Choosing the Right Shaft for You
Educate yourself before you buy
The shaft is a critical club feature, and to achieve a low handicap you need to have irons with the right shafts for your particular game. Key elements of a shaft are flex, materials of construction, torque, and length.
Flex refers to the ability of a shaft to bend as mechanical forces are applied to it. The type of swing you have – fast or slow, smooth or jerky – generates those mechanical forces.
The weaker a club’s shaft, the greater its flex. The greater its flex, the more it bends when a player strikes the ball. If the shaft bends too much, the player loses control of the ball’s flight.
The stronger a club’s shaft, the lesser its flex. The lesser its flex, the less it bends when a player strikes the ball. If the shaft bends only slightly, the player loses power and accuracy.
Flex Affects Ball Flight
Flex affects a shot’s accuracy, trajectory, and distance. To hit a shot properly the club’s face must be square to the ball at impact. Flex affects the position of a clubface during a swing. Using a club with the wrong shaft flex minimizes the chances of hitting a ball with a squared clubface and increases the chances of hitting the ball with an open or closed clubface. If you hit a ball with an “open” clubface, you’ll slice the ball to the right (for a right-handed player). If you hit a ball with a closed clubface, you’ll pull the ball to the left (for a right-handed player).
Manufactures use five ratings to denote a shaft’s flex: extra stiff, stiff, regular, senior and ladies, usually denoted by the letters X, S, R, A and L (“A” is used for Senior because this flex was originally called “amateur”).
Guidelines to Choosing the Right Flex
Choosing the right flex is critical to buying the right club. In general, the stronger a player is, the less flex he/she needs. The weaker a player is, the more flex he/she needs. How can you tell what degree of flex is right for you? Below are several guidelines for choosing a club with the right flex.
- Take a look at how long you drive a ball. If you hit your over 250 yards, go with a Stiff shaft; 230-250 yards, Regular; 200-230 yards, Senior; and less than 200 yards, Ladies. Golfers two regularly drive a ball well beyond 250 yards will need a shaft with Extra Stiff flex.
- A player with a smooth swing needs a club with less flex, even if he/she swings the club very fast. A player with a jerky swing needs a club with more flex.
- A player who pulls the ball to the left (right-handed golfer), needs a club with less flex. A player who slices the ball to the right (right-handed golfer), needs a club with more flex.
How to Determine the Right Flex for You
What impact does a shaft with too little flex have on your game?
- The ball will probably fly lower and shorter for any given loft, compared to a properly fitted shaft.
- The ball may tend to go to the right, or fade to the right side, for right-handed golfers. With a too-stiff shaft the clubface is harder to square (the clubface is more likely to be open at impact, in other words).
- The shot may feel less solid, more like a mis-hit even if you make contact on the center of the clubface.
What impact does a shaft with too much flex have on your game?
- The ball can fly higher for any given loft as compared to a correctly fitted shaft.
- The ball may tend to go left, or to the draw side, for a right-handed golfer (with a too-flexible shaft, the clubhead may tend to come into the ball closed).
- Shots may tend to feel more solid, even when they aren’t.
Men generally like clubs with stiffer shafts. Unfortunately, using a club with a stiff shaft isn’t always the smartest move. In fact, it often hurts a man’s game. Why? Because men tend to overswing, a common fault among players with high-handicaps. A club with a “softer” flex forces a male player to slow down his swing. Slowing down one’s swing can turn poor players into better players.
Hitting a shaft that’s too flexible is better than hitting a shaft that’s too stiff, it causes fewer problems. When unsure about flex, err on the side of more flex. If you can’t decide between Regular and Stiff, choose Regular.
Materials of Construction
Shaft material is another key feature. Shafts are made primarily from steel and graphite. A steel shaft weighs more than a graphite shaft, unless material like boron is added to the graphite shaft during manufacturing. Steel gives you more accuracy; graphite more distance. That’s because steel flexes less than graphite, so the steel shaft has less whip than the graphite shaft. Lighter than steel, graphite also absorbs the shock of impact better than steel, helping to get the ball airborne quicker.
Torque is the amount of twist a club experiences during a swing. Every shaft has a Torque rating. Torque determines how a club feels in your hands. An “R” flex shaft with a low torque feels stiffer than an “R” flex shaft with a high torque.
Torque changes the Swing Speed Rating of a club. An “R” flex shaft with a Torque Rating of 5 degrees has a Swing Speed Rating lower than an “R” Flex shaft with a torque rating of 3 degrees. Shafts with higher torque have a softer feel. If a player swings his/her irons at 80 to 85 mph, he/she needs an “R” Flex shaft with a low torque (approximately 2.5 degrees).
Length is also a key feature of a club. A player needs to hit a club with the proper length.
To determine the proper club length, stand at attention and have someone measure from the crease between your wrist and your hand to the floor. Do this with both hands, then take an average.
If you measure:
- 29-32 inches, your irons should be based on a 5-iron of 37 inches
- 33-34 inches, your irons should be based on a 5-iron of 37 1/2 inches
- 35-36 inches, your irons should be based on a 5-iron of 38 inches
- 37-38 inches, your irons should be based on a 5-iron of 38 1/2 inches
- 39-40 inches, your irons should be based on a 5-iron of 39 inches
- 41 + inches, your irons should be based on a 5-iron of 39 1/2 inches
Choosing a club with the right flex, construction materials, torque, and length is critical to buying the right set of irons for your bag. The key, as always, is not to buy the most expensive set of irons, but to purchase a set of irons that is right for you. Playing with the right irons boost self-confidence and generates lower scores.
A great way to take the guess work out of the way is to get custom fitted online: it is easy and painless with web-based fitting tools like the ‘club fitting wizard’ at Pinemeadow Golf. This online tool is free, you can just try it out. It helps to have a partner who assists with some of the measurements required, like your full height and your wrist height from the ground.