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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

Bogey Golf

Bladed Wedge Twitch Show (7/6/20): Rocket Mortgage Classic Recap + Travis Miller AKA @PGAMEMES

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Alex Cecco and Trey Pezzetti recap the Rocket Mortage Classic as well as interview Travis Miller AKA @PGAMEMES about his interactions with PGA Tour Players and how he creates memes!

Twitch Whole Video LINK

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On Spec

On Spec: Bryson wins BIG and discussing the greatest combo sets

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Talking about Bryson – the most electric man in golf, his driving, putting, and one-length wedges. Plus breaking down the greatest forged combo sets of all time.

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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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: American Muscle in Detroit

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Bryson DeChambeau put quarantine to good use, putting on 40 pounds of muscle with a widely-documented diet of protein shakes and pizza. All that work in the gym paid off in a big way when he came from three back to overtake Matthew Wolff and win the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.

Much has been said about DeChambeau’s newfound speed and ball speeds regularly breaking the 190 mph mark. To be honest, I really did not want to get pulled into writing an article about his driving, especially considering that his flatstick had quite a bit to do with his victory this weekend. However, once I started tracking his shots in V1 Game, it is hard not to be blown away by what he has done with the big stick.

Drive for Show?

After the opening nine of his first round, DeChambeau already had four drives longer than 340 yards. Bear in mind, two of those nine holes are par threes. The only drives that didn’t go past 320 yards were layups. On the 14th hole, he uncorked a 375-yard drive, and found the green with his second shot for a one-putt eagle. Maybe he hit a sprinkler head or ran down the cart path for 100 yards like he did at least once the previous week. However, just three holes later, on the 17th, his tee shot traveled 378 yards. The V1 Game screenshot shows that drive’s towering distance.

So, alright. I’m impressed. DeChambeau has found the cheat code to overpower golf courses, and the field. He apologized to course designer Donald Ross early in the week, knowing that the fairway bunkers just were not far enough out to keep him from blowing past them on the fly.

Now, 378-yard drives are one thing. There are a handful of long drivers that could easily hang with that, but Bryson was also incredibly accurate this week. He hit 33 of 56 fairways for just under 60 percent. Not bad. However, he did so while making only a single driving error on the week. (A Driving Error in V1 Game is a tee shot hit into a penalty or recovery situation)

On the 14th hole on Sunday, DeChambeau put a 355-yard tee shot behind some trees and was blocked from advancing to the green (a recovery situation). He then overcooked his punch-out into the lake for his only two ball-striking mistakes of the week. DeChambeau averaged more than 340 yards (when hitting driver) on the week for around 47 attempts. He did so without making mistakes! Wild.

Referring to the Strokes Gained Stack chart at the top of this article, DeChambeau gained an impressive 11.1 strokes on a typical field driving for the week. Now, the PGA Tour normalizes that data to the actual field and even then, he gained almost seven strokes with driving.

To say DeChambeau found the cheat code is a little unfair to all the work he has put in. Clearly, those gains are paying off on the golf course. However, DeChambeau has effectively found a way to separate from the field while being perfectly average with irons and in his short game. Here is the secret… Bryson can afford to be an average player from 150 yards if the rest of the field is 40 yards back, hitting from 190 yards.

The above screenshot from V1 Game shows DeChambeau averaged around 330 yards per day when all drives (including layups) were counted. Each day, he easily crossed the 350-yard barrier multiple times. V1 Game can help you track your driving distance should you want to work on similar gains.

Putt for Dough?

Setting the shock and awe factor aside, the fact remains that DeChambeau would not have won this tournament without 1) a little help from Wolff, who had five bogeys in his first 10 holes on Sunday, and 2) a really hot putter.

Again, DeChambeau was perfectly average with his approach game all week. He found a way, though, to routinely make long putts. On two of the four days, he crossed the 100-ft barrier for feet of putts made (which you can see tracked in the V1 Game round summary). On Thursday alone, DeChambeau made 138 ft of putts. Additionally, he only had a single three-putt for the entire week. Below is a summary of his putting performance for the week.

DeChambeau putted well this weekend, avoiding three putts and misses inside six feet, which are two critical keys to scoring you will see highlighted in the post-round performance tracking in V1 Game. Looking at his Strokes Gained: Putting, DeChambeau gained strokes in every bucket except for “From Less Than Three Feet,” where he had one short miss on the week. This phenomenal performance on the greens, particularly on Sunday, kept Wolff from ever getting too close.

Takeaways

DeChambeau put in the work and it is paying dividends. He has been in contention each week following the quarantine and shows no signs of stopping if he can keep his tee shots flying as straight as he has thus far. If he could figure out a way to just be slightly above average with the irons, he would be very difficult to catch.

Much can be learned from seeing how the pros manage the course and get it done from day to day with different parts of their game. The big takeaway this week: If you want to improve your Strokes Gained: Driving, find a reliable way to hit it farther. V1 Game can help you track your progress on the course as you try to hit those distance goals.

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