5 Questions on Shaft Fitting

Driver shaft-fitting is arguably the most important part of the club-fitting process. Of course, choosing the right head, loft, clubface angle and grip is important too, but how the shaft functions during your swing is, in our opinion, what matters the most.

Here at Golf Tips HQ, we're a blessed bunch who have experienced just about every type of shaft-fitting process available, from indoor launch-monitor sessions to outdoor, real-world testing. All of which have helped us choose the right shaft. With all the experiences we've had with the actual art of shaft-fitting, none were particularly useful in helping us prepare. The process of fitting is one thing, but getting ready is another.

For instance, we've asked ourselves questions like: How hard should I swing during a shaft-fitting? What if I'm not swinging well during the fitting–should I tell the fitter? And how will that affect my results? Should I get a shaft that's one rung above my ability to help me improve, or should I stick with a shaft that's primed for my current skill level? And if I do that, will I ever improve?

These are the kinds of questions we've had through the years, and with our accumulated experience, we're here to answer on your behalf. Take a look at our top five questions, and don't miss our expanded coverage of "Shaft FAQs" on golftipsmag.com.

Question 1: How do I know whether it's me or the shaft?

Answer: Odds are, it's both. Nobody repeats his or her swing perfectly every time. If you did, finding the perfect shaft for your swing would be a piece of cake. Instead, we've learned that the better golfer you are, the more adaptable you become to different flexes. This type of adaptability actually makes shaft-fitting more complex for low-handicappers. In fact, we did some blind testing to see the effects of adjusting one's swing to the shaft (with one low-handicapper and one high-handicapper) and found some interesting results.

We started with a low-handicap tester, who hit four identical drivers with four unmarked shafts, each of varying degrees of flex. We observed that, because of his skill, he was able to adjust his swing with each shaft and hit fairly decent drives down the middle of the fairway with each club. (His most erratic drives were with shafts that were too flexible, but he still found the fairway most of the time.) For him, the key to figuring out which was the best shaft meant evaluating his best drives, not his worst. He looked to find his best trajectory, distance, accuracy and so forth with each shaft. Our tester didn't ignore his worst shots, as it was clear some shafts were a mismatch. He wavered between a couple similar flexes that produced solid shots, but inevitably chose the one that delivered the best shots of the four shafts he tested. Even though the test was blind, he still was able to rely on feel and adapt to each driver so it performed at its best. Once he was told what the flexes were, he hit a few more balls and adjusted even more.

For our higher-handicapper, he approached the test from a different angle. Instead of looking at his best shots with each driver, he leaned more toward evaluating which of the four unmarked shafts produced the best of his worst shots, and deducted from there. In other words, the high-handicapper occasionally hit a stellar drive, but what's more important on the course isn't the occasional perfect hit, but rather, how severe his shots are when his swing isn't at its absolute best. The high-handicapper adjusted his swing to different shafts too, but struggled much more at finding his groove with shafts that weren't right for him. He eventually chose the right shaft that minimized his slice the most effectively, not the shaft that occasionally produced the longest drive. For the better player, it was about capitalizing on his best. But for the high-handicapper, it was about minimizing his worst.

If you're a low-handicapper, check to see if your best drives fly too high or low, draw too much, etc. If so, you might be using the wrong shaft. As for high-handicappers, if you miss deep and wide, struggle with distance or have trouble with consistency, a better-fitting shaft can help minimize the effects. You'll still need a swing fix if you want to hit drives like a pro, but a new shaft is a good place to start if you want to see quick results.

Final thought: We asked the PGA Tour's Richard S. Johnson about how he gets fitted, and he said that he knows whether a driver will work in about three to four swings. He, like many other PGA Tour players, actually avoid "adapting" as much as possible; instead they maintain a constant swing. This makes it easier to see the differences in how shafts perform; hence, several Tour players need only a few swings with a club to know which driver shaft is right for them. By not adjusting, it helps keep their fundamentals in check, too.

Question 2: I'm about to get fitted for a new shaft. How should I go about doing this?

Answer: In our experiences, no two shaft-fittings are exactly alike. Some take place indoors, some outdoors, some both. The key is your comfort level. If you feel natural and comfortable swinging a driver within the confines of a studio, go for it. Just make sure you do your best to simulate the real experience. This means wearing a glove, your golf shoes, even the clothes you wear when you play.

We tend to prefer outdoor fittings, especially where there are open bays where you hit from inside the studio through an opening and onto a driving range. But again, it's a matter of preference. Once you settle on your location, here's what you need to hone in on:

" Be vocal. Tell your fitter everything. Especially if you aren't swinging well, or if you happen to be abnormally crushing it. The more info you give your fitter, the better your shaft fit will be. " Don't show off. The fitter doesn't care if you can knock it over the fence at the back end of the range, or if you can poke a hole through the studio's net. Swing at your go-to speed, as if you're on your home course's toughest hole and you need to hit your best drive of the day. If you're grinding through balls like Golfzilla hoping to reach a 110+ mph swing speed, your fitting will be a waste of time. " Be open-minded. Just because you've always used a certain flex, length, etc., don't let that fool you. In our blind testing, both of our golfers (the low- and high-handicapper) actually favored shafts that were different than the ones on their current driver. Don't psyche yourself out by thinking things like, "I'm way too strong for an S-flex" or "I'm just not good enough for an X-flex." Instead, when you get fitted, ask the fitter to not tell you what flex he's recommending, and if need be, have him cover the specs on the shafts with black tape so you can swing without any preconceptions. Our blind fitting proved that when we know what the flex is, both low- and high-handicappers swing a little differently to adjust. But when testing blind, repeatable swings were easier to accomplish, and there was less adjusting.

A final thought: When getting fitted, the goal is to settle on the shaft that's best for your swing, not the swing you wish you had. Stay within your means and get fitted in a comfortable environment.

Question 3: I've heard about shaft loading. What is that?

Answer: There are two things a shaft does when you swing it, load and unload. (We can already hear shaft-fitters grumbling about the strength of that statement. We know, guys. A lot more stuff happens, but we're trying to keep it simple, okay?) Basically, a shaft flexes, then it unflexes. When it first flexes, it's called loading. That happens during the transition from backswing to downswing. Think of it as pulling the rubber band of a slingshot or a bowstring. Some players load the shaft tremendously, like Sergio Garcia who retains a tremendous amount of lag through his transition. Other players have slower transitions, where the downswing starts slower and perpetually increases speed. They load the shaft much less.

How does this affect you? Simply put, how much you load the shaft affects how much it has to unload through the impact area. If you load too much and the shaft doesn't release soon enough, control will be a serious issue for you. On the other hand, if the shaft doesn't load enough or if it's so stiff that it unflexes too soon, your distance is going to suffer. A fitter with a watchful eye will make recommendations based on your shaft loading and your swing speed, two factors that always ought to be considered together. If you simply go by swing speed, you won't get the whole story, because it doesn't tell you when your shaft is loading or unflexing. Some golfers, even though they may have a slow to moderate swing speed, may benefit from a stiffer shaft because they transition from their backswing to their downswing quickly. Conversely, some players with fast swing speeds can get away with a more flexible shaft because they transition slower and have a bigger overall arc. There are a lot of factors to consider in fitting, and how you load the shaft is crucial since it affects your shot quality tremendously.

WHAT IS SHAFT FREQUENCY?

A shaft's frequency rating comes from using a special machine that oscillates the shaft in a controlled matter. The fewer the oscillations (more often referred to as cycles per minute–CPM), the stiffer the shaft.

Tour Talk KBS Iron Shafts

Already in play by several top touring professionals, the KBS Tour Steel shafts are best known for their unique step design that reduces the radius and mass of each step proportionally to the center line of the shaft. kbshafts.com

Question 4: Are all shaft companies the same underneath the paint job?

Answer: No way. Not in the least. Different shafts from different companies are constructed in their own way, and each has individual characteristics and performance benefits. The elite shafts have better tolerances and shaft uniformity–two reasons they cost more. Some flex more consistently, droop/deform less (impress your fitter and ask what "droop" means), etc. As for wear and tear, it's not likely your shaft will deteriorate from usage. If anything, nicks and dings from inside the bag, trunk, etc. are what may cause your shaft to break or wear (treat them nicely, and they'll treat you nicely).

You heard it here, folks. We've tested a lot of shafts, and, generally, the premium shafts do perform better than discount shafts, but there isn't enough data to support that claim as unequivocally true. Many value shafts are a great buy. What matters most are the shaft performance characteristics and the fit–flex, weight, torque, etc.

Question 5: I have the perfect driver shaft. What about the rest of my clubs?

Answer: Matching your driver shaft with your fairway-wood shafts may seem like the logical next step, but before you cough up a lot of cash for an upgrade, consider what you want to achieve with your woods. You may prefer a lighter, softer fairway-wood flex to hit higher shots. A good fitter will match fairway shafts (swing weight, grip size, etc.) so they feel more like your driver, even though the shafts may be a different brand, type, etc.

As for all the other clubs in your bag (hybrids, irons, wedges, even your putter), they too should be fitted to your swing specifications. Even if you get fitted only to find out that your current set is optimized, it'll be a nice confidence boost. If you need new shafts, rest assured your new set will help you play your best.

Special thanks to UST/Mamiya Shafts and Cleveland Golf for supplying equipment for our testing.

HOT NEW SHAFTS Aldila: En Fuego Series: With three models to choose from, the En Fuego line features Micro-Laminate Technology and a high center of gravity. (Serrano model pictured.) Grafalloy ProLaunch Platinum: Smart-Ply fiber makes the ProLaunch Platinum stable and acts as a powerful lever through the impact zone. UST/Mamiya Attas: Features a unique four-axis weave structure for superior performance in a premium, Tour-inspired shaft. Apollo Masterflex HP48: A lightweight, high-modulus shaft that produces more speed and a flatter, more penetrating trajectory. Fujikura Motore: The Motore has developed a strong following for its ability to retain power and achieve significant control. New for 2010 is the Motore Speeder. Oban Devotion: The wide selection of Devotion shafts are finely tuned to create longer, straighter and more consistent drives for any skill level. Graphite Design Tour AD YSQ Ultra-light: A revamped and lighter version (45g) of the popular YSQ shaft, already known for exceptional distance and control. Mitsubishi Fubuki: Replete with a white finish and ninja stars, the Fubuki's Modulus Differential Technology holds court among other elite models. Project X Wood: The __ber-popular steel-shaft brand's first foray into high-performance carbon-fiber driver and wood shafts.

Editor's Test

I've played the same driver for the past two years. It has a stiff shaft and is standard length. It works very well for my game.

Whenever I've hit other clubs, it has reinforced what I already knew: Regular-flex shafts were too "whippy" for me, and X-flex shafts felt like broomsticks.

Stiff shafts were the right fit for me. So why then did I hit the X-flex the best in our blind-shaft test?

First the facts: I hit four shafts (A, R, S, X) with the same clubhead. I ballooned (but hit straight) the more flexible shafts, and I hit the stiffer ones 20 yards farther with a lower trajectory (and less spin) but with varied accuracy. Still, it was the X-flex that had the best combination of distance, ballflight and accuracy.

A five-handicap, with a swing speed of 100 mph, I felt the shaft's flexibility the most at two different times: when I held it and waggled it, and about halfway into my downswing when I loaded the club. I could feel the more flexible clubs bend when my left arm was parallel to the ground, and the stiffer ones resist. This made me swing harder with the stiffer shafts, and as a result, I had to make an aggressive cut at it. This produced a "swing" motion rather than a "hit" motion and ensured I finished fully. As a result, I made better contact.

That's one reason I believe I hit the X-flex better. The other is that I had no idea it was an X. When I've tested X-flexes in the past, I've thrown in the towel before I ever put a move on it. By not knowing what I was getting into, I eliminated any chance of self-sabotage. Goes to show, even shaft testing is all mental. __ÒCharlie Schroeder

Shaft-Fitting FAQs

Q: What parameters are important when it comes to shaft fitting? A: All of them. Atop the list are length, flex and weight. Focus on these three things and let the fitter handle the rest.

Q: What exactly is tip-trimming? A: Put simply, most shafts are cut at the grip end when assembled. To cut at the tip (clubhead end) end, and depending on how much you cut, you can actually stiffen the club shaft by one, sometimes two flexes. It also lowers the trajectory, too.

Q: Are lighter shafts weaker than heavier ones? A: Nope. Shafts are made to withstand a lot of force. Even the light ones.

Q: Is it true that I can gain distance by using a longer shaft? A: Yes. A longer shaft means you'll have a wider arc. The wider the arc, the faster the clubhead will travel, relative to the ball that is. But, a longer shaft sometimes correlates to a loss in accuracy.

Q: What is counterbalancing? Will it help me hit it longer? A: Some say yes, others say no. It's up to the individual. And as for counterbalancing, what it does is make the head and shaft feel lighter, making it appear as though you can swing it faster. As for whether it really does, that's up to you.

Q: Why haven't graphite shafts in irons caught on? A: We've wondered that too. Graphite shafted irons can help you hit the ball further, without a doubt. They also absorb a lot more shock than does steel. Our guess? It's a matter of price and durability. Graphite shafts cost more to make. And two, they aren't as tough as steel, meaning they can crack and break with too much abuse (especially from the shock of hitting the turf).

Q: What is the difference in tip diameters? A: Most shafts are either .335 or .350 mm in diameter. Better players tend to prefer the feel and responsiveness of a .335 tip, but in our opinion, we couldn't tell one from the other. Also, some heads are made for .350 shafts (which claim to have lower torque), meaning if you do have a.335 shaft diameter, a shim needs to be added into the hosel to accommodate the smaller sized shaft.

Have any other questions you'd like to ask? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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