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Opinion & Analysis

Should you switch to a softer shaft if you’ve lost clubhead speed?

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The search for more clubhead speed drives many golfers in to see us for fittings. Many of these golfers walk in considering moving to a more flexible shaft as they’re getting older and think it will help them regain some of their lost yards. It’s at this point we usually interject and summarize what their goals are, but ask them to keep an open mind as to what shaft flex we end up in.

There are multiple reasons we do this: The first being that clubhead speed isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to maximizing distance. Ball speed, launch angle, spin rates all play a bigger role than simple clubhead speed. The second is that by going to a softer shaft, you may not be getting more clubhead speed but may, in fact, be lowering it.

To start, I must give a little background of what the shaft does during the swing and compare it to a theoretical shaft that’s infinitely strong and stays perfectly straight during a swing. This theoretical shaft is shown in yellow on the captures below. Gears measures this relative clubhead speed with a metric called “kick.”

During the swing the shaft will cycle between lead and lag deflection.  The shaft reaches its maximum lag deflection shortly after the start of the downswing as the golfer starts to apply downward force and the mass of the clubhead lags behind.  Currently, the clubhead is moving slower than our theoretical shaft. That potential speed isn’t lost however, it’s stored in the shaft.

Picture at start of downswing showing deflection and negative kick

As the hands and club continue to move towards the ball, the shaft starts to release its stored energy and return to a neutral, straight position. As with any object that is flexed, the shaft passes the neutral, straight position and moves into lead deflection. It’s during this phase of releasing its stored energy that the clubhead is moving faster than the infinitely strong and perfectly straight shaft.  

Picture around half-way down, showing lead deflection and positive kick

For the flex of a shaft to contribute to the clubhead speed, the clubhead needs to hit the ball when that shaft is somewhere between maximum lag deflection and maximum lead deflection, so it has a positive “kick.” Timing is incredibly important on this! 

Impact showing lead deflection with negative kick

What does this mean for you as a golfer? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple “yes/no” answer if going to a more flexible shaft will help you pick up clubhead speed.

The first video shows a golfer swinging two different shafts. The shaft on the left (gold avatar) is an Accra FX 2.0 140 M1 and the one on the right (blue avatar) is an Accra FX 2.0 270 M4. The 270 M4 is a “stiff” flex, shaft weighing 70 grams, and the FX 2.0 140 is a 40-gram “ladies” flex. As you can see from the video there isn’t a significant difference in clubhead speed.

From the enlarged graph of the “kick” metric below, you can see there is some difference in the amount of speed the shaft is contributing to the clubhead and the M1 shaft is contributing 2.19 mph more to the clubhead than the stiffer M4. It’s just that other variables are negating this slight advantage, so the result is that the two shafts are basically even in terms of clubhead speed at impact.  

Expanded Kick Graph

This isn’t to say that a more flexible shaft will never help you pick up clubhead speed. The M1 shaft contributed over 3 mph more than the M4 did for this golfer. 

The takeaway in all of this is that there are many variables that go into creating clubhead speed and how any shaft reacts to your swing may be very different than how it reacts to others. I strongly suggest, that you test multiple shaft options and keep an open mind as to what shaft works the best for you. We’ve had several cases where putting a stiffer flex shaft is the right choice to help a golfer pick up distance, even if their clubhead speed doesn’t indicate it.  

Additionally, it’s not all about clubhead speed! When recommending shafts, we focus first on face mapping — or reducing the impact area grouping of where you hit the ball on the face. This leads to better launch angles, spin, ball speed and most importantly, dispersion.  

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Chris Wycoff is the owner of SwingFit, a custom club fitting and building studio in Hilton Head Island, SC. Prior to joining the golf world, Chris was a management consultant for over 7 years and brings a great deal of the data driven processes from that world into golf. SwingFit has spent the last 2 years with a Gears motion tracking system capturing thousands of swings and partnering with data scientists to research how clubs and human golf swings really interact. SwingFit was included on Golf Digest's list of 100 Best Clubfitters in America for 2015/16, 17/18 & 19/20 as well as Golf.com's list of 25 Elite Club Fitters in 2019 .

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Dan

    Jun 15, 2019 at 3:53 am

    It’s incorrect common knowledge that more flex adds speed. Different flexes affect direction but mostly launch angle and spin. The biggest non swing factor for speed is shaft weight. A slower swinger would benefit from a 50 gram stiff over a 70 gram regular, even neither is optimal. Go lighter and shorter in the shaft settup to maximize speed and contact. It’s the better starting point in ones search for the right driver. But always default to the “whatever works” philosophy.

  2. Lane Holt

    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:50 am

    Great article. Actually some truth about golf shafts. I am sure if given more print you could explain how shaft deflection / deceleration at impact greatly affects distance and direction.

    • That Guy

      Jun 13, 2019 at 8:40 am

      There is no such thing as deceleration…. its negative acceleration. Physics 101

    • Chris Wycoff

      Jun 13, 2019 at 10:07 am

      Hi Lane – Thanks for the feedback and you’re correct. We have found that the shaft flex rarely changes club head speed significantly, but it can have a significant impact on distance and dispersion. This is primarily through smash factor, dispersion and spin. We’ll get more in depth on that topic in a future article.

  3. Mike Wiland

    Jun 12, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Like to stop in and see you.Did my PGA under Cary Corbett at HT in late 80’s. Where are you located?

    • Chris Wycoff

      Jun 13, 2019 at 9:57 am

      Hi Mike – We’d love to have you stop by. We’re located on the Robert Trent Jones course in Palmetto Dunes.

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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

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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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

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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