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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

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Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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TG2: What’s the most annoying breach of golf etiquette?

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

Follow @tg2wrx on Instagram to enter the Bettinardi inovai 5.0 center-shaft putter giveaway.

Listen to the full podcast below on SoundCloud, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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