Matching golf shafts to your students
Matching a golf shaft to a student can be, at times, truly a challenge. There are several key elements in selecting the proper shaft. The teacher and player must work as a team to make certain the feel and performance of the shaft best matches the playability and feel requirements of the player.
Shaft fitting is an investigative process; the more knowledge that can be discovered about a golfer’s swing, the better the fit is likely to be. As the player’s teacher, you have a unique insight into this fitting parameter. A look at the playability and performance of the player’s current clubs is a good baseline from which to work when fitting shafts to that player.
Shaft fitting is often termed a “risk-reward” proposition. The key is to find a shaft that the player is able to swing under control, yet one that produces maximum distance. Generally, a softer shaft will produce longer shots, but with less control. A longer length or lighter weight shaft often does the same thing. Stiffer, shorter and heavier shafts often improve accuracy, but at a distance cost.
The teacher must keep a number of things in mind as he or she guides a player through a shaft fitting session. How flexible can the shaft be before the golfer loses control? How stiff before the player starts over-swinging? When considering shaft weight, how light of a shaft can the player use without losing control? How heavy can the shaft be before the swing slows, the player fatigues, or the club feels too heavy? Concerning length, how long can the club be made before control is lost or the club feels too heavy? How short might the club be until distance or feel is compromised?
Another factor to consider is the weight distribution of the shaft. If a high percentage of weight is toward the tip of the shaft, the resulting club will feel heavier and ball flight will be higher. If the balance point is high, the feel will be lighter and ball flight lower. Bend point or flex distribution is also a factor. Bend point has little effect on actual ball flight, but does have a noticeable effect on club feel. Lower bend point shafts will feel softer and will create a club with more head feel. Higher bend shafts will feel stiffer and will tend to have less head feel.
A player’s tempo can be used to fine-tune the shaft to your student. The faster a golfer swings, the better chance he or she will be able to more effectively control a stiffer shaft. A good example of a faster-paced swing is the one belonging to Tom Watson. He has played higher frequency clubs throughout his career. More flexible shafts are better suited to slower-paced “Fred Couples-type” swingers of the club.
A faster swinging player using softer shafts will add distance to his shots, but will quickly lose control. The converse applies; a player with a slow swing tempo using stiff shafts may gain a measure of control, but will almost always lose distance and feel, something a slow swinging player typically cannot afford to do.
The length of a player’s backswing should also be factored in when choosing a shaft. The longer and smoother a player’s swing, the more flexible the shaft selection for that player. Players with very fast swings – Lanny Wadkins comes to mind – will be better matched to a stiffer shaft.
Swing plane may have an effect on shaft selection as well. A player with an upright swing plane will tend to hit higher-than-average shots as a result of the longer arc of such a swing type. If that player uses softer shafts, ball flight will be higher yet. If the upright-swinging player desires to lower ball flight, a stiffer tip shaft may provide such flight. For golfers with flat swing planes who most often have lower trajectory shots, stiffer shafts may be difficult to hit very high, making approach shots to the green very hard to hold. Softer shafts may help “kick” the ball into the air higher, helping to achieve an acceptable trajectory.
Shaft length selection is a direct result of how the player swings the club. Player height, arm length, posture and hand position at impact and address combine to influence length selection. Not all tall players need long clubs, and not all shorter players need short clubs. Hall-of-Famer Gary Player stands 5’7” tall, yet used a steel-shafted 44-45” driver throughout most of his career.
As a general rule, longer clubs will provide more distance potential due to the longer swing arc they create. But, as usual, there is a trade-off. Longer clubs may be harder to control as they are more difficult to return squarely to impact. Typically, longer clubs are heavier as well, perhaps making fatigue and/or player strength a factor. The key element when examining shaft length is to choose the longest length club that a player is able to swing under control, leading to consistency and longer shots.
The aforementioned factors combine to produce shaft performance. Today’s shaft fitting is primarily determined by either swing speed or launch angle, or both. It is generally assumed – sometimes incorrectly – that a player who swings the club at a higher speed is best fitted with a stiffer shaft and the slower-swinging lady, junior or senior will be better matched with a softer shaft.
Swing speed does seem to be a possible starting point in shaft selection. Nearly all manufacturers list their shafts according to certain swing speed ranges. As an example, True Temper’s EI-70 graphite shaft, a popular shaft among better players, has a speed rating of approximately 90 miles per hour for the “R” shaft version and 96 for the “S.” Does this mean that any player who swings at 90 mph should use the EI-70? Certainly not. The shaft is a moderately heavy shaft with a lower torque than most shafts on the market. This shaft is designed for a stronger, faster-swinging player. The player who has a long, slow swing will tend to hit this shaft shorter and with less control than will a stronger player, even if they both achieve a swing speed of 90 miles per hour.
Enter launch angle as a factor in fitting shafts, as well as balls. By measuring launch angle and ball speed using a specialized machine, the teacher can determine the best shaft/ball combination for the player. Indeed, at this point fitting involves finding the proper shaft, club loft and golf ball. Ball speed equals distance. Spin rate is a direct result of ball speed and club loft at impact. The basic concept of launch-angle driver fitting is to provide the player with a club/ball combination that produces the highest ball speed and longest carry (highest loft) with the least amount of spin. The goal of launch monitor shaft fitting is to find the combination that produces the highest launch, flattest trajectory and lowest ball spin. This will result in the greatest distance potential for your student.
Shaft selection is a multi-step process that involves a number of shaft parameters. Every shaft will have its own unique specifications, yielding overall performance and playability characteristics. The same applies to balls when fitting with a launch monitor. What plays well for one student is often a poor choice for another.
Utilizing knowledge about shafts and their specifications related to playability will help the teacher and player work toward the selection of the proper shaft. The shaft is truly a key element of club performance; choosing the correct shaft for a player’s swing can immediately improve direction, trajectory, feel and distance. Individual players have their own unique playing characteristics; so do golf shafts and balls. Matching them will lead to improved performance and lower scores just about every time.