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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: Callaway Jaws Raw wedge review and Strackaline’s yardage and green reading books

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Review of the new Callaway Jaws Raw wedge and the new Z Grind sole on the lob wedge. Great spin and improved shape make it my choice over the Jaws MD5. Strackaline’s yardage and green reading books are highly detailed and catch all the slopes on the green.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: An in-person guest visit from the Dominican Republic

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Shawn and Munashe tag team their efforts with Roberto. Whom we have had the pleasure to host in the last Month.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 John Deere Classic: Outright Betting Picks

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After an incredible week of golf at the Travelers Championship, the PGA Tour makes one final stop at TPC Deere Run to play the John Deere Classic. Last year, we saw Lucas Glover capture his first win in more than a decade by firing a final round 64 to claim victory.

TPC Deere Run is a 7,268-yard par 71 located in Silvis, Illinois. The course historically fails to present a major challenge to golfers with easy-to-hit fairways and bentgrass greens. Most players will have short approach shots into the greens, and the event often turns into a bit of a putting contest.

The John Deere Classic will play host to 156 golfers, and as expected, the field is considerably weaker than we have gotten used to this season.

After a long run of top tier events, many of the world’s top players are taking the week off.

A few of the notable golfers who will make the trip to the Midwest include Webb Simpson, Jason Day, Adam Hadwin, Denny McCarthy and Sahith Theegala.

2022 John Deere Classic Best Bets

Cameron Davis (+4000)

Cam Davis is a player who has the skill set I am targeting at TPC Deere Run this week. In the field, he ranks 17tin Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass and 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach.

The Australian had some stretches last week at the Travelers where it looked like he was going to contend deep into the weekend and some other stretches where he struggled mightily. While the poor play at times was a bit of a concern, it wasn’t as important as what he showed when he was playing well.  In a weak field, we are betting on the ceiling of Cameron Davis.

The 27-year-old has already proven he can win on Tour and won at this time last year. It may not seem like it at first glance, but Davis offers us relative value in this field.

Cameron Champ (+5000)

It’s more likely than not that Cameron Champ plays horribly this week. He’s missed four consecutive cuts and has had a pretty disappointing year overall. However, if you play this event 50 times, I feel very confident in saying that Champ wins at least once. Therefore, there is relative value in betting the 27-year-old this week.

Since Champ has arrived on the scene in 2018, he’s already accumulated three PGA Tour victories. “Win equity” is a term I often use in these articles, and Champ is a great example of a golfer who finds a way to win more often than his odds tend to indicate.

Yes, there’s a good chance he struggles this week. But there’s also a chance he gains eight strokes putting and wins the tournament.

Chez Reavie (+5000)

Reavie comes to the John Deere Classic quietly playing some very good golf. He has four top 27 finishes in his past five starts, including an 8th place finish at last week’s Travelers Championship.

The 40-year-old is gaining an average of 3.7 strokes from tee to green in his past five events. In many ways, Reavie is a similar to player to Lucas Glover (who won this event last year). He is a strong iron player who is good with a wedge. If he can gain a few strokes putting instead of losing strokes to field as he typically does, he is super live to win at TPC Deere Run.

Chesson Hadley (+15000)

Chesson Hadley used an excellent Sunday to catapult him to a top-5 finish at the Travelers Championship. His excellent round of 64 was one shot shy of the low round of the day, and it’s within the realm of possibility that he can use the momentum to propel him into contention at the John Deere Classic.

In the past we’ve seen hot putters propel golfers to victory at TPC Deere Run. Hadley is a player who is capable of gaining an absurd number of strokes with the putter when he has it going.

The John Deere Classic is one of the few spots on the schedule where journeymen have been able to get it done and is as good of a spot as ever to end Hadley’s nine-year winless streak on Tour.

Brandon Wu (+15000)

Brandon Wu is a golfer who’s ceiling I believe in long-term. Since his second-place finish at the Mexico Open, he’s been quite disappointing, but this is a tournament where I believe in taking chances of golfers with a high upside.

The Stanford product has loads of talent. He won the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Championship and beat out many players in this field in doing so.

This is a low risk, high reward bet on a golfer who is still developing on the PGA Tour.

Hayden Buckley (+15000)

Hayden Buckley is another golfer who is on the rise. He finished 14th in the U.S. Open, proving he has what it takes to compete on the PGA Tour.

In an event where I feel as though most any player in the field is live to win, it’s a good opportunity to bet a young up-and-comer in hopes that his ceiling comes to fruition against a weak field.

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