The Faster You Swing, The Stiffer Your Shaft Should Be
At several points in this book I mention that a good custom clubmaker will, at some point, measure your swing speed. Among the reasons this is done is to narrow down your shaft possibilities to only those that have the appropriate amount of flex for that speed. You might then conclude that’s the end of it. If you have a higher swing speed, you get a stiffer shaft; and a less stiff shaft if your swing speed is lower.
But it’s not true. Swing speed is only the beginning of the shaft fitting process and, if done properly to incorporate all the other swing elements which dictate your best shaft, you might wind up with a shaft that is quite different from what you might have originally thought.
Among the things you will learn in this book is: a) the flex letter code printed on your shaft means nothing; and b) that the shaft does not act like a buggy whip to slingshot the ball down the fairway. So, if the flex of the shaft does not slingshot the ball down the fairway, what does it do?
What looks like a buggy whip effect is not caused by the shaft at all. It’s caused when the golfer releases his wrist-cock angle during the downswing. That’s when the shaft’s stiffness or flexibility does its work. The purpose of a shaft’s total flex design is to work in conjunction with your wrist-cock release (along with the clubhead loft, the clubhead center of gravity, and whether you swing up, level or down at the ball) to determine the final launch angle, trajectory and backspin of your shot. The flex also has a lot to do with the “feel” of the club both before and when it impacts with the ball. Shaft bending feel is a huge part of shaft fitting for some golfers but, for now, let’s just stick with the wrist-cock
When you start the downswing, as long as you keep your wrist-cock angle hinged, your arms and the club are both moving at the same speed. Once you start to unhinge the wrists, the arms begin to slow down while the club accelerates to a higher speed. The clubhead, which has been lagging behind the shaft all this time, now reacts to your arms slowing down and shoots forward to actually push the clubhead ahead of the shaft. That, in turn, causes the shaft to bend forward which increases the loft at the moment of impact, which in turn increases the spin and launch angle of the ball, which influences it’s trajectory, which ultimately effects the distance the ball will travel.
The thing is, not all swing speeds are “created equal.” Let’s take three hypothetical golfers. One unhinges his wrist-cock angle quite early in the downswing, the other in the middle, and the third at the very end. The golfer who releases too early will have his shaft bend forward too soon. This causes it to rebound back to arrive at impact in a straight position and all those possible trajectory effects will not happen. Compared to an early release, it is better to be the second golfer and release your wrists at the midpoint of the downswing; or, best of all, to be the third golfer who releases at the very end, a split-second before impact. In short, the later you unhinge your wrist-cock angle, the more
the shaft flex can have an effect on the flight of the ball.
The point here is that all three of those golfers could have exactly the same measured swing speed! But do you think they should all be using the same shaft? Not hardly.
But there is even more to it than that. To really get the proper shaft for your clubs you also need to consider how smoothly or forcefully you make the transition from the end of the backswing to the start of the downswing, how quick or smooth your downswing tempo is, how fast or passive is your downswing acceleration, and how consistently you do each of the above.
Plug those factors into the equation, along with the location of your wrist-cock release, and then your trained clubmaker can select your shaft. Just saying “X swing speed = Y shaft” won’t cut it. Now, one more question before I let you go on to the next myth. When you bought your set of clubs off-the-rack at the big box golf store by the freeway, how many of your specific swing factors beyond your clubhead speed do you think were considered in those clubs? Or, maybe I should put it another way: how lucky did you feel that day?