There's no doubt that getting the right shaft for each of your clubs can make a world of difference in your ballflight. But the process of finding the best sticks can be utterly confusing–even if you moderately understand shafts. You need to take into consideration make, material, flex, torque, kickpoint, frequency, length and tip stiffness. And your skill level affects all of these factors. So what's a golfer to do? You can always try shafts by trial and error, but experts say the answer is to leave the details to someone knowledgeable and simply get fitted by a professional clubfitter.
Just so you're armed with savvy when you head into a clubfitting session, shaft manufacturers offer some basic suggestions to bring you up to speed. There's actually a golden rule that they propose you live by, when buying shafts: Play the lightest shaft and softest flex that you can control. With driver shafts, for example, some golfers may find this to be a stiff 50-gram model, while others might discover that a more flexible 75-gram shaft does the trick for them. "Ultimately, it's all about maximizing ball speed–not clubhead speed," says Chad Hall, True Temper's director of product marketing and global Tour operations, referring to the fact that ball speed directly enhances your shot distance. "If you just increase clubhead speed by using a lighter shaft but reduce consistent center-of-the-face impacts, the net result is less ball speed. The ultimate solution is finding the intersection of clubhead speed and consistent clubhead delivery–maximizing both." In other words, you want to find the shaft that helps you generate the fastest clubhead speed while letting you hit the sweet spot most often.
NEW AND AVERAGE GOLFERS
If you're a relatively new golfer, that means getting fitted for shafts that help you learn correctly, have fun and get the ball airborne.
"Generally speaking, most beginners and average players will typically benefit from shafts that assist them in launching the ball a little higher," says Hall. "This would mean a lower kickpoint shaft with a more flexible/active tip section."
As far as shaft lengths go, beginners and newer golfers probably should stay away from longer driver shafts. "It might be important to start shorter for control and then go to a longer shaft as your swing develops and becomes more consistent," advises Tim Gillis, director of sales for Miyazaki Golf. "In many cases, mere confidence can help clubhead speed for beginners." Iron shafts are more standard in length for most golfers, so you needn't worry about those.
As you become a better player, your ballflight will become more consistent, and your swing will likely generate more power. And that's when you can upgrade your shaft. Stronger swingers and more advanced players tend to need shafts with a stronger tip section and higher bend point, bringing the ballflight down.
You may have noticed that many PGA Tour pros play shorter, heavier shafts because, for their high-speed swings, Tour-caliber shafts offer a lethal combination of consistent distance, control, feel and ideal ballflight. That said, things are changing out on Tour, where players are beginning to apply that previously mentioned golden rule. "Most advanced golfers play heavier shafts because they're used to them," says Gillis. "We're seeing more of them gravitate to lighter shafts because of improvements in composite materials. They won't necessarily go to ultralight, sub-50-gram models, but many have gone from 80-gram driver shafts to those below 60 grams. The importance here is keeping the stiffness in lighter shafts and having the shaft balance correctly to give it the playability that better players want."
Hall agrees, saying, "For many advanced players, maximizing ball speed and consistency is found in Tour-weighted shafts. However, there have been several players on the PGA Tour who have used superlight driver and iron shafts over the past several years. Tempo plays a role, as well. Many quick-tempo players use heavier shafts to enhance the transition at the top of the swing. In the end, due to the individuality of every golfer, we make shafts that cover all weights and trajectory profiles. While there is no one shaft that fits everyone, there is certainly one shaft that is best for you."