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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

A different perspective

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play a round with two of the greens keepers at a local golf course and it was a fascinating experience. It gave me a chance to get a behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to make a golf course great.

Many of us play at public courses, and sometimes its luck of the draw if the course we are at is in good condition. In my case, if I find a course that is well maintained and taken care of, I make it a regular stop. In this case, I was at Ridgeview Ranch in Plano Texas and it is a great public course and I play here at least once a month.

The two guys I played with were Tony Arellano and Jose Marguez. Both were great guys to share a round with. Tony shared what it’s like to make sure that all the greens are maintained properly and watered correctly. He showed me where there were some issues with one of the greens that I would never have noticed. We talked about how the invasion of Poa annua grass forces his guys to pull it out by hand with a tool that is smaller than a divot repair tool. It became clear to me that as a golf community, we need to lift up the people that do this labor-intensive work and thank them for all they do. Ridgeview Ranch is without a doubt one of the better public courses in my area, and it is because of the hard work these men do that keeps it this way.

As we watched the Masters tournament a few weeks ago we were awestruck by the awesome beauty of Augusta National and in my case I believe that is what heaven looks like. I think we take that kind of beauty for granted and forget the massive amount of time and hard work that go into making a golf course look good. These people have to deal with all of the different factors that Mother Nature throws at them and be prepared for anything. In addition to that, they also have to make sure the watering system is maintained as well as all of their equipment.

I have played at other courses in the DFW area that have a terrible staff and a superintendent that either don’t care about the course or don’t know how to stop it from falling apart. The course won’t spend the money to go get the right people that will take pride in their work. Some of these places will charge you more than $80 per round, and when you get to the first green that has dry spots that are without any grass you feel like you have been ripped off.

We all love this game not because it’s easy but because it’s a challenge and being good at it takes a ton of effort. We also love it because it gives us a chance to hang out with friends and family and enjoy time outside in the sun– hopefully without cell phone interruptions and other distractions of our modern day. We spend a ton of money on green fees, equipment and sometimes travel. We want to get what we pay for and we want to have a great course to spend the day at.

I wanted to write this article to thank all of those men and women that start work in the early hours of the day and work through the hottest stretches of the summer to keep our golf courses in great shape. They are people that never get the credit they deserve and we should always thank them whenever possible. Tony and Jose are just two examples of the people who work so hard for all of us. Ridgeview Ranch is lucky to have these two men who not only work hard but were fantastic representatives of their course. So next time you are out there and you see these people working hard, maybe stop and say thank you let them know what they do really makes a difference.

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Opinion & Analysis

5 most common golf injuries (and how to deal with them)

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You might not think about golf as a physically intensive game, but that doesn’t change the fact it is still a sport. And as with every sport, there’s a possibility you’ll sustain an injury while playing golf. Here’s a list of the five most common injuries you might sustain when playing the game, along with tips on how to deal with them in the best way possible so you heal quickly.

Sunburn

While not directly an injury, it’s paramount to talk about sunburns when talking about golf. A typical golf game is played outside in the open field, and it lasts for around four hours. This makes it extremely likely you’ll get sunburnt, especially if your skin is susceptible to it.

That’s why you should be quite careful when you play golf

Apply sunscreen every hour – since you’re moving around quite a lot on a golf course, sunscreen won’t last as long as it normally does.

Wear a golf hat – aside from making you look like a professional, the hat will provide additional protection for your face.

If you’re extra sensitive to the sun, you should check the weather and plan games when the weather is overcast.

Rotator Cuff Injury

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround the shoulder joint. This group are the main muscles responsible for swing movements in your arms. It’s no surprise then that in golf, where the main activity consists of swinging your arms, there’s a real chance this muscle group might sustain an injury.

To avoid injuries to this group, it’s imperative you practice the correct form of swinging the club. Before playing, you should also consider some stretching.

If you get an injury, however, you can recover faster by following RICE:

Rest: resting is extremely important for recovery. After an injury, the muscles are extremely vulnerable to further injury, and that’s why you should immediately stop playing and try to get some rest.

Ice: applying ice to the injured area during the first day or two can help. It reduces inflammation and relaxes the muscles.

Compress: bandage the rotator cuff group muscle and compress the muscles. This speeds up the muscle healing process.

Elevate: elevate the muscles above your heart to help achieve better circulation of blood and minimize fluids from gathering.

Wrist Injuries

Wrist tendons can sustain injuries when playing golf. Especially if you enjoy playing with a heavy club, it can put some strain on the wrist and cause wrist tendonitis, which is characterized by inflammation and irritation.

You should start by putting your wrist in a splint or a cast – it is necessary to immobilize your wrist to facilitate healing.

Anti-inflammatory medicine can relieve some of the pain and swelling you’ll have to deal with during the healing process. While it might not help your wrist heal much quicker, it’ll increase your comfort.

A professional hand therapist knows about the complexities of the wrist and the hand and can help you heal quicker by inspecting and treating your hands.

Back Pain

A golf game is long, sometimes taking up to 6 hours. This long a period of standing upright, walking, swinging clubs, etc. can put stress on your back, especially in people who aren’t used to a lot of physical activities:

If you feel like you’re not up for it, you should take a break mid-game and then continue after a decent rest. A golf game doesn’t have any particular time constraints, so it should be simple to agree to a short break.

If you don’t, consider renting a golf cart, it makes movement much easier. If that’s not possible, you can always buy a pushcart, which you can easily store all the equipment in. Take a look at golf push cart reviews to know which of them best suits your needs.

Better posture – a good posture distributes physical strain throughout your body and not only on your back, which means a good posture will prevent back pain and help you deal with it better during a game.

Golfer’s Elbow

Medically known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow occurs due to strain on the tendons connecting the elbow and forearm. It can also occur if you overuse and over-exhaust the muscles in your forearm that allow you to grip and rotate your arm:

A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is the way to go to alleviate the most severe symptoms of the injury at the beginning.

Lift the club properly, and if you think there’s a mismatch between your wrist and the weight of the club, you should get a lighter one.

Learn when you’ve reached your limit. Don’t overexert yourself – when you know your elbow is starting to cause you problems, take a short break!

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Podcasts

TG2: Our PGA picks were spot on…and Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball

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Rob picked Brooks to win the PGA and hit the nail on the head, while Knudson’s DJ pick was pretty close. Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball and we talk about some new clubs that are going to be tested in the next couple days.

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

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