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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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