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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

Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Wedge Wednesday! New Edel SMS and Cobra Snakebite

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Wedge Wednesday is here! We have some new wedges from Edel and Cobra that were just released. Edel’s SMS wedge with Swing Match Weighting System is made to be adjusted for each player’s swing. Cobra’s Snakebite wedge has wider and shallower full-face grooves for more spin out of any lie.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Up and down – The Spieth rollercoaster notches a rare short game win

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Jordan Spieth is back! After a long hiatus from the winner’s circle, Spieth was able to break through at the Oaks Course at TPC of San Antonio to capture his 12th career PGA TOUR victory at the Valero Texas Open. It wasn’t easy, but then again, nothing ever is with Spieth. The Golden Child always seems to find a way to add dramatics whether its shots from the driving range to steal the British Open from Matt Kuchar or holing a bunker shot to force (John Deere) or win (Travelers) a playoff. That sense of drama and fun that has surrounded the always-vocal Spieth has been missing in recent years as his weekend struggles had him plummeting down the World Rankings.

Earlier this year, he started showing signs of life with a handful of 54 hole leads, only to be undone with mediocre Sunday performances. Through eight holes on Saturday, sitting at +1 for the day, it looked like this would also be just another missed opportunity. But then Spieth did what Spieth does. He made birdies in bunches and showed off that terrific short game.

Spieth has never been traditional in the way he wins. Though he is probably best known for his putting stroke, in his best years, he was also quite dominant with his irons. This week was no exception. We can use V1 Game’s Strokes Gained Stacked view to see how Spieth performed in Driving, Approach, Short Game, and Putting over the four rounds.

The first thing that jumps out, looking at Spieth’s performance, is his short game. Speith gained well over 4 strokes over the average PGA Tour player for the week. This is not common for PGA TOUR winners. The main reason is that gaining strokes in the Short Game requires opportunities from inside 75 yards. In order to have opportunities, that typically means that you have to miss greens. Most PGA TOUR winners do not many miss greens on their way to a trophy, however Jordan Spieth missed many at the Valero Texas Open. In fact, he finished the week tied for 66th in greens in regulation (GIR) hitting only 58 percent. This is certainly more of an outlier in terms of GIR for tour winners, but when you have a short game as good as Spieth’s, you can get away with it.

The second observation is that Spieth was almost perfectly average with Driving. He came out positive in strokes gained for the week, but finished 38th in the field for Strokes Gained Driving. Strokes Gained Driving accounts for both distance and accuracy and while Jordan is certainly not one of the longest hitters on tour, lately his struggle has been with accuracy. He is hitting around 50 percent of his fairways and while the rough was not overly penal this week, several times Spieth was putting himself into recovery or difficult situations.

Known for his putting, Spieth demonstrated exactly why this weekend. For starters, he had no three putts. While a lot of the field struggled to get the ball in the hole, Jordan minimized mistakes. In fact, Jordan gained strokes on the field putting from every distance bucket <25 ft. He gained almost more than one stroke per round on the field from four -15 ft each day. Those strokes add up at the end of the week and Spieth’s putter certainly gives him an advantage.

Spieth is peaking just in time for The Masters at a golf course where he has traditionally played very well. But what should he be working on heading to Augusta? We can use V1 Game’s Virtual Coach to breakdown his game and give us some insights on how he should be practicing this week.

V1 Game’s Virtual Coach tells Jordan that first he should work on Driving as it is currently the weakest part of his game (relative to other Tour professionals). The quick insight shows that he is missing to the right more than 30 percent of the time and is losing, on average, around a third of a stroke per round from putting his tee shots into recovery situations.

Next, V1 Game’s Virtual Coach highlights Approach as his next-biggest area of focus. With the Virtual Coach, we can go as deep as we want to go to get specific targets for practice. Clicking on “WORK ON NEXT” takes us to the Approach Histogram which shows us that Jordan is gaining strokes for most yardage buckets, but struggling from 151-175 yards. This is where he should spend some time practicing, but we can go even deeper than that. Clicking on the insight takes us to a breakdown of his performance from that distance, shows that he only hit the green 25 percent of the time and tended to miss long. These key insights could help Spieth fine-tune a problem area heading into one of the most important weeks of the year.

As a Spieth fan, I was delighted to see him breakthrough and win again on the PGA TOUR. Golf is better when Jordan Spieth is adding his theatrics to the mix. His combination of approach and putting mixed with unbelievable short game is a thrill to watch. It is rare to see a PGA TOUR winner do so much damage with the short game. This proves there is more than one way to win on tour and more than one way to get it done on the golf course.

If you want to play like Jordan Spieth and start practicing the areas that will impact your game the most, V1 Game can help simplify the results of your performance and get you focusing on the right areas to improve the fastest. Download the app for free and get started on your path to better golf.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Responsible speed training for sustainable personal bests

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It is truly awesome what is happening with Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire and more of their young friends who are in shape are joining the bandwagon. But at an all-out slash fest trying to get 160mph ball speed with a 7-iron for a two-hour session would send 90% of us to the hospital. It’s safe to say it is not for everyone. To increase your clubhead speed responsibly long term really starts with us.

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