It’s clear that a lot of threads and posts in the GolfWRX forums are from golfers asking all sorts of questions about shafts. In nearly 40 years of golf equipment design and research work, I think it is fair to say that the shaft is the least understood component of the golf club.
I have engaged in serious shaft research since 1990, and from that have learned a lot about shaft design, performance and fitting, I would like to help clear some things up and share some facts about shafts and what you need to know to pick the best shaft for YOUR swing.
I will do my best to make all of this understandable without stressing everyone’s attention span. But there is a lot to explain about this subject so I will separate this into three parts with some time in between each thread to allow you to digest it and ask questions.
How Can Golfers TRULY Compare Shafts to Know their Real Performance Differences?
Below is a typical “specification chart” from a major shaft company. I have removed the names because it is not my intent to criticize a specific shaft maker. It is simply my desire to show you how the typical information provided about shafts will not allow golfers to know what they really need to know about shafts to be able to make an informed buying decision.
Plain and simple, the information in this chart cannot tell a golfer how any of these shafts truly perform, much less how they actually compare in stiffness to any other the shaft.
The flex? There are no standards for exactly how stiff any of the flex letter codes are. Charts like this provide no quantitative measurements of exactly how stiff any shaft might be. In fact the ONLY bits of information on a typical chart like this which can be helpful are the WEIGHT and the TORQUE.
The butt and tip diameter? These are fine for knowing what the hosel bore of the clubhead needs to be to easily accept the shaft and to know how to install the grip to obtain a desired size.
The parallel tip section? That simply tells you if you cut more than 2 inches off the tip, it’s not likely to fit all the way into any normal hosel with a 0.335-inch bore.
The bend point? Sorry, but the term bend point is not relevant because with terms like “high,” “mid,” or “low,” it has always been way too generic. WHERE EXACTLY IS a mid bend point? And how does this mid bend point compare to some other company’s mid or low or high bend point?
Recently I have seen a couple of other shaft companies begin to offer a form of QUANTITATIVE stiffness measurements for their shafts. Here’s an example:
This shaft company offers a series of stiffness profile measurements for the butt, mid and tip sections of their shafts. That’s a start, but the problem is that this company only offers these stiffness profile measurements for their own shafts. This is somewhat reasonable for comparing the various shaft models and flexes within this one company, but what if you have some other company’s shaft in your driver, or you wish to compare these shafts to some other company’s shafts? And if you have never hit one of these shafts, how stiff or flexible are any of these measurements in the first place? These rudimentary stiffness profile measurements do not allow the depth and scope of stiffness information to allow you to make a valid shaft fitting decision.
You might look at the butt stiffness number and say, “That’s a frequency measurement and I know how stiff a 270 cpm shaft plays.” Yes, that butt stiffness number is a frequency measurement. But the problem is you have no idea how these butt frequency measurements were obtained.
- What length of the butt was clamped?
- How heavy was the tip weight?
- Is this 270 cpm frequency the same as a 270 cpm shaft that you played?
Again, there are no standards in the golf industry for shaft frequency measurement so you have no idea if a measurement of say, 270 cpm from this company is equivalent to a measurement of 255 cpm or 265 cpm or whatever cpm using one of the many other types of shaft frequency measurement.
What makes all this even more “exciting” or I should say, challenging, is the fact the industry is now populated with many shafts that are VERY expensive. Do you really want to GUESS whether that $300 shaft is right for you, or would you like to have a more definitive way to help make that decision?
Is there a Better Way to Compare Shaft Stiffness?
Ever since I began to perform quantitative measurements on shafts, I knew we needed a way to be able to see and compare the stiffness of as many shafts as possible, and do it over their entire length. That way, club makers and golfers could have a tangible way to compare the complete full length stiffness design of shafts to each other. The performance and the bending feel of any shaft are products of its stiffness design over its entire length. Not just the butt, not just the tip, but the whole length of the shaft. There are almost an infinite number of ways the stiffness of a shaft can be created over its entire length.
In 2005, we arrived on a reasonably simple method to perform full length comparative stiffness measurements for golf shafts. From this, we created a software program that would house and display the data from our shaft stiffness comparison methodology. We made the first version of the software available to club makers in 2006. Two times each year we ask the shaft companies to send us multiples of each of their new shaft models and flexes so we can keep adding shafts to the software data base.
At present, we have more than 2,000 different wood, hybrid and iron shafts in the TWGT Shaft Bend Profile software. We charge a one-time fee of $129.50 for the software because the expense to have it programmed and maintained is not insignificant. It also takes us quite a number of hours to acquire, test and input the new shaft data into the software two times each year. You can find more information about this on my site, which is linked in my bio.
As much as we would like, there is no possible way we can include EVERY shaft in the industry in the software’s data base. We have to rely on the shaft companies to send us the multiple samples of each of their shafts to measure because we simply cannot afford to actually buy all of the shafts. We also cannot obtain the OEM stock shafts because the OEM companies will simply not allow anyone to have their raw shafts for any measurement work like this. We do have some OEM stock shafts in the data base, which come from “pulls” from OEM clubs that we can measure. But we do try to put as many shafts as we can into the data base so that clubmakers and golfers can better compare the relative stiffness of shafts.
To date more than 600 different club makers now use the TWGT Shaft Bend Profile software in their shaft fitting. This use by the club makers has also provided “in the field” verification that the measurements of the shafts do indeed provide a valid representation of the performance and even the bending feel of the shafts in the data base. The shaft fitting comparisons made with the data in the TWGT Shaft Bend Profile software is most definitely valid for predicting the performance and feel of a shaft.
How Does the Bend Profile Data Explain the Performance and Differences Between Shafts?
Some of you have seen graphs from the TWGT Bend Profile software that I have posted to answer a question here and there about shafts. For those of you who have not seen this, the following is a basic screen image from the software showing a comparison of the relative stiffness design of two shafts. I just randomly chose to use the Mitsubishi Rayon’s Diamana White 83 X5CT S flex and the UST ProForce V2 HL65 S flex to start the explanation.
You see seven columns in the data box. These show WHERE on the shafts we do the stiffness measurements. Starting at 11 inches up from the tip, the measurements then are made at 5-inch spaced positions up from the tip end of each shaft, ending at 41 inches up from the tip. Because iron and hybrid shafts are shorter in raw length, their measurements run from 11 inches up to 36 inches up from the tip end of the shafts.
Measurements are done with a 454 gram weight attached to the tip of the shaft using a specially designed frequency analyzer that measures the shaft oscillations using two separate load cells and two separate strain gauges. Each shaft is tested at the same exact place on the shaft, using the same exact test methodology. This ensures the data is comparable from shaft to shaft to shaft in the data base of the software.
Let’s take a look at an example graph and data chart
The 41-inch, 36-inch and 31-inch measurements represent the butt section, the 31-inch, 26-inch and 21-inch measurements represent the center section and the 21-inch, 16-inch and 11-inch measurements represent the tip section of the shaft (yes, there is an overlap).
When companies design different flexes of a shaft, each different letter flex version is ordained chiefly by the stiffness measurements of the 41-inch to 21-inch positions of the shaft (butt, to center, to upper tip). Tip section differences on shafts do not play as significant of a role in the overall flex design (swing speed rating) of a shaft as do the butt to center to upper tip sections. The tip section design of a shaft is chiefly designed to create differences in the launch angle, trajectory and spin rate among shafts within the same flex.
After significant research and study of the shaft data, we can make conclusions about how much of a difference in the stiffness measurements is significant or not. With so many shafts in the data base, we can also identify a basic relationship between a golfer’s clubhead speed, the average bending force generated by that clubhead speed, and the overall stiffness design of a shaft. This is very important for being able to tell a golfer which shaft may be better suited to his clubhead speed. Therefore, we can use the stiffness measurements of the 41-inch to 21-inch positions on the shaft to determine the swing speed rating of any shaft.
We can also determine how much of a measurement difference is significant or not with respect to stiffness in the butt, center and tip sections of the shafts.
- For example, at the start of the butt section, as represented by the 41-inch measurement, a measurement difference of 8-to-10 cpm is approximately equivalent to one full letter flex difference.
- At the middle of the center section, as represented by the 26-inch measurements, a difference of 12-to-15 cpm is equivalent to one full letter flex difference.
- In the middle of the tip section, as represented by the 16-inch measurement, a difference of 30-to-40 cpm usually accounts for a visible difference in the launch angle, trajectory and spin rate of the shot.
There are no standards for how stiff any of the letter flex designations of shafts may be. How stiff IS an R flex, an S flex (or any of the other letter flexes)? How much variation is there among shafts of the same letter flex?
Below is data to show the low-to-high range in stiffness for all shafts for drivers and fairway woods in our data base that are marked as being a letter R flex shafts. These are listed from softest to stiffest, but all of these are made and marked by their respective companies to be an R flex shaft.
Based on the measurements of the 41-inch and 36-inch sections for the butt section, you are looking at a range of FOUR FULL FLEXES. That means the R flex shafts in the golf industry actually exist within a range of four full flexes. The same is true for S flex shafts, as well.
Because there are far fewer L, A and X flex shafts, the range in stiffness within these letter flex codes is not quite as wide as it is within the R and S flex shafts. Here is the Bend Profile graph and data chart to illustrate the range in R flex shafts for woods that exist today.
Based on all of our research to associate a driver clubhead speed with the measurements for the 41-inch, 36-inch, 31-inch, 26-inch positions of the butt and center of the shaft, here are the appropriate driver clubhead speed ratings for each of these above five different R flex shafts:
- Miyazaki C.Kua 39 R: For a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 55-to-65 mph
- UST ProForce V2 HL-55 R: For a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 65-to-75 mph
- Aldila RIP’d NV65 R: For a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 75-to-85 mph
- Fujikura Blue 004 R: For a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 85-to-95 mph
- Rapport Blue Velvet R: For a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 95-to-105 mph
Therefore, you are looking at shafts in the golf industry that match up to a range in swing speed of 50 mph, yet ALL are marked and sold as R flex shafts.
You may be prompted to comment, “This has to be the exception rather than the rule.” If we take a look at the data base to search where the majority of R-flex shafts lie with respect to their 41-inch, 36-inch and 31-inch butt section measurements, we find that the majority of R-flex shafts exist within a range that represents a 20-to-30 mph difference in the clubhead speed rating for the shafts.
This is precisely why golfers sometimes buy a new club and its shaft doesn’t feel as stiff or feels stiffer than their previous shaft with the same letter flex.
Do all shafts of the same letter flex have the same butt-to-center section stiffness (same swing speed rating) within the same shaft company or the same golf club company?
Let’s take a look at the R-flex version of a number of different shaft models from one shaft manufacturing company. All are selected on the basis of being very close to the same shaft weight so they potentially could be considered for purchase by the same golfer.
I want to be sure to first make something clear. I am NOT saying it is wrong for a company to make the same letter flex version of each different shaft model to be of a different stiffness design. That is their right as a company to determine the exact design of each flex for each shaft they make.
What I am saying is that it is very difficult for consumer golfers to know how to choose the shaft that might best match their swing when the companies provide no empirical information like this to use for making quantitative comparisons of the different shafts.
The swing speed range for all these R-flex shafts from Aldila ranges by 25 mph. At one end, the NVS 65-R is a shaft that would be rated for use by a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 70-to-80mph. At the other end, the RIP Gamma 60-3.6-R is a shaft that would be rated for use by a golfer with a driver clubhead speed of 85-to-95 mph. That means within all the R-Flex shafts from Aldila, the clubhead speed rating for possible selection by a golfer can range by 25 mph – yet all are marked as being an R-Flex shaft.
On top of this are definite differences in the TIP SECTION design of all these different R-flex shafts. Within all the R-Flex shafts from Aldila, we see shafts with a tip section design that ranges from the very tip-soft (Habanero 60-R) all the way up to the moderately tip stiff design of the RIP Gamma 60-3.6-R. If both these R-flex shafts were hit by the same golfer, the Habanero would launch the ball approximately 3-degrees higher and with an estimated 750 rpm more backspin than the RIP Gamma 60-3.6-R. Yet again, both are marked as R-flex shafts.
Again, each company is free to design their shafts as they see fit, for whichever golfer swing types they designate. But how can any golfer really know the difference in the overall stiffness design of any of these shafts and from that, know anything about the performance difference between these shafts of the same flex without clear, quantitative comparative information?
Please understand that variation between the same letter flex of different shaft models goes on INTENTIONALLY with every shaft company in the golf industry. It is not specific to Aldila. I simply use them to illustrate that this does happen within each shaft manufacturing company. Without a clear, quantitative means to compare the stiffness design of shafts, consumer golfers are in the dark with respect to making accurate shaft buying and shaft fitting decisions.
For those of you who made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS! You ARE indeed interested in shafts. For those of you who didn’t… well, true shaft knowledge can be a little beyond a normal realm of interest, I do admit that. I hope you all got something out of this, and there is more to come to help you know much more about how to determine the differences between shafts and how to turn that information into better shaft buying decisions.
By the way, there are many custom clubmakers out there who can help you find the right shaft FAR more accurately than the ways you have been trying to pick the right shaft in the past. These club makers who study this stuff are worth knowing and can help you. Again, to find a good club fitter, check out these sources:
- The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals)
- The ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild)
- The TWGT Clubmaker Locator
- Part 1 — Taking the guesswork out of selecting shafts
- Part 2 — Taking shaft fitting from guessing to specifics
- Part 3 — Facts about shafts, and what they do
Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020
As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.
Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.
Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.
Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.
Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.
PXG leaned in
Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.
The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.
Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.
In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.
Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.
The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.
Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled
Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.
There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.
Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.
Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.
Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”
Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.
It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.
What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.
Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.
It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.
The Titleist train chugged on
I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.
So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.
It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.
Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to
Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.
The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.
As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.
Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball
Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.
However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.
On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions
In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.
After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.
Is 2020 golf’s big chance?
At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.
Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.
It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).
If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.
The news sports landscape
Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.
People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.
The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry
- Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
- As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.
When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.
Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.
As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.
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