the shaft can arrive at impact in a flexed forward position – which is how the shaft flex can have a visible effect on the launch angle, height and spin rate of the shaft.

    Second after the release in terms of the swing moves that dictate the importance of shaft flex is the force the golfer applies during the transition move to start the downswing. The more forcefully, the more sudden, and the more aggressive the golfer starts the downswing, the more bending force is applied to the shaft. The more the golfer bends the shaft at the start of the downswing, the more the golfer could feel differences in shaft stiffness and from that, develop a preference for a specific type of bending feel in a shaft that if satisfied, can make a big difference in shot consistency and clubhead speed.

  8. Myth 8 - The higher the clubhead speed of the golfer, the stiffer the shaft should be. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    There are two reasons this is frequently not true. First, as we said previously, with no standards in the golf industry for shaft flex, there are very definitely a lot of R flex shafts that are stiffer than a lot of S flex and even X flex shafts. So it can be very possible for a golfer with a certain clubhead speed to be properly fit with an S flex in one company’s shaft model, but to find that another company’s R flex may in fact be stiffer.

    The second and main reason this statement is frequently not true is because clubhead speed is not the main element in the swing that determines how much a golfer actually bends a shaft during the swing. The swing element that applies the chief amount of bending force to a shaft is the golfer’s transition move to start the downswing. Among two golfers with the same clubhead speed, it can be very common for one golfer to have a short backswing with a very forceful, abrupt and sudden acceleration to start the downswing, while the other golfer might start the downswing with a much smoother, more gradual acceleration of the club.

    Among two golfers with the same clubhead speed, the one with the stronger, more forceful transition move will always put more bending force on the shaft, and from it, will typically need a stiffer shaft than the golfer with the same swing speed who has a smooth, gradual acceleration of the club during the downswing. It is also not uncommon to see a golfer with a slower swing speed and stronger transition as well as a golfer with a higher swing speed and smoother transition move. In such a case, the slower swinging golfer with stronger transition would need a stiffer shaft than the golfer with a higher clubhead speed but smoother, less forceful transition move.

    The bottom line is that while clubhead speed definitely offers a starting point for flex selection, the most accurate shaft fitting involves a careful evaluation of the other swing movements that have a direct effect on how much the shaft is flexed during the swing.

  9. Myth 9 - The right shaft adds distance by “kicking faster” through the ball. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    It’s easy to assume this is true when you see a golfer use a different shaft with the same clubhead and experience a higher clubhead speed and more distance. Also contributing to this thought is the fact that a few companies have actually used the term “tip velocity” in the marketing of a shaft. As a result, there are a lot of golfers who believe shafts can be designed to possess the ability to “kick faster” than other shafts.

    When a golfer changes shafts in an existing club and achieves a higher clubhead speed or gains distance, the things that most typically explain the increase in distance are as follows:

    1. When an existing clubhead is re-shafted, along with the specs of the new shaft itself there very definitely can be changes in the length, the total weight and the swingweight of the club that happen as a result of switching from one shaft to another. If the new length, new total weight, new swingweight or combination of any of these three happen to fit the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics better than these elements did before in the club with the former shaft, very definitely this can result in a higher clubhead speed and more distance.

    Very experienced clubfitters have seen many times when a change of 10 to 20 grams in the total weight, a change of 2 to 3 swingweights and/or a change of ½” to 1″ in the length of a club can all of a sudden allow the club to fit the golfer so well that a marked increase of 3 to 5mph in clubhead speed can occur. Such changes in total weight and/or swingweight are not at all unusual when shafts are changed because of the wide range in weight and balance point among different models of shafts.

    2. When a golfer switches to a shaft that fits his sense of feel or feel preference better than a previous shaft, the golfer can very definitely have the tendency to swing in a more free, more unrestricted, and more confident manner than before – which in turn can very definitely can result in a higher clubhead speed from which more distance occurs.

    Think about it this way. If you’ve played a lot of golf and hit a lot of different golf clubs, at one time or another you have probably hit or played with clubs in which the shafts are either much too stiff or too flexible for your sense of feel when you swing the club and hit the ball. When you have hit clubs with shafts that are too stiff, what is your first inclination? Probably to try to swing harder so as to elevate your swing speed/force to better match the stiffer shaft. And what happened to your swing consistency when you did this? That’s right, not the best results.

    Perhaps at some point in your playing life you have tripped across a club with a shaft that when you swung the club, everything just felt perfect. The shaft didn’t feel too stiff or too flexible when you started the downswing and when you released the club to hit the ball, you felt the shaft kick at exactly the right time and with exactly the right amount of kick. In such a case, I bet your natural inclination was to forget about any type of swing manipulation and to just “let it fly” when you swung – a full, free, unrestricted swing with nothing getting in the way of “letting it go.”

    For golfers who do have a preferred sense of feel for the way the shaft bends during the swing, even if they cannot clearly describe that feel in words, being able to find a shaft that bends, flexes and unloads in exactly the manner they prefer is a sure ticket to swinging with the highest natural clubhead speed their swing can generate. And definitely a higher speed than they can generate when the shaft either feels too stiff or too flexible.

    Shafts cannot be designed to have a higher or lower flexing velocity. They simply are designed with differences in stiffness, weight, torque and weight distribution which either do or do not fit the swing characteristics and preference for feel of the golfer using the shaft. Again, there is no magic in this. There are thousands of combinations of shaft weight, flex, bend profile, weight distribution, and torque and thousands of combinations of golfer swing speed, transition force, downswing tempo, wrist **** release and feel preferences. The perfect shaft is when these two sides get matched up to each other in a perfect shaft fitting.


  10. Myth 10 - How a shaft performs for a golfer(s) is an indication of its quality. [+]

    By Tom Wishon

    No, how a shaft performs for a golfer is an indication of how well the shaft’s weight, flex, bend profile, balance point and torque were FIT to the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics. Remember what I said about “good shafts” and “bad shafts”? There are no such things. There are only well fit and poorly fit shafts.

    Shaft quality is more a case of how consistently can the shaft maker hit each one of the production specifications for each shaft they make within a very narrow range of error tolerance, shaft after shaft after shaft. And believe me, by no means does the cost of a shaft guarantee this definition of shaft quality.

    In my shaft research work, my shaft data base now includes nearly 2000 different shaft models. In doing this, I get a chance to measure all sorts of specifications on a lot of different shafts from most of the shaft manufacturers in the world. When you measure multiples of the same model and flex of shafts, you get the chance to see who maintains tight error tolerances and who doesn’t. And I can tell you, the price of a shaft is not always related to how consistent or how tight the tolerances are for a company’s shafts.

    Some of the high dollar shafts do display very tight, consistent error tolerances. Some don’t. And some of the lower priced shafts show a very high level of shaft to shaft consistency while again, some do not.

  11. Who is Tom Wishon. [+]

    Tom Wishon is a golf club designer and researcher. Tom Wishon is a former member of the PGA of America who chose to pursue a career in golf equipment design and clubfitting research. While he has been offered the chance to head up golf club design for some of the largest golf club companies in the world, he has chosen to remain within the lesser known segment of the golf equipment industry that focuses on fitting golfers one at a time and building their golf clubs from high quality clubhead, shaft and grip component designs. He is also author of two best-selling consumer-oriented books, The Search for the Perfect Golf Club and The Search for the Perfect Driver.