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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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Back from vacation! Nikon Coolshot 50i and Tour Edge C721 irons review!

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I was off last week and didn’t get a show recorded, I am sorry for that. But back this week with some club tinkering and course play talk. Then I review the new Nikon Coolshot 50i laser rangefinder. I started to really miss the red LCD display, just so easy to read. Tour Edge’s Exotics C721 irons are super forgiving and really long, but have such a soft feel and sound to them. The 4-iron has crept into my bag quietly as well.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: The quest for removing the ego

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If Mike Tyson was more worried about what it looked like for him to get hit than actually focusing on the task at hand there is no way he would have the record he has today. The ego is the enemy of performance.

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Opinion & Analysis

A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: July

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As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine. Here you’ll find the seventh installment of “A Golfing Memoir” as we trace a year in the life of Flip Hedgebow, itinerant teacher of golf. For January, click here. For February, click here. For March, click here. For April and May, click here. For June, click here.

“What do you think of weddings?”

“How comfortable is your room?”

The first question was offered by Grace Éimí Seáin. After he escorted her and sundry to her room via golf cart, they made plans to meet in the lodge for dinner. She had taken note of the path he chose to deliver her to her lodging house, and informed him of the time of her arrival to sup. Yes, he had offered to retrieve her in the same cart, as he should, and yes, he had nodded when she told him that it would be unnecessary.

The second question was posed by cirE “Flip” Hedgebow, itinerant golf instructor and relationship tyro. In anticipation of her arrival, he had checked the status of the newly-acquired guest house on the hill overlooking the seventh hole. When he realized that it had not been rented for the first two weeks of her stay, he sped up the work order on the landscaping and outside trim, so that it would be rentable no longer. Once that part of the plot was detailed, he let the crew know that he would text them each morning of their required, on-site hours.

The reason for the questions, was to re-break the ice. The two had not seen each other since Florida, and flowers need time to transition from bud to leaf. Flip had suggested that Grace ask him a question, to place her in a position of advantage. She acquiesced, but only after securing the contractual agreement that he would ask a subsequent one of her. His nod was his signature. In the large room down the hall from their table, a nuptial reception was in full roar. Sisters danced on tables, brothers shuffled with collars loosened and ties rakishly draped around necks.

“What do you think of weddings?”

He explained that he was of two minds: professional and personal. From the standpoint of his job, wedding receptions brought in lots of money to offset unforeseen expenses at the resort. The wait staff loved them, as ebullient parents showered servers and associates with healthy tips. Only rarely did guests lose so much control that damage ensued. Those matters were resolved efficiently. Flip also confessed that the energy that flowed from a reception resembled the type emitted by a waterfall, like the natural one behind the sixth green. The optimism of new life together, the rekindling of family ties, all generated a temporary but powerful élan, a brio that courses through the entirety of the space and inhabitants.

From personal experience, he had much less to offer. He could count on two hands the number of weddings he had attended as an invited guest. Not to say that he had few friends, but proximity and responsibility had kept him from more than a handful of receptions. Flip valued the uniqueness of each ceremony, be it religious or civil, and the measured opulence of the decor. It was hoped that it would once in a lifetime, after all, so why not go all out? For himself, he offered, should he ever take that step with someone, the decisions would be mutual and planned. No knee-jerk for him.

Three public-access buildings comprised the resort. The first was the lodge, which held the pro shop and offices on the first floor, along with a seldom-used locker room in the back. On floor the second, the combined bar and dining room sat to the north, while the banquet hall was on the southerly side. Adjacent to both lodge and first tee was the hotel, made up of two wings of rooms. The older wing was less ample but wider, and held all of the smaller rooms. For families, the new wing was deeper, and allowed for greater per-room occupancy. The final building was the aforementioned and still-unnamed guest house, away from resort-center. When the house went on the market, the heirs to Klifzota, in their German and Polish logic, moved quickly. The resort needed a space for large parties who wanted a bit of separation. An opportunity to steal some cash from Airbnb, especially during the seasons when the hotel sold out all of its rooms.

Flip knew how well-appointed the interior of the guest house was. He had worked with the marketing people to select fixtures, bed frames and other furniture, and had watched in solemn reverence as PR team matched shams and sheets to wall colors and lighting. The final product was understated and comfortable; not in the least bit intimidating. He suspected that Grace would be happy there, but wanted her own confirmation, which she gave.

July was always a rambunctious month at Klifzota. Across the rural highway, a music jamboree attracted tens of thousands for a display of patriotism and calamity. The celebration was enjoyed by aficionados of country music, as well as newcomers to that brand of song. Flip had been to so many renditions of the Vale Slam, as it was called by venue veterans, that he knew what to expect and how much to imbibe. Until the first day of the festival, he had no idea that Grace had keen insight into the genre.

It’s a classic case of wild child meets wayward boy, then grandmother steps in. My mother was a classical singer as a teenager, but she had an ear for all styles. She appreciated genius, no matter the rhythm, color, or duration. She met my father, a fiddler in a bluegrass band, and they had some times together. I was the product of one of those times. My grandmother, uncertain as to whether she would ever collect her daughter, offered to take me in for a spell. That spell became forever. I know that my mother and father are out there, somewhere in the universe. I hope that they are together and happy. I don’t begrudge them most days. Now you know why I was introduced as Agnes Porter the younger. Someday, you might learn about Agnes Porter the elder.

cirE “Flip” Hedgebow stared at her, words absent. She took his hand and away they walked, through the admission gate. What’s on your mind now? she inquired. Johnny Farrell and Willie Macfarlane, he muttered.

Those names caught her by surprise, unknown and disconnected. In the August incalescence, both persons would come to understand their kinship. Catching him as much by surprise was her follow-up question, completely unrelated to Farrell and Macfarlane: Is it all right if he comes and stays a few weeks?

 

Artwork by JaeB

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