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Opinion & Analysis

Part 3: Facts about shafts, and what they do

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Tom Wishon Clubs

There is no question the shaft is the least understood of all the components of a golf club.

The first reason is because most golfers simply do not know what the shaft can and cannot do to influence the outcome of a shot. Second, many golfers think that the shaft does what it does for every golfer who uses that shaft. It is very common for a golfer to switch shafts, see a visible change in ball flight, and attribute all of the shot change they see to the shaft. In reality, there are other fitting parameters in the club that underwent a significant change when the new shaft was installed, which may or may not be the reason for the change in ball flight.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of my series on shafts, you have learned how it is possible to measure and express a shaft’s flex and bend profile design in quantitative terms. The graphs and stiffness measurement data take flex and bend profile comparison and selection to the same level of quantitative measurement as all the other specs of the golf club which are measured in degrees, grams and inches.

But in the end, even with the ability to empirically compare shaft flex and bend profile, there are still questions:

  • How does the shaft contribute to ball flight?
  • For who does it contribute?
  • How much does it contribute?
  • How does it actually contribute?

I’ve spent decades in my career doing this study and I strongly believe that we do know the answers to these often confusing questions about the performance of the shaft.

The shaft can have an effect on launch angle, trajectory and spin rate. How much of an effect the shaft has on these shot parameters depends on the lateness of a golfer’s release, their clubhead speed and how aggressive their downswing tempo is. In addition, how much the shaft can change launch angle, trajectory and spin for golfers who do have the swing characteristics to make the shaft perform depends completely on the overall stiffness and bend profile of the new shaft versus the golfer’s previous shaft.

For those of you who have read some of my articles and posts on shafts, you have heard this part before. The shaft’s effect on launch angle, trajectory and backspin only become visible as the golfer’s release occurs later and later in the downswing. In addition, the shaft’s effect on trajectory and spin progresses more and more as the golfer’s clubhead speed and downswing aggressiveness/force increases.

Golfers who unhinge the wrist cock early to midway in the downswing do NOT experience a difference in launch angle, trajectory or backspin from shafts of different flex and different bend profile. They do experience a difference in how solid or boardy the impact with the ball is. But as the release gets to midway on the downswing, and progressively a little later and later beyond midway in the downswing, the shaft begins to have a little more and more effect on launch angle, trajectory and spin.

The reason the shaft can have an effect on launch angle, trajectory and spin for later release players is because of the way the timing of the bending of the shaft can affect the dynamic loft of the clubhead at impact. When the golfer begins to unhinge their wrist cock angle on the downswing, the golfer’s hands/arms begin to slow down while the club accelerates.

Yes, for EVERY golfer, once he or she unhinges the wrist cock angle, their arms slow down. Because the hands are holding the club while the arms are slowing down, the acceleration of the club begins to push the shaft against the resistance of the slowing arms/hands into a forward bend position.

The later the golfer’s release, the more the forward bending of the shaft can arrive at impact in that forward bend position. For a midway release, the shaft only has a slight amount of forward bend by the time the clubhead gets to the ball. For an early to midway release, the forward bending of the shaft happens too soon, so that by the time the clubhead gets to the ball, the shaft has rebounded back to straight, thus not changing the dynamic loft of the clubhead at impact.

It is important to understand that two golfers can have the same launch angle, but have totally different trajectories and backspin amounts from each other. If two golfers with different clubhead speeds have the same swing path, same angle of attack and same hand position at impact, the launch angle will be the same but the trajectory and spin rates will differ. The higher the clubhead speed of the golfer, the higher the trajectory and spin will be for any given launch angle.

How much can the shaft affect the launch angle and spin rate for those golfers who do have a later to very late release? 

Two things control this. First, when a golfer uses a different shaft than he has been playing, the only way the shaft can change the launch angle and spin is if the new shaft is different in its overall stiffness design than the old shaft. Second, how much the shaft can affect launch angle and spin also depends on how flexible or stiff the shaft is in relation to the golfer’s clubhead speed, transition and tempo force and point of release.

First, I see TONS of posts and questions in the GolfWRX forums that say something like:

“I need a recommendation for a good low-launching (or high-launching), low-spin shaft.”

Such a question is asked as if the golfer thinks that a shaft will demonstrate the same effect on launch angle and spin for every golfer who uses it.

While the shaft companies like to say their shafts are designed to have certain launch and spin characteristics, the truth is that a shaft can only offer a low or higher launch/spin if it is stiffer or more flexible THAN WHAT THE GOLFER USED BEFORE.

In other words, what is a low-launch and low-spin shaft for Golfer A can be a high-launch and high-spin shaft for Golfer B, and vice versa. FOR THE SAME SHAFT, the golfer with the higher clubhead speed, later release and more upward angle of attack is going to hit shots with a higher launch, higher trajectory and higher spin than will the golfer with a lower clubhead speed, earlier release and more downward angle of attack.

So, for golfers who are looking for a low-launch, low-spinning shaft, the only way you can find that is to:

  1. Know precisely what the overall stiffness and bend profile stiffness design is of the shaft you now play, and…
  2. Know the overall stiffness and bend profile stiffness design of all other shafts so you can pick one that is stiffer overall and/or has a more stiff tip section design.

Shafts are dumb animals. They only do what their owner’s swing forces them to do.

Second, if a late-release golfer were to play with a soft L-Flex shaft one day and a stiff X-Flex the next, without question the difference in launch angle, trajectory and spin would be very significant. But common sense says this isn’t going to happen because each golfer should play a shaft that has its overall stiffness and bend profile properly matched to the golfer’s unique combination of clubhead speed, transition/tempo force and point of wrist cock release.

Sure, some of us prefer to play a shaft that feels stiffer. Some of us like to play a shaft that feels a little more flexible. If a golfer has a preferred sense of bending feel for a shaft, without question, regardless of their clubhead speed, transition/tempo and point of release, their best shaft has to satisfy that bending feel preference or their swing tempo/timing/rhythm/release gets screwed up and becomes inconsistent.

But within shafts that reasonably fit a golfer’s clubhead speed, transition/tempo and point of release, typically the maximum difference seen in launch angle from different shaft options is in the area of 2.5-to-3 degrees. As far as spin difference, that depends on the clubhead speed of the golfer. A shaft that launches the ball 2-degrees higher for a golfer with an 80 mph clubhead speed would typically increase spin by 350-to-400 rpm, while a shaft that launches the ball 2-degrees higher for a golfer with a 100 mph clubhead speed would typically increase spin by 500-to-600 rpm – that is, of course, given the same clubhead and same other assembly specs of the club.

So the bottom line is this: shafts can bring about changes in launch angle, trajectory and spin, but only for golfers with a later-to-late release, and only to the extent that their overall stiffness and bend profile are different from the shaft the golfer previously played.

If the golfer has developed a preferred sense of bending feel for the shaft, playing a shaft that satisfies that preferred bending feel will enable the golfer to achieve their highest clubhead speed. However, for such a golfer, playing a shaft that does NOT perfectly match their preferred bending feel will bring about a lower clubhead speed, worse accuracy and more off-center hits.

Here’s a statement about shafts that I have heard a few times in my career:

“Different shaft designs can be designed with a higher tip velocity to allow the golfer to achieve a higher clubhead speed.”

That’s not correct. As I said before, shafts are dumb animals. They ONLY do what the swing characteristics of their owners cause them to do. Whenever a golfer uses a shaft that has its weight, overall stiffness and bend profile well matched to the golfer’s clubhead speed, transition/tempo, point of release AND preference for bending feel, that’s when the golfer will achieve their highest clubhead speed. But this is only if the specs of length, loft, face angle, total weight, swing weight, and grip size are correctly fit to the golfer as well.

Give that same shaft to a different golfer with the same clubhead speed but a different combination of transition/tempo, point of release and preference for bending feel and that same shaft will result in a lower clubhead speed with far worse performance for that golfer BECAUSE THE SHAFT DOES NOT FIT THE SWING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OTHER GOLFER.

A shaft can only exhibit a high level of “tip velocity” for the golfers whose clubhead speed, transition/tempo, point of release AND preference for bending feel is perfectly matched to the weight, overall stiffness and bend profile of the shaft.

Conclusion

The flex (overall stiffness) and bend profile (distribution of stiffness over the length of the shaft) are without question an important performance element of the golf club – but only to golfers whose point of release is later in the downswing. In addition, the flex and bend profile of the shaft becomes more of a performance element in the shot as the golfer’s clubhead speed gets higher and their transition and tempo gets more aggressive.

So for golfers with an early-to-midway release with a slower swing speed and with a less forceful and aggressive transition and tempo, the shaft’s flex and bend profile will not affect launch angle, trajectory and backspin and become chiefly a contributor to the impact feel of the shot coming off the clubhead.

As always, the very best way to be fit to the best shaft for your swing and for your shot shape requirements is to find a good clubmaker. There are clubmakers out there who really live, eat and breathe the quantitative and swing analysis approach to shaft fitting. If you want the best fitting, see one of these clubmakers and you will be well ahead for doing so.

To find a good Clubmaker in your area, consult any of these following sources:

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Tom Wishon is a 40-year veteran of the golf equipment industry specializing in club head design, shaft performance analysis and club fitting research and development. He has been responsible for more than 50 different club head design firsts in his design career, including the first adjustable hosel device, as well as the first 0.830 COR fairway woods, hybrids and irons. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: February 2014 Tom served as a member of the Golf Digest Technical Advisory Panel, and has written several books on golf equipment including "The Search for the Perfect Golf Club" and "The Search for the Perfect Driver," which were selected as back-to-back winners of the 2006 and 2007 Golf Book of the Year by the International Network of Golf (ING), the largest organization of golf industry media professionals in the USA. He continues to teach and share his wealth of knowledge in custom club fitting through his latest book, "Common Sense Clubfitting: The Wishon Method," written for golf professionals and club makers to learn the latest techniques in accurate custom club fitting. Tom currently heads his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, which specializes in the design of original, high-end custom golf equipment designs and club fitting research for independent custom club makers worldwide Click here to visit his site, wishongolf.com

Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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Podcasts

TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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