Drivers and Shafts
Moving on from the topics of the past couple of weeks, I thought we could get into drivers and and shafts today. I received an email from a reader who was getting exasperated with the vast array of drivers and shafts available in the stores. He shared that he had been demo-ing drivers for about a year, and was getting perplexed by the various feedback he was getting from launch monitors during the process. He has come to the realization that the shaft is more important to the equation that most golfers understand, and he asked:
“Is there a benchmark or perhaps a rule of thumb that weekend hackers should go by to determine what driver and shaft combination is the best for them?”
Well, Elliott, unfortunately there is not really a benchmark, per se. But there is a basic understanding that you can start with and hopefully you can narrow your search. Let’s begin with one of my favorite quotes from Mr. Ben Hogan, who was always my idol in the game of golf. Mr. Hogan was fond of proclaiming that “a golf club is 90% shaft and 10% how it goes through the dirt.”
Well, obviously we’re not concerned with the latter when we’re talking drivers, so that may make the shaft even more important on what I consider to be your “first scoring club”.

Realize that at 100 miles per hour or more, the driver shaft has a lot of demands placed on it. The driver head is the largest and lightest in the bag, so it puts an entirely different spectrum of stresses and forces on the shaft from the top of the backswing to impact. The shaft is loading and unloading . . . often two or three times . . . in the downswing, and it is doing all that while in a constant rotational motion. The shaft isn’t just flexing during the downswing; it is doing so while being rotated on its longitudinal axis. If you ever watched slow motion video of what all is going on from the top of the swing to impact, it really is amazing we ever get the clubhead on the ball, much less with any consistency. The shaft actually takes on an ‘S’ shaped curve during the last few feet prior to impact.

The complexity of shaft selection is made all that much more confusing by the hundreds of options available to you. Most manufacturers narrow their offering down to a few choices, but the aftermarket is loaded with shafts of all different qualities and price points. And all you want to do is find a shaft that performs most favorably and consistently for YOU.

In my early years in the golf equipment business, I heard two divergent opinions on how to select the right shaft. One was “play the stiffest shaft you can handle”, and the other “play the softest shaft you can handle”. What was I supposed to do with that advice?

Actually I think both were right . . . to a degree. If you have a swing that is very repeating, I think you can play a softer shaft and allow it to do more of the work. Once you find one that loads and releases most efficiently for your swing, it can be powerful.

But . . . and this is a big BUT . . . most recreational golfers have a considerable variance in their speed and timing from tee to tee during a round of golf, and this is something that doesn’t show up on the launch monitors. If you are in a controlled environment hitting driver after driver, you’ll fall into a rhythm and timing that allows a “fitting” pattern to develop. But on the actual course, your swings with the driver are 10-15 minutes apart, and in between are shots with irons, wedges and putts, not to mention a range of emotions depending on what happened since the last drive. Then you have the mental influence of the tee shot you face – water on the left, not your favorite hole, thoughts of keeping it from going right . . . you get the idea. So in reality, every driver swing you make on the course is a brand new one, and quite probably not much at all like the ones on the range. So how do you fit that?

A very good custom clubmaker I know in Virginia, Mike Fix, showed me and my business partner some very interesting stuff a few years ago. He had been having great success with fitting mid- to high-handicap players with very stiff shafts, which took care of the swing inconsistencies, and he was delivering the optimum trajectories by varying the loft. Ralph, my partner in EIDOLON, is a 14 handicap player who is not all that powerful – distance is key for him. Well, he was literally knocking the cover off the ball with a driver that had what would be considered an ‘X’ flex shaft on a head with 13.5 degrees of loft. And he was longer AND straighter with that driver than anything he had ever used.

I tell that story just to emphasize that there are many ways to optimize your driving, so don’t be afraid to experiment. But do most of it on the course, not the practice tee or the hitting cage. Until you test a driver under actual playing conditions, you just do not known if it is right for you.

I realize this subject is broader than what I was thinking when I started, but this answers Elliott’s question, I hope. Friday I’m going to sound off with more insight into this, and share some of my opinions gained from 30 years of golf equipment industry experience.

Stay tuned.

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[ comments ]
Kickntrue says:
Very interesting stuff.
aaronm04 says:
The club where I play got a driver fitting system a few months ago. They have this cart with a variety of shafts, each with interchangeable heads. Though I haven't gotten a driver yet, I did play with a variety of flexes, lofts, and weights. The difference in weight was really surprising. I tended to like the feel of the heavier shafts (70g vs. the 55g that I play) and I never would have looked at this if not for this fitting system.

As for the head, the biggest difference for me was sound. I don't need one to sound like a cannon, but hitting a driver that sounds like you just beat a tree stump was really not pleasant.

As stated here, the biggest difference in feel seemed to lie in the shaft.

Terri: Any thoughts on the adjustable drivers? Just seems like pure marketing and they could get you into more trouble than you may want (turning a draw into a hook, for instance).
bducharm says:
@aaronm04 - I personally think that having the ability to adjust the driver is a good thing. This gives players flexibility to test their own swings versus the different configurations that you can do with the adjustable driver. However, once a configuration has been dialed in, I would think there would be very little need for change. ALSO - a player cannot adjust a club once play has begun!!!
Tim Horan says:
I have sounded off in the past about a Harrison Shaft called Awesome marketted by a small Scottish firm called Kane Golf Products. This shaft is a beauty 50g with great torque. I have fitted this to two drivers and my fairway metal. It suited my swing very well but I am having to rethink my strategy as recently I have changed my irons and now play Project X steel shafts. The shaft frequency and tip stiffness in my woods are vastly different and I am now looking for a shaft that reduces the separation I am experiencing(irons to woods).
Tim Horan says:
Continuing...I had my irons specially fitted by a Tom Wishon agent and he has recommended a Wishon Shaft called Interflexx with a mid to low kickpoint and stiff flex. The important thing I find is how the shaft feels and where it flexes in it's length. Much will depend on how agressive your transition is at the top and how wristy you are through impact. GET FITTED PROPERLY it is the only real way.
Drew Farron says:
I just picked up a Maltby KE 4 driver head for $2.99 at Golf Galaxy and put the only shaft I have, a Fuji Speeder 757 S tipped 1 ". I hit it great.

In the 80-90's Fred Couples played with 11-12 degree persimmion head with Dynamic Gold X-100 shaft.
wedgeguy says:
Re: the adjustable/re-fit shafts. I think this has lots of potential, but the biggest limitation to shafts is that the one that you liked in the demo club, may not be "just like" the one you get when you order. I'm a huge fan of custom clubfitters and makers who make sure you get what you thought you were getting.
windowsurfer says:
I recall reading that Couples had a women's 13* or so driver head fitted to a stiff steel shaft and used it as a 3-wood; his go-to club for a lot of tee shots and big shots off the fairway. Seems like the shaft would have had a pretty big role in this combination, as well as the feel and the look, which gave Freddie confidence.
ellmnopyon says:
Terry, thanks for choosing my inquiry for your Tuesday column! I've decided that going through an exhaustive driver fitting process is worth the cost of having a driver/shaft combination that works for my swing. I have actually researched and looked around for reputable fitters and some charge as much as $100 for a driver fitting, but if you purchase the driver from the same place, most stores will take a percentage of the fitting cost towards the price of the driver/shaft. Thanks again!
Banker85 says:
man all this talk about fitting i am in the dark ages, i guess just to poor right now to treat myself to a proper fitting. I have a Stiff shaft for Driver and woods and my hybrid. I think a heavier shadt would be beneficial since my Dr is 55g and my 3w 60-65 i think, my 4W and hybrid are both steel S-300 and feel more consistent ball striking with these clubs.

Question? does anyone fit Drivers with steel shafts anymore?
Backquak says:
I wonder what a project x shaft would do to my driver? Do they make a shaft that long? It would be fun to try it out, see where the ball goes, cause I know my irons have alot less left and right to them than my driver, I spray that baby everywhere.
Swingem says:
@Backquak; There is a ProjectX driver shaft available, I think I saw it on Golfsmith, Kinda spendy though. I've been messing around with different driver shafts this year. I have two identical TM Tour Burner drivers, one has the UST V2 and the other has a Grafalloy Epic. I keep going back to the Epic. If you shop around you can find some good deals, I picked up the Epic for $50.00 brand new at an on-line site. Re-shafting is pretty easy, though I would have a pro pull a graphite shaft if you ever want to use it again. The first time I pulled a graphite shaft I melted the end of it and it came out looking like a paint brush. Good luck.
Shallowface says:
Regarding stiff shafts for high handicappers, remember that Karsten Solheim offered nothing but stiff and extra stiff shafts in his Ping clubs, (and that included the women's models), and an awful lot of players of all levels had a great deal of success with those clubs. He compared his clubs to a properly tuned piano, saying something along the line of that you didn't have to hit a properly tuned piano hard to get a good vibrant sound.
Of course, nowadays, Ping offers shafts in all flexes just like everyone else.
Was Karsten wrong with his philosophy of stiff shafts for everyone, or did he know something that the rest of us (including his successors)don't?
wedgeguy says:
I'm certainly not going to say Karsten was "wrong" as they sure built a loyal following. I heard that his philosophy was something like, "if you can't flex it at all, you can't flex it wrong". Not sure if he ever said that, but based on that fitter's experience, there is certainly merit to it!
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Albatross says:
I have experimented with light shafts, stiff shafts and higher lofts. For me, a light, stiff shaft of about 12 degrees works great. I had been playing a 9.5 degree. I am still experimenting with length and I am finding that a shorter club (43"-44") goes just as far as a longer driver (45"-46") because I hit it in the sweet spot more often. I am 65 years old and have a 2 hcp. and I play stiff shafts in everything. If you hit it in the middle of the club face I do not believe you will loose distance even though your club speed may be a mile per hour or two slower due to the stiffer shaft.
David Fox8 says:
I'm real late to the party, but just stumbled upon short driver discussions. I took my old Callaway X460, 9* S cut from 45" to 44". Went to the range last night and was extremely pleased with the results. I'm a 17hdcp hitting 40% fwys with the my driver the last few months. A normal drive length is ~240 with anything 250+ killed (for me). My flight path is generally a slight pull with a gentle fade, but have been more eratic lately. Range balls aren't the best judge; however my drives maintained their distance. Contact was better. I was working the both both ways on demand, and mishits seemed to be playable in the 215 - 220 range. Can't wait to try it on the course.
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